sealPurdue News

December 1997

Dean on homework: How much and how meaningful?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- When it comes to homework, quantity does not always equal quality, says the dean of Purdue University's School of Education.

"I believe that parents should insist that their child's school experience include meaningful homework," says Marilyn Haring, who is also a professor of counseling and development at Purdue. "Meaningful homework helps a student achieve mastery by practicing new skills, and parents should be prepared to participate in it."

Haring has heard it all when it comes to parental concerns about homework. Some complain their children aren't given enough of it and therefore don't spend additional time on important educational tasks outside the classroom. Others contend that assignments brought home are frequently "busy work" that doesn't stretch young minds. Once in awhile, a parent will even suggest that a particular teacher requires too much homework, especially for those students who are involved in extracurricular activities or have part-time jobs.

So how much homework should your child be required to do? Haring says for young children, 20 minutes to an hour three to four times a week is just about right. Older students in middle school and high school can profit from meaningful assignments in the one- to two-hour range. But even then it need not be every night.

"I think homework may be even more effective if it is given on a flexible schedule and only when it truly enhances learning in the classroom," Haring explains. "Important lessons in time management can be learned if students receive assignments ahead of time and are given a specific date for completion."

But Haring stresses that all homework should be meaningful to the child.

"In the elementary school years, meaningful homework could include reading with a parent and discussing new vocabulary words," Haring says. "As students get older, it might also mean connecting classroom learning to the child's immediate environment, such as observing science concepts at work in the home."

A group of researchers at Johns Hopkins University is now promoting a concept called "interactive homework," which makes parents become even more involved in assignments. A typical language arts assignment might have students interviewing their parents about the hairstyles of their youth, and then writing a paragraph about it. So far, the idea is a hit with students.

"In a study reported this year, 82 percent of the 400 middle school students participating felt the program gave them a way to show their parents what they were learning in class," Haring says. "And 70 percent of the students recommended that the school continue to use interactive homework next year."

Many schools have adopted a middle ground, providing homework hotlines for students and parents to obtain assignments -- and sometimes assistance -- from teachers by telephone or computer. Haring says these hotlines are more than just a convenience; they give parents an opportunity to be directly involved in "after hours" learning with their children.

"The role of parents is not to teach school subjects or to assume homework responsibilities for their children," Haring emphasizes. "Parents should use homework as a way to monitor progress and interact with and support their children. The bottom line for me is that homework assignments that are carefully crafted by a skilled teacher can be a boon for adding to students' learning and achievement, and this is what educational reform is all about."

Haring says there are a number of ways parents can be proactive when it comes to homework. It starts with an appointment to speak with your child's teacher in person.

"Tell the teacher you want to talk about ways the two of you can work together to extend your child's learning experience beyond school hours," Haring suggests. "Let the teacher know that you support homework that's challenging and interesting. But also remember that parents need to be partners with the teacher in engaging the youngster in learning."

CONTACT: Haring, (765) 494-2336; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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