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Does homework matter?

Every now and again I read teachers arguing that homework has little value, indeed that it can be harmful.

There have been a range of studies over the years on the value of homework. I dealt with this issue in a previous blog in 2011 entitled How useful is homework? I would like to return to the issue, mainly because I fear that if word gets around that homework is not useful, some teachers may actually start to believe it! You can find studies which make the case for and against homework and it is, of course, a difficult area on which to produce reliable data. This important meta-study from 2006 by Cooper, Robinson and Patall based on papers written between 1987 and 2003 concludes "... both within and across design types, there was generally consistent evidence for a positive influence of homework on achievement".

In a more recent meta-study John Hattie looked at 5 meta-studies covering 161 separate studies found a very positive effect overall for homework at secondary level. (It is worth noting that, for those of who who understand statistics, Hattie found an effect size for secondary students of d=0.64, which is, I gather, quite impressive.) But the detail is more subtle of course.

I shall quote from headteacher Tom Sherrington's blog What does the Hattie research actually say?

At secondary level he (Hattie) suggests there is no evidence that prescribing homework develops time management skills and that the highest effects in secondary are associated with rote learning, practice or rehearsal of subject matter; more task-orientated homework has higher effects than deep learning and problem solving.  Overall, the more complex, open-ended and unstructured tasks are, the lower the effect sizes.  Short, frequent homework closely monitored by teachers has more impact that their converse forms and effects are higher for higher ability students than lower ability students, higher for older rather than younger students.  Finally, the evidence is that teacher involvement in homework is key to its success.

 In the same blog I would echo what Tom says:

...all my instincts as a teacher (and a parent) tell me that homework is a vital element in the learning process; reinforcing the interaction between teacher and student; between home and school and paving the way to students being independent autonomous learners.

Setting good homework is the key. In languages, where we wish to use our very limited classroom time as far as possible for oral and aural work, homework provides the opportunity to reinforce class work in writing. In short, to practise. We all know what practice makes.

I used to tell my classes that missing a homework was equivalent to bunking off from a lesson. Neither I nor my colleagues, or the school as a whole, tolerated it. I am 100% certain that the two homeworks I set classes each week over five years contributed to my students' growing competence. Do not let let anyone tell you that it is not valuable, at the very least for secondary students.



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    1. Care to elaborate? Is the considerable research of no significance?

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