If you walk into a typical teachers’ workroom and ask the question, “What’s the purpose of homework?” you’ll likely find that most teachers have a definite opinion. But ask them what research says about homework, and you’ll get less definitive answers. What does research really say about homework as a strategy to improve student achievement?
The effects of homework on student achievement are not entirely clear; a number of factors, such as degree of parental involvement and support, homework quality, students’ learning preferences, and structure and monitoring of assignments can affect the influence of homework on achievement (Hong, Milgram, & Rowell, 2004; Minotti, 2005).
One synthesis of research on the relationship between homework time and achievement showed some gains at the middle and high school levels, but less so at the elementary school level (Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006). Others have found that homework can help students strengthen their self-regulation skills such as managing time, setting goals, self-reflecting on their performance, and delaying gratification (Ramdass & Zimmerman, 2011).
On the flip side, there’s some research highlighting negative aspects of homework, including disruption of family time, stress, conflicts between student and parent, and restricted access to community and leisure time (e.g., Coutts, 2004; Warton, 2001).
So what’s the best approach to take? In Cathy Vatterott’s 2009 book, Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs, she outlines practices she refers to as her “New Paradigm for Homework”:
- design quality homework tasks;
- differentiate homework tasks;
- move from grading to checking;
- decriminalize the grading of homework;
- use completion strategies; and
- establish homework support programs.
If you take Vatterott’s recommended practices along with our research-based recommendations (found in Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd ed.), you can begin to view homework differently, as an extension of practice and a chance to deepen understanding of a topic. Consider these tips:
- Always ask, “What learning will result from this homework assignment?” The goal of your instruction should be to design homework that results in meaningful learning.
- Assign homework to help students deepen their understanding of content, practice skills in order to become faster or more proficient, or learn new content on a surface level.
- Check that students are able to perform required skills and tasks independently before asking them to complete homework assignments.
- Consider parents and guardians to be your allies when it comes to homework. Understand their constraints, and, when home circumstances present challenges, consider alternative approaches to support students as they complete homework assignments (e.g., before-or after-school programs, additional parent outreach).
Because the research on homework is mixed, teachers should think carefully about what tasks they assign for homework, and what the purpose of that homework truly is. Remember that it’s essential for students to receive feedback on their homework so they know what they did correctly, what they did incorrectly, and what they need to do next to improve.
Howard Pitler, Ed.D., is chief program officer at McREL, co-author of Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.), and lead author of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works.
Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C, Sc Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 19872003. Review of Educational Research, 76, 1-62.
Coutts, P. (2004). Meanings of homework and implications for practice. Theory into Practice 43(3),182–188.
Hong, E., Milgram, R. M., & Rowell, L. L. (2004). Homework motivation and preference: A learner-centered homework approach. Theory into Practice, 43, 197–204.
Minotti, J. L. (2005). Effects of learning-style-based homework prescriptions on the achievement and attitudes of middle school students. NASSP Bulletin, 89, 67–89.
Ramdass, D., & Zimmerman, B. (2011) Developing Self-Regulation Skills: The Important Role of Homework. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(2), 194-218,354-355.
Vatterott, C. (2009). Rethinking homework: Best practices that support diverse needs. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Warton, P. M. (2001). The forgotten voices in homework: Views of the students. Educational Psychologist, 36(3), 155–165.
Parents often become involved in their child’s education by helping them with their homework. Homework can have many benefits for children. Providing students with homework creates opportunities for interactions among families. In addition to that, it helps students develop good study habits, cultivates a positive attitude towards school, and helps parents and students realize that learning happens outside of school, not just in school.
Here we will take a brief look at parental involvement in their child’s homework.
What’s the Purpose of Homework?
Most teachers will agree that the main purpose of homework is for students to practice what they have learned in school. It is not meant to learn new concepts, it meant to master the present concept they are learning. While practice is necessary for mastery, it also must be realistic. If students are learning their multiplication facts, then it would not be realistic to assign them 50 problems, but it would be realistic to assign them 10-20. There is no current research that says the more problems that you assign students the better they will learn them. If a reasonable amount of multiplication problems will give the necessary practice that they need, they why bother giving them extra?
Many teachers use homework not just for practice but to introduce a new concept before they teach it. For instance, before you introduce the topic on fossils to your 4th grade class, you may assign them to read a brief summary about them first. Or, before you discuss the effects of technology on the 21st century, you may ask your high school students to try out a few pieces of technology.
How Much Time Should Be Spent on Homework?
How much homework is enough? That is the burning question. From studies we know that there is a positive correlation between assigning homework and using it as a learning tool and student achievement.
But there are many teachers who are on the fence about homework. Some say that it does little for student achievement when it comes to elementary students, but has great effects for secondary students. Whatever the view, we know that there are gains in student achievement when it comes to homework, but it has to depend on how much time is spent on it. There is no clear formula for teachers to use, but there are a few different guidelines that most teacher use.
Many teachers follow these homework guidelines:
- Grade 1-3 = 20 minutes of homework per night.
- Grade 4-6 = 20 to 40 minutes of homework per night.
- Grade 7-12 = 60-90 minutes of homework per night.
Another guideline some teachers follow is using this simple formula: Grade level x 10.
- Grade 2 x 10 = 20 minutes of homework per night.
- Grade 3 x 10 = 30 minutes of homework per night.
- Grade 4 x 10 = 40 minutes of homework per night.
- Grade 5 x 10 = 50 minutes of homework per night.
With this formula, the amount of after-school homework that is assigned in minutes is equivalent to the grade that is taught times 10. This sample would continue with grade 6 getting assigned homework for 60 minutes and so on. The problem with this formula is that it is meant to be per student, not per subject. So, if each teacher in middle school and high school used this formula, students would be overwhelmed with homework. The only way that this formula would work is if all teachers coordinated with one another. Students in kindergarten should not receive homework assignments because research shows that it is not necessary at that age.
What Role Should Parents Play in Helping their Children?
This issue has been in debate among teachers for a long time now. Teachers are either for it or against it -- there is no gray area when it comes to this issue. However, there are a few suggestions regarding the role parents can play with their child’s homework, here are a few.
- Parents can show students that homework is important and valued at home by providing a special place for it. Make sure the student has all of their supplies needed and electronics are shut off.
- Monitor homework and offer help when needed. They should not do their child’s assignment but rather provide support.
- Parents should be active and take an interest in their child’s homework to support the completion of their homework.
It’s important that parents understand the importance of homework, its purpose, the amount that is assigned and the consequences for if their child does not complete their assignment.
Teachers play a critical role in helping parents become actively and effectively involved in their child’s homework. By letting parents know their role you are maximizing the benefit of homework for your students.
How do you feel about homework in your classroom? Do you give it to your students? Please feel free to leave a comment in the section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.
Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.