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Giving less homework may actually produce better results

Too much homework is the perennial complaint of students. When you are often hearing complaints of being overworked it can be hard to ascertain when it’s a legitimate concern or when students are just trying to take the path of least resistance. As a teacher, you want to make sure that you find a healthy balance — because if you give too little homework, students will be bored, but if you give too much, they will be overwhelmed.

In my years of teaching, I’ve found that giving less homework may actually produce better results. Here are a couple of reasons why you might want to consider reducing your students’ homework load.

5 reasons why students should get less homework

students in science class listening to what's going on in the front of the class

1. Students are encouraged to learn

The goal of school should be to teach students how to learn and to love learning. You don’t just want to hand your students fish; You want to teach them how to fish. Lectures, discussions, and readings should all engage students and encourage them to get involved in the material.

Too often, though, teachers are overwhelmed and assign homework to try to cover material that didn’t have enough time to cover in class. Educators should avoid letting the homework “teach” the class. Instead, it should be used to practice what’s been covered in class or to give a very brief introduction to new material.

Homework assignments, when given, should at least be engaging. Try to find assignments that your students might enjoy, like creating a Facebook profile or blog for a character from a Shakespeare play you’re reading. I’ve found that when students have a more manageable homework load, they’re more excited about school and learning in general.

2. They are better rested and focused

Something that teachers need to remember is how very long school days can seem for students, especially for high schoolers, if they have hours and hours of homework. They normally arrive at school between 7 and 8 a.m., stay in school until 3 p.m., may have after-school activities until 5 or 6 p.m., and may not be able to start on homework until 7 or 8 p.m. after eating dinner. Even if your students have a homework load of just 1–2 hours, that means they won’t be able to get to bed until 9–10 p.m.

Sleep is incredibly important for growing children and teenagers. While students can definitely choose to pull all-nighters or stay up late for non-school-related reasons, teachers should strive to minimize the impact that homework and school have on their students’ sleep. Assigning less homework will likely mean that your students will have the opportunity to get more sleep, which means they’ll be more awake and engaged in class the next day.

3. Free time makes them well-rounded

Many students, especially high schoolers, associate school with a room they’re trapped in for a good portion of their lives, and they want nothing more than to be outside of that box. Obviously, students (and people in general) can use their free time unproductively, like spending hours at a time on social media and browsing the internet. But many students feel like their homework load prevents them from doing fun things that they like.

It’s important for students to have a life outside of school, and assigning less homework means that they have more time for such activities. Students should be well-rounded individuals; If they’re overloaded with homework, they won’t be able to develop in other areas. As a teacher, because you are so involved with it, it’s easy to just subconsciously act as if students have the same degree of interest in school. The reality is that students desperately want a life outside of school, and you’ll be a more successful teacher if you encourage them to develop that in healthy ways.

4. A balanced workload supports mindfulness   

Students generally complain about homework because they are overworked. Overall, I believe many students are okay with homework, and reviewing and practicing what they learn in school. But because each teacher thinks their class is most important, students often end up with several hours of homework a night. That said, it’s important that you and your colleagues are in conversation about what assignments you all are giving each week. You don’t want your students to end up with 4–5 hours a day of homework.

I know when I was in college, I really disliked the homework load for some classes because there was just too much. I was a good student and always did everything I was assigned, but when I had to read forty 8.5 x 11 pages between a Tuesday and a Thursday for just one class, I was incredibly overwhelmed. It was just so much information to cram into such a short time — naturally, I really could not absorb it all. You never want to put your students in a position where they are floundering because of their workload. If you lessen the load just a bit, you’ll have less tired and more mindful, alert students.

5. Family time is valuable to wellbeing

This last point is often forgotten. Students should have the opportunity to hang out with their families in the evenings. With many couples now both working full-time, students often end up seeing their teachers more than they see their parents! While we can’t go back to the days on the farm where families worked together and saw each other all the time, teachers can at least encourage their students to spend some extra time with their families. And while high schoolers may not appreciate it now, they will appreciate it later.

If students did one less hour of homework and had one more hour of time with their families to play a game, watch movies, or just talk, it would contribute greatly not only to the health of the family but also to the wellbeing of the student. It also minimizes discipline issues as parents would be more involved in their children’s lives.

The verdict: Kids should have less homework

By assigning less homework, you’ll likely find that students will love learning, get more sleep, enjoy themselves more with outside activities, be less overworked, and have more time to spend with family.

If you want to give this a shot, you should think about practical ways that you can reduce your students’ homework load. For homework, I originally assigned five discussion questions that my students had to answer and three that they had to write short responses to. Later, I decided to change that to two discussion questions and two written-response questions. I found that the results were significantly better because the students were much more inclined to do the homework!

For you, maybe it’s reducing the number of questions like I did. Maybe it’s assigning fewer pages of reading. And maybe it just means being more diligent in class so you can cover more material. Whatever it is, know that giving less homework to your students will likely produce better results in class!

Photo credit: PhotoMIX-Company; hdornak / Pixabay.com

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