High-quality homework: How to assign the right amount, and the most effective formats of homework for the 2019-2020 school year

by | Jul 16, 2019 | Enrichment, Equity and Excellence, School Improvement, School Leaders, Students At Risk, Teacher Professional Development

Although studies have shown that homework offers some benefits to students, assigning too much homework can actually cause students to experience higher stress levels and physical and mental health issues. In this article, we’ll discuss guidelines you can use to assign high quality homework for your students.

What is the “ten-minute homework guideline?”

The National PTA and National Education Association support the “ten minute homework guideline,”  which suggests each student should have about ten minutes of homework per grade level. First-grade students should have between ten to twenty minutes of homework, with an additional ten minutes added for each subsequent grade level.

The ten-minute homework rule offers several benefits to students, including:

  • Reduces the likelihood of students becoming overwhelmed
  • Prevents diminishing returns for academic success 
  • Reduces the impact of the “homework gap,” a term indicating the disproportionate challenges faced by students who do not have access to the internet and other resources to complete homework assignments at their homes
  • Reduces impact on students who naturally take longer to complete homework assignments

What purposes should homework accomplish?

Most homework assignments fall into one of the following four categories:

  1. Practice— Students have learned skills in class and practice using those skills on their own at home. For example, students learned the order of operations in math class and practice using these skills by solving some multi-step equations.
  2. Preparation— Students prepare to learn about a new concept in class the next day. For example, students read the first chapter of a new book which will be discussed in tomorrow’s English class.
  3. Study— Students review content they have already learned and practiced to prepare for a formative, unit, or benchmark assessment.
  4. Extend or Elaborate— Students have learned about a general concept in class, and complete individual work to expand their knowledge on the topic. For example, students learned about the formation of the United States in class, and each student will individually create a project exploring the history of a different state.

When students’ complete homework for the purpose of practicing skills, they may have single-skill assignments or cumulative assignments.

  • Single-skill assignments are most effective when students need to master the skill taught in class. For example, students may list the steps of the scientific method.
  • Cumulative assignments require students to decide which skill they need to use when solving a particular problem, and then properly use the skill. For example, students are presented with an experiment, must determine which steps in the scientific method need to be completed, and then must complete the experiment and demonstrate its results.

What is the most effective type of homework?

Existing studies have found that student performance is most positively affected when homework is used to build fluency, master new concepts, and proficiency. Students retain information better when the practice is conducted over several shorter sessions, rather than through one marathon session. Additionally, students should be able to use the same processes and skills with their homework assignments, which were modeled and demonstrated during class. In other words, homework assignments should be presented in the same format as classroom practices.

What are best practices for assigning homework?

Research suggests that homework is most effective when:

  • Assignments promote curiosity, leading to “autonomous, self-directed learning.”
  • Students have already “demonstrated competence in the skill…before being asked to do it independently.”
  • Teachers consider some students do not have access to the internet, a quiet working space, or homework help from parents or a tutor.
  • Students understand the purpose of completing each homework assignment.
  • Teachers provide feedback quickly, minimizing the chance for students to forget the assignment before they learn their scores. 
  • Teachers keep in mind that middle school and high school students may be assigned homework from all of their classes, and the ten-minute homework guideline applies to the combined homework load.

The Center for Student Achievement Solutions provides technical assistance, professional development, and coaching support to create schools and classroom environments that are equitable, and inclusive.  

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