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Good Question: How Much Homework Should Students Be Assigned?

Good Question: How Much Homework Should Students Be Assigned?

Here’s a loaded question—how much homework should students actually be assigned? None? A ton? Somewhere in between? Only on Mondays? Only on weekends? Only for math? Only when Mercury is in retrograde? Only because you’re so confused by the answer to this question that you give up?

Recently, this topic sparked some great conversation in the Edmentum Educator Network Facebook group, and we wanted to share some takeaways and thoughts. The reality is, there is no hard-and-fast, right-or-wrong answer to the question of how much homework students should be assigned. It’s a sticky one, it’s a subjective one, and it’s a highly situational one; after all, kids have a lot more going on in their lives than school. Every educator needs to gauge the specific needs of their own students and know their own style (easy, right?).

We’re definitely not going to try to answer this question for you, but we can offer some insight into both sides of the argument, provide some guidance on what to consider to find your own best approach when it comes to homework, and point you towards some worthwhile further reading.

The Argument for Homework

  • Homework helps to reinforce and deepen learning
  • Homework helps students practice study skills
  • Homework helps students develop time-management skills
  • Homework helps get parents involved in their students’ learning

Research supports the notion that students who do homework do better in school than those who don’t. However, that research can be questionable when looking at specific grade levels and disappear when more sophisticated statistical controls are applied.

Beyond achievement, homework can also lead to the development of good study habits and a recognition that learning can occur at home as well as at school.

Homework can foster independent learning and responsible character traits – essential skills later in life when students change jobs or learn new skills for advancement at work. Homework also provides students with an opportunity to practice on their own build self-efficacy by solving problems on without the help of their teacher.

Additionally, homework creates a bridge between school and home. It can give parents a view to what’s going on at school and learn about their child’s academic strengths and weaknesses.

Homework teaches lessons beyond just what's taught in the classroom, too. Bringing homework home, completing it correctly, and turning it in promptly teaches a host of other important life skills, including time management, responsibility, organization, and effective prioritization.

But research also suggests the amount and type of homework must take into account the child’s developmental level. Teachers refer to the “10-minute Rule” – homework time on any given school night should be equal to the child’s grade level times 10. This means a second grade student should have 20 minutes of homework. The National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association agree with this philosophy.

The Argument Against Homework:

  • Homework can be a source of student stress and/or unhealthy habits
  • Homework may not effectively promote learning
  • Homework puts some students at a disadvantage
  • Homework may provide an inaccurate reflection of learning

Busywork is a waste of everyone’s time. And simply assigning more work isn’t necessarily going to mean students will learn more, especially if the work is busywork, if the student is already overwhelmed, or if they don’t know how to do it correctly.

And speaking of being overwhelmed with material they don’t understand, students can easily become swamped by homework assignments that are unnecessarily long. The tough thing about homework is that the time it takes students to complete it varies immensely. What takes one student 5-10 minutes can take another 45 minutes or even an hour. Imagine how a struggling student feels when he looks at a two-sided worksheet filled with 30 math problems that he doesn’t understand. The sheer volume of work is incredibly intimidating and could cause him to give up before he even tries. Keep in mind this quote from researcher William Brownell, who in the 1920’s and 30’s challenged the drill-and-practice approach to mathematics that had already taken root.  “If one is to be successful in quantitative thinking, one needs a fund of meanings, not a myriad of ‘automatic responses,’” he wrote.  “Drill does not develop meanings.  Repetition does not lead to understandings.” 

There are definitely families out there who want to relax together in the evening but simply cannot do so because the kids are entrenched with homework. Having a social and family life, not to mention the time to participate in extracurricular clubs and activities, is important for every student. Children should have the opportunity to play, dream, and practice their social skills in social environments, like sports teams, playgrounds, family kitchens, and the wide worlds of their own imaginations.

 It’s also important to keep in mind that there are many students who, due to circumstances beyond their control, are the head of the family at home. They take care of siblings, parents and grandparents.  Their responsibilities do not end at the classroom door. Finding a quiet place and 30 minutes to do said homework is a challenge that won’t easily be won.

Children are still growing, their brains aren’t yet fully developed, and it’s crucial that they get a lot of exercise and free time. Adding what would be 30 minutes of homework for a well-rested and energized child can easily drag on for hours if they’re restless and can’t focus because they left seven hours of school to jump directly into three hours of homework.

I also want to offer this food for thought—

Some Best Practice Tips to Make Homework Effective

Be Obvious About Expectations

Students should always understand how to succeed in your class, and homework should never come as a surprise. As the leader of your classroom, it’s your responsibility to clearly communicate expectations and make sure students have the tools and resources they need to keep tabs on their own grades and progress. Whatever your approach to homework is, ensure that students and parents are aware of it so they have a chance to build homework time into their at-home schedules. If a student is starting to fall behind, meet with them, find out what is going on, and together create a plan to course correct and usher them toward success.

Remember the Law of Diminishing Returns

Time on homework reaches a point of diminishing returns; too little does no good, but too much does more harm than good. Teachers should base their practices on what sound evidence and experience suggest is optimal.

Think of it this way—instead of just assigning a whole worksheet, ask what is the smallest number of questions students can complete from that worksheet that will still allow them to build the knowledge or skills that they need.

Dedicate Classroom Time to Homework

Another strong option is to give them time to start their homework in class. Not only does this shorten the amount of homework students actually take home, but it also allows educators to answer questions, correct misconceptions, and gauge how quickly students are working. 

Along this line, one thing to consider is flipping the classroom. This means assigning students a video or reading for homework, then using class time to practice or complete group work together in class. It’s a lot easier for struggling students to watch a 20-minute video than to agonize over a set of problems that they simply don’t understand. 

Make Grading a Priority

Grading homework is critical to making these assignments meaningful and holding students accountable. To take away some of the intimidation factor, and get better insight into students’ thought processes, consider offering credit for accuracy and effort. Remember, homework is practice and students are going to make mistakes. 

Looking to dive deeper in to this topic? Here are a few of the best resources we’ve found that examine the homework question from multiple angles:

The Case For and Against Homework – ASCD

Research Spotlight on Homework – National Education Association

The Case for (Quality) Homework – EducationNext

What’s the Right Amount of Homework? – Edutopia

What’s your opinion on the homework? Jump in to the conversation in our Facebook group! And, invite your friends to join too! We’re always looking to grow the Edmentum Educator Network with new members and perspectives.

winnie.oleary's picture

Winnie O’Leary has spent over 25 years in education, as a classroom teacher, school board member, a family advocate, special education teacher, curriculum writer and currently a Curriculum Manager for Edmentum. Her experiences have allowed her to work with districts all over the country where she finds something new and exciting every day. 

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