Jan 26, 2010


One of the hottest areas of contention amongst teachers, parents and students is the role that homework plays (and should play) in the academic careers of American learners. Surprisingly, this debate has been raging for quite some time, and yet new opinions on the subject seem to spring up on a regular basis. Rarely, however, do we see the scientific approach taken when dealing with this hotly debated issue.

To move beyond the various attitudes and points of view surrounding homework, Countdown to College Radio host Beth Pickett interviewed Dr. Harris Cooper, Chair of the Department of Neuroscience and Psychology at Duke University, and author of the book The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers and Parents. Throughout the interview, Dr. Harris explains how his research and meta-data analyses showed a strong correlation between academic achievement and homework. This, however, does come with certain stipulations.

There is less success, for example, when homework is “overdone”. When a student feels tired and frustrated with an assignment, homework begins to lose its efficacy- essentially, more is not always better. Also, students may begin to identify themselves as “good” or “bad” students based on their ability to complete at-home assignments, both in terms of time spent and overall correctness.

Students should watch for signs of “burnout” and adjust their work schedules appropriately. Just like studying for a test all-night won’t necessarily equate to a better grade, grinding away on a difficult assignment won’t necessarily help you learn the material. Homework is practice, and while it is crucial to academic success, it should be treated like an afternoon at the batting cages, not the bottom of the ninth at the World Series.

Give yourself a chance to really complete an assignment. Working at home can be difficult due to a myriad of distractions- try to limit these as much as possible. If you devote a few blocks of time where you won’t have annoyances like television and background conversations to pull your attention, you’ll complete your daily work more quickly and more efficiently.

If you feel frustrated on a regular basis by assigned homework, do something about it! Try to pinpoint the cause- do you have a good space to work in? Is the material really difficult? Do you have other concerns, like a part-time job, eating away at your time? Talk to your teacher, talk to your boss, and talk to your parents. Odds are that if these interested parties can help, they will. You’ll still have to do your homework, but making it manageable should be a top priority. Don’t suffer- the worst thing you could do is nothing!

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