How Much Homework is Too Much?

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When you’re a new teacher, it’s often hard to decide how much homework to give your students.  First of all, you need to check whether or not your school has a homework policy.  If there is one in place, you must adhere to it.  If there is not a policy in place, then you need to consider the following:

1.  What do your colleagues at the same grade level recommend?

2.  What are the ages of your students?  (This is a BIG factor.)

3.  What is really necessary in order to move learning forward?

Teachers are often in disagreement when it comes to how much homework to give.  I have had parents who have said that I gave too much homework when I taught 5th and 6th grade, and parents in the same class that said I gave too little homework.  Many times, it is not the amount of work you give, but the pace of the student who is doing the work.

There has been much research on how effective homework really is, but nothing that has settled the question once and for all:  Should all students have homework, and how much should they have?  Here are the factors I weigh when assigning homework:

1.  You want to promote literacy for students at all grade levels.  This is especially important during the early elementary years.  Will your homework increase literacy or increase tears?

2.  Will the amount of homework you give at night allow children and parents to have family time together?  Many parents work outside the home.  It is discouraging for parents to have Judy sitting at the table for three hours every night and not be able to participate in family activities.

3.  Is the work you are going to assign simply busy work, or does it serve a valuable purpose?

4.  Could the work you are sending home have been completed in class if you had planned your day more carefully?  For example, could Susie have done those ten math problems if you had not chosen to watch a movie for a class party?

5.  Are you assigning a project that mom and dad will end up doing, or will the student do it?  Will you have the whole family in an uproar running to Wal-Mart at 10:00 p.m. for supplies?

When I taught 5th/6th grade, the school policy was “no homework on Wednesday nights.” I was in a private Christian school, and Wednesday nights were to be set aside for attending services should a family choose to do so.  I usually gave a math test on Wednesdays which worked out great, because math usually created the most homework.  There are ways you can plan at least one or two NO HOMEWORK nights per week.  I encourage you to do this!

My conscientious students were usually able to get their homework done during the school day, because after making an assignment, I allowed students time to work on it. Most homework was either reading, long term projects, or work that did not get done during class time by students who worked more slowly.  Typically, homework from my class did not exceed thirty minutes.

In high school, where it is impossible to know how many other teachers are assigning homework, I usually give assignments twice a week.  Think this through.  If a high school student has seven classes and five teachers give thirty minutes of homework, the student will have to work two and one-half hours to get it done.  (And that is based on how long the TEACHER thinks it will take to complete the assignment.)  Consider the fact that the high school student may have a part-time job out of necessity, may be participating in sporting events, and/or may have other family obligations in the evening.

All that to say, make your class time count.  Maximize time on task.  Maximize learning. Be careful of doing so many special activities during the school day that you have to send all the academic work home.  Many parents are just too tired to fight the homework battle every night.  Many small children are also overwhelmed by it.

Choose your homework assignments carefully.  Make sure they are meaningful.  Make sure they are age appropriate.  More homework doesn’t mean you are a better teacher.  

My recommendation based on over thirty years of experience is that no elementary student should have to work over an hour per evening on homework. Frankly, one-half hour should be sufficient.  Homework every single night is not necessary.

At the high school level, you will have to use your personal discretion according to the type of course (is it a remedial or an advanced course?), and the type of student you are teaching (are you teaching honors students or students with special needs?)

Next, watch your students’ ability to complete the work.  Are many of your students overwhelmed?  Do they seem to be handling it well?  Are you getting calls from parents? Make adjustments as needed.  As you learn to gauge age-appropriateness and the time it takes to complete assignments, you can adjust your requirements according to your students’ abilities.