Schoolwork Smarts

Homework hassles are cutting into the after-school hours of many American families.

Sydney Zentall, professor of special education and psychological services at Purdue University, has some suggestions to help ease the tension and frustration. CBS News reports.

The amount of homework American students are being assigned has increased over the years, says Professor Zentall, who is the co-author of Seven Steps to Homework Success.

From 1930 to 1950 the average homework time was one to two hours per week. But in 1986, the average was about 80 minutes a night.

The following are his suggested guidelines for the right amount of homework for different age groups:

First to third 15 minutes One to three times a week
Fourth to sixth 15 to 45 minutesTwo to four times a week
Seventh to ninth 45 to 75 minutes Three to five times a week
10th to 12th 75 to 150 minutes Four to five times a week
Source: Seven Steps to Homework Success

There is a correlation between amount of homework and degree of academic success at the upper levels of school. But there is no evidence to suggest that it matters for younger kids, Zentall says.

She notes, however, that smarter kids are more likely to get more homework, and to do it.

"What we suggest in the book is that teachrs should give homework that involves the whole family," adds Zentall.

"There are kinds of homework that can be a family project," she says. "So while the kid is doing homework, the family is spending time together."

How to approach a teacher: If you think your child is getting too much homework, there is an easy way to approach a teacher. Use a data approach, suggests Professor Zentall.

Make the following points:

  • This is how long it's taking for Johnny to do his homework assignments.
  • Homework stands in the way of these things that our family likes to do.
  • Is this the amount of time you'd expect him to be spending?
"Approach the teacher without blaming and coming out and saying it is too much," she suggests. "But allow them to come to the decision that it is too much with you."

Create the right environment: Zentall says most parents treat homework like medicine or punishment. They send kids to their rooms and force the kids into a quiet, calm environment. But that's not necessarily the best way.

"In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that middle school children actually do better when they do their homework with music playing," she says. "And some may even do better with TV on."

And kids don't have to do all the homework at one time. "Break it up; surround it with other activities," Zentall says.

Determine your role as a parent: Ask yourself: Will you be monitoring your child's performance or will you actually be helping to do the work?

"With cell phones and pagers, parents who are at work can still keep an eye on their children's homework," she adds. "They can be an assistant or a facilitator."

Assess the difficulties: The first step for any parent trying to find out the cause of homework problems is to alter the motivational atmosphere. If that doesn't help, then explore skills development.

"If, for example, you offered the child a million dollars and still didn't conquer his homework [problem], you might conclude that the child was really struggling with skills," Zentall says. "The same is true for smaller incentives."

Know your limits: A tutor may be necessary if the kids are struggling academically. But if the problems are behavioral and you find yourself nagging, it's time to seek outside help for that, too.

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