The standard guideline for homework is that students should be spending approximately 10 minutes a night doing homework per grade level. So, that equates to an hour each night for a 6th grader, and 2 hours for a senior in high school.
Unfortunately, many students spend far more time on homework than this, which is frustrating for them and their parents.
So, what can we do to help students work more efficiently?
Somewhat counter-intuitively, one answer is to take more frequent breaks!
Study breaks provide a number of important benefits, including…
- Less procrastination.
When homework seems challenging, students often put off starting it until as late as possible. However, if they know they’re only committing to work for 30 minutes or so, and then they will get another break, it’s often easier to get started.
- More focus.
When there’s a clear distinction between work time & break time, it’s easier to distinguish between “work time” and “break time” activities (texting, etc.). It’s also easier for students to resist tempting distractions if they know they’ll be able to to whatever they want on their next break… instead of until all your homework is finished.
- More efficiency.
Have you ever noticed that you’re more efficient when you know you have a break coming up soon? If you know that you’re going to get a break as soon as you finish this assignment, you’ll want to work more quickly and efficiently than if you know that you have several more assignments to do after this one and there’s no clear end in sight.
5 common study break mistakes…
- Not taking breaks. This might not seem like a problem…After all, won’t students finish their work faster if they go straight through without breaks? Not necessarily. Students who don’t take study breaks during homework time often put off starting their work, because they know that once they start they’re going to have to keep going until it’s finished. They also tend to engage in more distracting activities during their work time, because there’s no distinction for them between work and breaks.
- Not leaving your study space for breaks. When students take breaks in the same space where they’re studying, the line between work and break becomes blurred. Study “breaks” turn into constant distractions and it becomes difficult to focus on work because they’re continuously fighting the urge to do something more pleasant or fun, like texting a friend or watching a Netflix episode.
- Taking breaks that are too long. It’s easy to get distracted during study breaks, and put off going back to resume your work. But study breaks are like naps…short ones are very refreshing, but long ones can leave you feeling groggy & unmotivated. Some of my students find it’s helpful to think of these as “study pauses”, to remind themselves that they’re just pausing work for a few minutes, not stopping completely.
- Waiting to take a break until you’re frustrated. If students wait to take a break until they’re frustrated with their work, it’s training them to respond to frustration by giving up. Instead of taking breaks when they’re sick of working, it’s often more effective to set a goal for what they’ll do before their next break, and then celebrate by taking a break once they’ve achieved that goal.
- Starting with your least favorite work. If you’re going to have to read a really hard, tedious history chapter as soon as your study break is over, it will be really tempting to extend that break indefinitely, and put off going back to work. Sometimes, choosing a short, easy, and/or enjoyable assignment to do right after each break, can make getting back to work more motivating. Then, you can tackle the challenging assignment second.
How to take effective study breaks
The best study breaks are short periods of time during which studying is paused, and students leave their study space to engage in a different activity that is physically & mentally recharging.
Here are some guidelines for taking effective breaks…
- When you sit down to start your work, decide what you want to accomplish before your next break (e.g. finish my math worksheet)
- Leave your study space to take your break
- Keep breaks short (5-15 min), so it’s easy to get back to work afterward
- Set a timer during breaks, so you don’t lose track of time
- Choose study break activities that recharge your brain, make you feel happy & energetic, and are easy to stop doing when it’s time to go back to work
Some examples of “recharging” activities to do during study breaks include…
- Walking the dog, or playing with the cat
- Getting a quick, healthy snack & a drink of water
- Jumping rope, jumping on a trampoline, or doing sit-ups or push-ups for 5-10 minutes
- Drawing, singing, painting, or playing a musical instrument for 5-10 minutes
- Putting on your favorite songs and spending 5-10 minutes organizing your room
In contrast,“addictive” activities — like watching an episode of your favorite show on Netflix — are not great study break activities, because they’re much harder to stop at the end of the break time, and often leave students feeling more distracted and unfocused after the break than they were beforehand.
Saving these difficult-to-stop activities for after homework is completed, instead of doing them during study breaks, can make it easier to keep breaks short & effective, and also serves as a motivator to work efficiently on homework so there’s more time to relax and have fun afterward.
Next steps for parents
After sharing these ideas with my students, I like to talk through a series of questions about how they’re using breaks right now, and what they could do to make their breaks more effective.
You can ask your teen similar questions to learn more about how they’re using study breaks. Some helpful questions could include…
- What is their current approach to study breaks?
- How often are they currently taking breaks, and how is this working for them?
- Which, if any, of the 5 study break mistakes sound most familiar to them?
- What types of activities would be best for recharging their energy levels?
- What activities are really hard to stop at the end of a break?
- Which of the ideas in this article would be most helpful for them?
I hope this helps homework time to run more smoothly & efficiently!
If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Maggie Wray is an Atlanta-based academic coach who helps high school & college students achieve their academic potential by improving their organization, time management, study skills, and mindset about school. To set up a time to speak with Maggie about how to help YOUR teen develop the skills he or she needs to thrive academically, visit http://creatingpositivefutures.com/contact or email email@example.com
This Thanksgiving, students will not only chew on turkey but also the prospect of having homework.
With an abundance of material to learn but lack of time, some teachers see fit to assign work to complete over break. However, this onslaught of homework leads to students having mixed feelings about whether or not homework over a break is a positive or negative thing.
Alyssa Quinonez, a sophomore at Granite Bay High School, said being given homework over break is a positive thing.
“(It’s necessary) to have homework over break (…) just to make sure you don’t forget what you learn,” Quinonez said.
The danger of forgetting the material students learn prior to a break is especially applicable when taking higher level classes.
“(Giving homework over break) really depends on the course,” said James Cunningham, teacher of Advanced Placement, Honors and CP chemistry.
“For example, over Christmas (…) I always give coursework (for AP Chemistry),” Cunningham said, “And the main reason for that is because (…) many students (…) have a gap between finishing one course and taking another course. Students (…) tend to need to get back up to speed.”
Junior Abraham Denton also said, that it is useful to receive homework for higher level classes over breaks.
“It makes sense (to have homework over break) because then you can keep up on what you did last year and not forget everything,” Denton said.
However many students complain about being given work over break, and not just because it can be time consuming.
“I don’t think we should have homework over break because you’re with your family and it’s a
holiday,” freshman Eve Khatami said.
Some students agree, but many don’t realize that teachers take this into consideration when giving the homework, as well as many other factors that could affect the completion of the work.
“One thing that you have to consider when giving coursework over break is equal opportunities for all students,” Cunningham said. “Not all students have equal access to all the technology that other students on campus have access to.”
A common complaint amongst students is not being able to complete homework because of a lack of resources, and for this reason they don’t find having work over break is effective.
“If I really need to know (the material) then I feel like (teachers) should give it before we go on break. It’s not the same (getting homework over break) than being able to go to school the next day and ask for help,” Quinonez said.
Despite not always wanting homework over a break, many students agree that it’s the for the best. Denton said it’s reasonable for teachers to give out a little homework, like
Although many students may see homework as dull, it is necessary to help keep the mind up and running.
“Homework is considered a reinforcement of class work,” Cunningham said.
Students may have mixed feelings about receiving homework over break, but it can come in handy.
“It’s important to know what you’re learning,” Quinonez said, “and make sure you don’t forget what you’re learning.”