Homework: How can we all do it better?

As you have no doubt heard, our focus for the year is faculty and student wellness. This past summer, we read a great collection of articles put together by our Wellness Committee. During our opening meetings, we met in cross-divisional groups to look at the varying aspects of wellness that can impact teaching and learning. One of those topics we have been rethinking is our approach to homework.

Via our work with Challenge Success, we have been reviewing the research to date on the efficacy of homework as well as best practices. Here is some of what we have learned:

  • There is no concrete evidence that homework is a necessary component of a challenging curriculum, is a sign of a strong teacher, or is an effective way to develop a good work ethic or responsibility in children.

  • While students are spending more time in school and on homework, the association between homework and achievement is not as strong as once concluded. In fact, there is no direct correlation for students in lower school outside of reading for pleasure.

  • In middle school, there is a moderate correlation, but after 60-90 minutes spent doing homework, the association fades.

  • In high school the correlation fades after 2 hours spent on homework.

  • Students who feel increasing pressure and workload in school tend to be more exhausted, more disengaged, and have more health problems.

  • A review of parental involvement found little to no evidence for any benefits to children when parents were involved in the work.

Since students have cited the value of meaningful and relevant work outside of the classroom, we are looking to shift the conversation away from a discussion of quantity of homework in order to focus on the quality of homework we assign. We know that when students see homework as “doable,” both in terms of time and content, it will support student learning. So, faculty members are making sure each assignment has a specific and clearly articulated purpose. We are also trying to give students more choice so they can choose an activity from a set of options. We will reflect on our rationale for when and why homework is graded and include both predictions and feedback on how much time homework actually takes. And we will continue to emphasize the importance of homework being completed independently.

As we continue to review our homework guidelines at School, we want to partner with parents to support healthy homework practice. Leading researcher Cathy Vatterott suggests these guidelines for parents:

  • Parents can provide necessary supplies and show an active interest in the content.

  • Parents can help formulate a plan for completing homework and provide an appropriate space to work by discussing the working conditions that will best lead to positive outcomes.

  • Parent should act as cheerleaders and supporters, not homework “police”; parents should not complete assignments for their child.

  • Let children make mistakes and experience “successful failures” for a missed or incomplete homework assignment; communicate with teachers if you notice issues or homework challenges.

And since it’s difficult to think about homework without thinking about sleep habits, check out this article on the value of sleep for kids. We want to make sure we are not asking children to sacrifice sleep to complete homework.