Homework; the term elicits a myriad of responses. Students are naturally opposed to the idea of homework. No student ever says, “I wish my teacher would assign me more homework.” Most students begrudge homework and find any opportunity or possible excuse to avoid doing it.
Educators themselves are split on the issue. Many teachers assign daily homework seeing it as a way to further develop and reinforce core academic skills, while also teaching students responsibility. Other educators refrain from assigning daily homework. They view it as unnecessary overkill that often leads to frustration and causes students to resent school and learning altogether.
Parents are also divided on whether or not they welcome homework. Those who welcome it see it as an opportunity for their children to reinforce critical learning skills. Those who loathe it see it as an infringement of their child’s time. They say it takes away from extra-curricular activities, play time, family time, and also adds unnecessary stress.
Research on the topic is also inconclusive. You can find research that strongly supports the benefits of assigning regular homework, some that denounce it as having zero benefits, with most reporting that assigning homework offers some positive benefits, but also can be detrimental in some areas.
The Effects of Homework
Since opinions vary so drastically, coming to a consensus on homework is nearly impossible. We sent a survey out to parents of a school regarding the topic, asking parents these two basic questions:
- How much time is your child spending working on homework each night?
- Is this amount of time too much, too little, or just right?
The responses varied significantly. In one 3^{rd} grade class with 22 students, the responses regarding how much time their child spends on homework each night had an alarming disparity. The lowest amount of time spent was 15 minutes, while the largest amount of time spent was 4 hours. Everyone else fell somewhere in between. When discussing this with the teacher, she told me that she sent home the same homework for every child and was blown away by the vastly different ranges in time spent completing it. The answers to the second question aligned with the first. Almost every class had similar, varying results making it really difficult to gauge where we should go as a school regarding homework.
While reviewing and studying my school’s homework policy and the results of the aforementioned survey, I discovered a few important revelations about homework that I think anyone looking at the topic would benefit from:
1. Homework should be clearly defined. Homework is not unfinished classwork that the student is required to take home and complete. Homework is “extra practice” given to take home to reinforce concepts that they have been learning in class. It is important to note that teachers should always give students time in class under their supervision to complete class work. Failing to give them an appropriate amount of class time increases their workload at home. More importantly, it does not allow the teacher to give immediate feedback to the student as to whether or not they are doing the assignment correctly. What good does it do if a student completes an assignment if they are doing it all incorrectly? Teachers must find a way to let parents know what assignments are homework and which ones are classwork that they did not complete.
2. The amount of time required to complete the same homework assignment varies significantly from student to student. This speaks to personalization. I have always been a big fan of customizing homework to fit each individual student. Blanket homework is more challenging for some students than it is for others. Some fly through it, while others spend excessive amounts of time completing it. Differentiating homework will take some additional time for teachers in regards to preparation, but it will ultimately be more beneficial for students.
The National Education Association recommends that students be given 10-20 minutes of homework each night and an additional 10 minutes per advancing grade level. The following chart adapted from the National Education Associations recommendations can be used as a resource for teachers in Kindergarten through the 8^{th} grade.
Grade Level |
Recommended Amount of Homework Per Night |
Kindergarten |
5 – 15 minutes |
1^{st} Grade |
10 – 20 minutes |
2^{nd} Grade |
20 – 30 minutes |
3^{rd} Grade |
30 – 40 minutes |
4^{th} Grade |
40 – 50 minutes |
5^{th} Grade |
50 – 60 minutes |
6^{th} Grade |
60 – 70 minutes |
7^{th} Grade |
70 – 80 minutes |
8^{th} Grade |
80 – 90 minutes |
It can be difficult for teachers to gauge how much time students need to complete an assignment. The following charts serve to streamline this process as it breaks down the average time it takes for students to complete a single problem in a variety of subject matter for common assignment types. Teachers should consider this information when assigning homework. While it may not be accurate for every student or assignment, it can serve as a starting point when calculating how much time students need to complete an assignment. It is important to note that in grades where classes are departmentalized it is important that all teachers are on the same page as the totals in the chart above is the recommended amount of total homework per night and not just for a single class.
Kindergarten – 4th Grade (Elementary Recommendations)
Assignment |
Estimated Completion Time Per Problem |
Single Math Problem |
2 minutes |
English Problem |
2 minutes |
Research Style Questions (i.e. Science) |
4 minutes |
Spelling Words – 3x each |
2 minutes per word |
Writing a Story |
45 minutes for 1-page |
Reading a Story |
3 minutes per page |
Answering Story Questions |
2 minutes per question |
Vocabulary Definitions |
3 minutes per definition |
*If students are required to write the questions, then you will need to add 2 additional minutes per problem. (i.e. 1-English problem requires 4 minutes if students are required to write the sentence/question.)
5th – 8th Grade (Middle School Recommendations)
Assignment |
Estimated Completion Time Per Problem |
Single-Step Math Problem |
2 minutes |
Multi-Step Math Problem |
4 minutes |
English Problem |
3 minutes |
Research Style Questions (i.e. Science) |
5 minutes |
Spelling Words – 3x each |
1 minutes per word |
1 Page Essay |
45 minutes for 1-page |
Reading a Story |
5 minutes per page |
Answering Story Questions |
2 minutes per question |
Vocabulary Definitions |
3 minutes per definition |
*If students are required to write the questions, then you will need to add 2 additional minutes per problem. (i.e. 1-English problem requires 5 minutes if students are required to write the sentence/question.)
Assigning Homework Example
It is recommended that 5^{th} graders have 50-60 minutes of homework per night. In a self-contained class, a teacher assigns 5 multi-step math problems, 5 English problems, 10 spelling words to be written 3x each, and 10 science definitions on a particular night.
Assignment |
Average Time Per Problem |
# of Problems |
Total Time |
Multi-Step Math |
4 minutes |
5 |
20 minutes |
English Problems |
3 minutes |
5 |
15 minutes |
Spelling Words – 3x |
1 minute |
10 |
10 minutes |
Science Definitions |
3 minutes |
5 |
15 minutes |
Total Time on Homework: |
60 minutes |
3. There are a few critical academic skill builders that students should be expected to do every night or as needed. Teachers should also consider these things. However, they may or may not, be factored into the total time to complete homework. Teachers should use their best judgment to make that determination:
- Independent Reading – 20-30 minutes per day
- Study for Test/Quiz - varies
- Multiplication Math Fact Practice (3-4) – varies - until facts are mastered
- Sight Word Practice (K-2) – varies - until all lists are mastered
4. Coming to a general consensus regarding homework is almost impossible. School leaders must bring everyone to the table, solicit feedback, and come up with a plan that works best for the majority. This plan should be reevaluated and adjusted continuously. What works well for one school may not necessarily be the best solution for another.