The value of homework has been the subject of debate over the years. In regards to research, the jury is still out as to whether homework positively impacts a student's academic achievement. In the past, I have written a couple of blogs on homework and whether or not it is being used or abused by educators. I am always amazed at what some of my young readers share about sleepless nights, not participating in extracurricular events, and high levels of stress - all of which are attributed to large and daunting amounts of homework.
There have been studies that show that doing homework in moderation improves test performance. So we can’t rule out the value of homework, if it’s conducive to learning. However, studieshave also shown that the benefits of homework peak at about one hour to ninety minutes and then after that test scores begin to decline.
Now while looking at data it’s important to review the standard, endorsed by the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association, known as the "10-minute rule" -- 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night. That would mean there would only be 10 minutes of homework in the first grade, and end with 120 minutes for senior year of high school (double what research shows beneficial). This leads to an important question - On average how much homework do teachers assign?
A Harris Poll from the University of Phoenix surveyed teachers about the hours of homework required of students and why they assign it. Pollsters received responses from approximately 1,000 teachers in public, private, and parochial schools across the United States. High school teachers (grades 9-12) reported assigning an average of 3.5 hours’ worth of homework a week. Middle school teachers (grades 6-8) reported assigning almost the same amount as high school teachers, 3.2 hours of homework a week. Lastly, K-5 teachers said they assigned an average of 2.9 hours of homework each week. This data shows a spike in homework beginning in middle school.
When teachers were asked why they assign homework, they gave the top three reasons:
- to see how well students understand lessons
- to help students develop essential problem-solving skills
- to show parents what's being learned in school.
Approximately, 30 percent of teachers reported they assigned homework to cover more content area. What’s interesting about this poll was the longer an educator had been in the field the less homework they assigned. Take a look at the breakdown below:
- 3.6 hours (teachers with less than 10 years in the classroom)
- 3.1 hours (teachers with 10 to 19 years in the classroom)
- 2.8 hours (teachers with more than 20 years in the classroom)
While many agree that homework does have a time and place, there needs to be a balance between life and school. There also needs to be communication with other teachers in the school about assignments. Oftentimes, educators get so involved in their subject area, they communicate departmentally, not school-wide. As a result, it’s not uncommon for teens to have a project and a couple of test all on the same day. This dump of work can lead to an overwhelming amount of stress.
Educators, how can you maximize the benefit of homework? Use the questions below to guide you in whether or not to assign work outside of the classroom. Ask yourself:
1. Do I need to assign homework or can this be done in class?
2. Does this assignment contribute and supplement the lesson reviewed in class?
3. Do students have all of the information they need to do this assignment? In others words, are they prepared to do the homework?
4. What are you wanting your students to achieve from this assignment? Do you have a specific objective and intended outcome in mind?
5. How much time will the assignment take to complete? Have you given your students a sufficient amount of time?
6. Have you taken into account other course work that your students have due?
7. How can you incorporate student choice and feedback into your classroom?
8. How can you monitor whether or not you are overloading your students?
Educators, as a conclusion, I have provided a few of the many comments, that I have received below. I think it’s important to look at the age/grade level and messages these teens have shared. Take time to read their words and reflect on ways you can incorporate their perspective into course objectives and content. I believe the solution to the homework dilemma can be found in assigning work in moderation and finding a balance between school, home and life.
“I am a 7th grader in a small school in Michigan. I think one of the main problems about what teachers think about homework is that they do not think about what other classes are assigned for homework. Throughout the day I get at LEAST 2 full pages of homework to complete by the next day. During the school year, I am hesitant to sign up for sports because I am staying up after a game or practice to finish my homework.”
“I'm 17 and I'm in my last year of high school. I can honestly tell you that from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. (sometimes 1 or 2 a.m.) I am doing homework. I've been trying to balance my homework with my work schedule, work around my house, and my social life with no success. So if someone were to ask me if I think kids have too much homework, I would say yes they do. My comment is based solely on my personal experience in high school.”
“I am 13! and I have a problem, HOMEWORK. I can’t get my homework done at home because it is all on my SCHOOL MacBook, I don’t own my OWN PERSONAL computer, and I only an amazon fire tablet. What’s the problem with my tablet? there is no middle, or high school apps for it. You are might be wondering “Why not bring the MacBook home?” Well, I am not allowed to, so what is the punishment? 4 late assignments, and 1 late argument essay. And 90% of the homework I get is on my MacBook. THIS IS A MEGA STRESSER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Today Matt Miller @jmattmiller co-author of “Ditch that Homework” talks about homework. What does the research say? What is the one area that “homework” helps? Can homework be better? Let’s talk homework and make sure students are spending their time well.
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In today’s show, Matt Miller discusses homework:
- What does the research say?
- The silver bullet of homework that DOES work
- The challenges of meaningful homework
- What kids do instead of homework counts
- Why Vicki doesn’t assign it
I hope you enjoy this episode with Matt Miller!
Selected Links from this Episode
Show Giveaway of Ditch that Homework
Ditch that Homework Book Giveaway Contest
Full Bio As Submitted
Matt Miller is an educator, blogger and the author of “Ditch That Textbook,” a book about revolutionizing the classroom with innovative teaching, mindsets and curriculum. He has infused technology and innovative teaching methods in his classes for more than 10 years. Matt is a Google Certified Innovator, PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator and two-time Bammy! Awards nominee.
He writes at the Ditch That Textbook blog about using technology and creative ideas in teaching. Reach him at [email protected]ook.com or on Twitter at @jmattmiller.
Transcript for this episode
Download PDF of this Episode
[Recording starts 0:00:00]
How can we make homework worth it? Episode 74.
The Ten-minute Teacher podcast with Vicki Davis. Every weekday you’ll learn powerful practical ways to be a more remarkable teacher today.
VICKI: Happy Thought Leader Thursday. Today we have with us Matt Miller @jmattmiller
author of Ditch That Textbook. http://amzn.to/2pnjNyO And he has a new book, Ditch That Homework. We’ll tell you at the end of the show how you can win for yourself a copy of his new book coming out in June.
So Matt, there’s so much discussion about homework and I know in France they’ve even banned it. http://www.npr.org/2012/12/02/166193594/pencils-down-french-plan-would-end-homework What’s the deal in homework? I mean, it’s always been around. Do we need to rethink it and why?
MATT: I don’t know. But if they ban homework in France I think that gives me extra reason to go there. When I think back to my own time as a student I remember that I would put just like the bare minimum effort into my homework assignments. I was just basically trying to get them done and many of them were stimulating activities or really got me to think critically or anything like that.
And so I after I became a teacher I started to think, you know, I wonder what kind of return on investment we’re getting on homework. Because we spend all of these hours. Students spend hours and hours and hours of time doing this homework. But how much are we actually getting out of it? What do we really get in return because I like to think that if we spend all of those hours we would be – it’s almost like thinking about being paid, that we would be paid fairly instead of below minimum wage? I think that’s one of my biggest issues with that.
VICKI: So what does the research say?
MATT: Well, it’s interesting because if you want to find research that says that homework is effective, you can find it. And if you want to find research is ineffective and doesn’t work, you can find it.
So, really, there’s research all over the board. Part of the problem with the research that we found is that a lot of it is correlational instead of causational, it doesn’t show causation. So basically what that means is that a lot of this research is pairing completion of homework. So actually doing your homework with test scores. And so it’s basically asking, if kids do homework, will their test scores go up?
And you and I know as well as anybody else that there are so many factors that go into what a kids test scores are. And we also know that it’s usually the kids who are the stronger academic students that are doing the homework anyway. So even if we really dig into this research, there’s still a lot of issues but there are a couple of absolutes no matter what you see.
You look at John Hattie’s research on best practices which are based on his statistical model of what works in school. His big thing is – he says, homework in the primary grades has an effect size of zero. https://visible-learning.org/2014/09/john-hattie-interview-bbc-radio-4/ As in, it doesn’t have any sort of effect on students. Now, it seems like the research also shows us that there’s one silver bullet when it comes to work at home and that is reading. That reading at home especially self-directed reading, like parents reading to kids, kids reading stuff that they’re interested in, that’s the one big thing that really has the games at home.
VICKI: But it sounds like, Matt, it depends on the homework, right? I mean, it’s kind of like the research on technology. Technology can improve or not improve learning based on how it’s used. I mean, there is definitely pointless homework out there but sometimes there are meaningful things. Is it just you think that maybe we don’t have as many meaningful homework assignments as maybe we should?
MATT: You know, I think that’s part of it. But I think part of it also has to do with the time factor. What we ask kids to do is we’ll have them come in at 8:00 and leave at 3:00.
And during that whole seven hour work day, so to speak, they’re giving us their 100%. And they are actively working. And we all know that brainwork sometimes can be just as hard on our bodies as physical work. And so what we’re almost asking them to do is if that’s a seven-hour work day times five, we’re asking kids to 35-hour work days and then come home and spend an additional hour or 30 minutes or 2 hours or whatever doing the same stuff that they did.
And I always thinking about – with the teachers that I work with I think, okay, if you are asked to do all of this work and then you were mandated to go home and do two hours’ worth of work that either isn’t that interesting to you or doesn’t allow you to explore your passions or whatever, I have a big issue with that. And so I kind of feel like that time at home should give kids the opportunity to explore. Especially, younger kids, to be able to play and get dirty and go outside and ride their bikes. Or with older kids to be able to pursue what they’re passionate about.
VICKI: Well, and I think a lot of teachers are [giving it]. It’s called pointless paperwork that nobody reads. And a lot of the kids feel the same about homework, don’t they?
MATT: Yes, ma’am. They absolutely do.
VICKI: So where are you with homework? I mean, given the choice, are you going to assign to assign or not?
MATT: I don’t know that there is necessarily a clear cut answer for everyone. And I know in my own class, being a high school Spanish teacher for more than a decade I just started assigning less and less and less because I wasn’t getting the results that I needed. And I know everybody’s situation is different and every teacher knows their kids the best. But I kind of feel like – and this is sort of the premise of our book is that with the best practices that we know about today and technology and a lot of the things that we can do, we can become more effective and more efficient in the classroom. And if we can leverage that to do better learning in class we become less and less reliant on homework outside the class.
And so I think maybe that’s the big focus, is, what can we do in class? What can we do more efficiently and effectively in class to become less reliant on it? And I think everybody can agree that if were less reliant on homework that’s a good thing.
VICKI: It is. I guess the only thing that ever worries me is I think that some people have the view that kids should just be able to go to school for however long they go to school, we handle everything at school and there’s never any requirement outside of school. And I mean, I guess as a farm girl, I’ve always been taught and believe that if you work hard at worth doing, you can get god results. Now, if you work hard at wasted work then it is a waste. But work worth doing.
I guess I struggle with being torn between my worth ethic and getting rid of it all together, right?
MATT: Right. And I think your example is a perfect one. You’re a farm girl, I live on 25 acres here in the middle of nowhere here in Indiana so I can very much sympathize with that. And there was a lot of work to do at your place. But that’s something that I think that we miss out on when we just focus on academics. Imagine if you have kid who’s in a similar situation where there’s work to be done at home but they’re sent home with two hours of homework every night. And then if you throw in basketball practice, choir performances and all the other stuff, then basically, they’re missing out on that important thing.
And so what I think is whenever we reduce the amount of homework, reduce the work that’s going on at home now kids are getting a much richer picture, a much richer education because they’re getting some of those lessons that they wouldn’t get at school instead of having all of that same stuff that we just did at school hammered into them over and over again when they get home.
VICKI: Yeah. It always makes me nervous to talk about personal experience because I did do the two or three hours and did the farm stuff. But I know families who just let those kids play on iPads all the time.
VICKI: I guess I’m torn out, I do have to admit, Matt, I don’t assign homework. I’m defending homework but I don’t assign it because I teacher computer science and to me I want to be right there when they’re working on it. Now, do they go home and build their apps, they do. They go home and if they love it and they need to then they do it. But I don’t assign homework because for me and for what I teach, I just want [them] to be there in front of me. So I guess I’m arguing against what I’m saying, huh?
MATT: And you know what, Vicki, I think whenever you can inspire kids with what you do in the classroom so much that they want to go home and work on it. When you’ve really lit that fire of passion and then they can go home then I think that’s the best kind of homework that there is. It’s the kid that kids are wanting to do, they’re wanting to go and learn that. And that’s the kind of stuff that I think can shake their lives.
VICKI: So we’ve had a conversation, not necessarily answers but some incredible research. And Matt Miller, the book is Ditch That Homework. Please check the show notes. I’ll give you links for how you can enter to win his book, Ditch That Homework. And when it comes out, he’ll be sending you a copy if you win. So thank you so much for listening to this conversation. It’s going to be really interesting, Matt, to see the comments on Facebook and on the blog, on this on because I’m sure we’re going to get lots of opinions.
MATT: Yes, I’m interested in it too.
VICKI: Hello Remarkable Teachers, would you please help me do something? I’m trying to help more people find out about the Ten Minute Teacher Show. To do that, if you just could take some time to go to iTunes or to Stitcher or to leave a review. It really does help. Thank you so much.
Thank you for listening to the Ten-minute Teacher Podcast. You can download the show notes and see the archive at coolcatteacher.com/podcast. Never stop learning.
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