In all the schools I worked at, the schools had a “Homework Policy” which stipulated how much homework was required each week at each year level. It was a weekly time-consuming ritual of setting, collecting, marking and following up the students who failed (often regularly) to complete homework assignments. The effort put in to the homework routines always seemed to be a lot of work for a very small return to me.
Like everything in education, the validity of homework comes up regularly in the media. In an article this week published by the ABC (read it here) some schools in Western Australia are moving away from having their children do homework. Are such schools doing the right thing? Homework is a contentious issue. In the following few weeks I will be publishing a series of articles related to homework where we will examine the benefits and problems with homework in our schools.
Part 1: What Good is Homework?
So why do teachers and schools set homework? Surprisingly, homework was only introduced at the end of the 19th century. It was at a time when most students attended school irregularly and only to the end of primary school. There was a heavy emphasis on rote learning and memorisation and homework was a way to allow that to happen. Homework has grown organically since then and has been a case of the research following the practice rather than leading it.
Harris Cooper et al. (2016), undertook a meta study of research on the effectiveness of homework. The study found the positive effects people attribute to homework included:
- A better retention of factual knowledge
- Increased understanding of content
- Better critical thinking, formation of concepts and information processing
- Willingness to learn during leisure time
- Improved attitudes towards school
- Better study habits and skills
- Better self-direction
- Greater self-discipline
- Increased inquisitiveness
- Better independent problem solving
(Harris Cooper, 2006)
It is quite a list and, if accurate, would make homework essential. Unfortunately, the list is based more on peoples’ assumptions than research, so it is worth examining what the research says and what it shows us about the effects of homework. It is something we will do over the coming weeks.
Most research on homework is based on statistics about the general school population. This allows us to make general statements about homework. For example, if a statistically significant body of students are given homework and a similar group not given homework, then improvements in academic performance in the first group over the second can reasonably be attributed to homework.
Less research has been conducted on sub groups within the general population. It is my intention to examine homework against the sub groups of high achieving students, average students and low achieving students. I contend that homework affects these groups in different ways and is worth exploring.
A second aspect of homework I feel is worth investigating is the difference between the ideal model of homework and the practical model of homework often set by schools. Schools are busy places and homework is handed out in an environment where there is often little time or thought put into it. This will be the focus of my blog next week, when I discuss “The Dreaded Homework Sheet”.
Join the discussion:
Is homework worth the effort or are there better things we can do to support education from home?
Harris Cooper, J. C. (2006). Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 1987 – 2003. Sage Journals: Review of Educational Research, Vol 76, Issue 1, pp. 1 – 62.