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.