How much homework?

This is the second of a series of articles inspired by a session I led for foster parents with the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society. In this series I am exploring how to resolve homework issues with teenage foster children.

Previously…what is homework?

How Much Homework?

Many people know of the popular “ten minutes per grade” rule of thumb. For a child in grades 9 to 12, this works out to 1.5 to 2 hours of homework every evening. At least some research (Cooper) has reinforced that this rule is a good one for high school students, showing that there is a correlation between the amount of homework students do and their marks. (There is less correlation in middle school, and, surprisingly, none at all in elementary school.)

Doesn’t it seem odd that we even discuss it in minutes? Some students are fast writers, some struggle; some whiz through math problems and others puzzle over them for what seems like forever. Mix in learning disabilities or FASD, and you’ll easily see that two students in the same class will take very different amounts of time to complete the same work.

Also, new teachers don’t always accurately estimate how much time the homework they assign will take. As a new teacher I would routinely plan class activities that I thought would take ten minutes—and then be surprised that they took the whole period!

A study by the Toronto District School Board (Sinay) looked specifically at what they called academic resilience, and which factors helped students with low socioeconomic status succeed in school. They found that homework completion was the student characteristic most associated with academic resilience, finding that students were about 1.5 times more likely to be successful if they regularly completed their homework. This means that as foster parents, we can directly affect the success of the children in our care simply by helping them with homework completion. (I’ll be exploring how to do this in future posts.) But the amount of homework assigned to a student can, of course, impact their ability to complete it, and therefore to succeed.

When It’s Just Too Much

Several foster parents in the session I led with the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society shared stories of students with excessive homework. They worried about students having to regularly stay up late, quit co-curricular activities that they enjoyed, and pass up social opportunities. There will always be crunch times when homework is temporarily heavier, but you may find yourself in a situation in which, over a period of weeks, even with good time management, a child’s life is becoming unbalanced due to homework. I encouraged those foster parents to try limiting the homework a student does. This needs to be planned and implemented carefully. If you are able, speak to the teachers involved and explain that you’re seeing negative impacts of too much homework on your foster child, and tell the teacher that you will be limiting the homework.

If you are planning each evening’s work with the student (again, more about that later), you can help them prioritize which items to work on, and how much time to spend on each. You may be able to look at a list of math questions, for instance, and tell your foster child to do only every other part, or only every other question. Write a note for the teacher, either on the margins of the assignment or on a separate piece of paper. Keep it brief and polite; you need only say “I told Asha to stop at this point,” and sign it. Involve the student in the conversation—this is an area where you want to develop their critical thinking as well. I don’t mean “critical” in the sense that they criticize the teacher and the homework! Rather, you want them to think about what they’re good at, what they need to practice more, and which of their assignments is going to help them do better.

I don’t claim this is a foolproof strategy. A clever child might try to take advantage of the policy by dawdling over one worksheet for a full two hours so they don’t have to do any other homework! But judiciously limiting homework is an important tool for foster parents to have on hand, and they should feel free to use it if it helps their foster child to succeed.

Next up…not enough of a good thing?

References:

Cooper, Harris. “Homework for All – in Moderation.” Educational Leadership 58.7 (2001): 34. Print.

Sinay, Erhan. “Academic Resilience: Students Beating the Odds.” 2009: 1–2. Accessed from http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/AboutUs/Research/V5_I1AcademicResilience.pdf on Nov 9, 2013.

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