Friday, December 17, 2010

Homework's 10 minute rule

In his article Homework's Diminishing Returns, Harris Cooper essentially makes the point that some homework is good but too much is bad.

I find myself agreeing that too much homework is a bad thing, but I'm not convinced that we can quantify any amount of homework as good simply based on time requirements.

Harris Cooper writes:
How much homework should students do? The National PTA and the National Education Association have a parent guide that suggests 10-20 minutes of homework in grades K-2, 30 to 60 minutes in grades 3-6. Many school district policies state that high school students should expect about 30 minutes of homework for each academic course they take, a bit more for honors or advanced placement courses. Educators refer to this as “the 10 Minute Rule”: multiply a child’s grade by 10 and that’s the rough guide for minutes of homework a night. That recommendation is consistent with the conclusions reached by our research analysis.
I am familiar with this 10 minute rule, but I'm left with a number of questions:
  • why not 9 minutes?
  • why not 11 minutes?
  • why does everyone have to do the same amount of time?
  • why is it that grade level dictates the amount of time?
  • why is it that age dictates the amount of time?
  • what if there are flaws with the idea of educating students based on their date of birth and grade levels - does that mean there are flaws with the 10 minute rule?
  • what if we did away with the grade levels - would that mean we would do away with the 10 minute rule?
  • why does the 10 minute rule only address quantity? what about quality?
For me, the subjective feel of the 10 minute rule is inescapable. I can't help but feel like this is a relic of the factory model of education where kids are sorted based on their date of manufacture and are seen as vending machines where we must simply insert the mandated homework time and learning will spew out of them.

I also get the feeling that this rule is a prime example of focusing so much on getting things done that we forget to improve how we get things done. 

Alfie Kohn explains further in his book The Homework Myth:
Rather than beginning with the question, What does it makes sense to do with kids? they ask, What reasons can we come up with to justify homework, which we're determined to assign in any case?
The homework game is broken. The majority of kids will look you in the eye and tell you they hate it - and that should count for more than just something - real accountability would ask kids if they like school, and then care what their answer was.

Just like an oarsman who has no time to plug the leak in the boat because he's too busy rowing, we continue to focus all our efforts on making kids comply when we should be reflecting on why we assign homework in the first place.


  1. Our school has a "ten minute for each year you are in school" rule. So, I make up "independent learning" homework and they report to me in class about what they did: playing video games, playing basketball, working on a car, etc. As long as they tell me what they learned outside of school, it counts. Some kids choose things that are really academic. Most don't. Either way, ever child has managed to get his or her homework done this year.

  2. Another good post, Joe. keep on questioning. I like John's solution, too.

  3. Joe,

    Great questions and a topic often overlooked when discussing education as a whole. While I have no specific answers, I guess I’m left wondering what would be classified as homework. My questions surround the topic as a whole, not the specific time. Is anything and everything done outside of class considered homework? If that’s the case then I feel 10 minutes would certainly not be enough time. I say this because in my classes we do a great amount of PBL and students utilize their time to collaborate and complete projects. Thanks for the post and causing me to think more about this topic.

  4. All valid questions about homework. Here's a question of mine:
    Why do adults get squirmy when we talk about kids liking school, having fun at school or being happy? Is it because we can't measure and attach a number to these qualities? Or is there something we fundamentally mistrust about a child's happiness? Are adults allowed to have fun and be happy? Or does that make them an unprofitable member of society (or, rather, our economy)?

  5. Homework should be whatever that students want it to be as long as they are responsible to show the teacher or the class what they did. Lectures should also be homework via podcasts.

  6. Like what John Spencer added - I give my kids a list of "50 Things to Do for Holidays Homework", which includes everything from Read a Book of Your Choice, Save a Life, and Learn to count to 10 in a new language, to Dust your Lightbulbs, Learn to Swim Forwards Backwards, and Invent a new Drink. Kids love having the things they learn outside of class being recognized as an important part of their learning at home - hence, home work - and parents love having a list to send their kids to when they need some inspiration.

  7. I very rarely "assign" homework. My students do long term projects with a lot of inquiry built in. They frequently present their final projects to an audience outside the classroom. Because we are advertising and inviting guests, these dates are firm once we agree upon them. Often, students choose to put in a significant amount of time outside of the school day (either at home or in my classroom) working on these projects, especially as the "big day" approaches.

    What does this have to do with homework?

    I find that I resent the crap homework given by other teachers more and more - as do the kids.

    They'd rather be working on their project for my class. They want to do their best work in front of the audience. And yet, they're held back by worksheets of 50 identical math problems or 30 pages of a history textbook to read; hours of mind numbing homework per night - all under the threat of the almighty ZERO!

  8. check Alfie Kohn's article on Abusing research and Homework how Cooper ignores his own research finding and recommends the 10 minute rule

    thanks to John - encouraging informal learning outside of school

  9. Most perplexing, as Kohn underscores, is that despite indisputable evidence that homework does not lead to achievement of any kind, educators still assign it.

    It's time to stop justifying it or calling it something else. It's time to stop homework completely.

  10. While I am a parent that loathes homework, one of the benefits of homework is that it provides the 'opportunity', albeit often forced, for the parent to engage in what the child is doing in the classroom. With research showing that parent involvement is the number one predictor of student success, it behooves educators to continue to find ways to draw parents in to the educational process. Without some form of at-home schoolwork, many parents would otherwise know little or nothing about what their child is learning. No homework policies are most valuable in homes where learning is already a part of the culture at home. I like the idea that homework, in the form of exploration and projects and similar, could become a platform for learning in the home.

  11. One problem with the 10 minute rule, in my mind, is what might appear to be 10 minutes of work takes a lot longer than that when you factor in procrastination and the nagging parents often have to do (which, I think, negates any value there might be in "involving parents" in school work, and forces parents to be the "bad guys" more than anything else.) Or if they rush through it to get on to something more fun, what exactly is the point? My children spend 6 hours at school, I don't see what's wrong with them spending their few remaining waking hours at home NOT fighting over homework, and doing things like playing, reading, eating, being with family, doing outside activities, even watching a little TV...


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