You know that idea that you can be divided by a common language – when you suspect you aren’t making sense to others even though you are using a common vocabulary? I feel like that about the word ‘homework’.
Homework to me is essential time for my classes to work independently reviewing learning and practising extended writing which will also consolidate their understanding and aid future recall. Yet when I read about homework on twitter it is often condemned as a waste of time – a method disproven by research although this isn’t entirely the case. I can’t get my head around these arguments and I’ll explain why.
A typical GCSE history class of mine will have:
- Two homeworks a week of 30 minutes each
- There are 33 weeks in my school’s year
- My class will write one essay/piece of extended writing every week for homework.
- About once every two weeks they will revise for a short test on previous material for homework.
- Other homework will be either extra time to write longer essays or tasks that cover new material or review learnt material.
So (if we generously lop off a few weeks that inevitably get lost each term due to school events etc) over the two years of the GCSE my class will have completed the following homework:
- Written 54 essays or other pieces of extended writing
- Revised for approximately 27 tests (retakes in their own time if they fail…)
- Knuckled down independently to 54 hours of private study in my subject alone
I genuinely don’t understand. How likely is that that this homework is a waste of time?
- Fifty four essays is an awful lot of practice, review and consolidation of learning and builds crucial writing stamina if the teacher keeps upping expectations.
- The class get 54 extra lots of feedback on misapprehensions, technique issues and ways to extend their thinking. They generally complete a short feedback task directly focused on clearing up any problems I noticed when marking.
- We know how important it is to review learning with short factual tests so how can that learning homework be anything other than worthwhile?
- If my GCSE classes had had no practice building the habit of knuckling down to some private study how likely are they to develop those habits necessary to do the huge amounts of personal revision required to get good grades at history GCSE? If students don’t develop those work habits they’ll do far worse than those who have them, whatever their original potential.
- There is a good chance students unused to knuckling down to independent study will feel virtuous at revision time despite having done a fraction of the work they actually have the capacity for.
The odd idea that location of the worker rather than task choice dictates degree of efficacy
Surely it isn’t the location of the worker, home or school, it is the appropriateness of the task that dictates usefulness of the work students complete? I don’t suppose endless wordsearches and posters are very beneficial homework tasks. They aren’t particularly useful class tasks either but we don’t suggest that we should close schools because some teachers make poor activity choices in lessons.
Research suggests that at primary level doing work at home, rather than school, isn’t especially effective. This is quite shocking news. I have spent the last nine years listening, every single evening, to some or all of my three children as they read from their school issue reading book. I’d say that the reading practice work that goes on at home with primary aged children is absolutely crucial – ditto learning timestables. I actually think that it is very wrong that schools rely on parents to ensure children learn to read. It means educational inequality becomes inevitable as some parents don’t or can’t manage but the idea that reading practice (because it is done at home, not school) is fairly ineffective, is nonsensical.
It seems reasonable that homework should be set once children are old enough to work independently on a task and take responsibility for completion. That said, I don’t underestimate the enormous challenge involved in creating a homework culture among students in some schools. Neither am I pretending there aren’t serious workload problems for some teachers when regular homework is set and needs to be marked. I’m not pretending that it is easy to ensure homework set by all teachers in a school will be useful. I am, however, saying that the whole debate over homework is unhelpful because it focuses on location rather than task appropriateness and that students who complete regular, well-chosen homework have a significant advantage over their peers.