What do we really expect of students when setting homework? And, should teachers set it at all?
Not many jobs require you to work additional hours at home once you leave*, so why do we expect our children and young people to do so? (*apart from teaching…)
Homework is a divisive topic. Some people see it as an essential part of the educational framework; others rebel against it and see it as pointless for teachers to set it, pupils to a) complete it or b) ignore it, and for teachers to a) mark it or b) chase it up.
Research suggests it has no value in primary and can make some difference to student progress at secondary school. Either way, it is recommended that you should not set homework unless it is meaningful and perhaps, you as a teacher are going to mark it and provide student feedback.
Whatever your take on it, setting and marking homework as a teacher is part of the job – but why?
An article published by Time in 2016, outlined a study conducted by Duke University which found a positive correlation between the number of hours of homework completed per night, and improved attainment in standardised tests and examinations. In our current educational climate, particularly with the new GCSE and A level curricula and the stratospheric increase in the volume of information pupils are now expected to retain for their exams, is additional learning outside the classroom now, not only required, but absolutely essential for success?
Homework has its place, as long as the homework that is being set is relevant to the pupils, achievable and fits with the learning that is happening in the classroom.
I am a particular fan of flipped learning. For example, as this allows pupils to access information at home, at their own pace, and for the more basic learning tasks such as remembering key definitions or spellings, it is effective and allows time to be spent in the classroom, with a professional educator, to develop the more complex skills of application, evaluation or creativity. I am also a fan of the alternative homework ideas that have been doing the rounds more recently, and I really want to start using some of these tasks (like riding a bike, or making dinner for your family) more frequently in the coming year.
I work in an independent school, where homework is a ‘big thing’. Part of me believes this is due to parental pressure, the belief that more money = more work = better grades. I totally disagree with this – being able to afford the choice to send your child to a school that you think is best for them should not automatically mean your child is working ‘flat out’ on school work. Another part of me believes that parents sometimes forget how to parent; they become so reliant on schools to provide the stimulation for their children, not only while they are there but also at home and, well, part of me understands how this has happened.
Parents (and adults in general) are expected to work longer hours, sometimes for less pay, to pay off extortionate student debts and afford highly expensive rent, mortgage payments or childcare costs. So, while parents are struggling to make the school pick-up on time they might be glad that their children at least have something related to their education to be doing while they wait.
A Can of Worms
In contrast to this, the Finnish educational system has long been hailed as the pinnacle of work-life balance, with shorter days in school (and at work), far less homework and much longer summer holidays equating to excellent academic outcomes. Simply adopting this in the UK is not really an option – it just doesn’t fit with our culture and teachers, unfortunately, do not have the same standing in society as they do in other countries.
Homework is not a stand-alone issue – once you start discussing it, you open a whole can of worms that wriggles away from the confines of the school setting and brings into question the whole structure of our working, parenting and educational systems.
Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 2006, Cooper, Robinson and Patall
“… some studies he examined showed that homework can cause physical and emotional fatigue, fuel negative attitudes about learning and limit leisure time for children.”