When I was in Chicago at the AERA conference two weeks ago, I was on a panel with Chris Ellsasser, an associate professor of education at Pepperdine University, a high school English teacher, and the founder of a group of progressively-minded teachers known as the Mad Tea Educators. Chris approaches homework by asking high school teachers and students one simple question: How much time do we really have? Below is an excerpt from the paper he wrote to accompany the presentation.
Do the Math:
Redesigning Homework to Create More Time for Learning
by Christopher Ward Ellsasser
Time is a finite resource and something which cannot be changed, so it makes sense to begin by establishing exactly how time works for students.
Too often discussions and decision making processes in schools related to issues like homework are based on personal preferences, social norms, and the mythology of schooling. Such a process is akin to medical doctors basing treatment on â€œgut feelingâ€? rather than science and knowledge of the particular patient. In order to develop policies that reflect the best of what we know about education using the most sophisticated ways of knowing we have, time must be created to establish a baseline of facts. Such is the case with homework. While each school and community has it differences which need to be considered, there is also a shared body of knowledge we can draw from.
Developing a thoughtful approach to homework can begin by doing the math on the time students spend each day. We can begin our calculations by looking at how much time students need to be healthy. The following questions reveal how much time students spend per day on health related activities:
â€¢ How much time should students spend sleeping? (9 hours)
â€¢ How much time should students spend eating? (three meals = 2 hours
â€¢ How much time should students spend exercising? (1 hour)
â€¢ Total hours spent maintaining basic health = 12 hours per day
The next consideration is time spent engaged in structured activities such as classes and other organized programs. The following questions reveal how much time students spend on structured activities:
â€¢ How much time do students spend in school? (6 hours)
â€¢ How much time do students spend in after school activities (i.e. sports, art, work)? (2 hours)
â€¢ How much time do students spend commuting = 1 hour
â€¢ Total hours spent on structured activities = 9 hours
Once we have accounted for maintaining health and engaging in structured activities (21 hours), students have three hours of discretionary time per day. Of course that assumes the day is without unexpected glitches or distractions. Factor in a conservative thirty minutes twice a day for hygiene/waking up/winding down and you are down to two hours unaccounted for each day.
Given the overwhelming research on the importance of reading, we would be inclined to set aside one hour for reading. Now we are down to one hour per day for school age children to play, relax, or just spend down time with others like friends and family. Regardless of the recommended 10 minutes of homework per day (90 -120 minutes for high school students), even if we eliminate â€œpersonal timeâ€? todayâ€™s high school student only have one hour each day to spend doing homework. So now the question becomes what, if anything, can be done in one hour to enhance the quality of their education.