What is the ideal amount of homework to assign?
A typical school day in the United States is six to six and half hours long. During this time, teachers are required to teach four to five core subjects, including math, English, science, and history. In addition, they must find time to include the fundamental supplementary subjects. These supplementary subjects include, but are not limited to, physical education, health, art, music, and foreign language. In these six hours, lunch and recess must also take place. Because of the large curriculum and the limited time, many teachers assign homework.
What is Homework?
Homework is work assigned to students, by teachers, to be completed outside of the school. “It is used as an instructional supplement to classroom teaching.” (6) Although it is not required, homework is typically counted as part of the students’ grade. “The U.S. is one of the few nations where teachers include homework scores as an element of course grades.” (2) Forms, objectives, and lengths of homework vary. A large debate surrounds the importance of homework and the time restraints it places on today’s students.
History of the Homework Debate
The debate over the importance of homework is not a new one. It has been debated since the late 1800s. Between the late 1800s and the mid 1900s some cities in the United States banned homework on the account that it was affecting the health of children; “many thought (homework) was an overemphasis on at-home drill and memorization”.(2) Children were spending so much time on schoolwork and homework that they were mentally and physically exhausted. However, in the 1950s and ’60s homework loads began to increase. The government felt that the “United States was becoming less economically competitive” (2). A major event that sparked these notions was the Russians’ launch of the Sputnik satellite (7). This increase of homework lasted until the 1970s, in which it once again made a drastic decline. In the 1980s the load once again begins to increase (2). This time it is due to the incompetence on international tests. In 2002, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act under President George W. Bush. Under this act, teachers and administrators are required to submit their school’s achievements on state standardized test to the federal government. Failure to comply or to reach the goals set forth by the state leads to a range of consequences. The most severe consequence is the replacement of staff in those failing schools. According to the NCLB Act, all students must be proficient in math and reading by 2014 (2).
Types of Homework
Homework is assigned in a multitude of varieties. Some assignments include reading specific content, problems at the end of a chapter, worksheets, research papers, and creative projects. Teachers may assign daily homework in which the assignment is to be completed and turned in on the following school day. Alternatively, teachers may assign long-term assignments; giving the students a week or more to complete the assignment. Homework assignments can be used to reinforce lessons taught in class, or elaborate on briefly introduced material (2). In addition, homework assignments may be used to prepare the students for an upcoming lesson (5).
Purpose of Homework
“Different homework assignments serve different purposes, so it is important to consider the goal of each exercise.” (5) Some valid purposes of homework assignments include knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. (5) Homework assigned to reinforce lessons gives students the opportunity to practice newly acquired skills. They also help teachers assess the students’ understanding and comprehension of the lessons. Homework assigned to elaborate on newly introduced material requires students to take initiative and learn independently. This type of assignments also allows teachers to introduce more material throughout the school year. Homework assignments designed as preparation for upcoming lessons introduces the lesson to the students beforehand and therefore increases their ability to comprehend it. All of these reasons are intended to have a direct effect on students’ learning and academic performances. In addition to these academic lessons, homework results in positive non-academic lessons. Homework teaches the values of responsibility, good work-study habits, time management, initiative, and motivation. “Perhaps the most important advantage of homework is that it can enhance achievement by extending learning beyond the school day.” (8)
The Effects of Homework
Does the amount of homework assigned have an impact on the academic success of students? Unfortunately, there is no straightforward concrete answer. Research shows that homework affects students differently depending on their age and grade level. The effect of homework on academic success increases as age and grade levels increase. The National Education Association and the National Teacher Association endorse a 10 minute per grade rule of thumb (2). This rule of thumb suggests that first graders should be assigned approximately ten minutes of homework, second graders about twenty, and twelfth graders about two hours.
Although homework has the least effect on elementary aged students, research shows that the homework loads have increased in the elementary schools over the last decade (2). “Research shows little evidence that homework improves learning or school achievement for children in the early grades.” (2) Students at this age have a limited attention span and grasp of study skills. A vast amount of homework may actually inhibit their academic achievement; “it can be counter productive, children will show signs of fatigue and frustration”. (7) Homework, in moderation, is more important at this age level to foster good work-study habits and teach self-motivation and responsibility.
Research is inconclusive on regards to the effects of homework on middle school students. However, research does show that middle school is the stage of school that our students began falling behind on an international level; “by middle school U.S. scores begin to fall (on international achievement tests)” (2).
Homework has the most effect on the academic success of high school students. There is a correlation between homework and scores on achievement tests and overall grades. (6) Following the ten-minute rule of thumb, the optimal amount of homework for high school students is approximately two hours. The more the better does not apply after two hours. Each added hour doing homework shows a smaller pay off in achievement (6).
Too Much or Too Little
A major debate surrounds the effect and time restriction that homework has on school-aged children. Should homework be required? How much is too much? Critics against required homework argue that if students are assigned too much homework it leaves no time for family, extra curricular activities, and play. “Research shows (these activities) are more highly correlated with cognitive development and achievement than is homework.”(2) Too much homework can lead to stress, sleep deprivation and even depression. An unreasonable amount of homework dims children’s love of learning and too much may “diminish its effectiveness or become counter productive”. (2) On the other side, critics that are for required homework argue that the schools are not assigning enough homework. “Mastering a subject or skill takes practice, and homework can provide that practice.” (5) Students have the weekends, holidays, and summer to play. The amount of time spent on academics, to include the length of school days and school years as well as time spent on homework, does not compare with other industrialized countries, such as Asia and Europe. (2) Supporters of homework argue that homework adds to study time, and study time is the chief determinant of how much students learn. (2)
Importance of the Type of Homework Assigned
The type of homework that a teacher assigns can have a lot to do with its effectiveness. “Even more important than how much homework is what kind.” (2) If students are required to complete repetitive, long, ill thought out assignments, the knowledge they gain by doing so is minimal (8). For example, if there are 40 math problems assigned focusing on the same material, a student that knows the material may feel that it is repetitive and pointless. On the other hand, a student that is having a hard time with the material may get frustrated and disengaged. An approach taken by many teachers to avoid these issues is to use the five-problem rule recommended by the U.S. Department of Education (2). This rule suggests that teachers should not assign more than five problems of any given content. Five problems are enough to assess weather a student comprehends the material or not. Furthermore, “if a child who did not get the right idea in class slogs through thirty problems, she is just cementing the wrong method in her brain” (2).
Teachers must carefully plan and assign homework in a way that maximizes the potential for student success (2). Not all students learn the same way. Students may be visual, verbal, or logical learners. Teachers need to be aware of the different learning strengths of their students and vary the types of homework they assign to include all types of learning styles. In addition, assignments must be realistic in length and difficulty (8). First graders should not be expected to learn twenty-five seven-letter words for a spelling test. Teachers need to take in to account their students logical and mental capabilities. Teachers should limit assignments to important and thoughtful ones (2). They should not assign homework just because it is expected by the parents and/or students. Generally, students complete their assignments because of expectations, as opposed to the educational gain they will receive by doing so. Keeping this in mind, teachers should assign homework that will keep the students interested while expanding their knowledge.
Homework is a hot-button topic in education. Some view homework as a needless waste of time and effort, and source of tremendous stress for students; while, others view it as an excellent study and review tool. As a middle school teacher, I see it as a way for my students to hone the information they learned in class and also continually spiral back to retain information learned previously. Also, it can be used as a way to introduce new topics and peak interest in a student. It is a valuable resource one can use to their advantage. However, it should not be a determining factor in a student’s grade point or average, as it is merely a tool and not a fundamental aspect of any course; the heart of the material should be assessed and covered in class. In fact, many teachers refuse to even assign homework as it is understood that students rarely complete it or put great effort into it. Whatever one’s feeling regarding homework, there is a definite ‘best’ method one can employ to reap the full benefits of homework. As pointed out by the National Education Association, “ensuring students’ success is a shared responsibility” (NEA, 2006, p. 2). That is, as parents and educators, we should be utilizing every avenue available to us to assist our students in their journey for academic success. As the achievement gap becomes a gorge the world grows ever more competitive and unforgiving. So, what can we do to make homework work? First, we can be prepared. Secondly, be on the same page as the instructor or teacher—understand their policy. Thirdly, be accessible and willing to model your expectations. Also, utilize all of your resources and stay in touch. Finally, foster learning even outside of school. (NEA, 2006, p. 1-3).
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- Clemmitt, Marcia. “Students Under Stress.” CQ Researcher 17 (2007): 577-600. CQ Researcher Online. 2 Sept. 2007. http://library.cqpress.com.ezproxy.vccs.edu:2048/cqresearcher/cqresrre2007071300
- Coutts, Pamela. “Meanings of homework and implications for practice.” Theory Into Practice Summer 2004: 7pp. FindArticles. 15 Sept. 2007. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0NQM/is_3_43/ai_n7069035/print
- “Do Students Have Too Much Homework?” A Report by The Brown Center on Education Policy. Oct. 2003. The Brookings Institution. 3 Sept. 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20040427043131/http://www.brookings.edu/gs/brown/20031001homework.htm
- Junior Science Support Service. Department of Education and Science. 6 Sept. 2007 http://juniorscience.ie/jsss/Files/se_homework.pdf
- Keith, Timothy, Christine Diamond-Hallam, and Jodene Fine. “Longitudinal Effects of In-School and Out-of-School Homework on High School Grades.” School Psychology Quarterly 19.3 (2004): 187-211.
- Marshall, Patrick. “Homework Debate.” CQ Researcher 12 (2002): 993-1012. CQ Researcher Online. 2 Sept. 2007 <http://library.cqpress.com.ezproxy.vccs.edu:2048/cqresearcher/cqresrre2002120600>.
- Marzano, Robert, and Debra Pickering. “The Case For and Against Homework.” Educational Leadership 64.6 (2007): 74-79.
- Van Voorhis, Frances L., (2004), Reflecting on the Homework Ritual: Assignments and Designs, Theory Into Practice; Vol. 43 Issue 3.
- The Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University Retrieved November 11, 2007 from www.csos.jhu.edu/P2000/tips/index.htm
- National Education Association. (2006). Bridging the Great Homework Divide: A Solutions Guide for Parents of Middle School Students. http://www.nea.com. Retrieved November 8, 2007 from ERIC database.
- Strauss, Valerie. “As Homework Grows, So Do Arguments Against It.” The Washington Post Online (2006), http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/11/AR2006091100908.html