Thursday, October 02, 2008

Too Much Homework?

It was manageable in kindergarten, first, and even second grade, but in third grade the amount of homework easily doubled for my children and became difficult to manage for ME! Finally, just when we got a handle on things, it all changed once the boys hit middle school. A planner now became a necessity. With six or seven different classes and teachers all vying for our kids’ “free” time to do the homework they believed was important, it was hard to keep up. Stress hit our youngest like a ton of bricks and his first reaction was to look for an escape. He quietly refused any advice we gave about how to stay organized and manage his time. His grades began to reflect his inability to keep track of his assignments instead of his learning.

How much and what kind of homework a teacher assigns is dependent on a variety of factors. A teacher’s set of beliefs about education and the value of homework play into how long your child wrestles with math, science, English, or social studies outside the school day. Some teachers believe that the skill students learn in school needs practice at home so that they will better internalize the concept. Other teachers believe that homework should only be used when a student does not finish his work while at school. Still others believe that all work should be done in their presence and do not assign homework. This is something you may not be able to control.

However, control those things you can and ask yourself (and your child) some questions:

• Is the homework assigned on a regular or sporadic basis? It’s much easier to manage when you know when assignments are typically due. Create a homework calendar to track them.
• What is the homework policy of each teacher? How much is its completion weighted in their final grade? The higher the percentage, the higher the stakes.
• What is the homework expectation if/when your child is absent? In middle and high school students typically have one day for each day absent to make up the work. Missed time in school means more homework.
• Does the teacher know that your child is struggling with the homework load? Engage his or her help to support your child’s efforts. A good rule of thumb is that if your child cannot complete his homework without help, it’s not good homework (Vatterott, n.d).

Are our kids doing more homework than we did? Not necessarily. We are a much busier society than we were 20 or 30 years ago. In reality, middle and high school students do less homework now than they did in the 1970’s. What have increased are the choices of activities competing for our time. Our children are overscheduled and attention to school work is often sacrificed. Even though you may see homework as an intrusion on family time, it’s important for children to learn to manage it, just as they will have to manage multiple tasks in their adult lives.

How much homework is too much homework?
The National PTA suggests that children in kindergarten through grade two be expected to complete 10-20 minutes of homework each night. In grades three through six they suggest 30 to 60 minutes per night. In middle and high school, the amount depends on the number of difficulty level of each course taken. For example, you can expect more homework in an Honors level course or an Advanced Placement (AP) course as compared to an average level course.