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What is a homework question?

I can't find an appropriate definition of what the homework tag should cover. Is it homework if it is not to be handed in? Is it homework if it is an exercise from a book during self-study? Is it homework if it is a question which has come up while preparing for a test?

Martin Sleziak's user avatar

4 Answers 4

I'll bite. It's homework if

You're a student, and

Your teacher told you to do it, and

You're expected to do it on your own, or report any help you got on it.

Gerry Myerson's user avatar

There should be a situation like this (although MSE seems unable to make it work...):

You have a problem you want to solve yourself, you state it here and show what you did so far and where you got stuck. You want us here to provide you merely with a small hint to help you proceed. You do not want us here to write the complete solution within 10 minutes.

That is a "homework" or "homework-type" question.

The burden is on our users here. When they see the "homework" tag they should restrain themselves and not post a complete solution. That is the part that doesn't work here. Even if 99 percent of us do it, there is often that one guy who goes ahead with the solution.

GEdgar's user avatar

Without meaning to take anything away from any other comments or answers, I would (reiterate that) an exogenously-assigned homework, with a due date, with "judgement" coming due, is essentially infinitely different from any sort of self-assigned task. I had always presumed that "homework" meant that the questioner had limited idea of the context of the question, also, and, in any case, might have limited motivation to understand any larger context, but "needed" to come up with an answer ... e.g., to avoid a bad grade. That is, ... apart from any apparent intellectual/scientific/aesthetic motivations.

I have no serious objection to motivation-by-coursework, but, yes, cliche'd questions thus arising have a different, and somewhat delicate, status, in contrast to questions arising outside of such an environment.

paul garrett's user avatar

Semantics aside, homework is a problem assigned to you by your course instructor and the due date hasn't passed yet . If the due date has already passed then it's no longer a homework.

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How to solve the homework problem

Some want to abolish it. Mr. Markiewicz and I have an idea.

March 28, 2018

Not long ago I saw the following headline: “Anti- homework trend goes global.”

Anti-homework? Where was this trend when I was in school, lamenting my chemistry assignments? And if I tried to “forget” that English paper or history report, my dad, like clockwork, was there to remind me: “Don’t you have homework to do?”

Yes, I did. I almost always did. 

In short, my teachers and my parents were in cahoots, the message being that homework was important, homework was good, and schooling extended to the home, where my education continued unabated.

No longer. From what I have read, there are powerful parental forces at play to make homework a thing of the past. The reasoning: It stresses children and it steals “precious family time.”

Hmm ... I wonder. As a teacher, one of the problems I often encounter is that students assign far too little importance to their studies, resulting in shoddy or incomplete work. My experience is that a little stress – as exerted by the standards I lay out – impels them to do the good, thorough work they are capable of.

I also wonder about the “precious family time.” If homework were abolished, would the time thereby freed up be used for reading poetry aloud at the dinner table or having heart-to-heart discussions about the social and political landscapes? In the age of the internet and games such as Candy Crush, which has absorbed the time and interest of otherwise intelligent adults, I am doubtful.

When I was a kid, homework actually created precious family time. I still remember, after supper, clearing the table and replacing the dishes with my schoolbooks. And then, in swing shifts, my working-class parents would sit down with me and, to the best of their abilities, help me when and where they could. 

It wasn’t always easy for them, and I recall, on one occasion, my father wringing his hands over the so-called new math that was all the rage at the time. 

But I also remember their admonishments to write plainly, legibly, and clearly; to read the text before I attempted to answer the questions; and to show my work when answering a math problem. And, having done my duty – often under duress, I admit – I was extended the reward of a half-hour of television.

I’ve often thought that the homework question, or controversy, could be resolved if one thought of homework in terms of learning to play a musical instrument. For me, this was the clarinet, which I began learning at age 9. Every week I took a 30-minute lesson from an older Polish man, Mr. Markiewicz, who had a small studio above a hardware store in Jersey City, N.J. 

The thing was, 30 minutes a week was not enough for me to make satisfactory progress. (I recall how devilishly difficult it was to get even that first plangent tone out of the clarinet.) I mean, my goal was to play like Benny Goodman. Did Benny learn to swing like an angel by playing only 30 minutes a week?

“Practice an hour a day,” was Mr. Markiewicz’s no-nonsense directive. “Practice an hour a day, and you’ll be playing polkas before you know it.”

Because my motivation was strong, I did practice an hour a day, and I did learn to play “The Hot Kielbasy Polka” in a reasonable amount of time. But, beyond the 30-minute nudges from Mr. Markiewicz, it was my elbow grease that got me there.

And so I am willing to compromise. Let’s get rid of homework, but only the word “homework,” and replace it with “practice.” As a teacher, it’s all I ask: that my students listen up in class and then go home to practice, so that when they return to me to show me how much they understand, I – and their parents – can be proud of them.

What could be nicer than that?

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homework problem meaning

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homework problem meaning

Addressing The Problem with Homework

Have you ever considered that there’s a problem with homework?

I can’t remember the number of emails I composed that started with, “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, your son Thomas is missing the following assignments…”

In response, I’d usually receive a big stack of hastily completed assignments. “Great,” I would think, “now to grade all of this.”

Other times, I received more hostile responses. Some parents wrote back with excuses, questioned the value of the work, or accused me of misplacing their child’s assignments.

I used to go to great lengths to defend my homework assignments. I’d heard all the reasons why homework was necessary.

But eventually, I began to wonder, “Does homework really accomplish these goals?”

Imagine that you had the chance to redesign our educational system from scratch, would homework be a part of it?

Is your school or district interested in boosting student engagement and achievement? Schedule your FREE CONSULTATION to find out how we can help turn your vision into a classroom reality.

Why We Assign Homework

While there has been an increased focus lately on the problem with homework, it’s mostly taken for granted. Death, taxes, homework.

I looked for statistics on the percentage of schools that assign homework, but Google had nothing to offer. How could Google come up empty-handed? I suspect it’s because 99.9% of schools assign homework on a daily basis. All I could find were articles about the surprising amount of homework that most students complete. 

When I think back to my first year teaching,  I never considered whether I should assign homework. My only question was what to assign.

And if you ask traditional educators whether homework is necessary, most can rattle off a number of supposed benefits without missing a beat.

Here are four of the most common reasons that schools assign homework.

1. For the Benefit of Students 

Many educators genuinely believe that students benefit from homework . 

Some say that homework builds character. That the act of taking home worksheets, filling them out, and bringing them back to school is valuable in and of itself. 

Another argument is that homework provides necessary “skills practice.” During lecture-based classes, there’s no time for students to engage with the content. Therefore, they need homework to practice what they learned that day.

2. Because We Have To

For many teachers, homework isn’t a choice. I was never forced to assign homework, but I’ve coached teachers who were.

One teacher would spend most of each day’s math block ‘going over the homework.’ Much of this time involved interrogating the students who hadn’t done it and threatening to call home.

I suggested she avoid assigning homework for one week. We focused on lesson planning , given she would now have to fill her classes with something other than homework review.

But on my next visit to that school, the principal was furious. How dare I “stir up trouble with her teachers.” I was told that homework was mandatory. When I asked her why, she told me one reason was that parents insisted on homework. 

Even when it isn’t mandatory, there is pressure to assign homework. In some schools, teachers who don’t assign “enough” homework are viewed as lazy or disorganized.

3. It’s Always Been Done This Way

The most common reason for assigning homework is also the simplest: it’s always been done this way .

Grace Hopper quote: "The most damaging phrase in the language is: 'It's always been done this way,'" can explain the problem with homework in many schools.

In education, many of our habits are defined by what we saw in school when we were students. And it  is  important to learn from those who have gone before us. 

We can’t be expected to question every single assumption that is made in schools. 

Tests and quizzes. Summer vacation. Parent conferences. Homework.

We don’t have the time to examine every practice in schools. Teachers have a lot on our plates . And in many cases, business as usual is good enough.

4. To Fill the Void

Just as institutional inertia compels us to assign homework, choosing to eliminate homework creates a vacuum. And every science teacher knows that nature abhors a vacuum.

Homework provides grades for the grade book . And a start-of-class routine. It helps us separate our superstars from our struggling learners. And it gives us something to talk about with parents and colleagues.

Most schools now require teachers to post their homework online. Who wants to be the one teacher on the website with a blank homework calendar?

Teachers who want to eliminate homework need something to put in its place. More assessments. A new lesson plan structure. New things to write about in our report card comments.

Unless we’re clear about what to do instead of homework, it seems sensible to stick with the system we already know.

Understanding The Problem with Homework

Despite the common reasons for assigning homework, the practice creates a number of problems. Maybe even more than it solves.

While it provides an assessment, it creates extra paperwork. It promotes responsibility, but it frustrates students. It also creates tension among parents, teachers, and students.

Yet despite all the talk about the benefits of homework, there is little evidence that it actually works. On the other hand, the problem with homework has been documented in detail . 

Here are some of the reasons we should rethink homework.

Problem with Homework #1: Its Impact on School Culture 

While some students may enjoy the thrill of a good worksheet , most would happily go without.

Struggles over homework can strain relationships between students and teachers . As a classroom teacher, few topics led to more tension with students and their parents. (Grades were another pain point ).

Homework also creates problems in the home. I have several friends and family members who tell me that arguments over homework are a daily occurrence.

A number of parents are pushing back . Some are even taking schools on with homework opt-out letters . At the end of the day, who can blame them? 

I expect parents to support our decisions and authority in the classroom. But in their own home? Do we even want that responsibility?

Problem with Homework #2: Lack of Support

A second problem with homework is that teachers can’t help students when they struggle.

In a traditional classroom-homework model, the teacher lectures in class. Students go home and complete practice questions, do further reading, or write a response.

But too much time passes between class and home. After direct instruction, students need to interact with content immediately. 

And students need the help of an instructor when they are practicing. 100 years ago we may have needed teachers to provide information. Nowadays, students can find high-quality lectures online. Or they can do a Google search to find what they need to know.

But what many students can’t get is the attention of an expert to guide them through productive struggle.

This is why homework is also an equity issue . Affluent, college-educated parents can step in and offer support. Their children have computers, fast internet, tutors, and whatever else they need to succeed.

But less privileged students may not even have a clean, well-lighted place to complete their homework.

Problem with Homework #3: Vanishing Childhood

Empty swings highlighting the ways that the burden of homework prevents students from enjoying their childhood.

There is also concern about the wisdom of extending academic responsibilities beyond the school day.

Many studies (and simple common sense) have demonstrated the value of free play and independent learning time .

As schools cut back on recess , and eliminate arts and extra-curriculars, students spend more time in highly-structured, content-driven learning environments.

This contributes to student stress, as well as overall disengagement. And students who learn the narrowly-defined skills and content that appear on standardized tests aren’t always served by this knowledge in the world outside the classroom.

Students need time to have fun, interact with friends, and explore their own interests. They already spend half of their waking hours in school. Isn’t that enough?

Problem with Homework #4: It Just Doesn’t Work

Does homework really offer valuable practice? Does it really build responsibility? The research says ‘no.’

Certainly, there is some benefit to being able to take a piece of paper home and bring it back the next day. But does that justify the hours spent completing worksheets ?

One major problem with homework is that so much of it is tedious and repetitive. We used to think that such repetition promoted learning. 

But while repetition promotes short-term remembering , students quickly forget what they’ve learned through repetition. Further, “remembering” is itself one small aspect of learning . 

A focus on remembering leaves students with information that has little benefit outside the classroom . What they need most are transferable skills and experience solving problems.

Four Ways to Fix the Problem with Homework

Homework is woven into all aspects of education. Just the thought of removing it from our classes can seem overwhelming.

But many teachers are doing away with homework . And they’re finding that they don’t miss it. Students are happier. And what’s more, they’re just as successful academically.

Your school may not be prepared to take such drastic measures. But there are other ways you can address the problem with homework.

1. Make it Optional

Some schools are continuing to assign homework, but making it optional.

At first, I thought this was a terrible idea. After all, who would do homework if it’s optional?

But the approach has merit. For one, it sends a positive message about student ownership. This is a much more effective way to teach responsibility than forcing students to complete worksheets. If they need extra practice, great. If not, also fine.

It also addresses situations where parents demand homework. Many parents still believe (despite the evidence) that homework is necessary for success in school and life. Others see homework as a way to keep their children out of their hair for a few hours.

So rather than trying to change parents’ minds, give them what they ask for. Just don’t force it on everyone else. 

And since it’s optional, it doesn’t need to be graded or reviewed in class, saving valuable prep and instructional time.

2. Make it Interesting

Perhaps the biggest problem with homework is how boring most of it is. If we want students to develop independence and motivation, we need to make the work interesting and relevant.

It starts by ending reflexive homework. When we feel the need to assign work every day, we look for things to fill out the calendar.

But this approach is backwards. Homework shouldn’t fill time. It should fill a need. Only assign homework when there is a beneficial learning experience that can’t occur in the classroom . Have students interview a family member. Take pictures from their house or neighborhood. 

If homework can make academic content more relevant, that provides a powerful benefit for students and families.

3. Make it Flexible

Incorporating student choice is a wonderful way to address the problem with homework.

First, think about offering students flexible timelines. For a while, my only homework assignment was for students to complete one hour of personalized learning  per week. When students had a big soccer game or a family event, I didn’t need to grant homework passes or coordinate with parents – they just completed work on the other nights.

It’s also helpful to give students choice in what they are doing. Broad assignments allow students to find something in your subject that interests them. Assign a paragraph on a current event that they find interesting, or any topic from the history of math.

4. Engage Students in Class

If we justify homework by saying that “students need practice,” it can mean we are filling our lessons with too much teacher talk.

Explore lesson models that engage students in active learning. This approach is more fun, more efficient, and more impactful. 

There’s no need for content introduction and ‘practice’ to occur in sequence. Inquiry-based learning allows students to learn new content, practice problem-solving, and develop social-emotional skills.

Ready to Address the Problem with Homework?

Homework is deeply connected to everything we do in the classroom. And for many students, it defines their overall experience of school.

But adjusting to a post-homework world isn’t as simple as “just saying no” to homework. It’s important to consider the needs of all stakeholders, and the role that homework played in your classroom, school or district.

So if you’re serious about rethinking homework, we’re here to help. We offer a range of consulting and instructional coaching programs to help school and district leaders make your vision a classroom reality. Schedule a free consultation to learn more about the existing solutions to your most pressing challenges.

If you’re a teacher looking to eliminate homework from your lesson plans, talk to an instructional coach . Our experienced coaches provide support that’s tailored to your specific needs, and the needs of your students. Working with a coach can save you time, build your confidence, and help you take charge of your professional learning.


About the Author

Jeff Lisciandrello is the founder of Room to Discover and an educational consultant specializing in student-centered learning practices

Jeff Lisciandrello is the founder of Room to Discover and an education consultant specializing in student-centered learning. His  3-Bridges Design for Learning  helps schools explore innovative practices within traditional settings. He enjoys helping educators embrace inquiry-based and personalized approaches to instruction. You can connect with him via Twitter  @EdTechJeff


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  1. Homework problem

    This deficit contributes to the homework problem. By not having satisfactorily grasped the classroom lessons, the student is at a disadvantage at homework time.

  2. Homework problem

    a problem that students are assigned to do outside of class.

  3. Homework problem Definition, Meaning & Synonyms

    homework problem a problem that students are assigned to do outside of class · figured-fabric loom a loom for weaving figured fabrics · health problem a state in

  4. Homework problem

    Synonyms for homework problem in Free Thesaurus. Antonyms for homework problem. 1 word related to homework problem: problem. ... Also found in: Dictionary.

  5. Meaning of homework problem in english english dictionary 1

    Nearby Words · homework. [n] preparatory school work done outside school (especially at home) · homework problem. [n] a problem that students are assigned to do

  6. Homework

    Homework is a set of tasks assigned to students by their teachers to be completed outside the classroom. Common homework assignments may include required

  7. What is a homework question?

    1. Ask your professor if s/he would call it "homework". · 1 · One extreme case of the "homework" question is the kind where the poster copies the

  8. How to solve the homework problem

    I mean, my goal was to play like Benny Goodman. Did Benny learn to swing like an angel by playing only 30 minutes a week? “Practice an hour a

  9. Why Homework is Bad: Stress and Consequences

    In 2013, research conducted at Stanford University found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework

  10. Addressing The Problem with Homework

    A second problem with homework is that teachers can't help students when they struggle. In a traditional classroom-homework model, the teacher lectures in class