George Lucas Educational Foundation
Classroom Management

Homework: Helping Students Manage their Time

This is the second of two parts. Part one can be found here: Is Homework Helpful?: The 5 Questions Every Teacher Should Ask.

Teachers assign work each and every day, either in class or for homework. That is the easy part. Put it on the board, tell students to copy it down, and move on to the next item on the day’s agenda. But why don’t teachers help students figure out how much time to allot to assignments? How do students know if an assignment should take 10 minutes or 40?

It is a blind spot in my own teaching. I never realized until lately that I wasn’t supporting students with time management skills. I wasn’t developing their ability to assess an assignment and correctly evaluate how much time it should take. 

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Why is this important? With good time management, students know how much time they have, how long it will take to get assignments done, and what they can accomplish in the time they have. This gives them more breathing room, which reduces the feeling of being rushed, which in turn leads to less frustration and stress.

Here are two ways to support students in understanding time management.

Do the assignment yourself. See how long it takes you to complete the work. Then remember, you are the expert with this material. Ask yourself, how long would it take for a proficient student to complete it? What about students with disabilities, what might hinder their progress? Then provide students with a range of times. If you believe an assignment should take 15-25 minutes, let them know. The benefit of this is that it allows students to plan better. They can situate homework in the context of their entire day. A student may get home from school at 3:30 and has soccer practice at 5pm. He now knows that he can complete your homework in any 25-minute window between the end of the school day and the start of practice. The downside to this is that some students may lose confidence and doubt themselves if an assignment takes much longer than you suggested. 

Rate the assignment. Classify assignments into three categories with time frames for each so that students know what type it is and how long it should take to complete. Here are three ways that I categorize assignments:

Quick checks: These assignments are measuring sticks of understanding and they are short and sweet. I expect students to spend 20-50 seconds on each question on these types of assignments. A 20-question quick check should take 6-10 minutes.  

Thorough Responses: When you want answer with more substance and more development, I look for thorough responses. These types of assignments are different than quick checks because I expect students to spend 2-4 minutes per question. Thorough responses typically have fewer questions consequently.Thorough response assignments take my students 20-35 minutes.

Sustained Thought: When students must access new material, when there is challenging reading, or when they must chew on ideas before they formulate responses,  students can expect to spend 30-40 minutes to complete an assignment. 

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.