EXPERT COLUMN: RESEARCH AND PRACTICE IN CHILD PSYCHOLOGY

Is Homework Harmful or Helpful?

Richard Rende, PhD @richardrendephd
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October 20, 2017  | Last Updated: October 20, 2017

Does your kid have homework? How much? Is homework harmful or helpful?

Many educators are wrestling with the idea that homework may not be so beneficial for kids, and in many ways may be detrimental. Why, you ask?

There are two big reasons.

 

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First, research on homework has revealed a few sobering conclusions. These include the following:

  • The amount of homework given often greatly exceeds recommendations of what would be beneficial. The rule of thumb from research is the following algorithm: multiply 10 minutes by the grade level to get the maximal amount of homework. So a 1st grader should have 10 minutes a night, a 4th grader 40 minutes a night, an eighth grader 80 minutes a night, and so on. For many students, the actual amount of time spent on homework is much more than that. This algorithm assumes, of course, that the homework given is truly productive, not busy work or needless repetition or work that could be done in the classroom.
  • Indeed, homework may not be that productive. In the early school years – in fact, through elementary school – there is very little correlation between homework and achievement. In other words, homework is not translating in the way we assumed it would in terms of kids’ learning. And the links with achievement as kids get older are modest at best.

While this information has been around for a while now, and pretty widely disseminated, it seems to be catching fire for a related reason: everyone is getting tired of it. Kids are tired of it; parents are tired of it. And in some cases schools are getting tired of assigning work to be done at home after a full day of school, when kids’ lives are getting busier and busier. The last thing any kid needs is more busy work, especially if it doesn’t promote learning like it should.

Finally, there is recognition that kids could be doing other things with their time that, in both the short- and long-term, promote their overall development. They can be playing, messing around with hobbies, spending time with family, and getting enough sleep. The brain, and the kids’ who house those brains, needs lots of different types of experiences, not just purely “academic” exercises.

Now, some of you who might pull back from this, or fall out of your chairs, or think there will be a collective dumbing down of education  – despite the points made above – consider this story about one school’s experience with eliminating homework altogether:

“Students have not fallen back academically and may be doing better, and now they have ‘time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.’”

There’s another element here to consider. Doing away with homework can promote more engaged learning in the classroom. Kids do not need endless instruction and absorption of information. They need to be active learners who manipulate and talk and do. They can also spend time reading in class part of the time, too. Unfortunately, kids’ engagement in school tends to decrease in a linear fashion from year to year. Put another way, as they get older, and they transition from being a more active learner in the early years to a more passive learner in later years (think of sitting through a day of lectures in high school), the less they enjoy school. Bringing more of that hands on experience into the classroom, balanced with some instruction, is a more optimal mix every which way you look at it.

So what’s a parent to make of all this? Are you wondering “is homework harmful or helpful?” If your child’s homework load is excessive, find a way to appropriately raise the question of why the school is not revisiting the homework policy. And if your school is reducing the homework load, rest assured there are good reasons for that.

 

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