Invention of Homework: Who Is to Blame and Did He Hate Students That Much?
Probably every student sitting over fill-in test sheets, verb lists or math problems has wondered at least once who designed the after-school learning process a.k.a. homework and why he did it. Obviously not for the love of science and learning, since such loads of homework just overburden students and make them sleepy and tired all the time. But why, then? Because students were too loud and nasty and so it was a kind of punishment to make them learn even at home? Or because a teacher was lazy, busy or absent and so students had to catch up with the curricula on their own? Well, the history of homework is not that dramatic or mysterious, but it does contain some useful insights that can benefit both – students and teachers.
A Bit of History
Although no source provides clear mentioning of homework through the long history of education up to the 19th century, it is most probable that it existed in this or that form all along the way. Doing observations, composing verses and speeches in rhetoric in the antiquity, memorizing prayers and Biblical texts in the middle ages, acquiring knowledge about the natural world from books and from nature in times of the Industrial revolution – it all required work beyond classroom walls. Besides, methods of teaching and available supplies before the invention of the printing press meant that most things had to be learned by heart. So information was either copied from valuable books or from teacher’s voice and learned after classes, or learned in class through chanting and mnemonic tools, thus being homework done in class.
Some cite Marcus Quintilian, a famous Roman orator and teacher, as a first person to explicitly assign homework, but there is no clear written evidence for it. However, Quintilian was a first humanist teacher who focused on the needs of child and benefits of early education, so his influence is recognized today even without reference to homeworking.
The appearance of the printing press meant that books were made available to a much wider audience, and so opportunities to make kids study after classes efficiently became wider. Fiction and non-fiction literature of early modernity sometimes mention children learning their lessons after classes to be able to recite them in class on the next day. Thus homework was in full bloom long before the thorough overhaul of education in the 19th century and the establishment of a truly comprehensive and standardized educational system.
In the 19th century and closer to the 20th century needs of developing economy and advances in child psychology and physiology meant that educational approaches and beliefs had to be reconsidered if they were to prepare kids for the life in new conditions. Class time was limited and standardized, a content of study aligned all across the country and made more practical, teachers were certified and the outcome of education was also outlined in measurable terms. Learning was to be intense, but class time could not host all information and activities anymore. Thus homework became an important part of education, but it also became regulated and quantified, relying not only on memorization but on independent work and creativity as well.
The name of Roberto Nevilis is sometimes connected to the history of homework but he cannot be credited with inventing something that actually existed long before. It is possible that he was the first to put forward a scientific foundation for how to assign homework, but we will never know it for sure. Nevertheless, the real value and proper rationing of homework were being tested and adjusted well into the 1930s, when an explosion in psychological studies helped understand educational needs of children and how they can be nurtured and supported, not destroyed, by homework.
Namely, there are benchmarks that differentiate useful homework from a homework dispensed as a punishment:
- Educationally useful homework is feasible (i.e. practically sound and accomplishable)
- It is not excessively large and difficult (part of feasibility)
- It is dispensed when students are independent enough to study without a teacher.
These are basic requirements that apply to any kind of homework. Thus when students claim that they cannot cope with homework load because it consumes all their time it means that the first two commandments of good homework are breached and its benefits rapidly decline.
But how does homework work? It is not a pun, there are scientific explanations of the process of knowledge acquisition that do point to the necessity of homework. Read them through, and you will never doubt the necessity of homework as such.
Today no one doubts that proper homework helps to consolidate the freshly acquired knowledge and provides an opportunity to work independently and to find out what pace and methods of learning work out for every particular student. Thus good homework targets at achieving these goals and at enabling students to get the maximum of benefits from every topic studied.
- in class, the material is newly acquired and comprehended. Everything happens in time-pressed manner, where after learning new topic students are to take tests, do exercises or engage in some other unrelated kind of activities because the curriculum is wide and time is scarce;
- to get a better understanding of material repetitive reading and analysis are required, and they can happen out of class only. So reading and analyzing at home improves understanding and internalizing of knowledge;
- scholarly concepts can be tricky to grasp in class on the go, so at home, where nothing distracts and time permits, their assimilation and memorization happen more easily and naturally;
- memorization cannot happen immediately, every student has their own memory capacities, and what one remembers immediately, the other can memorize only after reading it a dozen times;
- what is repeated at time intervals and rehearsed at home is learned much better than something learned in the classroom only;
- homework gives time and space to be creative, to come up with new ideas, play with them, research, and so on. So indeed it is a tool of boosting creativity and independence.
But we will remind again, all these good things happen only when homework is feasible and limited in time. If all free time of students is consumed by learning only, the benefits of homework turn into downsides.
Besides, when assigning homework teachers and instructors need to take into consideration that acquisition and internalization of material happen through various kinds of activities, not only through reading and writing. The learning process includes several stages:
- initial perception
- understanding of perceived concepts
- formation of skills
- application of skills in practice.
Every mentioned stage needs its own methods of work, and teachers are to select combinations of these methods to include into homework so that every aspect of the learning process was involved and activated. It is a complex task indeed, but if performed properly, homework turns from a nightmare into a cool journey full of discoveries and wonders.
Genuine Goals of Homework
Believe it or not, but homework was not created out of spite towards naughty students. It was born out of necessity and proved its value across continents and times. Different countries apply different standards in regard to the amount of homework. There were times when this load was on the rise, then the tide receded and kids had more freedom, now the high tide of a home task is back again. But no matter where properly measured and diversified homework enables students to do more than in class and to do so in comfort:
- students can plan their work as they want
- they can study without someone assessing them
- they do not have to haste or put a stop in the middle of a sentence to turn the test in
- they choose the pace and rhythm
- they use all the sources they need.
Thus home task supports the academic activities performed in the class and provides space for more activities that help students know more and study better. Indeed, they memorize the stuff learned in class, revise and refresh in memory previously learned things and consolidate and apply newly acquired skills. That’s the goal of a good education, and homework is an integral part of the path towards it.
But in addition to these purely academic benefits, homework develops in students more general life-saving skills:
- responsibility, self-planning and will
- basics of self-education
- research and information evaluation skills, use of various sources
- information processing capacities (analysis, synthesis, hypothesizing, analogy, etc.).
These primary and secondary goals and benefits can all be achieved – and are achieved – under a proper application of homework and its types. Combination of different varieties of assignments is a key to helping students learn and not killing their curiosity. But what are these types?
Optimal Types and Scopes of Homework
Types of homework are the same as types of work in class, and so a combination of several of them makes home learning not so boring and more effective:
- Initial acquisition of information from textbooks/lectures
- Written exercises
- Oral exercises
- Memorization exercises
- Creative tasks
- Large written projects
- Craft projects
- Lab work, experiments, field work.
Each kind of work is valuable in itself, but when put together in moderate amounts and diversified, they work wonders when assigned for home performance. If you need any kind of the above-mentioned tasks, just let us know and you will get the A-grade assignment completed as fast as you need it.
Homework and Improved Education: Mission Possible?
So what’s the conclusion? It looks obvious now that canceling homework is implausible and senseless since it will hurt the educational process. After receiving information in class students need to consolidate it, refresh in memory and apply in practice. It all can be done successfully at home only when time permits and a student is relaxed. If all conditions of good homework are met, it will work wonders for students’ skills and grades.
And of course, it is wrong to believe, as some teachers do, that homework is a way to discipline kids and teach them time management. It is not. It is neither a punishment nor a mechanical tool of oppression. It is a valuable addition to the class time that helps students learn better and learn more. But teachers should understand this role of homework and organize it properly and reasonably, in the first place. In other words, they should learn their lesson.