Why You Should Give Way Less Homework
I think we teachers tend to view homework as our sacred cow. Or at least some of us do.
And, believe me, I really do understand the value of homework. As a math teacher, I firmly believe students need to practice on their own, and homework is a great way for them to see if they can solve problems on their own without the teacher’s help.
But while I believe homework is important, I’ve also come to realize that the amount of homework we give is important too.
And, unfortunately, we often give way too much homework.
Why We Should Give Less Homework
- Busywork is a waste of everyone’s time. If the homework we’re assigning is busywork (and, let’s be honest, sometimes it is), then it really is a waste of everyone’s time. It waste’s the students’ time doing it, the parents’ time helping it, and our time tracking and possibly even grading it. Just because a worksheet is part of the curriculum (or even came with a Teachers Pay Teachers lesson), doesn’t mean that we need to assign it. If it doesn’t serve a vital purpose, then what’s the point?
- More work doesn’t necessarily mean more learning. Sometimes we assign homework because we feel like it’s the studious thing to do. But just assigning more work isn’t necessarily going to mean our students learn more. Especially if the work is busywork, and especially if the student is already overwhelmed or if they don’t know how to do it correctly.
- Students can be overwhelmed if the homework is too long. The tough thing about homework is that the time it takes students to complete it is immensely different. What takes a sharp kid 5-10 minutes can take a struggling kid 45 minutes or even an hour. So imagine how a struggling student feels when he looks at a two-sided worksheet of 30 math problems that he doesn’t understand. The sheer volume of work is incredibly intimidating and often causes him to give up before he even tries.
- When you limit the quantity, you can expect more quality. When you limit how much homework you give and/or how long the assignments are, then you can expect the students to do quality work on what you do assign.
- Because family time is valuable. If we truly want our students to have strong families, then we need to not take up all their family time with homework. And, yes, I know that for lots of students it’s the TV that’s their companion at night instead of their parents. But that’s not how it is with all the students. 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.
- Less homework means less tracking and grading for you. If this were the only reason for giving less homework, then it would not be a very good one. But as it stands, there are lots of great reasons to give less homework, and this one is just a little perk for us teachers. 🙂
How to Give Less Homework
Okay, if you’re still reading then you’re at least intrigued by the thought of giving less homework. But exactly how to do that can be a bit challenging.
When I was teaching our administrators were continually pushing us to give less homework. Sometimes that would come in the form of a memo stating “You must immediately reduce the amount of homework you give by half.” I have to admit, I did not like getting those memos. They were a bit intimidating and pretty overwhelming to try to implement. But over time I found some great ways to reduce my homework and ended up being much happier with the results.
Here are a few things that helped me reduce my homework. I hope they can help you, too.
- Eliminate all busywork. Sounds simple, but the problem is that we don’t always recognize busywork for what it is. So before you assign anything, ask yourself what the point is of the assignment. If it doesn’t have a definite point and isn’t absolutely necessary, then don’t assign it.
- Assign as few problems or questions as possible. Instead of assigning all the problems in the book – or even half of them, I started to just assign 6 or 7 problems per section. This was the smallest number that I felt would still give them the practice that they needed. So instead of just assigning a whole worksheet ask yourself what is the smallest number of questions they can complete that will give them the knowledge or skills that they need.
- Ask students to write down how long each assignment took them to complete. Simply ask them to track this at the top of each assignment. While their answer won’t be completely accurate, they should give you a general idea. Pay special attention to how long it’s taking your struggling students to complete their assignments. If it’s taking too long, then you’ve really got to get creative to figure out how you can shorten it. And remember, the goal is to give as little as possible, not to add more if your students are getting it done quickly.
- Give time for students to start their homework in class. Work hard to finish your lesson a little early so that students can start their homework in class. Not only does this shorten the amount they have left to do, but it also allows you to answer questions, correct misconceptions, and gauge how quickly students are working.
- Turn some homework into classwork. Just because you used to assign something as homework doesn’t mean it has to be homework. Can you find time for the students to do it in class? You might be surprised how much the quality of work increases when you do this.
Want more help managing homework? Check out the post “How to Manage Homework Without Going Crazy”
I’d love to hear your thoughts about homework. Do you assign a lot or try to limit it? How do you determine what to assign? Share your thoughts with a comment below.
Photo by GoodNCrazy
September 29, 2014 in Academics (Teaching) , Teaching
From kindergarten to the final years of high school, recent research suggests that some students are getting excessive amounts of homework.
In turn, when students are pushed to handle a workload that’s out of sync with their development level, it can lead to significant stress — for children and their parents.
Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the National PTA (NPTA) support a standard of “10 minutes of homework per grade level” and setting a general limit on after-school studying.
For kids in first grade, that means 10 minutes a night, while high school seniors could get two hours of work per night.
But the most recent study to examine the issue found that kids in early elementary school received about three times the amount of recommended homework.
Published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, the 2015 study surveyed more than 1,100 parents in Rhode Island with school-age children.
The researchers found that first and second graders received 28 and 29 minutes of homework per night.
Kindergarteners received 25 minutes of homework per night, on average. But according to the standards set by the NEA and NPTA, they shouldn’t receive any at all.
A contributing editor of the study, Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, told CNN that she found it “absolutely shocking” to learn that kindergarteners had that much homework.
And all those extra assignments may lead to family stress, especially when parents with limited education aren’t confident in their ability to help kids with the work.
The researchers reported that family fights about homework were 200 percent more likely when parents didn’t have a college degree.
Some parents, in fact, have decided to opt out of the whole thing. The Washington Post reported in 2016 that some parents have just instructed their younger children not to do their homework assignments.
They report the no-homework policy has taken the stress out of their afternoons and evenings. In addition, it's been easier for their children to participate in after-school activities.
This new parental directive may be healthier for children, too.
Experts say there may be real downsides for young kids who are pushed to do more homework than the “10 minutes per grade” standard.
“The data shows that homework over this level is not only not beneficial to children’s grades or GPA, but there’s really a plethora of evidence that it’s detrimental to their attitude about school, their grades, their self-confidence, their social skills, and their quality of life,” Donaldson-Pressman told CNN.
Read more: Less math and science homework beneficial to middle school students »
Consequences for high school students
Other studies have found that high school students may also be overburdened with homework — so much that it’s taking a toll on their health.
In 2013, research conducted at Stanford University found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance in their lives, and alienation from society.
That study, published in The Journal of Experimental Education, suggested that any more than two hours of homework per night is counterproductive.
However, students who participated in the study reported doing slightly more than three hours of homework each night, on average.
To conduct the study, researchers surveyed more than 4,300 students at 10 high-performing high schools in upper middle-class California communities. They also interviewed students about their views on homework.
When it came to stress, more than 70 percent of students said they were “often or always stressed over schoolwork,” with 56 percent listing homework as a primary stressor. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.
The researchers asked students whether they experienced physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss, and stomach problems.
More than 80 percent of students reported having at least one stress-related symptom in the past month, and 44 percent said they had experienced three or more symptoms.
The researchers also found that spending too much time on homework meant that students were not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills. Students were more likely to forgo activities, stop seeing friends or family, and not participate in hobbies.
Many students felt forced or obligated to choose homework over developing other talents or skills.
"Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good," said Denise Pope, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education, and a co-author of a study.
Read more: Should schools screen children for mental health problems? »
Working as hard as adults
A smaller New York University study published last year noted similar findings.
It focused more broadly on how students at elite private high schools cope with the combined pressures of school work, college applications, extracurricular activities, and parents’ expectations.
That study, which appeared in Frontiers in Psychology, noted serious health effects for high schoolers, such as chronic stress, emotional exhaustion, and alcohol and drug use.
The research involved a series of interviews with students, teachers, and administrators, as well as a survey of a total of 128 juniors from two private high schools.
About half of the students said they received at least three hours of homework per night. They also faced pressure to take college-level classes and excel in activities outside of school.
Many students felt they were being asked to work as hard as adults, and noted that their workload seemed inappropriate for their development level. They reported having little time for relaxing or creative activities.
More than two-thirds of students said they used alcohol and drugs, primarily marijuana, to cope with stress.
The researchers expressed concern that students at high-pressure high schools can get burned out before they even get to college.
“School, homework, extracurricular activities, sleep, repeat — that’s what it can be for some of these students,” said Noelle Leonard, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the New York University College of Nursing, and lead study author, in a press release.
Read more: Lack of mental healthcare for children reaches ‘crisis’ level »
What can be done?
Experts continue to debate the benefits and drawbacks of homework.
But according to an article published this year in Monitor on Psychology, there’s one thing they agree on: the quality of homework assignments matters.
In the Stanford study, many students said that they often did homework they saw as "pointless" or "mindless."
Pope, who co-authored that study, argued that homework assignments should have a purpose and benefit, and should be designed to cultivate learning and development.
It’s also important for schools and teachers to stick to the 10-minutes per grade standard.
In an interview with Monitor on Psychology, Pope pointed out that students can learn challenging skills even when less homework is assigned.
Pope described one teacher she worked with who taught advanced placement biology, and experimented by dramatically cutting down homework assignments. First the teacher cut homework by a third, and then cut the assignments in half.
The students’ test scores didn’t change.
“You can have a rigorous course and not have a crazy homework load,” Pope said.
Editor’s Note: The story was originally published on March 11, 2014. It was updated by Jenna Flannigan on August 11, 2016 and then updated again on April 11, 2017 by David Mills.