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The value of homework
Earlier in the year Julie Da Silva, Head of History at Ipswich High School, Suffolk, was asked to conduct a review into homework. Her starting point was to look at the latest research into the value of asking students to complete work in their own time... as she now reports....
I discovered that a Stanford University researcher recently found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems and a lack of balance, concluding that more than two hours of homework a night may be counterproductive. This research clearly calls into question the value of assigning large amounts of homework. However, the evidence did not undermine the principle of the value of homework, rather that,
for homework to be bene cial, it should be designed to cultivate learning and development. From my experience as a History teacher, I have always considered the homework I set to have been an important element in ensuring
that my pupils learn effectively, make good progress and ultimately achieve their full potential in public examinations.
Meeting next with representatives from among the parents of our students at the Parents’ Academic Committee, it seemed that, where both the purpose of a homework task and the criteria for a successful outcome have been made clear to their daughters, these parents also viewed homework as worthwhile. Finally, I consulted the very people most affected by the homework
we set here at school, our students,  rstly by listening to the “student voice” at one of our regular Student Council Meetings and then by asking for feedback from every form following a form time discussion. It seems that even our girls themselves are happy to have ‘purposeful’ homework.
Now this is clearly the crux of the matter, as pinpointed by Professor Dylan Wiliam, Deputy Director of the UCL Institute of Education, who argues that: “most schools don’t plan homework well enough for it to be worth doing. This is not to say that homework cannot be good, just that most of it currently isn’t.” That homework can indeed be ’good’ is backed up by research.
According to the Educational Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, effective homework can increase student progress by  ve months. Professor John Hattie, of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, has calculated the ‘effect-size’ of more than 100 education innovations.
He recently told the BBC that homework does make a difference in secondary school, mainly because the tasks are often about reinforcing and giving students another chance to practise what they’ve learnt. ‘The worst thing you can do with homework is give kids projects, the best thing you can do is to reinforce something you’ve already learnt,’ Hattie told the broadcaster. You can listen to the whole interview with John Hattie at b04dmxwl
Thus it seems that how homework is set is very important. Studies imply that there is an optimum amount of homework of between
1 and 2 hours per school day (slightly longer for older pupils), with effects diminishing as the time that students spend on homework increases. Homework is most effective when it has a speci c target connected with a particular element of learning and when it is an integral part of learning, rather than an add-on. To maximise impact, it is also important that students are provided with high quality feedback on their work. Well-designed homework not only strengthens student learning, it also provides ways to create connections between a student’s family and school. Homework offers parents insight into what their children are learning, provides opportunities to talk with them about their learning, and helps create conversations with teachers about ways to support student learning. Motivation plays a key role in learning and so it is worth noting here that research also suggests that parents can best support their children by giving them space and autonomy to do
their homework.
So, as a teacher I need to be asking myself, how can I ensure that
the homework I set is engaging, relevant, and supports my students’ learning? Well  rstly, I have to ensure it has a purpose and I need to make clear what that purpose
is. I need to communicate the reasons why it is being set and why it is important for them to tackle it. I also need to consider what homework can achieve
that cannot be achieved in the classroom, an independent work ethic being a good example
here. Achieving success at school requires students to be able to solve problems and persevere
with pieces of work without instant support from teachers.
Here homework undoubtedly contributes to supporting students’ progress. There is an enormous difference between solving an equation, attempting a translation or analysing a source in a lesson after you have just discussed it
and doing it alone in your chosen place of study a day or a week later using your own knowledge and skills. Homework also provides opportunities to practise and embed what must be learned by rote, such as new vocabulary, spelling and in History, the dreaded dates! Homework can also provide an important element of challenge. A student who has to solve a problem to bring to the next lesson has to demonstrate understanding and this enables her teachers to assess this and identify any gaps.
Finally, I always show that I value the work I ask my students to do in their own time and learn from it to inform my teaching. I collect their work at the agreed time and I mark it quickly and thoroughly. I use the work to provide each individual student with feedback and set
each a target for improvement.
My students’ performance is used too as I plan differentiation in the next lesson, enabling me to provide additional support to address misconceptions and to extend the
challenge of the work for students who ‘nailed’ the task.
Research suggests that, along
with classroom instruction and students’ responses to class lessons, homework is an important factor that increases student achievement and I am convinced that our students can bene t from work carried out outside of lesson
time, provided it is planned and purposeful work. As it is crucial that our students understand the purpose of the assignment and
why it is important in the context of their academic experience
our homework policy has been reviewed and rewritten with this
in mind. The policy ensures that the objective of each piece of homework is made explicit, so
that our students understand how the work will help them to make progress. Staff will also record all homework tasks on Fire y, stating the deadline for when the work must be completed. This will not be for the next day, allowing the girls  exibility so they can participate in enrichment activities and develop their own time management skills. To facilitate the individual progress of each student, different tasks may be offered, but no student will be expected to spend longer than the allocated time on homework. Once the allocated time has been spent, unless the girl wishes to continue with the work, her parent/guardian should provide a signature to con rm this.
Indeed, we recognise that parents are an essential element of successful homework practice,
with many studies  nding that increased parent involvement is associated with improved student achievement. To facilitate parents in supporting their daughters, homework timetables will be circulated at the start of the academic year so that parents are informed and should issues arise concerning homework for an individual pupil, parents are invited to discuss this with their daughter’s form tutor and/or Head of Year.
Independent Schools Magazine 5

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