According To Some Students What Is The True Meaning Of Homework

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Remember the days of sitting in class waiting eagerly for the bell to ring before the teacher said that dreaded word…“homework”? Sighs, rolling eyes and grunts quickly filled the quiet classroom at the mention of “that” word. Well, not much has changed today except for the fact that many teachers post assignments electronically. I have yet to see a student jump for joy when the word homework is mentioned, nor have I seen students eager to get home to do their homework (maybe finish it, but not to do it). This brings up the question, “what’s the purpose of homework?”

Research shows mixed results when it comes to homework. Some research has shown that students aren’t doing any more homework than their parents did at their age. In a study school-aged children and parents completed surveys about how much homework youth have. The results showed that the typical elementary student has 30-45 minutes of homework each night. The average high-school student has about 60 minutes per night. Interestingly, these numbers have remained consistent since 1984! 

As an educator, I would like to see a replication of this study. Today's teens are taking college level courses as early as ninth and tenth grade. With the push of programs such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Dual Enrollment, it is amazing that teens are not completely burnt out. No wonder 8% of teen's age 13-18 years meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder. Too many teens are spending a lot of time on schoolwork outside of the classroom. Ask today's teen what has him/her so stressed and you'll find that about 80% of them will say school. 

There are those who argue that homework does serve a purpose. For example, it helps to prepare students for national and statewide exams and tests. It helps to reinforce what’s being taught in the classroom. It enables parents to actively engage in their child’s education. Plus, it helps teach fundamental skills such as time management, organization, task completion, as well as responsibility. What’s more important is students get to demonstrate mastery of material without the assistance of a teacher.

How much homework should your child do each night? Organizations such as the National Parent Teacher Association support giving students about 10 minutes of homework each night, per grade level starting in first grade. So a middle school student would have a full day in school and then an additional 60 minutes of homework after school. Is that too much? Are these guidelines being followed? I would recommend speaking with high achieving teens and let them share how much of their time is consumed with homework. Many will tell you that they spend hours upon hours each night studying for tests, and preparing for papers and projects, etc. 

According to Stanford University more than a couple of hours of homework a night may be counterproductive. Researchers looked at students in high achieving communities, defined as a median household income exceeding $90,000, and 93% of the students attended post-secondary institutions. Students in these areas spent an average of three plus hours on homework every night. So imagine a teen spending an entire day at school, going to work or extracurricular activities, then going home to do three or more hours of homework each night; only to get up the next day to do it all again. 

Researchers have found that students who spend too much time on homework experience more levels of stress and physical health problems. Too much homework has also been shown to have a negative impact on students’ social lives. This is no surprise to the parents who rarely see their child because he/she is too busy working on homework, or to the parent who gets up at 12:30am to check to see if their child has made it to bed yet. Overall, high school students shouldn’t be spending over two hours on homework each night.

According to the Stanford study too much homework leads to:

•Stress: 56% of the students surveyed considered homework a primary source of stress. Less than 1% of the students said homework was not a stressor.

•Poor health: Many students reported sleep deprivation, headaches, stomach problems, weight loss, and exhaustion.

•Less time for a social life: Students reported that spending too much time on homework led to pulling out of enjoyable activities, quitting extracurricular activities, and not spending much time with family and friends.

Okay, I know not all students spend a lot of time doing homework. According to a survey by the U.S. Dept. of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the majority of youth spend an average of 7 hours of homework outside of school each week. So while that doesn't seem like an unreasonable amount, what about the student who spends 3 plus hours per night? Where is the happy medium?

There are definitely pros and cons to doing homework. I think the bigger question that educators need to address is “what’s the purpose of the assignment?” Is it merely a way to show parents and administration what's going on in the class? Is it a means to help keep the grades up? Is the homework being graded for accuracy or completion? If so, then what if the assignment is wrong? Have the necessary skills been taught so the student can master the material on his or her own? I read an article once that stated teachers underestimate the amount of homework they assign by 50%. If that's accurate then there is definitely cause for concern.

In summary, there seems to be no clear answer on the homework debate. I started the blog with a question “What’s the purpose of homework?” I’ll end with the same question. If a teacher who is assigning the homework can’t provide a clear rationale behind this question then maybe the homework shouldn’t be assigned.

I welcome you to weigh in with your thoughts. Do you think students have too much homework? If you are a teen reading this, how much homework do you have on an average night?
(freepik.com)

This won’t come as any surprise to many teenagers but here goes: A new study finds that a heavy homework load negatively impacts the lives of high school students in upper middle-class communities, resulting in excess stress, physical problems and little or no time for leisure.

What’s too much homework? According to the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Education, 4,317 students in  10 high-performing California high schools — six private and four public — had an average of 3.1 hours of homework a night. (I know high school kids who do close to twice that amount.)

Homework is one of those perennial topics about which there are many “expert” opinions on its benefits and drawbacks but no conclusive body of research proving either side. What research there is casts big doubt on the notion that a lot of homework is a good thing — and indicates that any homework other than reading in elementary school has benefit. Harris Cooper, a well-known homework researcher, who is a professor of education and psychology at Duke University, says that no more than two hours of homework a night should be assigned to students in high school. Author Alfie Kohn argues that there is no research to show that homework in elementary and middle school has any benefit and that the correlation between homework and academic achievement in high school is at best weak. So this is the context in which this latest study was conducted.

The researchers  set out to look at the relationship between homework load and student well-being in the upper middle class advantaged communities (where median household income is more than $90,000, and 93 percent of students go to college) because it is there that homework is largely accepted as having value. The study notes that there are limitations to the sample of students used in the study — with all of them attending privileged, high-performing schools — but they said they felt it was worthwhile to investigate the stresses of homework on this population of students.

The co-authors of the study are Mollie Galloway of Lewis and Clark College, an assistant professor who is the director of research and assessment for the graduate school of education; Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education;  and Jerusha Conner, an assistant professor of education at Villanova University. Their report says:

“Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is “inherently good” (Gill & Schlossman, 2001, p. 27), and instead suggest that researchers, practitioners, students, and parents unpack why the default practice of assigning heavy homework loads  exists, in the face of evidence of its negative effects.”

To conduct the study they used data from surveys as well as the answers to open-ended questions to explore student well-being, attitudes about homework and engagement in school.  The mean age of the participants was 15.7 years, with ninth graders representing the largest sample, 28.1 percent. Tenth graders were 22.8 percent; eleventh graders, 23.6 percent; and seniors 19.4 percent; while 6.2 percent did not report their grade level. About 85 percent self-reported their ethnicity: 48 percent were European American; 38 percent Asian or Asian American; 4 percent Hispanic; 2 percent African American, and 0.5 percent Native American. Ten and a half percent of students checked multiple categories or “other,” and 4 percent did not mark anything in this category.

Also, no relationship was found between the time spent on homework and how much the student enjoyed it. The research quoted students as saying they often do homework they see as “pointless” or “mindless” in order to keep their grades up.

Their study found that most students said their homework is only “somewhat useful” in helping them learn the material and prepare for tests. But it leads to a host of problems, the study says:

* Stress.
–Less than 1 percent said homework was not a stressor, and 56 percent indicated homework is a primary cause of stress.
–Forty three percent listed tests as a primary stressor
–About 33 percent listed grades and/or getting good grades as a primary stressor.
–More than 15 percent reported parental expectations and the college application process as stresses.

* Health Issues Consequences
–Many students wrote that homework causes them to sleep less than they should and leads to “headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss and stomach problems” as well as a lack of balance in their lives.

Most experienced distress and/or lacked time to engage in important life tasks outside of school. The majority (72%) reported being often or always stressed over schoolwork …and many reported that they experienced physical symptoms due to stress (82% reported experiencing at least one physical symptom in the past month, with 44% of the sample experiencing three or more symptoms). Overall, students reported getting less sleep than the National Sleep Foundation’s (2000) recommended 8.5 to 9.25 hours per night for healthy adolescent development. On average, students in our sample reported 6.80 hours of sleep on school nights … and 68% stated that schoolwork often or always kept them from getting enough sleep each night. Many (63%) reported that the amount of work they received often or always made it challenging to spend time with family and friends, and a similar percent (61%) indicated that they had been forced to drop an activity they enjoyed because of their school workload.

* Engagement
— Time spent on homework
— There was no relationship between “homework hours and students’ enjoyment of schoolwork, and open-ended responses revealed students will often do work they see as ‘pointless,’ ‘useless’ and ‘mindless’ because their grades will be affected if they do not.”

Students who spent more hours on homework tended to be more behaviorally engaged in school, but were simultaneously more stressed about their school work and tended to report more physical symptoms due to stress, fewer hours of sleep on school nights, less ability to get enough sleep, and less ability to make time for friends and family.

From the report:

Part of the study says:

No time for anything but school. The voices of these students reflect a primary challenge faced by many in our study:  if students have several hours of homework per night, how can they find time for other endeavors in their lives (including extracurricular activities, leisure, and social time)?  Some expressed that they “never seem to have enough time.”  One adolescent stated:

Now I understand the expression “not enough hours in a day.”  In a day, I want to be able to do homework/study, have time with friends and family, and do activities that are important to me.  I don’t always feel I have enough time for this, and I feel pressured.

Because of homework load, tests, and quizzes, students reported, for example:

  • I have no life other than school; that is my life.
  • Homework…is all I have time for; there’s never a time where you’re not thinking about [it].
  • There is hardly any time for me to enjoy being a kid when I have to go to school all day and then go home and do homework all night.

Students recognized that spending so much time on homework meant that they were not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills.  One questioned, “Most people have no social life because of all the homework they do; how is that helping them in the real world?”  Another explained, “I’m struggling between trying to maintain [my grades, but] more to maintain my identity, soul, and sanity!  Teachers don’t seem to teach students that there’s more to life than…hours of homework a night.”

The inability to balance or juggle the overload of homework, along with the number of other out-of-school activities or interests was the single most-often provided response by students when describing homework as a stressor (30% mentioned this lack of balance due to homework).  One student described her homework load as “plenty manageable… If I never try to do anything else!”

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