The question of “how much homework is too much?” is a common refrain in educational discourse. Especially for younger students, there is a risk that homework is trending more detrimental than beneficial. Where busy work replaces quality assessments, stress levels are on the rise for students and their guardians both, and higher quantities of work is found to lower academic performance. Careful consideration of homework and its value must be brought into the spotlight.
Homework is used as an assessment of student progress, and an effective learning tool, building on the material introduced in the classroom—however, homework has little value as a measurement of academic achievement if it is not actually measuring achievement. Too often homework is in “worksheet” form, packets elementary students are expected to complete not by looking up the answer, and learning for themselves, but by filling in the blank and moving on. They are often repetitive, and there is little knowledge gained. One may suggest that homework, and worksheets specifically, are necessary for assessing student progress…
- The same homework night after night is boring for both teacher and student alike
- Boredom leads to a lack of effort, and a lack of effort leads to imperfect assessment
- Educators have no need of an assessment tool that does not assess properly
- Example alternative: Interactive in-class demonstrates display active learning.
There is the argument that homework is a necessary tool when it comes to determining where a student is at, progress-wise, but it is often not homework itself, but the implementation. There are engaging and effective ways to assess student progress that would be of strong benefit, and there are resources students themselves have come up with exploring how they would best learn new material (“Alternatives To Homework: A Chart For Teachers,” 2019), whether that means substituting worksheets for interactive in-class demonstrations, or inviting the students to ask questions about the material rather than answering questions set by the teacher. This kind of thinking demonstrates the active components of student learning, and allows for the students to claim agency in their educational experience. Allowing for students to access these strategies in creative ways is critical, as too often homework is tied to levels of stress trending towards the dangerous.
With a high workload and little reward, stress both physical and mental trends dangerously high, and students neglect other important aspects of their lives, such as social and familial connections. The demands of school assignments taking up hours of after school time takes away from vital developmental components that come from spending time with family, or relaxing with friends. The amount of involvement expected of student guardians is often at an unobtainable level, with more single parent households, and two-parent households were both work as the norm. Argument: “Stress is healthy! Students must be challenged by their work!”
- Yes. However, there is a careful balance that must be attended to: when the challenge reaches a frustration, rather than independent or instructional level, the student is overwhelmed
When the workload stress becomes too much: Risk of physical and mental stress, and potentially creating negative association with learning. Causes students to neglect other needs such as being physically and socially active.
The more overwhelmed a student becomes, the more likely they are to lose motivation. There is also the fact that for elementary students, the benefits of homework is negligible… with students as young as kindergarten-age receiving up to an hour of hw a night (Hinton, 2018), this can amount to little but frustration. Young children need practice, but the practice they are receiving is all too often inadequate. Argument: “Practice makes perfect!”
- 10 minute rule!
- More hw often results in poorer student academic performance (Fernández-Alonso et al., 2015).
- Quality over quantity; practice is not worth much if the practice is an exercise in memorization, not learning.
Benefits decrease at higher quantities, and lower age ranges: Almost no measurable benefits for elementary students (Cooper et al., 2006). The National PTA & The National Education Association support a “10 minute rule” where students are assigned 10 minutes of hw a night per grade level (Cooper, 2010).
Something is happening in our schools… Figure A shows the results of a 2016 survey, wherein a majority 85% of kindergarteners where described as “enthusiastic about learning, and willingly cooperative,” a 61% majority of 4th graders were described as “very resistant to learning” and “only grudgingly cooperative.” That is a 46% drop from kindergarten to 4th grade.
Correlation is not causation. Is higher achievement caused by homework, or do high achievers do more homework? One cannot say for sure. One thing that is known throughout studies done on the subject of homework is that there is no lack in students of a desire to learn; especially in early years, students are eager and curious about the world around them. One could draw the conclusion that it has to do with curriculum. The often formulaic nature of hw assignments, such as worksheets, leads to boredom, and a loss of that curiosity; stress brought on by a heavy workload from a young age stunts a student’s development, kills competitive drive, and impacts family relationships so that the student begins to resent the work. With too much homework there is no room left for active learning: there is no time for participation, or imagination, or connecting the content to real world contexts with think alouds, demonstrations, or other creative ventures (source).
It is a fact that homework can, in fact, be a powerful tool, but it is a tool like any other, and it is in its use where it finds its value. Care must be taken in its implementation. It is a dangerous line the institution of education walks between healthy challenge and impossible obstacle. Too much poor quality homework can stunt a child when their experience is fragile, their mind open to possibilities, and set a child as young as 5 on a path of life-long frustration with learning. Education would benefit and student stress would be reduced by teachers finding alternatives for what is commonly thought of as homework, and asking students’ opinions on how they would best learn. It is important to remember that is is quality that counts, and sometimes “less is more.”