Tuesday, October 26, 2010

THE LOWDOWN ON HOMEWORK: How much homework is too much?

Grade-by-grade guidelines for what kids can reasonably be expected to do.

By GreatSchools Staff | http://bit.ly/dpd45a

●●smf's2¢: This is a controversial topic – and is not presented as an endorsement – though 4LAKids believes that “less-is-better” …especially for very-youngsters.

The definitive pieces on homework as far as I’m concerned are Orson Scott Card’s essays:

If you are concerned about your child’s homework load have a discussion with the teacher. Listen to the teacher and insist that the teacher listen to you – insist that the discussion be about your child, not ‘children this age’. If that is unsatisfactory have the discussion with the principal. Understand that there are widely varying opinions among educators on the subject. And that GreatSchools – the author of this article - is much like USA Today or 4LAKids – a good place to start but not the last word!


The lowdown on homework

In the wake of No Child Left Behind, some U.S. schools are putting more emphasis on homework. But the push for higher academic standards has left many parents wondering about the value of their children's assignments — especially if the grownups are the ones who end up frantically finishing reports or art projects. Just how much homework should kids be doing anyway?

Adding to the confusion, the sheer number of schools with varying curricula can pose a challenge for parents looking for consistency. Even within a single district or school, homework expectations can vary widely depending on the whims of teachers. While some first-graders are slaving away for two hours each night, fourth-graders might be getting by with almost no outside work. So what role does homework play in learning? And how much is too much — or too little?

According to Harris Cooper, a homework expert and psychology professor at Duke University, homework is valuable to a point, and researchers have found that some kinds provide more benefits than others. Homework may be most useful as a way to develop study habits and practice skills that can be acquired through repetition, he says. Think spelling, vocabulary, multiplication tables, number placement, and grammar rules for foreign languages: "The biggest homework effects do come from these kinds of skill areas."

As for what constitutes an appropriate amount, one easy-to-remember tip is Cooper’s "10-minute rule," which calls for 10 minutes of homework per day per grade and is endorsed by the National Education Association. Looking for more grade-by-grade guidelines? GreatSchools weighs in with this primer on how much homework is best.


None. The fact is that a lot of kindergarten teachers assign homework. When New York Times Magazine writer Peggy Orenstein took an informal survey of her local schools, she found that every one boasted daily homework requirements for kindergartners. But studies have shown homework has few benefits for young kids and could even have negative effects. (In The Battle Over Homework, Cooper found that assigning homework in elementary school did not improve test scores and that too much of it decreased motivation.) Then there's Finland, where students perform at or near the top of all countries on standardized tests, and children don't even begin school until age 7.

Instead of worrying about homework in kindergarten, involve your children in family activities to boost their brainpower, like talking, playing pretend, and reading together before bed. Just setting aside time for conversations can be an incredibly valuable way to connect with your child.

First grade

0-10 minutes. Again, the jury's still out on whether homework helps at this young of an age. If it does, it's in the hard-to-measure areas of study skills and time management. Reviewing the current homework debate, Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon has made the case that no elementary school student should be required to do homework. So spend time playing, talking, and interacting as a family. With some brainstorming, everyday activities like eating or shopping can be turned into opportunities for learning.

Second grade

0-20 minutes. In second grade continue to cook together, play games as a family, and spend time outside. Depending on the school and teacher, your child’s homework may increase somewhat. That's OK, but don’t let your kid spend excessive amounts of time on assignments — more than 20 minutes per night is probably overkill.

On the other hand, second grade is not too early to encourage your child to start reading age-appropriate books on his or her own, whether they’re pretty picture books or the Harry Potter series. Either way, it’s important for children to develop solid reading habits at this age. A good rule of thumb is at least 15 minutes of reading time every night (together or alone), even if it’s not part of their homework. Know your child's interests and recommend a few books to match. Studies have shown that even a little bit of time spent reading increases children’s comprehension, vocabulary, and understanding of the larger world.

Third grade

0-30 minutes. Homework will probably increase somewhat in third grade, as will the expectation that your child begin mastering a lot of math, reading, and spelling facts (which good homework habits can help with). Still, assignments for third-graders should remain low-key. Reading, collecting dandelions for a science project, and spending a few minutes building vocabulary are all good examples of reasonable projects.

If your child’s assignments routinely last more than half an hour or cause excessive frustration, you may want to speak to his or her teacher about working out a reasonable alternative. It may be a sign of two things: Your child’s teacher believes in a lot of homework (maybe more than studies find is effective), or your child may be struggling with a learning issue and need extra help.

Fourth grade

0-40 minutes. By fourth grade, you can expect your child to be more independent, keeping track of different assignments and asking for your help only when it’s needed. If your child can’t work alone, you may need to reassess him or her (for learning or emotional issues) as well as the teacher’s expectations.

As a parent, it's important to be attuned to your child's needs, and some kids benefit from more emotional support when it comes to homework. Explain the importance of homework and, if possible, the real-world applications of the assignments. It won’t benefit your child if you give all the answers — even to a problem he or she has been wrestling with. In fact, it may frustrate your fourth-grader more and undermine his or her confidence. Parents should make sure kids understand the concepts being taught in their assignments.

Fifth grade

Up to 50 minutes. By fifth grade, you probably won't need to monitor your child's homework as closely. Good study habits can be developed organically. Help your child stay organized with a planner and notebooks for completing assignments as well as a clean, well-lit place to work.

If assignments are getting long, you may want to keep an eye on your kid for signs of frustration or tiredness. If you notice either, that could be an indication of too much homework or a learning problem that needs attention. Through more-complex reading, math, and science assignments, fifth-graders hone their basic skills while increasing their understanding of U.S. history and culture.

Middle school

Up to 90 minutes. In middle school there's more separation between subject areas, so expect your child to have different teachers for math and humanities classes. Some schools also offer electives. Though teachers know their students are taking other classes, it's easy for the workload to pile up. Keep an eye on what's being asked of your child — and help him or her get organized.

Following the 10-minute rule, Cooper recommends middle-schoolers spend anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes completing their assignments. To help your tween perform his or her best, make sure there’s a quiet, private study space at home.

High school

Up to two hours. "The strongest case for homework is at the high school level," says John Buell, the author of The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning and Closing the Book on Homework: Enhancing Public Education and Freeing Family Time. But Buell cautions that even at this stage "many scholars suggest that capable and well-motivated students do homework rather than homework yielding better academic achievement."

Your teen must learn to handle competing assignments in different subject areas — from geometry to AP U.S. history. Finding a way to juggle the myriad demands of high school is key to succeeding in college and in life.

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Comments from GreatSchools.org readers


"I would question this 'research' done by so-called experts and anything that is recommended by the lobbyist union NEA. All the money, time, and experimentation that has been going on for 50 years points to the fact that nothing is working. Children continue to lose ground or remain static. Now this idea that academics and grades are not important is permeating academia. Charter schools have a totally different philosophy. Hard work, memorization, homework, and well-educated teachers are making great strides in teaching children how to become educated, responsible adults. That is an experiment that the unions fight with everything they have. But, they are losing! Thanks to dedicated teachers and determined parents, changes are coming."


"My daughter has up to 3 hrs a night of homework in 1 subject (Algegra). I feel this it totally over the top for one subject. We are contacting the teacher. I now understand why people home school their children. This is out of control! There is no time for family or for her other subjects. Studying for tests are impossible. She is not in bed before 11:30 and has to be up by 6:15. It's not enough sleep for a 12 year old. The same teacher gives homework every night inluding weekends."


"I'm a little bit confused. Are you saying that even if my child's teacher assigns much more homework than is appropriate, I should simply not make my child do the work? How do the teachers on this site feel about that stance? Personally, I think homework in kindergarten and first grade are totally counter-productive, but my son's teacher does not seem to agree."


"Please send this article to all the parochial schools in Illinois!! My son is a 3rd grader, and there are times that he gets 2 hours of homework. If he has tests the next day, and we want to put in some study time, the homework is even longer. It is not every night, but I think even the few times a month he has this amount is completely unacceptable. He is so stressed afterwards, that he can't sleep well for awhile. Kids need to play and relax after school, not slave over homework. I wonder if the teachers are not teaching everything in school. By the way, my son gets mostly A's and B's, so it is not like he is not a smart child and just takes too long to do simple things."


"i think us middle schoolers have way too much home work. my older brother and i are in middle school. we spend a long time on our home work so there is less time to play out side. parents say kids need to go out side and play. the truth is we dont have time because we have too much home work."


"I'm a junior in high school and my school says that each class can't assign more than 45 minutes of homework per night - but most teachers ignore this. So, I take six classes so I usually have about four hours of homework every night - and that's if I'm lucky. Up to two hours isn't realistic. Then again, I go to one of the hardest independent schools in the nation..."


"My children are in high school (11th) and one just graduated last year and they have maybe 30 - 40 minutes of homework a week. If they spend more than 20 minutes an evening doing work, they get testy and argumentative. They get As and Bs on classroom work in class but get Ds and Fs on the tests. The counselor says this is normal that a lot children don't test well and that we put too much pressure on them when we ask them if they studied for tests. School is much different than I remember it."


"Also, when checking with the teacher on the amount of homework ask how much time is allowed in class to start the work. I know in my school most students finish their work in class because they use their time wisely. Most of our classes, especially English and Math because they have longer class periods, the last 20 minutes are to start their work. Most get it done but those that don't use the time have more to do at home."


"I'm in the 7th grade and I have up to 2 hours of homework/studying a day. I have after school commitments and that sometimes take up to hours at a time and your telling me that I need to stay up till midnight studying and doing homework and then get up at 6:55 in the morning to go back to it. That's just crazy. What about friends? Am i not allowed friends either?"


"I am in the 7th grade and I have up to 60-90 minutes of homework for only 4 classes. Then I have to study for tests and quizzes for like an hour or two and then get up early the next morning and do the same thing again for 4 different classes. I also have after school priorities that I have to attend. And I also would like some time to hang out with my friends more often than I do."


"I'm in the 7th grade and I have up to 2 hours of homework and after school commitments. Sometimes it can take me till midnight to get everything done and your telling me I have to get up at 6:55 to go back to it. That's just crazy. What about a thing called friends and fun?"


" This is very true but in reality kids have to much homework to do in the time expected! Kids should only have a little bit of homework per day I am doing homework from 4:00p.m. to 10:00 p.m."


"So the bottom line being, it is appropriate for my seventh grade daughter to have 4 hours or more of homework a night. 70 mins per subject adds up to about that which is ridiculous and means she's doing homework from the moment she gets home to the time for bed. When is my child suppose to unwind and be a child???"


"I would encourage any parent that feels their child's homework load is unreasonbale to conference with the teachers about it. It may clear up some misconceptions on both sides. Teachers need to hear these concerns and balance feeback with the demands to attain a certain level of student achievement amd what is really helping children learn. We shouldn't forget that this country is in an uproar about student achievement. I believe this article alludes to some great general guidelines on how much and what kind of homework is helpful. It's not helpful if parents don't expect children to have homework or they don't feel at least a little responsible for coaching their child through their homework. Parents who don't coach and challenge children at home shouldn't be surprised when their children aren't successful in college or a technical school someday."


"Ten minutes per grade is enough. Kids need time to be kids, to play. All this cramming education down children's throats is really turning them off to school. Several solutions are: schedule a daily study hall period where kids can do their work under the guidance of a professional, OR we can lengthen the school day or year. Some of the kids in this area of CA get off at 2- and have every other Tuesday off for 'Teacher In-Service' day. "


"My first-grader (November birthday - 7 years old)is grasping all concepts really quick (reading, math and social studies)and moves through homework and assignments very quickly and recites most things verbatim. Should I insist he slow down or let him move at his extremely fast pace?"


"As a teacher, I can see the concerns that some parents may be having when their child is struggling over homework. Especially when their son/daughter has been hard at work for over an hour! THe homework load really should depend on the age/grade-level a a child, because as research shows (and parents observe) young children really can't sit for longer periods of time as do older children. I'm a fourth grade teacher, and I believe that my students need homework to reinforce what they have been learning in my class. I've slowly eased up on the amount of homework, because I've learned that if they can master 5 math problems, for example, then there really is no need to assign 20! If they know it, they know it. Nevertheless, I do believe it's necessary for them to learn how to be responsible and to learn to develop healthy study habits."


"I am in 8th grade and I almost have to laugh. On here it says up to 90 minutes is okay for homework. Well, I have been working on homework for the past 4 and a half hours. It's uncalled for. I get good grades, but it wears me down after losing sleep in order to finish assignments on cramped nights."


"The same rule should apply to our children as adults - leave the work at work - therefore leave the schooling at school. Aside from reading and maybe flash cards or simple spelling, all other major assignments should be done in the classroom. Our children need time to rest their minds and be 'fresh' for the next school day. All of this 'cramming' is not benefiting and causing much stress in our children too early. I also beleive what may be too much for one child may not be enough for another, all children are different and their tolerance levels different... we have to find a medium for all...I am so close to refusing assignments and am very frustrated with the school system right now...what can we do?"


"this was helpful to me thanks for information"


"I do agree a little homework is ok but for 2nd graders, when it's 2 hrs PLUS in the evening after coming home from school, it's ridiculous! There is too much that these teachers expect us to do that makes me wonder what really is being taught during school hours. We parents have too much already to handle with family life, that it doesn't afford us time to be a home teacher as well. Homework needs to be reduced so that these children can be children once school is over. It wears me out as a single parent."


"I have to wonder why my first grade child is asked to do approximately an hour's worth of work after school and my high school student is averaging four to five hours of work per night. What is pushing their teachers to eliminate my children's lives outside of school? I see no benefit to the loss of other opportunities for their time. It is particularly interesting to me that, when we lived in a small town in Oregon, their homework load was reasonable and logical but now that we have moved to a large, urban area in California, their homework load has become completely unreasonable. Are teachers in this area trying to push too much? Probably."


"Your choice of words casts teachers in an unfavorable light. I would imagine that homework does not get assigned based on any teacher's 'whim'!"


"two hours of homework in high school is a bit too much it puts stress on the student, they become irrible and cranky cause some of the hw takes a lot of problems that puts a damper on other subjects, for instance math in 9th grade is very intense. "

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