The Answers on Your Child’s Homework

Have you ever wondered about the amount of homework your child is doing, or how much they should be doing to really achieve in school? If so, this NPR story by Cory Turner is the post for you. 

When our son started high school this year, he turned over a new leaf when it came to homework.  He spent his first two weeks doing assignments and studiously reading the material every night.  And then old habits kicked in, and he reverted back to his middle-school-ways of doing homework only for grade-purposes.  What does that mean? He only did homework when a) it was going to be graded, and b) only to the degree to have something to turn in.  He even commented one night that his middle school homework had been “graded for completion” and he was confused that his high school wasn’t.  I asked what “graded for completion” meant, and he explained that he received full credit for homework by simply showing that he had “tried” to do all of the problems. As you can guess, that sometimes resulted in him just writing down the problem number and putting some abstract numbers underneath it. And I realized that was a great example of our son’s definition of academic success: a good grade on homework, even if it came without a clear understanding of the material.  

Unlike in middle school, that lack of academic inquisitiveness quickly bit him in the derrière.  Whereas doing 15 minutes of homework used to generate A’s, in high school he quickly found that his grades dropped according to the amount of homework he wasn’t doing.  By the time we became aware of his lowered grades, his fixed mindset-ness had kicked in and he was convinced that his poor grades were due to “hard” classes and “tough” teachers, and were not a reflection of his lack of academic effort. So we had several sobering conversations with him about the value of doing homework, and the consequences of not doing it (which included falling grades and the subsequent loss of phone and video game privileges).  

At back-to-school night, the teachers at his school talked about emphasizing the importance of studying and not just doing homework.  The school’s goal is to help the kids understand that doing homework is just one tool in the toolbox of studying, and that their goal should be knowing and understanding the material, not just completing homework.  

So we’ve aligned our efforts at home with those of the school, and are emphasizing the importance of studying to learn the material each night, not just doing homework.   

One piece of information that was missing from our conversations, though, was an answer to the question of exactly how much time he should be spending on studying each night.  I suggested he ask his peer mentor how much time he spends on homework each night, but that suggestion was met with a look of utter dumbfounded-ness and contempt.  So I did what I do best; I went to the science on homework.  What I found was this great article.  It answered all of the questions we had, including how much studying our son should be doing each night.  The answer? The 10-minute rule.  Studies show that children should do approximately 10 minutes of homework for each grade level.  So if they’re in fourth grade, they should do about 40 minutes of homework each night. And our 9th grader should be doing about 90 minute of homework or studying each night.  

I can’t say that he’s reaching that goal each night, but he is most nights.  And at a minimum he now has something to shoot for in terms of what to expect from himself.