Should Kids Get Homework?
Homework gives elementary students a way to practice concepts, but too much can be harmful, experts say.
Effective homework reinforces math, reading, writing or spelling skills, but in a way that's meaningful. (Getty Images)
How much homework students should get has long been a source of debate among parents and educators. In recent years, some districts have even implemented no-homework policies, as students juggle sports, music and other activities after school.
Parents of elementary school students, in particular, have argued that after-school hours should be spent with family or playing outside rather than completing assignments. And there is little research to show that homework improves academic achievement for elementary students.
But some experts say there's value in homework, even for younger students. When done well, it can help students practice core concepts and develop study habits and time management skills. The key to effective homework, they say, is keeping assignments related to classroom learning, and tailoring the amount by age: Many experts suggest no homework for kindergartners, and little to none in first and second grade.
Value of Homework
Homework provides a chance to solidify what is being taught in the classroom that day, week or unit. Practice matters, says Janine Bempechat, clinical professor at Boston University 's Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.
"There really is no other domain of human ability where anybody would say you don't need to practice," she adds. "We have children practicing piano and we have children going to sports practice several days a week after school. You name the domain of ability and practice is in there."
Homework is also the place where schools and families most frequently intersect.
"The children are bringing things from the school into the home," says Paula S. Fass, professor emerita of history at the University of California—Berkeley and the author of "The End of American Childhood." "Before the pandemic, (homework) was the only real sense that parents had to what was going on in schools."
Harris Cooper, professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and author of "The Battle Over Homework," examined more than 60 research studies on homework between 1987 and 2003 and found that — when designed properly — homework can lead to greater student success. Too much, however, is harmful. And homework has a greater positive effect on students in secondary school (grades 7-12) than those in elementary.
"Every child should be doing homework, but the amount and type that they're doing should be appropriate for their developmental level," he says. "For teachers, it's a balancing act. Doing away with homework completely is not in the best interest of children and families. But overburdening families with homework is also not in the child's or a family's best interest."
Negative Homework Assignments
Not all homework for elementary students involves completing a worksheet. Assignments can be fun, says Cooper, like having students visit educational locations, keep statistics on their favorite sports teams, read for pleasure or even help their parents grocery shop. The point is to show students that activities done outside of school can relate to subjects learned in the classroom.
But assignments that are just busy work, that force students to learn new concepts at home, or that are overly time-consuming can be counterproductive, experts say.
Homework that's just busy work.
Effective homework reinforces math, reading, writing or spelling skills, but in a way that's meaningful, experts say. Assignments that look more like busy work – projects or worksheets that don't require teacher feedback and aren't related to topics learned in the classroom – can be frustrating for students and create burdens for families.
"The mental health piece has definitely played a role here over the last couple of years during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the last thing we want to do is frustrate students with busy work or homework that makes no sense," says Dave Steckler, principal of Red Trail Elementary School in Mandan, North Dakota.
Homework on material that kids haven't learned yet.
With the pressure to cover all topics on standardized tests and limited time during the school day, some teachers assign homework that has not yet been taught in the classroom.
Not only does this create stress, but it also causes equity challenges. Some parents speak languages other than English or work several jobs, and they aren't able to help teach their children new concepts.
" It just becomes agony for both parents and the kids to get through this worksheet, and the goal becomes getting to the bottom of (the) worksheet with answers filled in without any understanding of what any of it matters for," says professor Susan R. Goldman, co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois—Chicago .
Homework that's overly time-consuming.
The standard homework guideline recommended by the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association is the "10-minute rule" – 10 minutes of nightly homework per grade level. A fourth grader, for instance, would receive a total of 40 minutes of homework per night.
But this does not always happen, especially since not every student learns the same. A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy found that primary school children actually received three times the recommended amount of homework — and that family stress increased along with the homework load.
Young children can only remain attentive for short periods, so large amounts of homework, especially lengthy projects, can negatively affect students' views on school. Some individual long-term projects – like having to build a replica city, for example – typically become an assignment for parents rather than students, Fass says.
"It's one thing to assign a project like that in which several kids are working on it together," she adds. "In (that) case, the kids do normally work on it. It's another to send it home to the families, where it becomes a burden and doesn't really accomplish very much."
Private vs. Public Schools
Do private schools assign more homework than public schools? There's little research on the issue, but experts say private school parents may be more accepting of homework, seeing it as a sign of academic rigor.
Of course, not all private schools are the same – some focus on college preparation and traditional academics, while others stress alternative approaches to education.
"I think in the academically oriented private schools, there's more support for homework from parents," says Gerald K. LeTendre, chair of educational administration at Pennsylvania State University—University Park . "I don't know if there's any research to show there's more homework, but it's less of a contentious issue."
How to Address Homework Overload
First, assess if the workload takes as long as it appears. Sometimes children may start working on a homework assignment, wander away and come back later, Cooper says.
"Parents don't see it, but they know that their child has started doing their homework four hours ago and still not done it," he adds. "They don't see that there are those four hours where their child was doing lots of other things. So the homework assignment itself actually is not four hours long. It's the way the child is approaching it."
But if homework is becoming stressful or workload is excessive, experts suggest parents first approach the teacher, followed by a school administrator.
"Many times, we can solve a lot of issues by having conversations," Steckler says, including by "sitting down, talking about the amount of homework, and what's appropriate and not appropriate."
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10 Reasons Why Students Don’t Do Homework
January 18, 2019 by Inspired Together Teachers 3 Comments
Though the issue of homework is complicated and often involves a debate of whether or not homework is actually beneficial, the fact remains that most teachers still assign homework and some students will not do their homework.
If we can understand why students don’t do their homework, we have a better chance of both assigning homework that students will do and in doing what we can to create the motivation for them to do it. At the very least, understanding that there are many reasons that students don’t do homework can help teachers to realize that it isn’t personal. Students often don’t do homework for reasons that aren’t even about you, your teaching, or your subject matter.
Here is a list of 10 reasons that students don’t do homework, aligned with suggestions that may help to alleviate the problem.
They don’t know how to do the assignment.
In order to do their work, students need to understand the directions and have the basic skills need in order to complete the task. This usually means that students have been introduced to a topic, have had some instruction and are not trying to learn something new and difficult on their own. The material also needs to be at the students’ instructional or independent level. Be sure your directions are clear and specific and that the level of the work is appropriate for the students.
They don’t understand the purpose for the assignment.
When students understand the importance of something they are learning, they are more likely to feel compelled to do it. We want to know and do things that are going to help us in our lives. When students perceive an assignment as busywork, they often rebel. If a student can do ten math problems correctly, doing one hundred math problems is overkill and perceived as busywork. So is spending hours using a dictionary to define words. Make sure that students know how the homework will help them. Help them to connect the content to real world tasks.
Students are overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.
We’ve all had experiences where we have felt overloaded with too much to do. As adults, we have also figured out ways to break down tasks. Students are still learning to manage large tasks. Help them to break down large assignments into smaller parts. Instead of assigning a large project due in three weeks, help students to break down the project into smaller chunks and then assign smaller chunks for homework in the days leading up to the due date for a big project.
Assignments are based on low level tasks.
Basic recall gets boring quickly. An assignment such as giving students fifty sentences and having them underline the noun once and the verb twice is drudgery and doesn’t engage them. How much more fun would it be to have a contest to see who could correctly incorporate the most verbs in a sentence? Consider homework that require higher thinking levels such as application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
Students have too many assignments.
This is a particular danger in middle and high school when students have many different teachers. At this level, teachers often don’t know what other teachers are assigning. You may think that homework will only take them thirty minutes. But if they have seven subjects and every teacher gives them thirty minutes of homework, the student is facing three to four hours of homework. Good teaching teams often discuss homework assignments and try to balance the load so that students don’t have many big assignments due at the same time.
Students don’t have time.
Many students are involved in many extracurricular activities. This is positive and those activities often help students to be engaged with school. When you add practices or games into the mix, it often becomes impossible to do hours of homework on any given night. Older students may have jobs or other responsibilities. Consider giving students assignments ahead of time so they can work on them throughout the week rather than assigning everything to be due the next day.
Students don’t get feedback on their work .
When a student turns in an assignment, they expect feedback. They may get a grade, but they also want comments, especially on written work. Homework should be an opportunity for learning. Students need feedback in order to learn. Teachers can read student work and provide feedback, or use homework in classroom discussions and activities in ways that allow students to get feedback or use their work for a purposeful activity.
Sometimes, the reason that students don’t do work is not related to you or your content. These are more difficult to control, but there are usually positive things you can do to help with the situation.
Students don’t have an appropriate environment to do work at home .
Let’s face it, some students live in chaotic environments. They may not have a quiet place to work or the tools they need in order to do homework. Having a one-on-one conversation with students can help. Talk about what they need in order to do their work and how they might get it. Could they stay at school and extra hour and work in a quiet room? Could they go to the public library? Could they carve a quiet corner of their home?
The student’s family is not supportive of education.
As much as we wish it weren’t true, some students come from families that do not value education. The student is not then likely to get the support or encouragement to do homework. Other families value education, but parents are absent or unable to help their children with homework. Your first instinct might be to “fix” the family. An easier route is to work with the student. Be their encourager. Let them know that you think they can succeed. Let them know how valuable a good education might be to them. We know of a first grader whose parent would not read with him. The teacher made a deal that the student could read to his baby brother, his dog, or even a stuffed animal. If he did that, he could sign his own name on the form that parents usually signed stating that they read together.
The student is rebelling against a parent.
If a parent cares about a student’s grades and a student is trying to rebel, often a quick way to do so is to stop doing homework. This usually gets the parent’s attention quickly. This is particularly true in cases where parents are very demanding and very controlling. Sometimes, the only way an adolescent knows how to rebel is to refuse to do something. This causes grief for both parties. Guiding the parent and student to compromise can be successful. Essentially, help them to negotiate trade. For example, if the student agrees to do homework each night when he chooses to do it, the parent gives up the demand that it be done immediately when the student gets home from school. Both parties can even sign a contract.
If you suspect a student is rebelling, see if you can find out why. That will also help you see possible solutions. Don’t hesitate to get help and support from a guidance counselor, instructional coach or administrator.
These are some of the most common reasons students don’t complete homework. There are undoubtedly many more possible reasons. Though you can’t control all things, you can try to identify why students aren’t doing the homework and then see if there are ways to fix the problem. If we keep our eye on the goal, which is learning, it is less likely that we will fall into the “blame and punish” game that many teachers engage in. Blaming and punishing don’t usually result in more learning!
What are some of the effective strategies you have used to increase homework completion? We would love to hear your ideas in the comments below.
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October 3, 2022 at 11:41 pm
For me, I struggled to do homework as a child because my attention needs were not met. I had no friends in school and spent the whole day wishing to be with family who loved me, only to be forced into isolation again for an hour of homework that I couldn’t always do alone and made me feel inferior and hopeless about myself and the future. Meanwhile, everyone else, in my mind, was doing something fun together while that was happening and I felt like I was being punished.
In adulthood, work has taken the place of homework and I am even more unhappy, isolated and have no life outside work that makes up for it. Luckily, I am not the type to become addicted to substances.
So, don’t let you child’s fate be like mine. Make sure your child’s needs for love are met, and that way they will have the internal strength to do an unfun task, and each one thereafter.
October 5, 2022 at 2:59 pm
Hi Christine, Thank you for sharing your experiences. You are not alone in your struggles either as a child or now as an adult. I hope that you are getting help for your depression. You can get better! There are ways to shift your mindset and to discover ways to be happier. No one has a perfect life, but we can all find ways to enjoy life. I hope you can find someone to talk to who can help you through your struggles. You are worth it!
[…] you know that one of the top 10 reasons kids don’t do their homework is lack of an appropriate space to do assignments at […]
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