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Evaluating Homework – Is Your Child Getting Too Much?

Written By Geoff Nixon . September 27, 2018

Once the school year is underway, it’s worthwhile taking time to evaluate time spent on homework – its challenges and successes, and whether or not a change is needed. 

Is Homework Effective?

There are a number of studies and differing views about the effectiveness of homework, especially in early grades. For younger students, it can help develop important study habits and provide a connection between home and school. For middle schoolers, on the other hand, an average of one to two hours of homework each night can mean better performance in school.

Yet, there are also studies that tie homework to fatigue and negative perceptions about school and those that find no correlation between homework and higher test scores. Others show that having more than two hours of homework a night does not benefit older students. Moreover, it can limit the time they need to unwind and relax with family and peers.

We know that some types of homework are more effective than others. Frequent busy work, such as worksheets or drills, for example, tend to have little impact. This is especially true in situations where assignments are simply turned in, without educator feedback or review afterwards. Effective homework should have a clear purpose: practice, preparation and extension being among the most common. It should enhance learning, involve problem solving, creativity or application, and be differentiated based on individual student needs.

Does The Homework Align With Your Goals For Your Child?

While homework assignments tend to be one size fits all, children are not.  Especially for elementary age children, the value of homework varies tremendously by child.  

Your academic goals for your child – of any age – should be around your child becoming a lifelong learner, self-reliant, resilient when faced with challenges and somebody who loves reading.  Those attributes require:

  • Mastery of reading and learning fundamentals – preferably by 4th or 5th grade
  • A positive connection to learning and reading

Homework can get in the way of those two goals at times. if your child is not on the same track as the rest of the class, and is not progressing in learning to read process as well as hoped, there is an argument for shielding your child from content-heavy homework – e.g., memorization or writing assignments that are going to frustrate rather than instruct.  And instead, to work on reading or other activities that maintain a positive connection to reading and learning.  

Many parents in this situation will use the time after school to work on learning interventions like Gemm Learning, programs that aim to resolve the cognitive impediments to learning progress – focusing on the longer term aims, not the short term homework, which for a struggling learner really just amounts to busy work.

Ask Your Teacher

If you have concerns about the type of homework being sent home or your child’s ability to complete it, talk to the teacher. He or she may be able to help you and your child understand unclear tasks or clarify goals. A teacher can also set clear expectations to help determine if your child’s experience with the assignments is expected or if a learning challenge may be impacting results. If consistent differences between effort and outcome exist, it is important to  explore why.

How Much Is Too Much?

The National PTA and National Education Association (NEA) recommend 10 minutes of homework a night for each grade level, elementary through middle school. This means 10-20 minutes in first grade, 20 minutes in 2nd grade, and so on. This may increase in high school based on the specific classes taken.

Is your child’s homework routine meeting these guidelines? If not, does it stray occasionally or does it take three to four times as long on a regular basis? Do other students and parents seem to view the work load similarly? Or does your child’s frustration and completion time seem to differ substantially from what’s expected?

Is Homework Taking Too Long?

One cause for a lengthy, frustrating homework routine can be a discrepancy between the amount of time the teacher expects an assignment to take and the actual work involved for an individual to successfully complete it. Students with learning struggles often work 2 to 3 times longer than their peers to complete an assignment. If there are different teachers for each subject, are they coordinating assignments in order to ensure that multiple time- consuming projects or tasks aren’t due at the same time? Having insufficient information or directions can also lead to homework difficulty.

Talk to the teacher about how assignments are given and recorded. If the current plan, such as copying from the board, is not working, discuss alternatives. Many schools post assignments online, so that students and parents can double check criteria. Others require assignment notebooks. Some children will need a teacher or classroom buddy to help them review what they’ve written before heading home.

The More You Know

The more you know about your child’s learning style, class, and school expectations, the more prepared you will be to set up a successful routine. You will also be able to identify challenges that require modifications, additional support or intervention.

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