Homework: good or bad?

The French President is the latest in a growing line to suggest a ban on homework. In a recent BBC article he was cited as saying homework is not fair as it advantages the wealthy parents who have time to support their students.

Before I make a comment I think some useful research on this topic are worth noting:

  • Hattie, a noted researcher now at Melbourne University, is quoted as saying that “homework” has a low effect size (0.29) on student achievement (0.4 effect size is starting to significant) . It’s worth reading his research in his book “Visible Learning”. A worthwhile blog post on this comes from headguruteacher who notes that in early school years (most of primary school) is has an even lower effect on student achievement (0.15) however this is reversed in the senior high school years with a high effect (0.64).
  • Marzano and Pickering wrote about the research on homework and made several points worth noting:  its low effect in primary schools (similar to Hattie) and that homework should not be set as a matter of policy rather when it’s beneficial to the learning.

So the research on the effect of homework is messy at best (depends upon year level, relevance and other factors) and contradictory at some points. I think there is a middle line for arguing some homework in primary school set for the right purpose can be beneficial to student learning.

Sometimes it’s easier to say what’s not helpful in setting for homework: e.g. introducing new concepts or ideas, when its not possible to complete the work, when a person’s other interests e.g. Music, Sport are negatively affected and when it’s not connected to their learning in class.

It seems to me that useful tasks for homework include: preparing for significant learning tasks at school (e.g. collecting data through surveys or interviews), additional practice opportunities in English re spelling – not rote learning but memorising words with certain patterns to learn rules or generalisations and of course reading. The tasks should be short, achievable and connected to the classroom work so that a teachers feedback makes sense.

It’s when there is a policy of setting an hours homework per night that teachers feel obligated to fill the time with common tasks or sheets to complete the expectation. This is when there can be a negative effect to homework.

Of course there is also the unwritten or unspoken issue of homework for many parents being tbe only regular view of a child’s progress at school. One of the things I think we have to get better about is providing opportunities for parent to view a child’s progress at school other than homework and technology can be a real asset here – but that’s the start of a new post.

So in summary homework can be useful but any policy for or against has the potential to negatively effect learning so lets trust teachers  to set meaningful manageable tasks.

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