Thoughts on Assigning Homework

Proponents of assigning homework probably believe that students need regular practice outside of class.  While I’m totally not against students practicing math outside of class, I don’t believe that we should give homework simply so that the students can practice.  Let me clarify: I’m not saying that students do not need the practice at all.  And I do believe that some parts of mathematics need to be practiced until learned.  If a student needs to practice, that’s fine.  However, I am against giving homework simply for this purpose.  I sincerely believe that not all students benefit from this method of drill, drill, drill until you get it correct, or you memorize enough to be able to pass the upcoming test.  That’s not learning.  Homework should part of the learning experience.
My stance on homework is that the quality of the homework problems matters more than the quantity of the homework problems.   And I believe that this statement applies to both the instructors and the students.  Instructors need to design quality homework problems and students need to turn in quality solutions to the problems.  For some instructors and some groups of students, regular homework after every chapter can definitely be a good thing.  However, for some students, bi-weekly homework, or even one or two semester projects might be better.  I have used many formats for assigning homework, adapting them to each group of students.

Opponents of assigning homework might disagree with me with their massive claims that assigning homework hasn’t helped to improve test scores, so they just don’t assign it anymore.  Although, I’m not totally against this notion that there is no visible connection between homework and test scores, I think that the benefit of homework goes well beyond just whether the test scores are higher or not.  What I believe homework does is conditions students to see the problem, review the problem, and attempt to critically think and solve the problem.  Even if there are no numerical benefits from homework, what I have seen to be true is that homework helps to reduce math anxiety, test anxiety, and stress among the students.  So, even if the student gets the same score that he or she would have gotten without the homework, the student was saved plenty of hours of anxiety and stress.

Again, I would like to stress that I honestly believe that homework assignments need to be thoughtfully designed by the instructor and considered part of the learning experience.  Homework is essential.  It should take whatever form it needs to take in order to be beneficial for the students.