What makes a good homework assignment?

Nothing is more stressful than dealing with an assignment that blows your mind away (in a bad way, that is). Homework is a powerful learning instrument if used correctly and with certain amount of creativity.  What does a perfect (or at least a good) home assignment look like? According to Cathy J.Vatterott, an Associate Professor of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, it has five features: a clear educational purpose, efficiency, ownership, competence and aesthetic attractiveness. Let’s have a closer look at each of them.

General educational purpose of any home assignment is to help a student enhance skills and acquire new knowledge (at least it has to be). However, far not every assignment complies with this criterion leaving students alone with useless work to do. As a matter of fact, an assignment should complement and back-up what has been learnt in class or give a chance to implement new skills. This, however, can be approached differently. While some teachers assign to rewrite book paragraphs, others will offer their students to write scenarios for a movie about the French Revolution offering extra credits for it (mind you, it is optional – those who don’t feel up to thinking through plot twists can take the standard test as usual). The scenario assignment encourages students to learn more about the subject willing to impress the teacher as well as their classmates.

Efficiency of a home assignment is easily estimated by comparing the time spent to the educational result achieved. The best assignments do not require much time or materials, yet they contribute significantly to knowledge. Therefore, large-scale projects are rarely efficient, as their learning performance is relatively low as compared to the efforts paid.

What is called “ownership” of the home assignment can be paraphrased as individual nature. It is important to give students room for their own research and initiative, rather than make them do the same thing as all the rest. This way a teacher can not only prevent copying homework, but also contributes to developing individualities of his students.

Competence means that any assignment should be of a proper difficulty level so that it could build students’ confidence in their abilities. Homework that gives student too much a trouble will only cause stress and self-doubts leading too much worse psychological issues in the long run.

Finally, not a single person wants to do something that is not nice to look at. Same thing with home assignments – the better it is arranged, the easier it is done. One of the brightest examples of aesthetic attractiveness along with humor and creativity is an assignment given by an Anatomy teacher:he handed the students cards with a picture of a clearly female skeleton in a seductive (Titanic like) position and an inscription that read, ‘Label me like one of your French girls’. The assignment was clearly efficient, yet it also brought smile to the faces of students and appealed to popular culture.

It is no doubt difficult to take into account all of the above mentioned when making the assignments. The game,however, is worth the candles, and a little more time spent can bring significant results.