Homework has become a staple of American education. Students are expected to spend time outside of class on a myriad of assignments that could include reading, short-term assignments, and longer projects. For homework to be worthwhile there needs to be thoughtful planning as to what the assignments are, how they advance student learning, and consideration of the time it will take to complete the assignments.
Why Homework Can Be Beneficial to Students
If done effectively, homework can be beneficial to student learning. One of the main purposes is to give students the opportunity to master skills taught in class. With limited time in school, foundational skills can be practiced at home. In elementary grades, this could be reading books, learning math facts, or practicing handwriting. In middle school and high school, this can be practicing languages, working on math problems, or doing further reading to enhance understanding on a variety of topics. Homework could then provide time to reinforce learning to solidify understanding.
Other ways students can benefit from homework are to help prepare for future classwork or discussions. Reading an article, preparing mathematical proofs, or analyzing data are ways that students can familiarize themselves with material and be better prepared to participate in meaningful ways at school.
Homework can also provide students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of skills. That way, teachers are able to utilize homework to assess students’ understanding so they can adjust instructional methods in class.
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With successful homework practices, students develop responsibility, organizational techniques, and efficient work habits. These attributes, when homework is done properly, bolster self-esteem and allow students to see how they are able to utilize time effectively to support their learning.
Lastly, homework does provide parents and caregivers with the opportunity to see what their children are learning and inform families as to what is currently being taught at school.
Striking the Right Balance of Homework
The key for homework to have a positive effect is to make sure that there is a proper time balance of teacher-directed work. This is always tricky as students learn and work at different speeds. Therefore, the assignments need to be clear enough that students understand what to do, yet flexible enough to be adaptable for each individual learner.
The general rule of thumb is that children should have about 10 minutes of homework each day per their current grade level. So, first graders should have 10 minutes of homework a day, while sixth grades should have an hour of homework and 12th grade should have two hours a night. High school students sometimes may need to spend more time on their work depending on the classes being taken. This is the recommended amount by the National Education Association and many other educational experts.
Again, the assignments need to be meaningful and appropriate for students’ current learning or foundational skills in order for homework to be effective.
How Much Homework is Too Much?
In order to foster a love of learning, time should be given for students to develop an intellectual curiosity and pursue their own academic interests. Educators want students to love to read, but students are motivated differently. A fourth grader may want to independently read a book they love but become sullen when they have to read something assigned to them or create a project based on their reading. This is the challenge of homework.
Too much homework can sap students’ excitement towards school, cause stress and fear that the work may not be completed, or be so pervasive that children do not have time enjoy extracurricular activities. This would have negative impacts upon their health and schooling.
In addition, students that are organized and have effective time management may become frustrated that despite their greatest efforts, they feel unsuccessful completing the assignments. Students that struggle academically or with structure may feel defeated even before attempting assignments. This would negatively impact students’ desire to learn, their self-worth, and their ability to grow.
When given the proper amount of work, in addition to the right assignments, students are able to further their learning; the assigned material becomes more exciting, and students feel better about themselves. Teachers are able to manage their work load, gain knowledge of students’ growth, and provide effective feedback to students about their work. Homework can play an impactful role, both positively and negatively, and teachers need to take exceptional care at tailoring their at-home assignments for the class’ needs.
Andrew is an assistant elementary school principal and holds an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.