Types of homework traditionally assigned in North American schools tend to fall into one of four categories identified by Professors Jackson Lee and Wayne Pruitt of the Department of Education at Francis Marion College (Florence, South Carolina) in 1979. Each type of homework has individual characteristics, and has a specific objective. The four types are: practice homework, preparation homework, extension homework and creativity homework.
When most of us think of homework, what comes to mind is practice homework. This is the sort of assignment that allows the student additional opportunities to complete a task or apply knowledge learned in class. It is the most common type of homework assigned, and has a history reaching back to the earliest days of pioneer schools.
Practice homework assignment is what your child is getting when the teacher assigns a worksheet of division problems after teaching long division that day in class. Similarly, if your child is sent home to memorize addition facts or times tables or verb conjugations, that is also practice homework. Practice homework may also consist of doing numbered grammar exercises from a textbook or learning a dictation or a list of spelling or vocabulary words.
The goal of practice homework is mastery of a skill or memorization of knowledge. It is often used in math courses, but can be seen in English language arts and in second language (e.g. Spanish or French) classes too. Correctly assigned, it reinforces the learning of the day. At its worst it can become dull, meaningless busywork.
Lee and Pruitt caution teachers only to assign practice homework for material covered in class. They also remind us that, “Students profit little from practicing incorrectly.” Teachers must take care to avoid wasted time and ensure students are not reinforcing errors rather than correct knowledge or skills. This can be accomplished by checking a few solved problems before students leave class, or by providing an answer key or solutions manual so students can self-check their work as they do it. If a parents are asked to help in this regard, it is especially helpful for the teacher to provide at least one example of a correctly solved problem or answered question.
Ronald Laconte says the most effective kind of practice homework asks students to apply recently learned skills in “a direct and personal way.” He gives the example of having students who have been taught about different kinds of clouds identify them in pictures from old magazines. Other examples of such practice include playing games, having a child teach the newly learned skill to a parent or sibling, and asking the student to write a story that incorporates newly learned facts or vocabulary.
You may not be familiar with the term, but you have most probably done preparation homework at one time or another. This type of work is most often reading, but it can also consist of library or internet research, completing a pretest, watching a news report, gathering a number of items from home to bring to class, or answering questions designed to get the student thinking about a specific topic. The goal is to lay a groundwork for an upcoming lesson. Practice homework is more common in high school and post-secondary studies than in the primary grades. It is often assigned in literature courses, or when studying in the humanities or social sciences. It may also be seen, however, in laboratory preparation for a physics or chemistry experiment.
Extension homework is exactly what it sounds like: assigned work that asks students to go beyond the straightforward skills or facts they have learned in class and practised at home. Extension homework may take longer than preparation or practice assignments, or it may be completed in a single evening. Laconte says the most important distinction between extension homework and practice homework is that it applies what has been learned in a new way. It is aimed at production of something new, rather than at the kind of reproduction that is the focus of much practice homework.
Book reports, term papers and research projects are good examples of creative homework. This type of homework typically requires a number of days or even weeks to complete, and allows the student an avenue for creative self-expression. Creative homework is a good opportunity for teachers to evaluate cross-curricular skills, as it may ask students to bring together learning from more than one academic field. The resultant work will be highly individualized, and while students may not receive marks for preparation or practice homework, creative homework may represent a large part of a term or course mark.
Teachers may find it helpful to break a larger creative homework assignment into a series of smaller steps, especially if students have little practice with the kind of project they are to complete. Teachers may ask for students to bring in their topic, thesis statement or rough outline for approval, to submit a bibliography or first draft, and so on. This helps students learn to follow the necessary steps in the correct order, and teaches them to manage their time so everything won’t get left to the last minute. If a teacher does not offer this sort of step by step supervision, students should feel free to ask for it. Most teachers are happy to make time for a student who needs help or wants feedback prior to turning in a larger assignment.
Ronald T. Laconte, “Homework as a learning experience: What research says to the teacher.” NEA Professional Library
JF Lee, Jr and KW Pruitt, “Homework assignments: Classroom games or teaching tools?” JSTOR