We’ve come a long way from the 1930s, when the American Child Health Association put homework next to child labor as a leading cause of child deaths from tuberculosis and heart disease.
Yet the value — or lack thereof — of homework never seems to go away. The issue has been raised anew by a story on the front page of the New York Times about a number of school systems around the country that are either reevaluating their homework policies or have already found new, less stressful ways of giving kids work to do after school.
Some of the impetus for the change comes from a movie — “Race to Nowhere,” a documentary film showing students who are burned out from the stress of school. Added to that is the research that shows that too much homework is often counterproductive and that in the early grades, the homework that actually helps kids learn is reading. Just reading.
There has never been any agreement in the education world about exactly what homework should be or even what its basic purpose is. Should it be about review or about learning new concepts? Should it be graded or not?
Harris Cooper, professor of education and psychology at Duke University, who is probably the best known researcher on the subject, has concluded that:
• Up until fifth grade, homework should be very limited.
• Middle-school students should not spend more than 90 minutes a day on homework
• Two hours should be the limit in high school.
Beyond those time limits, he has said, research shows that homework has no impact on student performance.
Kids often complain about homework assignments for good reason: Many consist of mindless tasks, or else are time wasters that have nothing to do with the lesson at hand.
In 2009, I asked some students to tell me their favorite and least favorite homework assignments. Here, in an encore performance, are the still informative answers.
Meanwhile, what were your or your children’s most useful and useless assignments this past year? Write them in the comments or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll publish the best of them.
Attended George Washington University, Horace Mann School in New York
The best homework assignment I can remember was a project on music that corresponded with a civil rights class. Using different time periods (slavery corresponded with Robert Johnson, the civil rights movement with the song “A Change Is Gonna Come”), we analyzed current music for gospel and blues influences and wrote about how they developed from specific points in history. It was pretty much the only time I’ve seen an entire high school class excited about a project.
Lousy homework assignments are uninspired ones — the ones that get assigned only to prove that the student completed the reading or opened the textbook.
Attended McLean High School
The most useless homework assignment I’ve ever had was where I had to write about the history of a cultural festival, and when the day came to turn in the assignment, the teacher didn’t even touch upon that subject. The teacher went straight into another subject that was completely irrelevant to what was in the curriculum and had nothing to do with what would be relevant to the final exam, the tests, quizzes, and midterm.
The best homework assignment I’ve ever had was for my math class, where the homework assignment covered literally everything that was on a huge test. I learned more than I had expected to because of all the critical thinking that the homework required.
What I feel makes a homework assignment good is if it is relevant, challenges the student doing it, and is not too time-consuming. A bad homework assignment is one that has absolutely no relevance to what is being taught or anything that is learned or part of the curriculum.
If it is meaningless AND time-consuming, then it is quite possibly the worst of the worst in terms of homework assignments.
Graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School
The most useless homework is always those study questions that we get after we read a text in a class. The questions are always something along the lines of “What is the main idea of the passage?” I’m not going to be able to answer this type of question right away.
And even if I were able to, the answer would not stick with me unless I knew why it was the answer. I get the most out of these passages and essays by discussing them in class.
The best homework assignment I received was ... in English.
After a long year in which we all worked hard and definitely improved our reading and writing skills, my teacher simply told us to write a journal entry in which we tell her something. Anything (well, anything school appropriate).
I wrote about how my family moved from Pakistan to the United States when I was very young. This assignment gave me the opportunity to use my refined writing skills and also allowed me to reflect on my life.
A good homework assignment is one where you and the classmate sitting next to you do not necessarily have the same answer. It allows you to be creative in the way you put to use what you learn in class.
Bad homework assignments are those tedious, monotonous pieces of work that you get each time you finish a section of lessons in class. They are a series of repetitions that are supposed to polish your skills in a particular subject, but do not effectively do this.
I think that the most useless homework assignment was ... when I got homework on a lesson that I learned a week earlier, and when I had learned something completely different that day.
The best homework assignment I ever had was when ... I had to write a persuasive essay on the Japanese Internment [during World War II], and whether it was for America’s own good or not. It was fun. Even though I had to read various parts of the Constitution, and had to read many different articles and readings on people debating the same topic, it was still fun.
Attended Mt. Hebron High School
Ellicott City, Md.
The best homework I had was not something that made me learn something unexpected.
Homework should be something expected that will have problems and challenging ideas that will hone the skills we acquired that day of the lesson or before and shouldn’t go further than that.
I generally like my Calculus homework because my teacher gives problems that we learned from a long time ago along with newly learned ones but never something we will learn or totally unexpected. Especially when it comes to math, many students give up tackling “difficult or unexpected” problems.
Atended George Washington University,
Salem High School, N.H.
A great homework assignment from high school was given in a Comprehensive American Studies and Literature course taught by two completely opposite personalities (one had a fetish for legendarily difficult pop quizzes and the other enjoyed taking us on walks in the woods to ponder transcendentalism).
We were asked to illustrate a quote from Thoreau on a poster for the course and write a paper on the quote, and what it meant to us. The posters were displayed in the classroom and the papers shared with the class. The assignment was great because our work was appreciated and displayed and my classmates chose a variety of quotes, with even those picking the same one interpreting them in wildly different ways.
The worst homework assignment was all of the ones given in Statistics. The teacher assigned almost every problem of every chapter (making for horribly repetitive and time-consuming work). If we got through the lesson plan for the day, it would always be “okay, start your homework for chapters three, four and five!”
Feeling like you were doing work simply for the sake of doing work ... was the worst part of the assignment — and high school.
Attended George Washington University, Columbia High School
I have two memorable homework assignments, both for good reasons.
When I was in 5th grade, we were assigned a project to come up with a plan to spend $1 million. “The Million Dollar Project,” as it was called, was supposed to teach us the value of money. We had to spend every last cent of the million, however we could spend it any way we liked. The assignment was a fun and easy way to learn the value of money and to see what $1 million could really buy.
[At college in 2008], I took a class called U.S. Political Participation during the fall semester. Thus, the presidential election was taking place over the course of the semester. We were given a project to predict the final Electoral College result. We had to analyze polling data and research past voting records of each state. We then had to determine the main issue voters would base their decision off of, and look at that in historical context to see whether those issues lead to the election of a Democrat or Republican. It was also an engaging assignment that forced me to pay more attention to election coverage.
Overall, assignments that allow me to be hands-on usually turn out to be my favorite.
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Throughout the school year, student’s live by a strict schedule that consists of school, extracurricular activities and homework. The amount of homework has intensified, students are getting less sleep during school nights, and the level of stress is at its highest peak. American teenagers are given too much homework during the school year, thus leading to unfavorable impacts mentally and physically. I have experienced in the past 2 years the stress, tiredness and isolation from family events due to being in high school. The load of homework I have received is ridiculous I have to miss family dinners and supporting my sister at her soccer and basketball games. I get about half the amount of sleep I used to get and my acne has gotten worse from all the stress. I feel that I’m not fully living my life and that I’m restricted by homework.
First of all, American teenagers are getting too much homework leading to unfavorable impacts mentally and physically such as spending less time with the people who are most important to you in life. A survey by the University of Phoenix in 2013 states “high school students had an average of 17.5 hours of homework every week and 3.5 hours from each teacher per week”. Considering if we go to school all day and have extracurricular activities then it leaves us very little time to spend with family and friends, causing us to miss the most important high school memories. The smallest moments when either you’re little sister or brother started talking or maybe your sister or brother shot the winning basket. Still you are stuck at home doing work, missing those priceless moments. The American College Health Association found, “the suicide rate among young adults, ages 15-24, has tripled since the 1950s and suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among students, these young people are often away from home”. School makes it very hard to spend any time with family because we either have presentations or essays to write. While these students are at school and are away from their family for too long they start to show signs of depression. Students with depression often turn to suicide to make everything go away and not have to deal with the stress anymore. At the same time that I believe having homework is good practice to learn the material. I believe that when every teacher gives out homework for practice it starts to piles up for the students. Moments in life should be cherished except for students who have too much homework they don’t get to cherish them, so many unfavorable impact mentally and physically cause students make them not enjoy life fully.
Secondly, American teenagers have too much homework that cause unfavorable impacts mentally and physically. Unfavorable impacts include the loss a lot of sleep for many students. I argue that students are losing sleep due to having a lot of homework. Supported by new research showing that “with lack of sleep students have a limited ability to learn, to listen, to concentrate and to solve problems”. Those are the basic principles of school this means it’s harder for us to do what is expected. The expectations are that we do all our homework no matter how much it must be done. Thus leading us to staying up late trying to finish the homework in order to succeed in the course. The school's new way of teaching is to get us to think about problems and solve without a guide. However with lack of sleep it isn’t easy to comprehend the task at hand if I’m so exhausted all the time. Data shows that “38% of teens have trouble falling asleep at night”. Moreover your mind doesn’t stop thinking right after you finish homework. Your mind is not relaxed which makes it hard to go to bed. Sleep is essential for the human body and with all of this homework students are getting it's hard for them to get the full 8 ½ hours they need to function. A lot of homework is a leading cause in having unfavorable impact mentally such as loss of sleep for students.
Furthermore, too much homework is given to American teenagers that causes unfavorable impacts mentally and physically. For instance the stress level has escalated in the past few years. The results of a survey by psychologist Norman Anderson showed,“the stress level between students a 5.8 out of 10 and adults with a 5.1 out of 10, that a 0.6 difference”. This shows just how stressed out we are today. We should be able to live life without being tied down because we are trying to finish homework late at night and causing a lot of stress. We also have pressure and expectations to finish our homework and turn it in when it’s due. “Factors that cause stress include academics, social pressure, post-secondary plans, family issues and finance”. Notice how the first two causes are school related such as finishing homework and the pressure of looking presentable. The social pressure that is put on girls to always look decent causes stress and then leads to acne. Stress causes acne for girls especially. This because we are supposed to have good skin otherwise we are not pretty and we stress out about our faces on top of everything else. This shows the unnecessary stress that we have on ourselves as students. Parents think that our lives aren’t as stressful compared to their lives such as dealing with bills and housework but recently experts suggest that school for us has increasingly become much more stressful. With all the expectations that students have today we put too much pressure on ourselves and cause us to be stressed out. Unfavorable impacts include stress and pressure about their academics and finishing homework on students isn’t good for their mental health.
To conclude, although teachers give too much homework may seem trivial, it is in fact crucial in terms of today’s concern over teen’s physiological and physical health. Some impacts include spending less time with family and friends while missing the important memories. Losing a lot of sleep making it harder to focus and learn. The level of stress has increased rapidly through the years. American teenagers are given too much homework during the school year has many unfavorable impacts mentally and physically.
Bidwell, Allie. "Students Spend More Time on Homework." US News. U.S.News & World Report, 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Burden, Tanya. "Homework Anxiety: Survey Reveals How Much Homework K-12 Students Are Assigned and Why Teachers Deem It Beneficial." Homework Anxiety: Survey Reveals How Much Homework K-12 Students Are Assigned and Why Teachers Deem It Beneficial. University of Phoenix, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Burrell, Jackie. "College and Teen Suicide Statistics: What You Should Know." About.com Parenting. About, Inc, 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Jayson, Sharon. "Teens Feeling Stressed, and Many Not Managing It Well." USA Today. Gannett, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
National Sleep Foundation. "Teens and Sleep." - National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
@PsychToday. "Teen Stress: How Much Is Too Much?" Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.