The Homework Sweet Spot

Though homework has benefits, it frequently becomes overwhelming for students. Let's hope remote learning changes that.

The+new+era+of+remote+learning+will+likely+reveal+how+much+homework+is+truly+helpful.

photo by D. Crickets

The new era of remote learning will likely reveal how much homework is truly helpful.

Natalie Mudd, Staff Writer

In this new world of remote learning, the line between schoolwork and homework has blurred.  Returning home each night to an obligatory stack of assignments is beginning to feel like a distant memory, but as we grow more accustomed to the remote model, it’s likely that students will be expected to accomplish more from home in the coming weeks.

For some classes, homework materializes in the form of a one-page completion or a quick review. Yet for others, it’s a multi-hour slog each night to accomplish the assignment. At some point, students have to wonder if the hours of dogged effort are worth it.

It would be unfair not to mention the benefits of homework. The biggest advantage is success. A recent study found that more than 77% of students achieve better results in their schooling when they complete their homework. This achievement is not limited to any specific topic in school. Kids improve in math, English, vocabulary, and social studies. Their memory skills and critical thinking soar, and they do better not only on class tests but also on higher-stakes assessments, such as annual state exams and the SAT

Homework can also help build effective study habits and organization. Students learn how they like to study whether it be at a certain location or time of day. More importantly, they teach themselves how to stay on track without the teacher hovering over them. Homework teaches time management and responsibility, and practice helps kids’ brains retain material and increase the amount of information remembered as they continue to improve. The ability to think critically also comes with the territory. The vast majority of these things – memory, time management, critical thinking – appear as lifelong skills that the students will use in their future at things such as their job or household chores.  

Homework should not be so cumbersome that students are forced to neglect their own health and mental state. ”

Moreover, students who do homework have a higher probability of attending college. In fact, in a recent study, the IZA concluded that kids who attended college did an average of three hours of additional homework per week while in high school when compared to their counterparts who did not continue their education.

However, like anything, there can be too much of a positive thing. Too much homework, unfortunately, produces severe ramifications. A generally supported conclusion is that more than a small dose of homework from each class can be detrimental to students’ test grades and class performance. Additionally, researchers at Penn State found that when teachers do give homework it is usually unhelpful busy work that puts unnecessary stress on the students. When teachers assign homework on material not covered in class, it becomes an arduous ordeal of kids  attempting to teach themselves the new material, usually unsuccessfully.

Homework can also keep kids from other essential experiences and responsibilities that allow them to enjoy life. When homework is unduly time-consuming, it takes time away from things such as social activities, outdoor recreation, or, in most cases, sleep. Social experiences, even in the era of social distancing, are important to keeping stress levels down and building relationships. The more students participate in extracurriculars, the more they learn about their interests and get to enjoy what they are doing. It gives them a much-needed break for their brains to recharge and have fun.

The significance of sleep is a particularly pertinent point in the conversation on homework. Sleep improves mood and health and, of course, magnifies memory and learning ability ten-fold. If students are too busy doing homework, then they become deprived of these other essential needs. Homework should not be so cumbersome that students are forced to neglect their own health and mental state. 

The main takeaway is not that homework is abhorrent but rather that there is a correct way to assign it. Homework does help students, but at a certain point, the chore becomes more harmful than helpful. There is no academically sound reason to do 70 math problems if only twelve will suffice — or to do a project, essay, and online discussion that all cover the same points.  The value of repetition all too often erodes as students’ work grows redundant.

For all of its frustrations and uncertainties, there is a silver lining in our turn to remote learning.  We can find the homework sweet spot, where independent practice is meaningful but not so burdensome that other important aspects of our lives suffer.  Let’s hope we learn that lesson before the schools re-open and we return, in person, to class.