The Sisyphean Problem of Homework: Is It Too Much & Short On Value? | Jeannette Lee Parikh | 7 Min Read

November 7, 2022

It’s been two months now since the school year began. We’ve all facilitated and attended Back to School nights and the opening of the year socials, so parents, administrators, and teachers can get to know one another and reconnect. One of the perennial conversations, like Sisyphus interminably rolling a boulder up a steep hill, is that of homework. What parents always want to know: How long should my child be spending on homework? Do you know how long my child actually spends on homework? For teachers, this conversation of forever explaining one’s homework policies can feel like eternal punishment.

Across schools, there are department and faculty meetings in which teachers and administrators discuss posting homework in a timely manner with clarity of expectations (how much, where to submit, due dates, etc). Some institutions, like mine, use the 10-minute-per-grade metric for how much homework faculty should be assigning students on a daily basis. It amounts to 90 minutes in total/night for 9th-graders all the way up to 120 minutes in total/night for 12th-graders. But, as anyone who has a child and works in schools knows, student pacing is variable. What takes one student 15 minutes can take another 30 minutes and yet another, 45 minutes. This metric can be a good place to begin to help faculty think about homework load. And….

As a department chair who designs curriculum and reads about the science of learning, I have come to the conclusion that all these conversations on homework (is it too much and how long should it take?) miss the point. Instead, homework is only stressful and time-consuming because we, teachers, have designed homework to be stressful and time-consuming, resulting in students experiencing cognitive overload. And administrators have supported this learning paradigm under a misguided understanding of rigor and high standards. A colleague who is a science department chair at another institution once disclosed that what is happening in the classroom is fantastic, but homework is a problem. I repeat: But homework is a problem! The truth is that as long as we think of homework as a problem, it will remain a problem. Instead, I suggest we expand our scope to consider that homework isn’t the problem, but rather course design is the fundamental issue. Essentially, what we have is a design problem.

The question isn’t how long homework should take; instead,…

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Jeannette Parikh

Jeannette M E Lee Parikh, PhD, is the assistant editor for Intrepid Ed News as well as the chair of the English department and head of community reading at The Cambridge School of Weston (CSW). Before CSW, where she has been since the fall of 2010, she taught at the college level for six years. She is an ISTE Certified Teacher and OER advocate. She is an experienced practitioner of integrating department-wide academic technology that serves pedagogical and curriculum goals. Her teaching philosophy exists at the intersection of the science of learning and cultivating creative thinking, joy, curiosity, playfulness, and self-awareness in all learners. She has presented at conferences on the importance of deep reading, critical listening, authentic discussion, and strategic writing in the 21st-century classroom.