Homework and the "Average" Nobles Student by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
Over the last few years there has been a wide-ranging national discussion about the value of homework. Does homework improve learning? Do schools give too much homework? How could the value of homework be measured? Education pundits around the nation debate this topic ad nauseam.
Homework has been the subject of wide discussion and deliberation among the Nobles faculty in recent years as well. As we have discussed the value of homework and our goals for it, there is fairly uniform agreement that homework has value. There are guidelines in place for homework in the Upper School, for which we aim for roughly 45 minutes per class per night—which will vary somewhat in the context of papers to be written and tests to be studied for.
Our greatest challenge in assigning work to high school students is that what might take one student 20 minutes to do, may take another (in the same class with the same teacher) 60 minutes to do. In a variety of internal assessments of the time students put in to homework, we discover dramatic differences in not only time spent, but also the level of effort expended and the level of detail attained. So, for example, when as a history teacher I assign 30 pages of Night to my "America and Genocide" class, I know that my faster readers will complete it with a high level of comprehension in less than half an hour (they are short pages) and my slower readers may take closer to an hour. The same basic logic is true across disciplines and courses.
As I speak with Nobles parents, I get similarly wide-ranging responses to my question of “tell me a little about your child and his/her homework.” Some parents say their children are in bed every night by 10 p.m., and others recount stories of children always up past midnight. In response to these disparities, let me offer a few observations:
1. Try to make sure your child is being efficient with his or her time. Kids readily admit to the distraction of phones, Instant Messaging, etc. Talk with your child about putting the phone in a different physical place during study time in the evening and consider putting programs on your child’s computer such as SelfControl (http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/31289/selfcontrol) which allow one to shut off access to certain sites for defined periods of time. Students readily admit that their homework often takes much longer because of the number of technological distractions they engage in; setting limits can be very helpful.
2. Help your child understand the value of homework. While some students think doing extra math problems or reviewing vocabulary is "busy work," it is critical to remind them that homework is simply practice in building skills that they will need in their academic futures. One can’t learn how to write thoughtfully and analytically without writing papers. One can’t speak a foreign language without reviewing basic grammar structures. One can’t get through the math sections on standardized tests without having plenty of practice doing math problems. Homework assignments at Nobles are designed to reinforce skill sets and build content foundations—all critical to future learning.
3. If you can, limit "outside of Nobles" commitments during the school week. Many veteran teachers assert that they give less homework than they have in the past because many Nobles students have commitments on school nights that prevent them from starting their homework until later in the evening. These obligations can be important, but sadly we hear too many stories of students, who have long commutes and two or three nights of non-Nobles obligations, who are not able to get their homework done at the level they would like.
4. If your child is having problems, get in touch with his or her advisor and map out a plan. Young people do, at times, get overwhelmed by all they have on their plates. If they are struggling to get it all done, have them reach out to advisors to ask for support and advice. Often some direct communication with teachers will give clues about how to make homework time more effective and efficient, and advisors can often walk through a student’s use of time and make some specific recommendations. Try to include in that plan making sure enough sleep is built in. More and more research is affirming the necessity of healthy sleep patterns as a foundation for learning and performance.
5. We know it’s worth it. Nobles does extensive survey work with our recent graduates and the data is overwhelmingly positive in support of how Nobles teaches young people study skills, and time management techniques that serve them well as they move through college and into their adult lives. While there will surely be days and nights of real challenge, the outcomes show there is long-term value in what we are doing.
As I’ve visited classes this fall, it is apparent that most students are getting their homework done—and doing it well—and the net result is livelier classes and stronger students.