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There has recently been some chatter on Twitter about the value of homework. I doubt that neither Twitter nor the magical efforts of meta-analysis will resolve this issue because there are four types of homework and the effect will depend upon the type.

1. Completely useless homework

This involves things like ‘finish your write-up’ or ‘complete your poster’ and will not be checked by the teacher either at all, or until two or three weeks have passed. It will have been set to meet the requirements of a homework schedule or because time has run out in class. Some particularly diligent children will complete it, but all they will potentially gain from the process is fortitude.

2. Mostly useless homework

These are the kind of unstructured tasks that some students will gain a great deal from but that others will complete in a superficial way, if at all. They are the homework equivalent of project-based learning and they often involve project elements such as research. Two or three children will go to town, developing a detailed knowledge of, and love for, tree frogs. The rest will cut and paste something off of the internet.

3. School replacement homework

This is the homework that some schools are in the habit of assigning as a replacement for actually teaching that content in school. These tasks often look similar in form to high quality homework, with the main difference being what happens at school. They may also take the form of less valuable activities, influenced by bad ideas about teaching, such as reading books where the parents are instructed that the child should avoid sounding-out words. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, school replacement homework often consists of drill and practice tasks: spelling lists, reading comprehension, times tables.

4. High quality homework

High quality homework looks to deploy the power of retrieval practice. It is characterised by the fact that students have already been fully taught how to complete the task in school and are likely to know more about it than their parents – an essential component if we wish a child’s education to be less dependent on parents’ levels of education. High quality homework should therefore reinforce work that has taken place in class.


9 thoughts on “Homework

  1. Alex says:

    Homework, for senior students, is an area where technology can be used effectively. I suspect if used as a revision platform, where the learning has been processed by hand initially, it may have more promise than the wild claims being thrown about by futurists.

    My program for HSC English students is this:

    Fortnight #1: vocabulary flash cards (Quizlet) after nonfiction context and sentence improvement writing in class.
    Fortnight #2: evidence flash cards (Quizlet) after comprehension and analytical sentence writing in class.
    Fortnight #3: revised body paragraph (Google Classroom) after Front The Writing sessions in class.
    Fortnight #4: revised introductions/conclusions + assessment drafting after explicit modelling and planning in class.

    I’m finding pleasing results where parents monitor the student’s completion of the revision independently. Cognitive science should be the basis of all homework design.

  2. Peter Stewart says:

    After teaching Chem for 15 years , I am now teaching Physics. As Willingham writes Practice is important. So I have been trialling different forms of Practice. This year in Physics I have been giving students regular assignments. They are usually on content from the previous week. Once into a topic I will bring in questions from 2-3 weeks earlier on key concepts. So older content is hopefully not forgotten.
    What has made a major difference though is I do a video working through the assignment, pointing out vocab, misconceptions etc, and how to work through the question.
    Students are advised to try the question, then watch the video and check their answers and thinking. I don’t want students to have any excuse for not completing and I want them to be able to get help.
    I do no marking. All I do is check to see they have completed or highlight any questions they may still have which I will go over with them individually. It has made a big difference in my marking workload.
    We have about 8 year 12 physics classes and this class is outperforming the others by about 30% in test results. It is the biggest gain I have seen in making any change, but who knows it could just be the make up of the students in this class – we will see as I will trial it with some other classes.

  3. For those students who go on to higher education, “homework” will become a key component of their study, and generally it will go beyond completing tasks that they have been fully shown how to do in class. Do you see a positive role for homework types 2 and 3 in the later years of school, to act as a bridge to HE practice? (Full disclosure: as a university teacher I’m often dismayed by my students’ reluctance to attempt anything outwith class until it’s been done to death within class.)

  4. Pingback: Bad homework – EduContrarian

  5. Tate McGhehey says:

    I really liked the four different categories. I think that sending home useless homework that the students aren’t going to get immediate feedback on, isn’t going to serve a great purpose. I think that if we are sending homework home, we need to be sure that our students are going to be learning from it. They need to get responses and feedback quickly so they can use it right away. We can’t send home material because we don’t have time to cover it in class isn’t going to benefit them. If we are sending home work that our students are going to do, we need to make sure it is well-thought out and something that are going to gain from.

  6. Stan says:

    There were some interesting suggestions on twitter that homework should include preparation work – reading on a topic prior to in class instruction.
    Homework seems like an ideal topic to investigate with experimental research.

    There are so many concrete options to tweak – prep work verses review work, review period, amount, checking completion verses not checking, timescale of assignment. Obviously the results would only be relevant to the subject and age where the experiments are run but it seems to be something that would be easily researched to death.


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