Is Homework Harmful Or Helpful Books For Special Education

NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education

Found In: teaching strategies

Some researchers are urging schools to take a fresh look at homework and its potential for engaging students and improving student performance. The key, they say, is to take into account grade-specific and developmental factors when determining the amount and kind of homework.

So, what's appropriate? What benefits can be expected? What makes for good homework policies? Research doesn't have all the answers, but a review of some existing data yields some helpful observations and guidance.

How Much Homework Do Students Do?

Survey data and anecdotal evidence show that some students spend hours nightly doing homework. Homework overload is the exception rather than the norm; however, according to research from the Brookings Institution and the Rand Corporation (see the Brown Center 2003 below). Their researchers analyzed data from a variety of sources and concluded that the majority of U.S. students spend less than an hour a day on homework, regardless of grade level, and this has held true for most of the past 50 years. In the last 20 years, homework has increased only in the lower grade levels, and this increase is associated with neutral (and sometimes negative) effects on student achievement.

How Much Is Appropriate?

The National PTA recommendations fall in line with general guidelines suggested by researcher Harris Cooper: 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for twelfth). High school students may sometimes do more, depending on what classes they take (see Review of Educational Research, 2006).

What are the benefits?

Homework usually falls into one of three categories: practice, preparation, or extension. The purpose usually varies by grade. Individualized assignments that tap into students' existing skills or interests can be motivating. At the elementary school level, homework can help students develop study skills and habits and can keep families informed about their child's learning. At the secondary school level, student homework is associated with greater academic achievement. (Review of Educational Research, 2006)

What’s good policy?

Experts advise schools or districts to include teachers, parents, and students in any effort to set homework policies. Policies should address the purposes of homework; amount and frequency; school and teacher responsibilities; student responsibilities; and, the role of parents or others who assist students with homework.

References

Related Links

  • A Nation At Rest: The American Way of Homework ( PDF, 439 KB, 19 pgs.)
    Summary and comments from authors) - Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 25(3) (2003, Fall). Gill, B. P., & Schlossman, S. L.
  • Helping Your Child with Homework ( PDF, 378 KB, 25 pgs.)
    U.S. Department of Education. (2002). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Research Spotlight on Best Practices in Education
    A list of NEA Spotlights on best practices.
  • NEA Reports & Statistics
    Research reports reviewing data on educational issues and policy papers concerning NEA members, educators, and the public school community.

I love listening to audiobooks. I share my enthusiasm with teachers, parents, students, family members, and anyone else who will listen. Many rejoice right along with me in their merits.

But, at other times, my enthusiasm is met with comments such as "That's not really reading, is it?" or "I won't let my students listen to audiobooks because that's cheating." Listening to books is certainly different from reading books, but is it cheating? Does listening to audiobooks count as reading?

I suppose the answer to that question must come from one's own definition of reading. If reading is understanding the content of the story or the theme, then audiobooks certainly succeed. No one would argue the importance of decoding in teaching children to read. But, understanding the message, thinking critically about the content, using imagination, and making connections is at the heart of what it means to be a reader and why kids learn to love books.

Audiobooks have traditionally been used in schools by teachers of second-language learners, learning-disabled students, and struggling readers or nonreaders. In many cases, audiobooks have proven successful in providing a way for these students to access literature and enjoy books. But they have not been widely used with average, avid, or gifted readers. Varley (2002) writes, "Uncertain whether audiobooks belong to the respectable world of books or the more dubious world of entertainment, elementary and high-school teachers have often cast a fishy eye at them, and many have opted for the safe course of avoidance."

It might be appropriate, then, to list the benefits of audiobooks for all students. Audiobooks can be used to:

  • Introduce students to books above their reading level
  • Model good interpretive reading
  • Teach critical listening
  • Highlight the humor in books
  • Introduce new genres that students might not otherwise consider
  • Introduce new vocabulary or difficult proper names or locales
  • Sidestep unfamiliar dialects or accents, Old English, and old-fashioned literary styles
  • Provide a read-aloud model
  • Provide a bridge to important topics of discussion for parents and children who can listen together while commuting to sporting events, music lessons, or on vacations
  • Recapture "the essence and the delights of hearing stories beautifully told by extraordinarily talented storytellers" (Baskin & Harris, 1995, p. 376)

Additionally, many audiobooks are read by the author or include commentary by the author. A recording of The Fighing Ground by Avi, for example, includes an author interview in which he explains how he came up with the idea for the book. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is read by author Jack Gantos and also includes commentary about why he wrote the book. This information can provide students with a connection to the author as well as insight into the author's thoughts and the writing process.

Even with all the benefits of audiobooks, however, they are not for all students. For some, the pace may be too fast or too slow. For others, the narrator's voice can be irritating or the use of cassette or CD players can be cumbersome when compared to the flexibility of the book. But the majority of students will find listening to well-narrated, quality literature to be a transformative experience. Varley (2002) states, "If one thing has struck me about the way people describe listening to audiobooks, it is the reported intensity of their absorption and the emotional grip of the experience. 'They go right to your soul,' says one listener."

One reason more audiobooks are not finding their way into classrooms is availability. Public libraries usually have a good quantity of audiobooks, but most school libraries have a limited number – audiobooks are expensive. The cost of cassette or CD players and headphones must also be taken into consideration, and though these costs have come down considerably in the last few years, schools typically do not budget funds for such purchases.

If money is available for purchasing audiobooks, it is important for librarians and teachers to do their homework before buying. Single-author unabridged audiobooks tend to be the best, though some dramatizations (such as Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, read by the author with a cast of more than 40 British actors) can be excellent. There are many sources of audiobook reviews readily available online, including School Library Journal. [Note: The Association for Library Service for Children also publishes an annual Notable Children's Recordings list.]

Audiobooks can be a welcome addition to every classroom. Many students are avid readers while others are struggling to become readers and still others have given up hope. Audiobooks have something to offer all of them.

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