Does homework help? Only if it's the right homework, expert says
By Jonathan Hepburn and Paige Cockburn
Posted August 24, 2016 19:47:50
Homework is not useless but its quality is far more important than quantity and schools should think very carefully about why they are setting it, an education expert at the University of South Australia says.
Over the past week an anti-homework note sent to parents by a teacher in Forth Worth, Texas, has spread around the world after being posted to Facebook by a parent.
"After much research this summer, I am trying something new," the note from Mrs Brandy Young, which has been shared more than 70,000 times, says.
"Homework will only consist of work that your student did not finish during the school day. There will be no formally assigned homework this year."
The note goes on to say that research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance.
Instead, Mrs Young urges parents to spend their evenings doing things like reading together, playing outside, and getting their children to bed early, which "are proven to correlate with student success."
Not surprisingly, the note was posted to Facebook with the comment "Brooke is loving her new teacher already!"
External Link: Facebook no-homework note
Good homework is 'purposeful, specific, and reinforces learning'
However, "she's not quite right," says Brendan Bentley, a PhD candidate and lecturer in the Education Department of the University of South Australia.
In 2006, a review of American research conducted between 1987 and 2003 found that "there was generally consistent evidence for a positive influence of homework on achievement."
The review, led by Dr Harris Cooper of Duke University, found that evidence was stronger for students in grades seven to 12 than for kindergarten to grade six, and for when students, rather than parents, reported how much time they spent doing homework.
On the other hand, in 2013, Australian academics Richard Walker and Mike Horsley published Reforming Homework, in which they reviewed international research and found that for young primary school children, homework is of little or no value and students are regularly given too much.
The issue is that although if you do something more often you get better at it, you have to be doing the right thing in the first place.
"Homework has to be purposeful, specific, and reinforce learning. If it's just to finish work, that may not help the student at all," Mr Bentley said.
In fact, too much homework can be worse than useless: It can be detrimental.
"For students in grades three or four, more than 20 minutes of homework can exhaust them. They go into cognitive load, and their ability to learn goes into a decline," Mr Bentley said.
"They can develop a negative attitude towards learning. It's about getting the balance right."
Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used: a heavy cognitive load creates errors or interference.
That 20 minutes is not a guideline for each day: "There needs to be a good argument for having homework every single night," Mr Bentley said.
"Schools have to understand why they are giving homework. Without a good purpose and a rationale: Reconsider it."
He says that homework can be ramped up as students get older, but even in grade 10, research shows that, "if it's more than an hour, it's a waste of time."
Designing effective homework also depends upon how much the student is able to learn.
"Adults can learn about seven things at a time. For young children, that's maybe two or three," Mr Bentley said. "You only need 20 minutes to reinforce that."
However, he says the benefits of homework are not just about reinforcing learning, and that if it does not turn students off, it can teach important study habits.
He agrees that family time and relaxation can be more important than homework.
"Developing good habits and attitudes through interaction with parents can be good — every time you interact with your children, you are teaching assumptions," he said.
On the other hand, too much homework can lead to conflicts with parents.
"Parents are keen for their children to be the best, so they may ask about homework, and may do it for their children, which defeats the purpose," Mr Bentley said.
Topics:education, children, secondary-schools, primary-schools, schools, youth, australia
- Academics agree that too much homework can harm learning
- Good homework is 'purposeful, specific, and reinforces learning'
- Time spent with family after school can be more important than more study
It’s something we all remember from childhood, but after hours learning can be controversial. That’s why our latest Talking Point asks – should homework be banned?
In 2012, the government allowed headteachers to decide whether to set homework or not. Many carried on the traditional route, but some schools have banned homework completely, while others changed to a less traditional style.
In September, Philip Morant School and College in Colchester, Essex, was thought to be Britain’s first secondary school to ban homework. Headteacher Catherine Hutley decided her teachers’ time would be better spent delivering great lessons than setting and marking homework.
Primary schools including Inverlochy Primary School in Fort William also hit the headlines after scrapping homework, encouraging children to use the time reading books, magazines and comics.
Is there still a place for after school learning in modern education, or should homework be banned? Our two experts argue each side:
‘As a teacher, I hated giving out homework. From an administrative point of view it was a nightmare – collecting it, chasing up stragglers and marking took an age; worse, I often felt that setting homework was of little benefit to children, aside from those taking exams.
‘British children are some of the most anxious and stressed in the world. Many children also lack fitness or pile on the pounds. By adding additional work to their already straining schedule, we are robbing our kids of precious hours that could be spent outdoors playing, relaxing or interacting with family.
‘Homework is too often driven by school policy rather than genuine need. Homework schedules – devised by schools to ensure that kids only have work from certain subjects on certain nights – mean that sometimes homework is set for its own sake, rather than because a child has reached a certain point in a module.
‘Parents are often drivers of this, complaining when work isn’t set, meaning teachers feel duty bound to set something, whether or not they believe it’s relevant.
‘Pressure to mark within a certain time-frame also means that teachers are burning the midnight oil marking homework rather than spending time planning for more meaningful learning in your child’s lessons.
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‘If all but the absolutely essential homework was removed from the curriculum, there would be little discernible change to learning outcomes. In addition, we might find children’s physical and emotional health improves – building a firmer foundation for their schooling and ensuring that as well as getting good grades, our children get to have a decent childhood.
‘Should homework be banned? Let’s face it, life’s not all about work; and home should be a place where we can rest and relax.’
‘If homework is set correctly, it should not be a stressful process for the children, but an opportunity to apply the concepts taught within school in an independent environment.
‘There is often too much reliance on schools and teachers as the facilitators of learning, whereas the real aim of teaching should be to encourage children to want to learn for the joy of learning. It’s a balancing act, but home learning should be used to foster an understanding that learning isn’t constrained to schools.
‘For teachers it allows them to get a better grasp on each student’s ability and understanding of the subject. It also allows them to extend a learner’s understanding by pointing them towards additional reading or activities.
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‘For parents, it can create an opportunity to sit down with their child and discuss how school is going and find out how they can help. It’s also a chance for them to see when children are finding learning more difficult and step in where necessary.
‘Finally, for students it can give them the opportunity to test themselves on their subject knowledge and to more fully engage with a subject, without the restrictions of the classroom. It allows them to identify certain topics/areas within subjects that they might be struggling with, which in turn allows them to find extra help to combat this.
‘I understand there are concerns regarding homework causing stress for children and that it favours children with households with a better educational environment,’ he says. ‘However, we should be solving those specific issues, not throwing homework out with the bathwater.
‘If homework can foster independence, an improvement of skills and a better commitment to learning, which, if done well, it can, then it can be incredibly beneficial to learners of all ages.
‘Should homework be banned? To rule homework out entirely would be far too reactionary and short-sighted. Homework should be another tool, which is wielded wisely to improve learning and engagement.’