Homework can ruin a child’s self-esteem. It can lead to torrid family conflict. It may also be the most important tool that students, teachers and parents have for developing necessary time management skills such as meeting obligations, working efficiently and prioritizing sub-tasks.
One of the most important skills that students can develop by doing homework is the self-discipline to schedule and meet obligations. Many families do not allow their children to play, watch TV or talk on the phone until homework is done. The habit of fulfilling obligations before having fun may help them throughout their lives if it is established early. Other families may allow the students to choose the time they set aside for homework, which is also useful, since it helps students learn how to schedule duties. Either way, homework is an important tool in learning how to meet obligations, especially when parents are appropriately involved and students make the effort to follow through.
Another important aspect of time management that students can learn from doing homework is that spending too much time on any given task can also be counterproductive. Students who spend too much time on homework will usually become frustrated, weary or inefficient. When monitoring the time spent on homework, families and students can use the ten-minute rule as a guide. As Harris Cooper explained in the research he led for Duke University, this means that students should spend ten minutes on homework per grade level. For example, a fourth-grader should have about 40 minutes of homework most nights.
However, Cooper also found that homework that takes more than two hours to complete does not enhance learning, even among upper-level secondary students, Therefore, families and students may be wise to stop homework sessions after one hour for elementary students and two hours for high school students, with appropriate variations based on age, academic ability and interest. Students who know how to stop when they have become too tired and frustrated to work effectively are also developing a useful skill, and homework can be an important part of that process.
Once students have learned to set aside time for their academic obligations, and have learned that they need to stop when they become inefficient, they can begin to learn how to prioritize the sub-tasks. For example, if a student knows that he or she will have to stop working after ninety-minutes, and the teacher has assigned more questions than the student can answer well in that time period, the student will have to make some decisions. He or she may decide only to answer the questions that will probably be on the test. Another choice would be to answer all the questions briefly, instead of completely. Either way, the student has again learned an important skill that will be helpful for years to come. Whether they eventually work in an office, a home or outdoors, most people have to learn that they won’t be able to accomplish all of their goals in the time they have. Learning how to prioritize sub-tasks is an important skill that homework can help to develop.
Therefore, while effective assignments help students develop specific academic skills, students who do homework also develop skills such as learning how to meet obligations, work efficiently and prioritize sub-tasks. These skills lead to success, and homework is an important part of that process.