Monday, August 30, 2010

"10 Minutes Per Grade Level" is Hogwash

Here's one teacher's description of the 10-minute rule, from a comment on I Hate Reading Logs:

Dr. Harris Cooper, Duke University, compiled data from 60 different research studies and concluded that some homework is beneficial for student achievement. His findings showed that the 10 minute rule worked best, 10 minutes for every grade in school. In other words, 1st graders should have no more than 10 minutes, 6th graders should have no more than 60 minutes, and so on.

And where did the sacred 10-minute rule come from? From a chance encounter with a teacher (Does Homework Really Work? Homework Help|Great Schools):

“The source [of that figure] was a teacher who walked up to me after a workshop I did about 25 years ago,” says Cooper. “I’d put up a chart showing middle school kids who reported doing an hour to an hour and a half were doing just as well as high schoolers doing two hours a night. The teacher said, ‘That sounds like the 10-minute rule.’" He adds with a laugh, "I stole the idea.”

And this is how a study that clearly showed NO advantage to homework in elementary school is now being used to justify homework for elementary school.

Why is the 10-minute rule a bad idea? Let me count the ways:

1.) It puts the focus on quantity, not quality. Discussions about homework tend to get mired in the quantity issue (because there is usually too much) and never get around to the quality issue. If the homework doesn't help the child learn, 10 seconds is too much, never mind 10 minutes.

2.) Teachers are told to assign something every night, so they assign busywork. In elementary school, public school teachers have a mixed-ability class, and they know that not all the kids will do the homework, so they really can't assign anything important. They just assign boilerplate junk, such as copying dictionary definitions and answering questions from mind-numbing textbooks.

3.) Teachers don't know how long it will take. In theory, filling out that word search might take a child 10 minutes. In practice, when a child is exhausted at the end of the day, it could take a half hour or more.

4.) It ignores childrens' natural development. It's not appropriate to expect a 6-year-old to come home after a long day of sitting still and doing what she's told, and then sit at the kitchen table and do more schoolwork. I don't blame the kids for the tantrums that result.

5.) It's really Momwork. It is an extremely rare elementary-aged child who can consistently remember, and carry out, all the assigned homework. Therefore, it becomes Mom's job to check the backpack for the assignment, nag the kid into doing the work, and make sure the homework is packed again. I resent this on the grounds that I resent people telling me what to do, but even if I was more agreeable, what message are we sending our kids? We're telling them that they can't possibly handle school on their own.

How much homework is appropriate for elementary school? None. That's the finding that's actually supported by Harris Cooper's research.


  1. You really only need 3 or 4 hours of work each day, total, at this age and nevermind the homework. The government is way, way overinvolved in "education" insofar as they're offering meals, counselling and well... parenting at the school. They have the children for eight hours and can't get the work done in that time?? Schools play the parent alllll day and then expect YOU to play teacher at night. It's ridiculous.

  2. I think #3 is a pretty big problem...teachers often seem to have no concept of how long some of these assignments actually take. I once asked a teacher to ask her students how long a particular assignment took (she had guessed about 20 minutes; it took my son over 90). Although my son was on the slow side of the group (he's too much of a perfectionist), the average was far higher than her estimate.

    It is a combination of the students already being tired by the time the start homework and the teacher not understanding that someone still learning a subject will take much longer than an expert.

  3. Thanks, Matthew! You gave me my next post.

  4. I used the rule to my advantage. My daughter has fetal alcohol syndrome. Her brain doesn't get math. She typically came home with math and spelling homework every single day. I set the time. We did math until the timer rang; ten minutes per grade. When the timer rang, we were done. I wrote a note explaining we had done however many minutes of homework and would not be finishing the rest. Then, I signed it.

    The spelling? My daughter may have thinking difficulties, but she isn't stupid. I came home from a parent-teacher conference and confronted her on her failing spelling grade. She had been in the spelling bee just the year before. She is a good speller. "Of course I am failing spelling! I don't do my spelling homework. Spelling homework is for kids who need to practice spelling. I don't need practice."

    And, she made perfect sense. She failed spelling the rest of the year. Her perfect weekly spelling tests were not enough to bring the 0% on her daily homework up to a passing grade. I helped her in math. She got good grades on her daily homework and failed every single test. There was no on asking what's the next step or encouraging her to recheck the accuracy of her work. She passed math. I am so glad I didn't make her do spelling. She qualified for summer school, where she got help with math and I got a few minutes of respite care, based on her low grade in English.

    While school policy didn't help us. Most of her teachers did, until she got to Jr. High. After one year, we started home educating her.

  5. My hubby says, (I can't really argue with him as it has been our experience,) teachers assign homework because they are actually leaving the lion's share of teaching up to the parents. It's also been my experience that any younger child's learning problem will be first and foremost "the fault of the parent." It's definitely crazy-making to hear a teacher with supposed expertise claim the reason a child isn't reading "at grade level" is due to not completing the so called "20 minutes or so" of nightly homework and NOT the SIX HOURS spent in school.

    Why wouldn't a teacher know about how long each child in her class needs to do homework- I mean it's the same work they're doing in class, right? At least that's always the teacher's claim.

  6. The main topic- "Ten minutes p/grade" plenty of folks cite it even as they're assigning more than that- then counting actual book reading separate.- all while never really knowing where or why they are citing it in the first place.
    It shows a shallowness of reasoning ability or of character. By that I mean, they do not give the same scrutiny to the latest bullshit teaching method they want to do to kids that they would give if it were being done to them. - a specious claim starts up- and teachers grab onto it like teens do the latest urban myth.

    I think this is hilarious example-
    over 8 minutes spent doing crap nonsense of "Whole Brain Teaching"

    Compared to this video teaching same content-LESS Than A Minute! SAME content!

  7. I've got some more information for your series on homework.

    See 25 myths about homework:

    and 15 things kids can do instead of homework:

    I didn't assign any mandatory homework last year, and my students did perfectly fine on their end of year assessments. I've not assigned mandatory homework in several years, and have consistently scored above average on external assessments (if you consider that a reliable indicator...).