Does homework time at your house feel more like battleground central? Your child complains about having too much homework and seems to struggle getting all of his assignments completed each night. Perhaps he actually does have too much homework, you might think to yourself. Well, you may be right.
Harris Cooper, psychology professor and director of Duke University’s Program in Education, led a research study on homework, which was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The study concluded that homework has a positive effect on student achievement, but only if it's not overload. The general rule of thumb is approximately 10 minutes of homework per grade level. A fifth grader would have 50 minutes of homework and a freshman in high school would have 90 minutes. “The 10-minute homework rule originates with educators. I checked it against the data and found that it was consistent with the relationship between time on homework and achievement,” says Cooper.
If this is true, then why doesn't your child have any free time on school nights? Your head is spinning with questions, such as, "Should I complain to the teacher? Will I be labeled a troublemaker?" You're just a concerned parent, and there are steps you can take to ensure that your child isn't suffering from homework overload.
Evaluate Your Child's Time Management
Before you make a beeline straight to the principal's office to complain, help your child figure out how to use his time wisely. Homework sometimes seems excessive simply because the student hasn't developed the necessary study skills, according to Denise Falcon, middle-school learning specialist at the Ratner School in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Along with elementary teacher Chelsea Rolen, Falcon runs an after-school homework club that is popular with students and parents. They suggest helping your child prioritize. Ask questions such as, "When is the assignment due? How long will it take to complete?" Make sure your child is putting aside enough time. Advise him to do the most difficult assignment first and leave his favorite subject for last. A long-term assignment should be divided into daily chunks of time so it doesn't drag on for an entire evening.
Generally in middle school, kids have their first go-round with lockers, changing classes and answering to a variety of teachers. They sometimes end up wasting valuable time trying to retrieve papers or find notebooks. Children need a parent's guidance in getting organized, especially at the onset of the school year. "Make sure assignments are written down correctly and clearly in a daily planner," suggests Falcon. Students who don't understand the requirements can spend minutes and even hours pondering them. A simple task like filing papers into a binder can become a problem, if the child takes on the philosophy of "I'll do that later." Help him develop habits that will save time in the long run.
Ask for Modifications
Falcon recommends talking to the teacher or a learning specialist if your child is spending too much time each night completing assignments. It's possible that he needs modifications, such as a reduction in the number of math problems, to cut down the time he spends on homework. He might need to use a computer or email assignments to the teacher. Teachers will sometimes provide audio files that dictate work, or provide books on tape. They will allow a student to stop by for a few minutes after school to make sure he understands that night's assignment. The quality, not the quantity, of the finished product should be the focus.
When a child doesn't understand a math assignment, she might end up spending a half-hour on one problem. Parents sometimes can't help because they don't remember all the ins and outs of seventh-grade math. Suggest to the parent-teacher association or the principal that school personnel start a structured after-school homework club. It may involve securing money to pay teachers overtime. These clubs also work well with kids who need a more structured environment in order to stay focused. "A homework club is a great place for teachers or learning specialists to monitor students who are struggling to complete work," says Falcon.
Speak to Administrators About Policy Changes
If you have attempted to secure help for your child but he still has no free time due to an excess of homework, make an appointment to speak to a school administrator. It could be that other students are having the same problem. Survey parents regarding the amount of time their children spend on homework and share the results with the administration. Perhaps there are homework policies in place in the school district that are not being enforced. The program may need some tweaking. Present research on the recommended amount of time a child should spend per night on homework.