A Guide for Teachers

This is applicable to parents who teach their children at home.

Homework practices vary widely. Some teachers make brilliant assignments that combine learning and pleasure.

Others use homework as a routine to provide students with additional practice on important activities. And, unfortunately, some assign busywork that harms the educational process, by turning students off not only making them feel that learning is not enjoyable or worthwhile, but that their teachers do not understand or care about them.

Homework has long been a mainstay of American education for good reason: it extends time available for learning, and children who spend more time on homework, on average, do better in school.

So how can teachers ease homework headaches?
The ideas in this booklet are based on solid educational research. The information comes from a broad range of top-notch, experienced teachers. As you read through, you will find some familiar ideas, but may also find tips and assignments that suit your teaching needs and style.

Students, teachers, and parents or caregivers all play vital roles in the homework process. I challenge you to contribute all you can to making homework meaningful and beneficial for your students.

The challenges of homework facing teachers today are  all the more troublesome given the importance of meaningful and appropriate assignments. Student achievement rises significantly when teachers regularly assign homework and students conscientiously do it, and the academic benefits increase as children move into the upper grades. Homework can help children develop good habits and attitudes. It can teach children self-discipline and responsibility. More importantly, it can encourage a love of learning.

“When students think of homework, usually it’s a negative thought. But it shouldn’t be, because learning should be fun. I don’t think anybody today can become truly educated if they don’t learn to work on their own.”

Assign an appropriate amount of homework. Many educators believe that homework is most effective for children in first through third grades when it does not exceed 20 minutes each school day. From fourth through sixth grades, many educators recommend from 20 to 40 minutes a school day for most students. For students in 7th- through 9th-grades, generally, up to 2 hours a school day is suitable. Ninety minutes to 2.5 hours per night are appropriate for grades 10 through 12. Amounts that vary from these guidelines are fine for some students.A common mistake, particularly among beginning teachers, is to assign too much homework. It can be hard to resist doing so if parents push for more homework and assume that the best teachers assign the most homework.

(This is not necessarily the case.) Most often, however, a math teacher can tell after checking five algebraic equations whether students have mastered the necessary concepts.

Teachers also need to coordinate their homework assignments with those of other teachers so that students aren’t getting four assignments on a Tuesday night, but no assignments on Wednesday night. This coordination most often requires leadership and support from the principal or other administrator.

Finally, teachers need to keep alert to how long students take to complete assignments. It is natural in a class full of varied students for some to take longer than others. Moreover, it is fine that some students do take longer, since research shows that students with low test scores who spend substantial time on homework get grades as good as students with more ability who spend less time. If an assignment takes too long, however, this may signal that a student needs more instruction to complete it successfully.

Give praise and motivate. Adults and children alike respond to praise. “Good first draft of your book report!” or “You’ve done a great job” can go a long way toward motivating students to
complete assignments. Praise must be genuine. Children recognize insincere compliments.

Give help as needed. Students who don’t understand an assignment need to know that help is available from the teacher or other appropriate person. Students at risk of academic failure or with personal difficulties may need extra support with both academic and logistical aspects of homework. It is important that they know it is okay to ask for help. In fact, it is imperative that they do so. Teachers schedule time for students in a variety of ways. Some work with them before school. Some do so during free periods or part of the lunch period. Some give out their home phone numbers.

Homework can bring together children, parents, and teachers in a common effort to improving student learning. Teachers are a vital link in making this happen.
The benefits of homework begin in school. Students who complete their homework successfully improve their chances for academic success. But homework develops habits and attitudes that work to a student’s advantage far beyond the classroom. Qualities like self-discipline, responsibility, and a love of learning benefit students throughout their lives.

Source: By Nancy Paulu, Edited by Linda B. DarbyIllustrated by Margaret Scott
Office of Educational Research and Improvement
U.S. Department of Education