A new study from the University of Tübingen in Germany concludes that homework can positively impact students by making them more conscientious, potentially conflicting with previous studies that indicate too much homework can be harmful.
The researchers analyzed 2,760 German students in Grades 5-8 over the course of three years and found that students who put a lot of work into their homework benefitted by becoming more conscientious, according to self-reports and parental feedback. The results indicate that these same students were able to overcome a “dip” in conscientiousness that usually occurs in late childhood and early adolescence.
Lead author Richard Göllner says that previous studies have largely neglected how homework can positively shape a young person's personality.
“Our results show that homework is not only relevant for school performance, but also for personality development – provided that students put a lot of effort into their assignments,” he said. “We need to define more precisely what expectations we have of the potential of homework and how these expectations can be fulfilled.”
Too much homework bad for health
While this study reinforces the positive academic and social aspects behind assigning homework, previous research has shown that homework can also be detrimental to student development if too much of it is assigned at a young age.
In a 2015 study published by the National Education Association (NEA), researchers from Brown University found that Kindergarteners averaged nearly 25 minutes of homework, with the load increasing in subsequent years. Lead researcher Robert Pressman said that all that extra work can weigh heavily on the whole family.
“The levels of family stress and tension found in this study fall into ranges that could lead to detrimental physical and mental health,” he said.
“The Kindergarten homework load was identical to that of first and second graders. In that period when children are focused on early stages of socialization and finessing motor skills, an overload of homework will likely interfere with a Kindergartener’s ability to play and participate in extra-curricular activities.”
Using homework the right way
So, how can educators walk the line between encouraging positive traits and overloading students? Lara McAneny, a New York state educator and recent winner of the Helmy El-Sherif Teacher to Harvard Award, says that homework should always reinforce key skills that are learned in the classroom, never be assigned punitively, and consider different family dynamics.
“For younger students, I don’t think there should be more than 20-30 minutes of homework that they can do by themselves, and if teachers aren’t providing them with a task that can be done independently then I don’t think that’s helpful to the family dynamic because it does add stress,” she tells ConsumerAffairs.
“Some kids don’t even see their parents because they’re working full-time or working late, so to then have them come to class with homework that’s wrong or incomplete, it might just be that they have no one there to support them, and then they’re being penalized at age 8 or 10 for something that’s completely out of their control.”
McAneny concludes by saying that homework is a tool that can help students become lifelong learners, but it should never be used so extensively that it takes away from other meaningful developmental time.
“Not only do young children need time to play, develop their social skills, and get outside and be active, but they’re also exhausted," she said. "To expect them to sit down at the table as soon as they get home after a long school day just really defies common logic for that age level and what’s developmentally appropriate,” she said.
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