Homework: how to make it worth while, without the hassle

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Research on homework varies. Opinions on homework varies. Like many things, when done badly it has the potential to causes issues with learning but if it’s done well is it worth it?

In my opinion the main issues with most homeworks are:

  1. Students not knowing what it is or at least claiming so
  2. Students not knowing how to do it
  3. Parents/someone else helping students to do it or do it for them
  4. Some students not having a home environment conducive to completing homework
  5. Poorly thought out/last minute tasks
  6. Research shows that it creates anxiety and stress for some children (and no doubt some parents)
  7. Only set because it’s school policy rather than being based on learning
  8. Have specific resources that students might lose
  9. New information is presented to them which they may not understand or be confused by and they have no immediate way to clarify
  10. It can create a ‘gap’ between ‘groups’ of learners due to variation of home support

The final point is based on this research outcome from the EEF.

https://www.suttontrust.com/research-paper/extra-time/?utm_content=buffer41bf1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

In order to prevent this potential gap, the research paper suggests that schools have homework clubs where students can complete their homework with the support and resources needed. This combats many of the issues with homework.

Why don’t we ban homework?

Apparently parents want it. I’ve been told this. I’m not aware of any large scale surveys on it but I’m sure individual schools ask parents.

It also gives extended curriculum time. If every subject has to set 1 hour homework a week that is 1 hour to extend the focus on a subject. For some subjects that don’t get enough curriculum time, homework is essential.

I’ve changed my mind on this. I used to teach without setting homework and the students did really well. There was no need for homework. However now I’ve read more on research of long term memory I can see homework as the perfect solution to spaced practice.

Is flipped learning the solution?

In my opinion, no.

A solution?

GCSE homework

I set 3 types of homework and only these. All my students know what they have to do for each as they are continuous throughout the year.

  1. Learning key words – they are given sheets with these on. I teach them strategies to learn them, give them cards, set up quizlet etc. They then have weekly in class keyword tests.
  2. Writing M/C questions (from the previous few lessons of learning)
  3. Doing online, self marking multiple choice quizzes (interleaved topics)

None of these require the students to do anything that they can get ‘stuck’ on. The m/c quizzes tell them the correct answers if they get it wrong. They then ‘know’ the correct answers. Writing the m/c questions is based on previous lessons. The only issue is if they weren’t in a series of lessons. It’s rare. Even if a child misses one lesson, they were still present for the others.

We use Showmyhomework so all instructions are on there. None require any resources except internet access. I make it very clear that they can do this in my room at any break/lunch if home internet is an issue. In our school it isn’t an issue but I understand for others it can be.

This structure reduces anxiety as the students know exactly what is expected of them for each and it is repeated so often it becomes a habit.

This homework has a purpose. It is linked to research that suggests that the best way to embed something into long term memory is to recall information. All of these do this. It also supports the spaced effect in that the quizzes are set at increasing gaps over a period of time. It gives students time to forget and then have to recall. (Further info on this via http://www.learningscientists.org )

Does it resolve all issues?

I think it resolves issues 1,2,3,5,6,7,10.

4. – No-one else can ‘learn’ the keywords for them. No-one would be able to write the m/c questions for them (except another student from the class). In theory a parent or someone else could do the online quiz. However it wouldn’t be because they didn’t know what they should be doing it would be out of no desire to complete the task which is different to them not knowing how to do it. Most issues with help with homework are not 100% resolvable but I think the nature of these tasks reduces it.

8. The only potential resource that might be lost is the keywords sheet. However I have a stock of these in my room that students can easily access. The sheet is always attached to their homework on Showmyhomework and it is also on our subject website.

9. The only new information to them will be the new keywords. However the homework is not to understand them. It’s to learn the definitions. It’s rote learning. They will learn their importance and develop understanding of the terms during class. They can then easily ask questions about them.

How can we stop the ‘gap’ from occurring?

In my opinion there’s only one way to ensure there is no gap between students. If we ensure that all students have access to everything they need to know, work closely on diagnosing gaps and supporting them whilst they are in class, any added benefit from parental support or private tuition will be minimised.

Some of research on homework