Homework. Sometimes even the word itself creates anxiety. And if you’ve guessed that it is teens’ number-one complaint about school, you’re right: When a recent survey asked Mira Costa High School students what causes them the most stress, 43 percent said “homework.” In fact, homework was cited nearly twice as often as any other cause of stress in Mira Costa, including college, extra curricular activities, grades, and tests.
The survey results come from the February 2017 Stanford Study of Student Experiences Report, the “Challenge Success” survey, in which 2,100 Mira Costa students participated. The Challenge Success survey found that a whopping 80 percent of students considered themselves “often” or “always” stressed by schoolwork. And when asked what, if anything, could be done at Mira Costa to relieve stress, 40 percent of students said “Less homework.”
How much homework are we talking? Mira Costa students reported getting, on average, between 2.75 and 3.38 hours of homework on weeknights and between 2.07 and 3.18 hours of homework on weekends. Additionally, students reported an average of other assigned work (such as test preparation) of one hour on weeknights and 1.6 hours on the weekend. Juniors were the most heavily impacted both during the week and on weekends.
Notably, students seemed to feel that the assigned homework was not especially meaningful or helpful. A full 48 percent of students felt that many or all of their classes assign “busy work;” and 40 percent reported that none or only a few of their classes assign homework that helps them to learn the material.
One student respondent put it this way “ The so called ‘daily amount of homework’ a student should receive is erratic... Some days you may have almost no homework or upcoming tests in over a week, and other days it feels like you get a mail truck's worth load of homework.... If you do extracurricular activities or participate in athletics, it can be a real hassle since the majority of the work received as homework is just ‘busy work’ that you would already go over in class, and that repetitive review of things with such insignificance isn't helpful.”
Perhaps most interestingly, very few students reported spending homework time on “just” homework. Only ten percent said that they did homework without any distractions such as listening to music, eating, or interacting on social media. On the other hand, 64 percent said that they do homework while listening to music; 60 percent do it while eating dinner, and 56 percent do it while texting or chatting.
So what will it take to ease the stress that homework appears to be causing? The Challenge Success study group recommends that students begin by eliminating as many distractions in their workspace as possible to see if that reduces the amount of time that homework can take.
Additionally, Challenge Success researchers recommend that teachers 1) make sure homework is developmentally appropriate; 2) reflect on the purpose of each assignment and how it reinforces the “big ideas”; 3) be realistic about the amount of time homework will take; and 4) allow students to experiment with doing homework during class time to see if reducing distractions makes the process go more smoothly.
At Mira Costa, there are not currently any overall policies on homework, but individual teachers and departments are working to address many of the things that Challenge Success suggests.
"Without having a policy, staff has embraced homework free time over extended breaks,” said Mira Costa Principal Ben Dale. “Many teachers now have homework-free weekends. All departments have leveled the percentage homework counts in the semester grade. Many teachers are experimenting with innovative homework strategies. Teachers use department collaboration time to discuss why they assign homework to make sure that it is essential to learning. Our focus on homework has been less about how much and more about why."
Nevertheless, without an overall homework policy, the fact remains that homework assignments are still up to the individual teachers and may vary greatly.
That’s why the Challenge Success team also looks at the home environment, recommending that parents 1) act as cheerleaders and supporters and not micro-manage students’ work; 2) help their students develop a healthy and balanced schedule; 3) recognize that all students have different learning styles and some may need frequent breaks or special settings; and 3) allow their students to have “successful failures” with an understanding that a missed or botched homework assignment will not make or break a student’s school career.
The Social and Emotional Wellness Committee will continue to look into ways to address this issue as the year progresses.