Sunday, 9 August 2009


Today I learned from reading an interesting article on homework by Cathy Vatterott, the first chapter of her book "Rethinking Homework". An extensive review of the complete book can be found at Ecology of Education. It made me aware that homework in the United States seems to be more of an issue than in The Netherlands. Cathy Vatterot subverts some beliefs underlying the cult of homework. I agree with her on some of her arguments, I have doubts about others.

The daily chore

At least at my school homework is taken for granted by parents and students. No parent ever asks seriously whether we could do without this nuisance. Conversely over the last ten years parental problems have spawned private institutions that offer guided home work facilities after school hours. Some parents fork out a hefty fee mounting up to € 300 per month to have their child do the daily chore in such an institution instead of at home.

The necessity

Homework can contribute to learning at school. Certain tasks done at home can expedite and intensify learning in the classroom. Learning foreign languages benefits from cramming vocabulary individually at home. Interviewing grandmother brings personal oral history into the history lesson. Homework can also extend learning beyond the classroom. Our national targets for cultural education demand from students that they visit theatres and museums of their own choice in their own time. This programme has proven to be highly effective complementary to events organized by school within the school day.

Procrastinating the work

Albeit, I feel I must be very critical about dealing out home work tasks to my students. Especially when targets can be met in the classroom I consider it a personal failure to relegate tasks to home work. When home work tasks are given routinely I can see that students relax in the classroom. It gives them an excuse not to learn here and now in my class room. Their natural preference for meeting peers informally immediately takes over my class room management.

Disturbing facts

As a tutor I have inquired into the time management of my fifteen year old students when doing their homework. Equal workloads are being processed by different students in an amazing variety of time frames ranging from fifteen minutes per day through two hours and a half per day. What I find very disconcerting is the strong correlation between school success and failure and these data of time management. Students who fail to concentrate for longer than half an hour on their home work invariably score poor grades, especially for foreign languages, while students who succeed in working for a prolonged period are high achievers.

The waste of talent

This may sound reasonable to the puritans amongst us who believe in hard work as a road to success, and I surely agree that hard working students deserve their good grades, but it cannot be denied that school success clearly is gained at a place and time that are beyond control by the teacher. We cannot allow ourselves to waste talent in such a way. A school system in which homework is the leverage to success is biased against students from deprived backgrounds that don't support concentrating on home work. In addition, Dutch data on school success gives evidence that girls attain better than boys, which can be explained by differences in development between both genders. To my experience fifteen year old girls are on the average more motivated to do homework than boys at the same age.


Dan D said...

Thank you for your passion for art and the art of teaching. It is clear that you have struggled with the relationship within the teaching moment and have recognized that there is no battle to win, but a series of orchestrated choices. I am a teacher (now administrator) in Canada and would just like to gently say that "looses" is not a word but "loses" is and means a loss.
Dan D

Joep said...

Thanks for your comment. I have corrected the mistake you found. It's quite difficult to write in a foreign language and I'm grateful for any correction of the mistakes I'm bound to make.