How much homework is too much?

One night last week, my 3rd grader did homework for three hours. She’s on the Honor Roll. Homework isn’t hard for her. So imagine the other kids. How long did it take them? The following night, I stopped her after an hour and a half and wrote a note to her teacher saying we didn’t have time to complete the assignments and would do it another day.

What exactly is the point of doing all of this homework? Her teacher and the administration tells me that its to prepare them for the marathon of standardized tests, and that more homework will help them to better. Experts say that assertion is, well, bull.

A series of 60 studies by Duke University Professor Harris Cooper led him to conclude that “while it’s clear that homework is a critical part of the learning process… too much homework can be counter-productive for students at all levels.”

Experts also reject the staple of homework assignments: the worksheets. They argue that it would be better for teachers to think about which assignments students need to extend at home with additional activities, rather than assigning homework sheets simply as “something to do.” One of my best homework assignments (according to the parents) was when I had the students look through their kitchen cupboards to see how many products contained corn. That wasn’t something they could do during class, but it extended their understanding of the Social Studies project about how food got to their table.

Cooper recommends the “ten minute rule” where beginning at 1st grade, students have 10 minutes of homework a night, and that increases by 10 minutes every year, up to 2 hours. After that, Cooper finds there’s no benefit to adding additional time. Which means my 3rd grader should be doing 30 minutes of homework, not 3 hours of it.

According to a Slate article, Japanese schools (whose students scored much higher than U.S. students in reading, math and science) have nearly abandoned homework, while U.S. schools are assigning more and more of it. The same article quotes 3 sets of experts who have done studies that show too much homework is bad for kids, but that information seems to have no impact on schools.

We want better achievement for our students, but the evidence that shows how to get it is being ignored. Why?

 

Articles about homework:

Washington Post “Checking it out” http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/homework/checking-it-out-studies-on-hom.html

Slate.com “Forget Homework” http://www.slate.com/id/2149593/

“Abusing Research: The study of homework and other examples” http://wwww.alfiekohn.org/teaching/research.htm

 

Books about homework:

The Homework Myth

The Battle Over Homework

The Case Against Homework

The End of Homework

[Image from: http://dadz.com/back-to-school-homework-tips]

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13 thoughts on “How much homework is too much?

  1. Dr. Kwame M. Brown says:

    GREAT article Tracey! This is especially true in light of the value of exploration and collaboration in learning.

    I agree too, that homework should be more of a chance for collaboration at home, and with classmates.

    With today’s technology, we can engage in all kinds of collaborative learning outside the classroom, which would allow students to benefit in even greater ways from a teacher’s guidance.

    Tracey strikes again! Yet another great, thoughtful contribution to the exploratory problem solving approach that education so desperately needs.

  2. Tracey says:

    Thanks Kwame. I had a feeling we’d agree on this. 🙂

    I must admit that as a teacher I gave my fair share of worksheets, but after hearing the parents’ positive responses to more creative homework, I started to assign more of it.

  3. Heather says:

    This is why we are friends….we completely agree on this, but we know that.
    As a teacher, I hated giving homework…hated it. Waste of time at home b/c my kids probably didn’t have a pencil at home to complete it…which is why they came back with crayon!
    And as a parent…well, an abundance is ridiculous and does nothing for “learning” of my child. My take on homework now is just to teach responsibility of doing what you are assigned b/c homework doesn’t teach my kid anything. At least I can get some value out of it…i still think it’s stupid.

  4. Tracey says:

    The other day, big A had to do a “cereal box” book report of a fantasy novel that involved creating a cover image, a game for the back that had something to do with the story, and a summary of “ingredients.” But that was for her gifted class, not for the regular class. Now why wouldn’t the regular class give that as an assignment? It requires much higher thinking skills than a summary worksheet!

    We should start our own school, H. It would rock.

  5. Aerin Bender-Stone says:

    So, we’re not friends, in fact, we’re total strangers AND we completely agree on this!! 🙂

    Came here from a random Google search – great blog post; I love when they’re supported, easy to read, and the look of your whole blog is lovely, too.

  6. Tracey says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Aerin. I know that a lot of parents, teachers and students agree that the homework situation is out of control. My kindergartener fell asleep last month doing too-long homework. It’s ridiculous.

  7. kathytemean says:

    Tracey,
    I have been saying this for years. Kids have so much homework piled on them that they don’t have time to enjoy their childhood. Some intelligent students (mostly boys) refuse to do the homework, which affects their grades, even if they get all “A’s on their tests. Maybe if the homework was set at a reasonable level more children would do better in school. I really do wish educators would wake up.
    Kathy

  8. Karen Berthine says:

    Great post … I’ve thought this for along time. Most of my friends were having children when my daughter was already 10 and I heard (horror) stories about the amount of homework the kids had. One of my friends routinley did her sons’ homework so they would remain in the “gifted” program. When they are being taught for the purpose of taking standardized test, where’s the time for music, art, play and simple childhood joys?!

  9. Tracey says:

    Childhood joys have gone out the window in favor of standardized test scores. What annoys me the most is homework given over vacation. Um, it’s called a “break” for a reason!

  10. David Fernandez says:

    Awesome post, Tracey! I couldn’t agree more, as a teacher. As a parent, it goes without saying. I see my 2nd grader struggle from time to time with the sheer weight of his backpack, so I keep that in mind when I assign work to my middle-school students.

  11. Tracey says:

    You’re right to do so, David. There is enough research out there that shows that weighing them down isn’t good for their bodies or their minds. Unfortunately from what I see, it’s just getting worse.

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