Prof. Harris Cooper of Duke University has done extensive research on homework. Cooper compiled 120 studies in 1989 and another 60 studies in 2006. While this meta-analysis of multiple research studies through the decades found no evidence of academic benefit at the elementary level, it did find a negative impact on children’s attitudes toward school. Cooper’s study also found that there was only some benefit to homework in the middle years.
What is important at all ages is reading at home. Children must read regularly to improve speed and comprehension. At Hillel, we do not consider daily reading as homework. Rather, we believe that like brushing one’s teeth, reading must become a part of our children’s daily routine, and time each day should be set aside for reading. If your child is too tired to read, then you should read aloud to your child. Hebrew reading should also be a part of this equation in order for our students to achieve proficiency.
I am concerned about the negative impact homework can have on children: It often causes stress, and conflicts between parent and child. We want children to develop a love for learning, and homework can cause the opposite to occur.
Elementary school children need time with their parents to read and do projects together. A lot of learning takes place when children bake, paint, solve puzzles, and play games with friends. This is children’s “work.” Research on child development unequivocally proves the vital role play has on learning and on brain development.
In the middle grades there is value to some homework. Homework loads can range from 45 minutes to no more than 90 minutes, and should increase in time from fifth through eighth grades. It is not necessary to have homework every night.
At Hillel, homework may include math and Hebrew, as well as meaningful writing assignments, some home research in preparation for class activities, and study skills. In all cases, homework should be meaningful, students should understand the rationale behind it, and it should never be busy work. For example, homework can be useful to further explore something that blossomed in class.
In grades five through eight parents should inform teachers if assignments take too long or are too difficult; parents should never do the homework with or for the students. If a task is too difficult, write a note to the teacher so that the teacher can help. And when your child completes homework, and, perhaps, asks you, “Was it good?” a powerful response is, “Do you think it’s good? Are you satisfied?” Let’s empower our children to judge their own effort and output, and to take pride in it.
By high school, it is well known that some schools give a burdensome amount of homework. They have yet to shake off the outdated notion that volumes of homework improve achievement and demonstrate vigor. In reality, all it does it increase anxiety and misery among teens. Beyond two hours’ worth in high school, homework has been proven to produce diminishing returns.
When it comes to limiting homework at Hillel, we are confident that we are making the best choices for our students. Because we teach our children to be resilient, we know that they will successfully adjust to the undue amount of homework that they may receive in high school. In the meantime, our focus is to create the conditions and opportunities that inspire a passion, and love, for learning!