Homework overload overloads students

A common complaint among students is that they are overloaded with homework — a true, yet unfortunate, statement. While homework can be conducive to learning in some cases when presented in moderation, a homework overload isn’t helpful nor productive. A 2013 study from Stanford University published in The Journal of Experimental Education found that high school students experience multiple negative health effects and societal alienation as a result of homework overload. The study suggested that more than two hours of homework per night is counterproductive, but the average high school student had an average of over three hours of homework per night.

Studies are finding that homework isn’t actually as effective as generally believed. As ConnectUS, a global issue oriented publication, stated in a 2015 article, “homework is not a guarantee that students will master skills and absorb what they learned from school.” If a student receives too much help or answers on their homework, whether it’s from a parent, tutor, or online, then the student isn’t actually learning and the homework is entirely irrelevant. In addition, if a student already knows and has mastered the material that the homework covers, then the homework is simply busywork and a waste of time.

Stress and frustration is another major argument against homework. If the student is not yet equipped to complete the homework and they are confused on the subject, then they can easily begin resenting the homework and the class itself. If students come to have a hatred for the subject that they are studying, then the effort they put into the class as a whole will diminish, and they will be less motivated. “Homework can be a stressor instead of a motivator. If bombarded with lessons at school and even at home, children might lose interest and, worse, dread school days,” the same ConnectUS article said. It is difficult to be adequately productive in a negative environment. Furthermore, stress and frustration in school can make students tense and more likely to ‘lose their cool,’ which has potential to strain friend, family, and romantic relationships and threatens overall well-being.

Another negative point on homework is that it takes away from students’ sleep and social life, both of which are important in aging teenagers. A constant overload of homework forces students to stay up late and suffer a lack of sleep, making it harder to absorb information from both the homework and classes the next day. This is especially true with the many extracurriculars after school, making students already tired by the time they are able to begin homework. OccupyTheory, an online publication focusing on social and economic equality, summarized this point in a Jan. 2015 article, stating, “a young mind needs to be nurtured, not pushed.” Regarding social life, it is important in maturing teens that they develop the necessary social skills for adult life. If students are neglecting their social life to finish homework, then they will be unprepared for many intricacies of adult life and will fail to be properly well-rounded individuals.

It is also important to note that homework often comes in the form of ‘blanket’ assignments. Because each student is at a different level of intelligence and subject understanding, general homework assignments aren’t necessarily helpful, and need to be more customized per student. “What might be helpful and easy for students who are good in a certain subject might be useless [or] difficult to students who have different levels of intelligence,” the ConnectUS article said.

There is some merit to homework. First, it compensates for the insufficient time spent in the classroom. While it may seem like seven hours of school is plenty of time for learning, those seven hours are split into eight separate periods that focus on different subjects, each of which is not near enough time to cover entire concepts. This is partially why many schools have opted for block day schedules, so that classes double in time. Homework, therefore, offers more time for students to master subjects, and lets teachers easily assess student subject mastery.

Students are also able to learn discipline from homework. It forces students to prioritize their time and learn to focus and police themselves so that they complete their homework on time. “not giving students school work at home might make them derelict with their studies and be lazy,” the ConnectUS article said. The OccupyTheory article agreed, saying that there are few other areas before adulthood where students are able to form necessary self-disciplinary skills. “[Students’] sense of punctuality is also sharpened by having to adhere to deadlines. Knowing that their grades and potential future depend on their ability to turn work in on time does wonder for their personal accountability,” it added.

The best way to combat unreasonable and unhealthy homework and benefit both teachers and students is for teachers to make sure they have a reason when assigning homework. While homework itself isn’t necessarily negative, it can become a problem when students receive too much of it, leading to many problems. One suggestion for teachers is to make some homework optional. Once a student understands the material well, then they could be permitted to stop. This allows the students less stress, while still making sure that the homework has accomplished its goal. It will be up to the students to decide when they understand the material completely though, which could prompt some to quit early. If they do choose to quit early, then it will only hurt themselves and reflect in their grade.

As long as the assigned homework is accomplishing something, such as committing a new concept to memory through repetition, evaluation student understanding, or allowing time to properly finish class work, then it’s entirely reasonable. Otherwise, an overload of homework only overloads student brains.

If students find themselves stuck with heaps of homework, they should try to stay level-headed and focused so that they can finish quickly. Don’t rush, though, as rushing will not help students learn what the homework is trying to teach. If students are already tired from the full day of school, it can help if they take a nap, since the brain cannot absorb information well when exhausted. (Photo courtesy of Suzanne Spencer at WSBT).

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