What is the effect of the homework you set?
Recently, homework has been a hot topic of conversation across the media. Columnists have shared their opinions and celebrities on Twitter added their thoughts to the conversation, keen to join in with the debate and discuss the value of homework. The BBC ran an article titled ‘Is homework pointless? Comedian says kids’ workload is madness’ while a teacher writing for The Times Education Supplement asked ‘How do we keep homework manageable and meaningful?’ The debate is not a new one: it has been suggested, in a Canadian Council on Learning report, that homework has been a polarizing issue since the 19thcentury.
Clearly, there is discord on the subject of homework; a disagreement that encompasses columnists, the Twittersphere, parents, academics and teachers a like. Despite the discord, it is, through looking at the evidence, possible to unpick the merits and faults of homework and make recommendations that will make homework both (as the question from the TES probed at) manageable and meaningful.
What does the evidence say?
The Education Endowment Foundation’s (2018) Teaching and Learning Toolkit, Homework Primary, discusses homework in detail. Extensive research has been conducted into the benefits of giving children of primary school age homework. Overall, these studies show that homework does not lead to large increases in learning. Crucially, however, schools whose pupils complete homework tend to be more successful. A driver of this success may be greater levels of parental involvement and support: the toolkit suggests that this is associated with effective homework. There is some, albeit limited, evidence that indicates that short and focused homework tasks can be effective in improving attainment.
In an evidence review carried out by the EEF (2018), Improving Mathematics in Key Stages Two and Three,some suggestions are made with regards to positive aspects of homework:
- Homework encourages students to actively engage in learning
- Students effort to engage with homework is more important than time spent completing homework or the quantity of work done
- For primary students, homework can aid the development of study skills
In 2009 the Canadian Council on Learning (2009) published a systematic and wide ranging literature examination on research related to homework. In summarising the report, implications for policy and practice are discussed and recommendations made:
Homework that increases active student engagement with the task is more likely to boost achievement. A meta-cognitive aspect where students must think about their own learning may be an important part of this engagement.
Similarly, to the evidence in the EEF Toolkit the report states that classes and schools that assign homework judiciously appear to produce students with higher levels of achievement.
Impact on Students
Homework impacts on different students differently. Older students seem most likely to benefit and, interestingly, lower achieving students appear to have the most to gain from homework.
Effort vs Time
Likewise the EEF review, the Canadian Council on Learning state that effort is more important than time. They found that when students focus on their homework task, either because it is motivating or because they have good student habits, achievement increases.
The evidence indicates that involving parents in student’s homework causes no harm to achievement. There seems to be no academic downside to setting homework that involves the active involvement of parents.
Now that the evidence has been examined, it is time to return to the question at the top of the page: What is the effect of the homework you set?
Quantifying the effect of the homework you set is difficult. Academics have struggled with this process and despite the extensive evidence; their findings, in terms of security, can only be defined as limited. Regardless of this it is important to consider the following questions when deciding if or how you can implement the strategies referenced by the research into your practice:
- How will the homework you set encourage parental engagement?
- How might it be possible to show parents how best to support their children?
- What short and focused tasks will I set as homework?
- How could the homework I set aid the development of study skills?
- Will the homework I set include a meta-cognitive aspect?
- How can I use homework to increase the achievement of lower achieving children?
Canadian Council on Learning (2009) A systematic review of literature examining the impact of homework on academic achievement. Toronto,Canadian Council on Learning.
Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Improving Mathematics in Key Stages Two and Three: Evidence Review. London, Education Endowment Foundation.
Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Teaching and Learning Toolkit: Homework (Primary). London, Education Endowment Foundation.