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So Much Homework, So Little Time

Good vs. Bad Homework

Most experts agree that the point of take-home assignments is to review and reinforce the lessons covered in class that day. Ideally, homework should also instill a sense of curiosity and teach kids to study effectively -- including how to apportion their time between hard and easy tasks, and test themselves for retention -- so that they can become lifelong learners. But the vast majority of teachers have had no training on what kinds of assignments benefit students most. According to Harris Cooper, research suggests the most effective homework should do the following:

Mix it up. Assignments should have simple questions here and there rather than group all the tough ones together. Kids will feel the work is easier and enjoy it more.

Address specific needs. Yes, tasks should be age appropriate -- for example, shorter assignments in lower grades to accommodate limited attention spans. But the amount and difficulty can be adjusted upward if students are high achievers.

Be spread out over time. Kids retain more knowledge when they review material in brief, repeated bursts over several weeks rather than reviewing it right after learning it that day.

Apply to things kids enjoy OUTSIDE CLASS. The best assignments not only develop key skills like reading, writing, analysis, and critical thinking, but they also get students to tackle subjects they really care about. The goal is to keep them engaged.

How to Help, Not Hover

Your children need smart guidance, not someone breathing down their necks. Take our expert advice on the right ways to lend them a hand.

  1. Do provide a quiet, well-lit space to do homework, and establish rules on when they should get it done -- ideally, late afternoon or early evening.
  2. Don't watch TV while your child is toiling away. If he's reading, pick up the paper or a book. Showing respect and being positive about homework will instill a good attitude.
  3. Don't give answers or do the work yourself. Instead, make like Socrates and ask questions that will help lead your child to the right conclusions. So the next time your 13-year-old bungles that word problem in algebra, have him reread the question and make sure he understands it before tackling it again.
  4. Don't punish. Let your kids face the consequences of not getting assignments done, even if you'll feel embarrassed. Remember, it's about them, not you.

Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the September 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine.