A TIMSS (Trends in Math and Science Study) survey, conducted in 2007, revealed that fourth grader students in countries that set below average levels of homework were more academically successful in math and science than those in countries that set above average levels. In Japan – ranked second in the results table – only three percent of students reported a particularly heavy workload of over three hours a night while a staggering 20 percent of Dutch students – whose scores were in the international top 10 – claimed to do no homework whatsoever. This is in stark contrast to countries like Greece and Thailand, where higher workloads have done nothing to rectify lower scores.
These results are not alone in debunking the myth that homework in any way benefits the academic performance of elementary students. So why, we should ask, are policymakers and educators so hell-bent on enforcing it? In his 2006 publication The Homework Myth, prolific author and outspoken critic of the current educational system Alfie Kohn set out a well argued and evidentially attested thesis saying that the purpose of homework is twofold. Firstly it’s meant to instill an air of competitiveness in children, not only within the physical classroom, but, because of the quantitatively driven approach of policy experts, within the global classroom – against China, Singapore and Finland, for example. Secondly, homework is used as a weapon to combat adults’ inherent mistrust of children, keeping them busy so they don’t run riot. This latter suggestion may baffle belief, but a concerned parent’s response to the suggestion that homework be banned (‘we have to have homework… otherwise the kids won’t have structure and they will just come home and fool around’) attests to its current orthodoxy.
The thing about homework is that is doesn’t work. As shown by numerous studies, it brings no educational benefits, acts as a root cause of conflict between children, parents and teachers and has detrimental mental and physical effects on children that, by the fact that they’re avoidable, are absolutely inexcusable. Children are not the only ones to fear the evils of homework though. Teachers, under increasing amounts of pressure to meet targets, cover curricula and achieve grades, are incentivized to set more and more of it and grade more and more of it; something that wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t so aware of its utter pointlessness.
The most important problem, however, is that homework is more closely associated with punishment than with pleasure. Made to be completed during time that should be spent engaging in creative, playful and recreational pursuits, homework doesn’t even have the courtesy to be enjoyable by nature – as is completely apparent from my students’ faces when I fulfill my duties to the school in setting it for them. And such truth is not surprising when you consider that for homework to be enjoyable, it would have to be everything it’s not: optional instead of mandatory, creative rather than prescribed and objectively appreciated instead of subjectively assessed. Improvement to our children’s education, until we redefine what our definition of education really is, can only be achieved through one thing, its removal.
10 Reasons Never to Procrastinate
by Professors Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman
Procrastinatev. To put off doing something until a future time [Latin prōcrāstināre “to put forward until tomorrow”].
All human beings put off doing things they think will be unpleasant, painful, or difficult. And college students are no exception. Confronted with a paper, preparation for a test, or even brief review for a quiz, many students’ first impulse (and some students’ second, third, and fourth impulses) is to delay for as long as they can. But this isn’t a good – or in some cases even a rational strategy. Wonder why? Read on.
1. You could run out of time. Any time there’s a hard deadline – which is just about always in college courses – you run the risk of missing the deadline if you keep putting off the work. And, with professors unwilling to give extensions except in very special circumstances, you could be setting yourself up for a grade penalty – often as much as one-third to one-half a grade a day – if you’re late getting the work in. Big risk.
2. Ideas take time to jell. Most college papers require you to come up with an idea, then spend time thinking about it, revising it, and refining it. If you run the clock down the last-minute, you won’t have time to go through all the intellectual stages for fully considered work. And even for tests — if they’re essay tests – you want to allow sufficient time to think through the issues in some detail – rather than dishing up some half-baked answer you prepared the night before.
- Best-Kept Secret. When professors give out paper assignments, say, ten days before they’re due, they’re expecting that you pick a topic and think about, and, if appropriate, research the issues throughout the ten-day period. The idea is not (as some students think) that you work two days on the paper – only you have a choice of Thursday and Friday, or Friday and Saturday, or Saturday and Sunday, etc.
3. You could be misestimating the difficulty of the task. In many cases, it’s hard to gauge at the outset exactly how much time it’ll take to do the assignment – especially if the work is on unfamiliar terrain or involves many different problems, pieces, or parts. If you procrastinate too long, you might not have enough time to do all the tasks (or to do them all well) .
4. You could be misestimating the pain. One of the main reasons all of us procrastinate is to avoid the pain of actually doing the work. But in many cases students overestimate the pain they’ll actually be feeling. It’s easy to do: when staring down a 10-page paper, a 20-problem problem set, or 400 pages of reading, you feel the task is insurmountable and the very thought of it fills you with dread. But, in most cases, when you get started you find that the task isn’t as difficult as you anticipated, especially if you break it up into manageable pieces over an extended period of time.
- 5-Star Tip. As you whittle down the amount of stuff to be done, the pain will go down. So the amount of pain and resistance that you feel before you start is the maximum. Things are guaranteed – 100-percent – to get better as you work your way in.
5. Something could come up. Any time you have a project that extends over some period of time, there’s the possibility that something unexpected could come up – thus, torpedoing your work. It could be something bad: you could be sick as a dog for three days, another professor could spring a quiz on you that requires emergency preparation, or some non-refusable work- or family-commitment could arise out of nowhere. But it could also be something good: a new discovery in your research, an unexpected find in a journal, a deeper strand of analysis in your thinking about the issue – all of these could require further thinking, and more time, than you had planned. Not running the clock down to the last second will make room for all these possibilities.
6. You blow off your chance for help from the professor (or TA). Especially if the assignment is challenging, many students will want to enlist the help of the instructor, either in office hours, by email, or at some schools, by Skype. But the professor is likely to only have office hours a couple of times a week, and not every professor is IM’ing back his or her students with immediate answers. So don’t delay so long that you won’t have a chance to consult with the prof in case of difficulty – and have ample time to implement his or her suggestions in revising your work.
7. No one works well under time pressure. If you put off your work ‘til the day (or worse, the night) before it’s due, you’ll have to work in an incredible rush and under crazy pressure. And, contrary to popular myths, virtually nobody works well under such conditions. It’s even worse than that. The acute panic of the night-before-its due (the “OMG, how am I ever going to get this done in time?”) combined with the guilt of having put off the work for the nine days before (the “Why didn’t I get off my a** a week ago? ”) isn’t the best recipe for one’s best work.
8. You might not have time to polish up your work. One of the main differences between fair-to-good and really excellent work is that the really excellent work has gone through a series of drafts (if a paper) or a series of going-overs (if it’s a problem set). When you’re down the wire, you often skip steps and hand in a less-than-fully crafted paper or a less-than-fully-checked-over problem set. The prof is sure to notice the “rushed” quality of the work, when he or she pulls your paper out of the stack.
9. You put yourself at a strategic disadvantage. While you’re busy cooking up reasons for putting off your work for another day, some of your cohorts are rushing out of the starting gate to do the work (even your duplicitous “friends” who tell you they’re going to pull all-nighters). These classmates might wind up making you look bad, especially if the professor curves the grades or, at least, compares the assignments one to another as he or she reads them over.
10. The task isn’t going to change. Deep down – and irrationally –some students think that somehow the task is going to get easier if it gets addressed in the distant future. Of course, this isn’t so; the assignment is fixed when it is handed out (that’s why the belief is irrational). So, grab the bull by the horns, start the work when the assignment is given and, who knows, you might actually enjoy doing the work.
If you liked the tips in this article, you’ll love the 637 tips in our book, The Secrets of College Success. Write us with questions or blog ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow us on Twitter @professorsguide. We’d love to hear from you – really.