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How useful is homework?

I reacted somewhat abruptly on Twitter to a blog post which claimed that research showed no causal relationship between homework and academic achievement. I have always assumed that setting and marking regular homework was an important part of helping students make the most progress. I have occasionally heard colleagues claim homework is a waste of time and some research, notably a much-cited study by Cooper et al. of other research, found no correlation between achievement and homework for younger pupils. The Cooper et al. study did, however, find a good case for homework improving achievement at secondary school level.

Now, research in this kind of area is notoriously hard to conduct and results need to be looked at critically, but in this instance I would also make a case for common sense and experience. If I set two written tasks a week on top of the four lessons of mainly oral and aural work i do, then I expect the skill and knowledge levels of my students to increase. I am sure they do. Golfer Gary Player quipped that the more he practised, the luckier he got. We know what he meant. Practice makes perfect. So it seems to me that, provided the type of homework set is appropriately challenging, you would have to find some very convincing reasons not to set it.

Homework encourages autonomy, builds persistence, develops research skills, reinforces classroom learning points and gives students a chance to show off their skills. It also allows more time to be spent in the classroom engaging in communicative, social learning.

Arguments against? It creates conflict between students and teachers? Oh dear, how sad, never mind. It is too often mindless and set just for the sake of it? In that case, teachers should plan better and set it appropriately. Pupils should have their free time to themselves? Why? They get long holidays and should want to achieve their very best.

As long as homework is set appropriately we should continue to have faith in it.

Good summary by Harris Cooper.


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