Currey Ingram Blog

Homework: Too little, too much, just right

Posted by Dr. Jane Hannah, Upper School Division Head on Aug 28, 2019 7:00:00 AM

Recently, I had a conversation with my 16-year-old grandson. Actually, he did the talking, and I did the listening so I guess one could say this was a conversation. He was angry with his algebra teacher who had assigned 60 problems for homework. “How could she do this? This isn’t right! Gramma Jane, “Don’t you think I should raise my hand tomorrow and tell her this is too much homework?”

Conversations similar to this are quite common between student and parent, especially on the first week back after summer vacation. With this in mind, I ask you these questions, “Is homework even helpful? Does it improve academic performance? Should we just ‘get rid of homework’?”

As with many educational topics, homework has been a topic of debate for years -- in fact for all of my 40-plus years in education. Some say, “Homework has no effect on achievement.” While others state, “My child needs homework, and lots of it, to get better in math.” There are times that schools are judged by the amount of homework that is given, and we have a tendency to become obsessed over the amount that is given and wear it with a badge of honor. What does research tell us about homework?

In 2006, Duke University Professor Harris Cooper completed a meta-analysis on the topic of homework. He found that achievement improved when students completed homework. However, he found a weaker relationship between homework and academic performance for the lower grades and a much stronger correlation in grades seven through 12. In John Hattie’s meta-analysis, the effect size in the early years was 0.15 (small to medium positive effect size) and for secondary students, it was 0.64 (excellent). Using these analyses, we can conclude that homework completion for secondary students has an excellent effect on academic performance. 

However, not all homework is created equal. Some assignments have greater positive effect sizes. John Hattie found that the more specific and precise the task given for homework, the more positive the effect size. He also concluded that the more involvement and feedback from teachers, the greater the positive effect sizes.

So, I don’t think the debate should be about getting rid of homework, but more about finding ways that homework can have a greater positive effect on academic achievement. I like to follow the “Goldilocks Theory” when assigning homework. You want homework to be “just right” in both quantity and quality — “not too much” and “not too little.”

In closing, teachers will continue to assign homework at Currey Ingram; however, they will consider these factors when doing so.

1) Teachers will consider the ability of students to work independently and design the homework with the goal that students will be able to complete it.

2) Teachers will assign homework that is realistic for the student’s age and recognize that too much homework diminishes the positive effects on achievement (no need for 60 problems each night when 10 will do). The typical rule of thumb is 10 minutes multiplied by the student’s grade in school. So, for a kindergartener or first grader, 10 minutes would be as productive as one hour. Hattie recommends for high school students, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours per night. However, he states it has more to do with the amount of homework a student completesrather than the amount the teacher assignsthat results in a greater positive effect.

3) Teachers will provide feedback to the student on the homework assignment.

Yes, homework is an important part of learning; however, parents are not expected to teach important information; that is the teacher’s responsibility. Your interest can spark an enthusiasm for learning. Studies show that homework assignments have the most benefit when they are carefully planned, brief, meaningful to the student, and consistently completed by the student. Don’t fail to communicate with your student’s teacher when homework becomes a battle between you and your son or daughter and results in the “homework meltdown.” The quality of the assignment is far more important than the quantity of the assignment.

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