This essay comes from our four-part email series on student stress and time management in the 21st century. Get the whole series delivered to your inbox here.
In our first essay we learned that the modern American student is being worn thin, with high numbers of students and parents reporting a “significant amount” of stress at school.
We looked at a report that tracked the resulting emotional exhaustion in students, as well as several pieces that asserted strong time management skills are one of the best defenses against modern academic pressures. (If you haven’t had a chance to peruse that piece, sign up to receive the full series below!)
So we have our eye on student time management as a solution.
Follow-up question: Do adults know how much work students actually have so they can impart meaningful time management strategies?
Students Have a Lot of Homework. That’s Good and Bad.
In drafting this series, we began dropping this image from Modern Family into our outlines playfully, with notes like “figure out how to capture this in our narrative.” We’ve written a lot about time management, but our words can’t do much better than this scene:
While pulled from a fictional series, the spirit of this exchange is well documented in the real world.
This Los Angeles Times piece found that students have close to four hours of homework each night, a figure that comes from a survey out of the University of Phoenix College of Education. Author Karin Klein notes that this figure leaves very little time for students to do other things, including extracurriculars and spending time with family or friends. (Or things like eating dinner and getting a good night’s sleep. Minor stuff.)
U.S. News and World Report covered the same survey and found that hours of student homework has grown steadily over the years. Some educators believe growth in homework hours is reflective of implementing Common Core standards, as well as assigning more meaningful, long-term projects that promote engagement - and, ultimately - time management skills.
Sidebar: One of the most interesting implications from this U.S. News and World Report story comes at the bottom of the article, when University of Phoenix College of Education’s Ashley Norris makes a connection between flipped classrooms and work hours. Greater connectivity creates more potential for working and connecting outside of school - it makes sense. Connectivity can be a very good thing, but it can also contribute to the overall amount of time a student is expected to be logged in and at work.
Our takeaway? Well, yeah, students have more to do than they did a decade or two ago. And flagging that as a potential issue is not asserting that their work is not worthwhile. Greater classroom connectivity and engaging, long-term projects are fantastic developments in the modern classroom. But steady growth in work hours that keep students from leading more balanced - and healthy, well-rested lives - is concerning.
It’s possible that the adults doing the assigning aren’t totally in sync with one another or a student’s workload. Perhaps what seems like a very reasonable assignment and overall time commitment seems less so in the context of a student’s full workload.
A Holistic View of Student Work
Student workload isn’t always communicated from classroom to classroom, teacher to teacher, student to parent. A student doesn’t always have one instructor challenging and engaging them - a student probably has three or four or five people jockeying for hours of their day.
As Justin Chando recently wrote in this piece from Medium, “I don’t believe the answer is to stop challenging or engaging students; the answer is to do it as a team. Digital tools that clue in teachers and parents as to how much homework a student has each night - or how much time personal to-dos and extracurriculars are taking against academic activities - get the conversation started.”
To provide students with meaningful time management training, it’s important that more adults think about student time holistically. Two hours of work for a stellar, hands-on assignment sounds fair until it’s weighed against the other projects that require a student’s time. Two hours might be too much to ask today. Tools and strategies that allow educators to work in tandem - or clue in parents to how committed their child is at school - open up a conversation about prioritizing tasks and flagging instances when there is too much to do, veering into unhealthy territory.
There’s a lot to be said about how this strategy stacks up against real-world work demands. But we’d imagine that, within reason, when an employee’s time is strained, that employee would be interested in setting realistic expectations. Not the worst idea to train students to do the same in a responsible, thoughtful way.
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