Redefining Homework

Homework is one of the most debated topics of this century, discussed by students, parents, and educators. We all know that homework is vital for students to review the concepts they learn at school and to learn how to apply them. We also know that homework helps reinforce classroom learning and develops good study habits, time management, critical thinking, and problem solving – important life skills. But in trying to help the kids, are we in fact making it worse for them? 


The “10-Minute Rule” formulated by the National PTA and the National Education Association suggests that kids should be doing about 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level. This translates to 10 minutes of homework for first graders, going up to 120 minutes for twelfth graders. Do we  simply apply this number, or do we consider the quality of the homework done? It is in fact a lot more complicated…


How do you consider the different levels of students to determine the time it takes to finish the homework? Who determines that a set homework can be done within a set time? And do we know the impact on low-income households and students with learning differences? Do we also consider the household education and the amount of support parents can provide the students at home to finish their homework? 


Another factor to consider is the age group of the students. Elementary school kids learn a lot through exploration and should have the free time to do so; high school kids are adept at independent learning and can take more rigorous homework but still need to have time for family and other commitments.


Recent studies have shown that the biggest stressor for students is the amount of homework they have. While individual teachers assign homework thinking that it is fine, the bigger picture (especially in high school) includes much more.  Work for other subjects, clubs, extracurricular activities, sports, college preparation including PSAT, SAT, and ACT quickly piles up and becomes overwhelming. Nobody wants students to forfeit a good night’s sleep and end up staying up late to finish their homework; it will adversely affect the physical and mental well-being of the students. 


How do you determine the right amount of homework, given that we are all working for the betterment of the students? Educators can poll students periodically to figure out if they are okay with the workload or are overwhelmed. Educators can see who has struggled the most in a given month in class and then assign less work  so the underperforming student can finish in the allotted/recommended time.  Eliciting students’ thoughts on homework enables teachers to understand how they can better support underperforming students, instead of assigning homework that risks worsening educational equity.


Another idea is to come up with more creative solutions to find the right balance. We can recognize Howard Gardner’s well-accepted theory of multiple intelligences which suggests that there are other forms of intelligence including naturalistic or musical.. 


A way to satisfy students who are high performing would be to have an optional section for those who can complete the allotted homework and want to do more. After all, parents, caregivers, and educators as a team are the best resources for our students and can find the best ways to make it work, not just for one student but for every student in our schools!