Why do teachers give us a lot of homework

As a teacher, what did I do with my homework?

Homework regularly causes arguments and red heads in many families. Our columnist is a secondary school teacher and knows what good homework practice looks like. And how dramas can be averted.

Text: Samuel Zingg
Image: Désirée Good / 13Photo

I am perplexed. Why is the student not following my instructions? What have I done?

It's Monday morning, I'm having a parenting meeting, after four lessons. The day before, on Sunday evening, he gave me a call from an angry mother at 5:00 p.m.: "This cannot go on like this!" After three and a half hours of math homework, she pulled the "rip cord" and took away the maths things from the son.

We teachers often only find out about these dramas when the situation is already over.

Unfortunately, homework drama happens far too often. Parents argue with their children, threatening them with TV bans and cell phone withdrawal. Or the whole family ponders for hours on seemingly unsolvable homework. There is also the opposite: «Nobody» is interested in homework at home - the school then contacts the legal guardian. We teachers often only find out about these dramas when the situation is already over. Often the drama then extends from home at the family table to a dispute with the responsible teachers.

So now I'm sitting on this conversation with mother and son. The mother says that her son spent ten hours “only on your maths, Mr. Zingg” last week. She is very angry and I no longer understand the world. I thought I had given homework for about 20 minutes. What's wrong here?

As a teacher at secondary level I, I do think about how much and, above all, what type of homework I give the learners. From my own school days I still know how to “get things ready”, “catching up”. Today we know from various research projects that this homework does not increase learning, but rather demotivates the students.

Good homework practice looks like this:

  • Homework should be done by the teenagers solved independently can be.
  • Exercise exercises are allowed, but should rather be the exception.
  • Smart tasks are varied, attractive, action-oriented and are understood independently. Then it takes less to achieve the same increase in learning.
  • Quantitatively, you should rather regularly a few than selectively many Give homework.
  • So that homework can become meaningful and effective in learning, should be done regularly individual, funding-oriented feedback to do homework.

Good homework is varied, attractive and can be done independently.

To come back to the discussion with parents: What was the type of homework mentioned that triggered the drama?

For me, the students shouldn't do more than 20 minutes of homework for maths a day. Even so, this student worked on it for a long time. How so? Because he's ambitious and desperately wants to do it perfectly. That's commendable, but I don't want that.

So I gave the mother the job of breaking off homework after 30 minutes at the latest. If the tasks cannot be completed in this time, the fault is mine, because I expressed myself unclearly or because I have given a homework that the student cannot solve at the moment. The mother was relieved. Further dramas could be averted. Although the student still sometimes does homework for more than 30 minutes, the situation has improved significantly. Now and then it is ready after 15 minutes.