What every parent should know about homework


Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell / Currey Ingram Academy

School is underway and the rhythm of the year is pretty established. For most, if not all students, homework is now a daily or at least weekly activity.

Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell

School is underway and the rhythm of the year is pretty established. For most, if not all students, homework is now a daily or at least weekly activity. While a good number of students cope well with homework, not many would say they like it. More often, it is what it is. I think we can all agree that, like taxes, homework is somewhat inevitable.

As a school administrator for the past 15 years, I cannot even begin to count how many homework conversations I’ve had. Homework can take over the lives of everyone in the home, particularly if a child is struggling or the homework load is unreasonable. Just a couple of days ago, I heard a parent say that fixing “the homework issues” in their home was “transformational” for their family. This is a pretty strong statement about something that should be a predictable, manageable routine for school-aged children and their parents.

How did homework become a perennially hot topic?

Was homework this notorious when I was a child? I do not think so, but then again I did not go to schools like the ones I have worked in over the years. In fact, I cannot remember actually doing homework before high school. Today, are there greater expectations placed on our children? It seems, at the very least, our children are busier than we were; busier in the sense of being scheduled. I was very busy at playing most of my childhood.

What does research say about homework?

The research on homework can be roughly divided into research that focuses on academic results and research that focuses on habits formed as a result of doing homework. What has the research on academic results told us? Homework in the lower grades (i.e., 1-5) has shown absolutely no correlation with future academic outcomes. (1) That is, for example, the amount of homework at this age is not correlated with a high ACT/SAT score or entrance into a top-tier college. The research has been quite consistent on this point.

As students move through the grades, the correlation changes somewhat. For students in grades 6-8, there is typically a very small positive correlation between homework and later academic outcomes. In grades 9-12, the correlation is moderate, at best. The general conclusion from research on academic outcomes is that homework, especially at the younger ages, is not at all key to paving the way for academic success later in life.*

As noted above, the other possible benefits and outcomes of homework center on developing habits and skills sets. On this topic the research more clearly favors homework. From a younger age, most researchers agree that homework can be useful in getting children accustomed to routines.

Is homework here to stay?

Although I’ve heard of some schools doing away with homework in the lower grades, the fact of the matter is that it is here to stay, at least for now.

What can be done at home?

  1. By far the most important thing to be done, in my opinion, is to establish a routine for homework that suits your children. Whether it’s right after school, whether it’s after they watch their favorite television show, whether they do it at school as part of an afterschool program, the key is routine. When a solid routine is established, a habit is born. Well established habits become automatic and thus lose much of the drama associated with doing something people do not want to do.
  2. Closely related to routine is location. Find the right location for your children based on their personalities. One of my boys felt cozy and comfortable crammed into a tight space and the other “spread out” to do his work.
  3. Closely related to location are distractions. Generally, research and common sense says minimize distractions. The worst kind of distractions are the intermittent kind, usually occurring in locations where you are not sure what might happen next. A consistent noise, like music, may not be a distraction. It is for me, but my youngest son has always done very well with his music in the background.
  4. If you’re having trouble establishing a routine you may want to try “grandma’s principle.” People are motivated by rewards. You broker a deal with your children that they get “x” (favorite show, snack, playtime, etc.) after they complete their homework.
  5. If you start to sense that your child may be struggling with even a basic amount of homework, seek more feedback about your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Often, the school will be able to provide options for additional testing that could reveal specific difficulties related to math, language arts, comprehension, processing speed, memory, attention, organizational skills and/or other areas that can often get in the way of successful (and drama-free) homework completion.

How long is too long?

As stated above, there are some habit-forming benefits to homework, even for very young children. This is why we start homework in kindergarten here at Currey Ingram Academy. It is important to note, though, that those benefits are reaped after relatively short durations. There’s a great deal of support in the research and in practice for the 10 minutes per grade rule. This means that the amount of homework a student receives should not exceed 10 minutes per grade level. For example, a third-grader should not get more than 3 x 10 = 30 minutes.

Guidelines for time can get tricky because there is a fair amount of individual variation in how long students take to do homework. In cases where children take significantly longer than the recommended time, parents should have a discussion with the teacher or school. Often, teachers will work with parents to set up guidelines for homework that instill good habits but help avoid a meltdown. Often, if parents/teachers agree that time will be the guide, then students can be offered the opportunity to draw a mark indicating how far they were able to go before the time expired. In this case, the school agrees to not apply consequences, and the teacher learns more about the student’s comprehension and mastery of subject matter.

Next Steps

As the year continues, I encourage parents to stay in touch with their children and their teachers about homework and to make sure they continue to be aware of the expectations for each classroom. When things seem to change, one way or the other, it is okay to ask questions or re-evaluate. If needed, parents, students and schools should be able to reach a successful compromise that is best for all involved. After all, we are in this for the same reason – to thoughtfully support the academic and personal growth of each child in our care.

Footnote

*A difference must be noted among homework, studying, and special remediation, e.g., tutoring, and other individualized interventions. Although these processes overlap they are different and should be treated as such.

References

  1. Does homework improve academic achievement? (Abstract) Harris Cooper, Jorgianne Civey Robinson, and Erika A. Patall. Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research 2006, vol.76: 1-62.

Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is the head of school for Currey Ingram Academy. “Extra Credit” is provided each month by Currey Ingram Academy to help parents at all schools and at all stages of the parenting journey.

Currey Ingram Academy is a private K-12 day school for bright students with learning differences and unique learning styles. For more information, click here.

Earlier Extra Credit columns:

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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