Ask an 11-year-old whether homework is a bad thing, and you’ll likely be greeted with vigorous nodding and not a hint of ambiguity, but do grown-up experts agree? As with so many things, the answer is mixed.
“Very simply, too much of anything can be harmful,” said Gerald LeTendre, head of Penn State’s education policy studies department. “What Harris Cooper has advised -- and he’s one of the leading researchers who has some very good, accessible books on the subject -- is it’s best to have no homework for kindergarten through second grade, and then maybe 10 minutes per day, increasing by 10 minutes as you go up each grade, so that you’re up to an hour or hour and a half of homework by middle school.”
More than that and there can be negative effects, studies suggest. Overburdened by homework, children may become disillusioned with school and lose motivation. and excessive amounts of homework can interfere with time otherwise spent connecting as a family. This was a complaint LeTendre heard frequently as he conducted studies of homework amount and frequency.
Among other things, these studies found that the popular opinion that America does less homework than other nations is simply not true. “There are myths about the 'lazy Americans,'" LeTendre noted, “but our findings about amount of homework were that the U.S. tends to be in the middle, not too far to one end or the other.”
“Lyn Corno at Columbia University had an article that said ‘homework is a complicated thing,’" said LeTendre. “We think of homework as something very simple, almost like an afterthought. It’s not. It can be a very effective tool, but it is complicated.”
One of the complicating factors is age.
“Most small children and early adolescents have not yet developed the kind of self-reflective or self-monitoring skills to get the benefit out of either homework or self study,” Le Tendre said, “but as you move into high school, individuals are increasingly self-aware and can better self-monitor.”
However, age alone will not predict the usefulness of homework.
“If the homework isn’t addressing the child ’s actual academic problem, the child is going to continue to fall further behind and get hopelessly lost,” he said.
The problem is that most teachers use “the shotgun approach,” photocopying worksheets and giving each student the same assignment, and many neglect to go over the homework after it’s completed, opting instead to merely check off whether or not it was done at all, he said.
“That’s not very effective,” said LeTendre. “Let’s say you assigned a worksheet on addition of two-digit numbers. If that’s what the child has been having difficulty with, then maybe the child, by doing it over and over, can figure it out and make some improvements, but maybe not. Maybe the child still doesn’t get it and you need to talk about carrying the one. Or maybe the child knows how to do it and is bored to tears. If there’s no feedback and no monitoring, the homework is probably not effective.”
What is effective, LeTendre said, is identifying the specific area where the child needs skill-building work, assigning that homework at an individual level, and then going over it with the child at regular periods to be certain that they’re making progress.
“That kind of homework is exemplary, and you don’t see it very much,” he said.
The more teachers individualize homework in terms of its focus and monitoring, the better, LeTendre said, and the same goes for parental monitoring. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and the level of parental involvement that suits a 10-year-old may not suit a teenager. Recent studies have found that parental involvement may be positive for elementary and high school students, but negative for middle school kids.
“In other words,” LeTendre said with a laugh, “don’t nag your pubescent children about homework. Kind of common sense.”
What is important at all ages is communication. Figuring out what the best homework is takes some time and a little bit of research on the part of both parents and of teachers. According to LeTendre, it is crucial for parents and teachers to be on the same page.
“Read Harris Cooper’s books, such as "The Battle Over Homework." That would be my first recommendation for parents,” he said. “The other would be to go talk to the teacher. Ask the teacher to clarify the goals for this homework. Ask what the expectations are for the parents, and then be up-front with the teacher about what effect this has on the family. Try to negotiate something that works for everyone.”
Source: By Alexa Stevenson, Research/Penn StateExplore further Too much homework can be counterproductive
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Today's youngsters are buried under homework, which gobbles up free time that could be spent with family or friends. Parents, puzzled whether to help their children dig out from a pile of books or allow them to carry on alone.Piling on the homework -- Does it work for everyone?
While U.S students continue to lag behind many countries academically, national statistics show that teachers have responded by assigning more homework. But according to a joint study by researchers at Binghamton University.Study: Gamers spend less time on homework
Playing video games may mean students spend less time on homework or reading, two U.S. researchers found.Tying education to future goals may boost grades more than helping with homework
Helping middle school students with their homework may not be the best way to get them on the honor roll. But telling them how important academic performance is to their future job prospects and providing specific strategies.Financial barriers to attending college affect academic goals in young students
Most young students do not enjoy homework. However, after being told that good grades will help them get into college and lead to a better life, most students eventually buckle down and start studying. But what if college.Select topic Switch to?
So I’m noticing how little kids are always told that they’re smart by their parents/their parents friends until they hit like middle school and I’m also noticing how kids are excited to go to school until they hit about middle school and I realized; it’s because in Pre-K, Kindergarten through like grade four/five, learning is disguised as a game or as a fun TV show that kids are excited to go to school/get up early/come home to see. In elementary school teachers turn their lesson plans into songs to teach the kids words or a game so kids can remember numbers or something and then they hit grade six and it suddenly stops. No more songs or games (the games happen rarely) and all of a sudden it’s entire pages of math problems suddenly kids who were just learning multiplication tables have to start learning how to solve for y suddenly teachers stop showing you School House Rock to learn about history and you get a 600 (900 plus easy when you hit high school) page textbook slapped on your desk and you’re told to read a 20-30something page chapter then give a well developed (see: write more than one sentence) answer to the questions at the end.
Parents and teachers wonder why kids stop looking forward to going to school and learning–currently, the blame is on school systems putting their start times at asscrack a.m, which is also part of the problem (note how elementary schools start at like 9, but high school starts at 7:45) but I think another part of it is because school systems have stopped making learning fun. In one year kids go from singing songs and playing games about math and reading and history to having droning lectures accompanied by three pound textbooks about math and reading and history shoved down their throats then told to go home and spend at least an hour a class on homework (closer to 90 minutes to 2 hours for IB or AP classes).
Case in point: notice how when the news does a report on school, they send reporters to elementary/middle school and I feel like it’s because those are the kids who are excited about learning and the response will be genuine, if the reporter were to go to a high school and ask the same question, the kid would have to pull some answer out of their ass to seem excited but really all they’re thinking about is this five plus hours of homework they have to get through in addition to whatever clubs/jobs they have, eating, spend some time with their family, getting the recommended eight hours of sleep then getting up at illegal o’clock a.m and doing it all over again.
Trying to force myself out of bed in the mornings.
When a student is arguing with me about something and realizes mid-sentence that they’re wrong.
I bought 67 gatorades
I’m the person in your math problems kids
By Valerie Strauss
It isn’t exactly scientific, but a trove of letters and emails written by children each year reveals important information about their concerns. Kids worry about everything, especially tests and homework, but don’t want to tell their parents about it.
“Highlights for Children ” magazine--yes, the one you used to read in the doctor’s office--receivesmore than 60,000 of the messages every year and uses them to detect trends in the lives of America’s kids.
The magazine's editors actually have been answering each one for 63 years! (Last year was the first time that the number of e-mails surpassed the numbe of written letters.)
You may think you know what's on your child’s mind, but you might be surprised if he or she really opened up.
The letters and e-mails from children ages 5 to 12 show that kids worry about everything--finishing homework late, struggling with particular subjects, pets, success, bullies, friends, even lunch.
Tests, too, are a prime concern. Magazine editor Chris Clark said recent letters are more focused on the high stakes of standardized tests.
“They understand there is so much more to them than just measuring their own personal progress,” she said. “You hear kids say they understand that the test will see if their teacher is doing the right thing and that the results are important to the teacher’s future.
"And they understand that kids who don’t perform, well, that that is bad news for the school. And that adds pressure,” she said. “They seem more stressed about it. The good news is that they seem to be taking school very seriously.”
Highlights also did a survey of kids, asking them to answer 10 questions about their concerns. The magazine crunched the results on 845 completed responses and here are some of the results:
* Kids named schoolwork and tests as their biggest problem (23.4%).
-- Four percent more boys than girls listed school as their biggest problem.
--Kids age 9-12 cited schoolwork 7.4% more than kids 5-8.
*If granted an extra hour each day, 36.3 percent said they would spend it playing outside, on the computer or with friends or parents.
--23.2% of respondents said they would study, do homework, read or write.
--About 7 percent said they would sleep, which has in the past been a usual response from teenagers but not from preteens.
*Asked about their biggest problem, kids' most common complaint was related to schoolwork, 23.4 percent. This included concerns about getting homework done on time, finishing projects and studying for tests.
--But only 5.8% of boys wanted to tell grown-ups about school problems, compared to 9.3% of girls who did.
--Eight percent of all respondents cited problems with both parents, 9 percent with their siblings, and 7 percent with their friends.
*Asked what they wanted adults to know about their lives, 29 percent said they wanted them to know that being a kid is hard--but 21 percent said they wanted them to know that being a kid is fun.
*Thirty-three percent of respondents said they think it is harder being a kid today than it was when their parents were kids.
The Answer Sheet, actually, thinks it IS tougher to be a kid today than when she was, several decades ago. Do you agree or disagree?
The #1 Way to Cut Test Study Time by 50%
Kids have far more homework do to now than we ever did when we were growing up. It is big problem – kids today have a huge amount of homework. My sons have between 30 minutes and 90 minutes of homework per night, even though they are only in grade school and middle school.
You will have heard the horror stories about high school. It is common for kids in high school to have 3+ hours of homework per night, especially if they are in honors classes.
Frankly, I do not want my kids doing 3+ hours of homework (although they should do some homework ). But on the other hand, we want them to get into decent schools when they get to college, and that will lead to a decent job, yada yada. So we need a way to do the same amount of work in less time.
Studying the traditional way takes a long time, and it is difficult for your child to determine if they really know the material using traditional study methods. This is not good enough. We need a way for kids to understand their assignments faster, and verify they can accurately do the work for tests.
It turns out this is entirely possible. Your kids can learn their homework more deeply, retain the information better, and do it all in less time. It is called the Feynman Technique, and Scott Young created the definitive outline on how adults can use it .
Scott Young is an amazing guy. He is a guy who went through an entire MIT computer science degree courses in just one year. He did 4 years of MIT classes – one of the top technical schools in the world – in just one year. Astonishing!
We talk a ton about effort here, and a growth mindset. A growth mindset is where you believe that effort and working hard will allow you to understand anything. Scott’s amazing results show what is possible with a growth mindset.
BUT, keep in mind that being motivated to learn, and actually learning are not the same. We need both motivation and techniques to be successful.
But let’s get back to the example of Scott Young and finishing MIT in only one year–There is no way to learn this much information and do this much work with normal studying techniques. It is just not possible. To learn this incredible amount of difficult material in such a short time, Scott had to:
Scott has a way to learn more quickly, deeply, and verify he knew the information – it’s called “The Feynman Technique”.
We are going to modify the Feynman Technique a bit so we can use it with our younger kids.
The “Feynman Technique” itself is pretty simple. It involves pretending you are teaching someone else what you are trying to learn, and then creating easy to understand analogies that cement the idea in your mind. It is really simple to understand how to do it, but incredibly powerful to use.
Why is it called the Feynman technique? It’s named after Richard Feynman, who won the Nobel prize for physics. Honestly, winning the Nobel prize was one of the least impressive things about him.
He was known by the other top physicists as being able to figure out problems nobody else could. Then, he was known as one of the greatest teachers of physics. These two incredible qualities are linked by the technique he used to learn new ideas and topics.
Whenever Feynman was faced with some new idea he didn’t understand, he would pretend he was teaching it to someone else. This forced him to identify the problem, find the important issues, pinpoint errors he was making, and then find a way to explain it simply and easily.
Feynman used this technique on himself – and propelled himself to a Nobel prize even though his IQ was only measured to be 125. He used this same technique to teach others – and become a legendary teacher of ideas.
So what is the Feynman Technique and how can your kids use it when they are doing their own studying?
It’s simple: Make your kids teach you their homework. Have your kids teach you what is going to be on their upcoming test.
Do this early in the evening, before they actually do their homework problems. Doing the teaching early makes the kids learn the material very well – so they can do the homework faster.
Then, because they are using words, drawing pictures, doing some work on paper, it gets ingrained in their memory for the tests later.
You don’t have to sit with them doing homework. You will know they have a solid grasp of the material – and they will too. If they are having difficulties, they will get it right before getting stuck in the middle of homework.
What if they make mistakes when they are teaching you their homework? Ha! Great! Use these mistakes to reinforce the growth mindset in your kids – where they respond to difficult problems with grit and determination to solve the problem.
The mistakes point out places where your kid needs to learn the material more deeply, and you can use them to foster a growth mindset.
If they make a mistake, say “I can tell you are putting a lot of effort into explaining this to me. Let’s go back to the book and see what it says to do here – We both need to understand this better”.
This script praises them for the effort they are putting into this task – and it “assumes” they can learn nearly anything with some effort.
If they make mistakes, look back to the book and correct the mistake right away.
Here are the basic steps for doing the Feynman Technique at home with your kids:
These steps work extremely well with the new common core math. The techniques used in common core math are different than the techniques taught years ago, but are pretty easy to pick up.
Try it just a few times, and your kids will learn the Feynman Technique. They will discover on their own all the power of explaining and teaching new material. They will discover the power of analogies in remembering.
The Feynman technique is incredibly powerful for learning material quickly. It is even better for retaining the material longer.
After a few weeks of doing this with the kids, let them know they have been learning a new study technique – and tell them about it. Then, have the kids use the technique as their go-to method of studying and learning – just completely bypass the traditional method of studying
Using the Feynman Technique is a way to reclaim time for your kids to do what they want!
Have you ever done anything like this with your kids? Let us know!
Time magazine has a history of publishing research about homework. If you are still thinking you should make your kids do homework, here are some of my favorite articles for you to read:
To most of you, this is preaching to the choir, though. If you are homeschooling, you are not putting your kids through eight hours of school and three hours of homework.
But, also, you are probably not giving your preschooler any “assignments” because if you’ve read this blog for even a short while you know there is absolutely no research to say toddlers should learn math or reading.
But I learned something new from the most recent Time magazine research roundup: Why Parents Should Not Make Kids Do Homework. One of the reasons homework is so bad for kids is it creates conflict between the parent and child. This is maybe a no-brainer for some people, but I’ve never heard anyone say family harmony is more important than homework.
This is a huge vote in favor of self-directed learning, because the only learning where there is no conflict is when kids choose what to learn themselves. But I was really struck by the conclusion that kids should not do homework until they can take responsibility for it themselves.
For a homeschooling family, this means kids should not do forced curricula before age 11. We can conclude form the research that the conflict over learning infiltrates family life whether it’s homework or homeschooling. And an eleven year old can take responsibility for learning whether the kid is doing homework or homeschooling.
In my own family, we did not attempt any math or reading instruction until my oldest son was eleven. He asked to learn math and science. And at 13 he asked to start preparing to go to a “good” college. (We are still exploring what that means to him, though we are preparing as well.)
We have no conflict at all in our house over homework. My son decides his pace, and he decides when he wants to have a break. For example, our family doesn’t do weekends/weekdays because my husband and I are self-employed and my youngest son practices music every day. But my older son built into his schedule that he doesn’t do any studying or music practice on Saturdays.
So the research is starting to line up in a very cohesive way: We know that kids do not need to start learning math until sixth grade. Kids will teach themselves to read before sixth grade. And now we discover that kids will take responsibility for homework if you wait until about age 11.
We also know that if you let kids under 11 decide what to do with their time, they will probably choose to be on the computer. And kids who spend a lot of time playing video games do better in adult life .
So now homeschoolers have even more cause to relax—you don’t have to make the kids “do” anything until they are pre-teens, and even then, you are leveraging their growing sense of responsibility.
Some days I feel like a crazy radical writing this blog. Other days I feel like a genius. This summary of the latest research and the conclusions we can take comfort in feels like a pat on my back, which we homeschool parents need since no one else is doing it for us.
I agree with no homework even though I am not a home schooler. But I do think about Obama who I have heard his mom did 5am homework with him every day. That sort of paid off, right?
Also, Penelope do you limit or have not TV time? I am dying to get rid of the tv. My husband likes to have access to the sports so we have all the channels to do that. It means the kids end up watching a lot it tv (not just sports). I try not to have too many rules at home but I end up with rules around tv. Any suggestions here with respect to tv would be so helpful, please?!
Penelope Trunk says:
We don’t have a TV in our house. But we all know how to use the computer as a TV. So I think what you are saying is you don’t like the kids passively watching vs playing video games, or creating something on the computer/Internet which is more active than TV watching (or YouTube watching, which is what my kids prefer).
Something to think about: why is it okay for your husband to sit back and just stare at the screen for his favorite shows, but it’s not okay for your kids? Your husband is, presumably, a high-functioning, self-directed person, so your kids can be high-functioning and self-directed and watch Vines for hours at a time.
Why my kids watch YouTube in large chunks of time, I remind myself that part of being a self-directed person is knowing when to take a break. TV is a break; it’s consuming media instead of creating media.
I’ve watched Teen Titans (Cartoon Network) and Game Theory (YouTube) with my kids. Both are excellent: thoughtful, innovative, funny, surprising. The more time I take to watch the stuff my kids watch, the more I understand why they like it, and then watching them watch doesn’t feel so bad.
We don’t have a TV, either. I think watching programs, Youtube, Netflix, etc. on a computer, or iPads, are different than TV. We actively choose what we watch. I think that makes a big difference.
Also, there’s not a parade of crappy sparkly plastic toys every seven minutes. The lack of “I WANT THAT!” with Netflix makes a big difference to this dad.
We don’t have a tv either, and though I also like to think we choose what we watch on the computer, I also realize, many times we just follow what’s offered in the pages we access. My 8-year old can watch hours of youtubers playing minecraft and not playing the game herself. This is way less romantic than believing we choose it all.
Penelope, I saw you refering to kids producing the media they like, but what if they dont want to produce and just watch? This stresses me…
I thought the way homework is assigned today had changed a lot since I was a kid until I read the linked article. The last high school grade I finished was 10th, supposedly a homework peak, and I don’t think I brought a book home more than once or twice. But the average given in the article is only 54 minutes a night. I rarely brought books home because I did all the homework at school – the math in English class, etc. It’s not hard to find 54 minutes to pencil-whip some busywork during the day.
Age 11 is a good age, from my perspective – that is, looking at my son. His sense of ambition and responsibility is growing by leaps and bounds. I think that six years of not making him do anything much besides follow through on his commitments and be kind has helped him understand what he wants to do, and want to do more.
I’m happy we will be proceeding in line with the research; it looks like age 11 is the age my son will start to have homework, because he’s planning to go back to school in the fall. Letters are mailed, decisions are made. Next year I will not be homeschooling anybody.
Yeah, that makes me a bit sad. But it’s not like I won’t be parenting anybody. My little girl and my big boy will still need a lot of my time and nurture. And, like every decision we make, I don’t imagine it’s the last word. My girl might need a break or change of course from school, my boy might find it’s still not for him after all, and I’m here for them. I just hope I get to clean the house before they come back.
The boy’s decision was difficult, as major life decisions based on incomplete information tend to be, and it ended up having a lot to do with music. Private schools hereabouts all require sports team participation, typically about two hours a day all year. This leaves very little time for instrumental practice. My son is not a sporting lad; he’ll play sometimes, but is not at heart terribly interested. Music is something he’ll find extra time for every day; these days, it’s about four hours a day, all told. The two things he loves most are music and science. I know the only non-science books he reads these days are for his book club.
Our country’s oldest public school, where he’s headed this fall, has three string orchestras that practice three hours a week during school hours – which end at 2:15. That gives him much more time for practice and musical advancement than a school which regularly keeps kids until 5:30 running about on the fields. The rest of the kids in his science workgroup are going there with him, kids in his conservatory orchestra are already there, and he’ll see kids he hasn’t seen for years. I expect it will deepen his relationship with his peers, his city, and his community.
Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of homework, maybe too much; they say it’s about 3 hours a night (though one girl I know gets it done in half the time). But I figure most other kids have been dealing with too much homework for years when it wasn’t doing them any good and they’re completely exhausted from it. My son is ready for it. He regularly puts in twelve-hour days homeschooling. Today he’s done math, handwriting, violin, viola, music theory, piano, history, Spanish, and he’s at book club now. I think he can deal with Latin.
Congrats to your boy on getting into the school of his choice. It’s a little bittersweet that you won’t be homeschooling anymore, but I look forward to hearing about your son’s adjustment to traditional schooling, reconnecting with old friends, and more involvement with the community.
My daughter at 9 is a little younger than the research, but she has become more traditional in what she wants to learn, study, and work on. This has made me look to the community for teachers to work with her and help her come up with more specific learning goals, which makes me a little nervous since I am so loosey-goosey-unschooling with everything. She is also musical and science minded, much like your boy, and is a very determined little human who *knows* already that she will be an engineer.
I know that his school is one of the feeders to many good, quality universities. I wish him and your family all the best and look forward to updates from you.
My favorite part of homeschooling is child led curricula. I limit TV to one hour games to 90 min per day Bc I don’t consider them beneficial more for unwinding
No forced curricula under 11? Glad to know I screwed that up, too. Ha, my poor kids will be lucky if they figure out self-directed learning before they are adults…
In truth, I see a big difference in my 12 year old boy’s learning this year; he is engaging with academics on a different level, taking the knowledge deeper into himself, making connections in new ways. Based on these observations I now feel more able to let go the reins of curricula…
Are you sure it’s not “no forced curricula after age 11”?
JDVT, I’m just not the judgy type when it comes to how people educate their children. For us, a self-directed curriculum until age 11 was absolutely the right choice, and I do believe in the idea of letting children find out for themselves what most inspires them. Then, when they are 11 or 12 and their superpowers kick in (honestly, that’s what it seems like to me), they will be fresh and ready to focus on their interests in a more academic fashion or setting. One of the difficult phenomena my son has been able to observe is kids his age who are utterly exhausted and cynical about learning and homework, and I think this can be caused all too easily by forced curricula and schooling, and is very difficult to remedy.
That said, one factor I believe is absolutely fundamental to homeschooling is parent enthusiasm. Homeschooling has to work for both of you. You cannot adequately deliver a curriculum whose importance seems negligible to you, and you cannot unschool effectively if it causes you to be plagued with anxiety. A huge part of what we have to share with our children is our own enthusiasm. Don’t discount it, look for it and rely on it.
Thank you for this.
Truly, sharing the enthusiasm and the deep family connections far out weigh the how of homeschooling.
Best of luck with your boy’s new adventure. You are right, it may not be a good fit and you will be there to help choose something else to try. That was how we started our path to homeschooling.
This makes me think of the TJED method of homeschooling. From what I’ve read it goes from basically unschooling in the younger years to child-lead project based learning to “scholar phase” when the kids get older.
I have a question for everyone who is homeschooling: would you send your kids to a “Democratic school” if there were one in your area? They seem to be a lot like unschooling except with a larger group and with more resources. There is one opening up in my area. I often get frustrated with not being able to help my kids when they ask for help with their projects (age 8 & 6 with two younger ones needing my time too) and wonder if the new school would be better.
Hi, Susan. Living in Boston, we’re near one of the original democratic schools, Sudbury Valley. I know people who have had kids there, and did some research into it. I considered it, but decided it would not be best for my son, mostly because of the original reasons he left school in First Grade. Having been bullied extensively for a year and a half, he was very concerned about new environments (he would ask me if there would be bullies there _every_single_time_), and full-day school away from home just wasn’t going to be the best move for him at that point. Once home, he became intensely interested in things he wouldn’t be able to study at a place like Sudbury Valley, and the closeness he’s had with his family over the past five years has been wonderful for all of us.
One of the questions I’d be likely to ask of a new democratic school is their policy on electronic devices, and how it plays out in the daily life of students. Some folks I know say that the advent of ipads and iphones had a great impact on student activities at Sudbury Valley. Some schools have a completely up to the kid policy and others have some sorts of limitations. I continue to be impressed by nature-based education for youngsters, and leaving them alone all day in the basement with their ipads seems pretty much the opposite to me.
I don’t have anything to contribute but thanks to everyone for the really useful comments and of course Penelope for sparking the discussion. My babe only turned 1 but I look forward to unschooling him.
Do you have posts on how your boys pick what to study and map their days/schedules for themselves? I have 12 and 14 year old boys who I need to do this with but am not sure how.