Do your homework: Acting on evidence from educational research #rED14

This is a great blog following current views on homework

teacherhead

These are the slides from my talk at ResearchEd 2014.

The aim of the talk is to look at four different kinds of research and to consider the extent to which teachers might accept the findings and then allow them to influence their practice.

I’ve chosen four contrasting forms of research.

1. John Hattie’s meta-analysis of research into homework.  I’ve written about the detail in this blog post.  Here 160+ studies are compiled to generate a relative effect size but, if you engage with the detail, there is actually no neat conclusion.  The effect depends on numerous variables; to make simple statements about homework in general is lazy.

John Hattie made the following comment on the blog:

John Hattie's comment. John Hattie’s comment.

2. Robert Bjork’s research into memory is fascinating but what kind of evidence does he have?  Many of his ideas derive from experiments where people (often university students) are…

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What is the point of homework

Posted on September 4, 2011 by

Father: What’s all those books then?
Son: That’s my homework dad.
Father: You know what son, if they can’t teach you all the stuff you need to know during the day, they can’t be very good at their jobs can they?

How To Teach p170

Homework. The word clangs with leaden dread, doesn’t it? I hated it when I was a kid and I’m not too keen now I’m a teacher. Parents seem very keen on it and are quick to let schools know if an insufficient quantity of it is being sent home on a daily basis. Clearly, this is one potential strength of homework; it encourages a certain amount of parent-teacher dialogue. But is this reason enough to continue setting the stuff?

My current favourite, Phil Beadle, has this to say: “Our workload is absurd enough without the existence of homework. Homework tips the work required from a teacher somewhere beyond the absurd into the abject, the surreal even.” Quite.

As an English teacher, I find that the demands of homework can be particularly onerous. The thought of marking 32 essays per class per week is enough to give anyone the heebie geebies. So what are the options?

  1. Set it, mark it, go mad.
  2. Set it but don’t mark it properly
  3. Set ‘thinking’ or ‘research’ tasks that don’t require any marking
  4. Don’t set any

OK, let’s have a look at these positions:

  1. This is only an option if you teach a subject like maths where it’s easy to get students to peer assess their work. In subjects like English, history etc. the workload involved in formatively assessing extended writing properly is crushing. Something has to give – don’t let it be your sanity.
  2. I think this is the very worst option. Ticking and flicking students’ work devalues it and shows a lack of respect for the effort the little loves have put into that 27 page story they’ve lovingly laboured over. This is a surefire way to switch off your students. If you can’t be bothered, why should they? This is clearly supported by the findings of Marzano, Pickering and Pollock who spell out the detrimental impact of unmarked homework. So don’t do it!
  3. Now this one has possibilities.It does, however, beg the question of whether you’re setting homework simply for the sake of having set some homework. If you work under a regeme where your setting of homework is monitored and failure to comply results in metaphorical beatings from the homework Stasi then this might be the best option for you.
  4. Gasp! No homework! Heresy! Well, interestingly, educational researcher, John Hattie was seeking to identify factors which had positive impact on children’s learning: guess what he found? Homework has no significant positive impact at all. There is “zero evidence” that it promotes time management or study skills and while there can be advantages for the most able, it actually has a negative impact on the less able, reinforcing their negative self-esteem. In addition he hammers a nail into the coffin of homework in a primary setting stating that, the younger the child, the less benefit and more potential harm there is in doing homework.

Interestingly, the amount of homework a student has to do seems to have a direct impact on how effective it is. Cooper, Robinson and Patall say that if too much is set any ‘positive relationship with achievement diminishes’.

Homework also throws up the age old chestnut of what to do with the kids who don’t do it. The traditional view is that the blighters should be punished with a swift detention. This is turn adds to the beleaguered teacher’s already groaningly ponderous workload.

Phil has this advice to offer:

I set the kids homework, letting them know that it was entirely at their discretion if they did it. If they did it I would mark it with a degree of passion and interest but if they didn’t, I wouldn’t chase them up for it. This spared up acres of time, relieved a substantial plop of unnecessary stress and affected the kids’ attainment how much? Not one jot.

This is the approach I favour. And I’m always amazed at the number of students who decide to do it. Most importantly perhaps, the quality of what you do get handed in is far superior – there’s simply no point to scribbling it on the back of the bus. If the optional homework’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.

In my faculty we have moved towards Independent Learning Tasks which are published at the start of the year with deadlines, success criteria, resources etc. Students are given a choice of tasks ranging from writing a story, to research a topic to making or drawing something. The idea is that there is something for everyone which will hopefully make it more engaging. This fits with what Hattie says we should be doing if we are going to set homework (or homelearning as it has now been rebranded).

So, with September upon us, now seems a good time to decide on what your homework policy for the coming year will be.

Related articles

Alfie Kohn – The Homework Myth

Homework : point and purpose

by Beth Hewitt

Homework: “Do we want them to do it because they are compelled to do it… or do we want them to do it because they are excited to do it?” (Claudia Pesce, no date)

What are the pros and cons of homework?

Pros

  • Homework has been statistically proven to raise academic achievement.
  • It helps to develop independent learning and problem solving skills, comprehending what is being asked of them, how they will plan their work and solve any problems.
  • It develops student responsibility, time management skills, perseverance, ability to prioritise, self-confidence and feelings of achievement.
  • It can develop and promote students’ talents and skills which they may not have learnt in school.
  • It helps teachers to determine how well pupils understand topics and thus can be used to influence the planning of future lessons.
  • It provides parents with an opportunity to find out what their children are learning in school.
  • It gives pupils the opportunity to develop their range of research methods through investigating new topics.
  • It prepares them for assessed work they may complete in Key stage 4 or 5 which requires them to be working independently e.g. controlled assessment.
  • It gives pupils the opportunity to demonstrate and practice skills learnt in class independently.
  • It can prepare pupils to future lessons by ensuring they are prepared for the next topic, thus broadening their knowledge and increasing engagement.

 

Cons

  • If too much homework is given it could affect students’ health and intrude on family life.
  • If homework is given which is inappropriate in terms of task or challenge, it may have little or no benefit to the pupil, and may actually decrease student achievement (Marzano and Pickering, 2007).
  • It may remove the enjoyment from tasks, for example, reading journals or logs may detract away from reading for pleasure.

 

Setting a good piece of homework:

Quality not quantity – plan homework tasks carefully to make sure that they will be effective and are worth taking the time to set and mark. Don’t set homework for the sake of it, if it has no benefit to the pupil.

Benefit/purpose – consider the reason you are setting the piece of homework, for example, it is needed:

  • To consolidate learning
  • To introduce new content to prepare the student for new learning to increase participation, engagement and success.
  • To conduct research to extend a pupils knowledge of a topic.
  • To revise, practice or memorise new skills and learning e.g. practice something they already know how to do independently to improve.
  • To use their knowledge and apply it to real life situations and problems.
  • To investigate own interests through giving pupils the opportunity to explore topics of their own interest, thus increasing engagement and enthusiasm for learning (From Good to Outstanding, 2013).

 

Suitability/appeal – Make sure you have created a homework which is pitched at the right level of difficulty, or provides a choice of challenge level. This increases the likelihood of students completing the piece of work. The aim is to achieve the right balance between designing a homework which most people can complete independently successfully, whilst still making the homework challenging enough to be interesting (Marzano and Pickering, 2007). Use Bloom’s taxonomy to guide any questions and tasks set, to help to differentiate the homework.

Ownership/choice – It is good practice to consult students in deciding what homework and how much they should do (Kohn, 2006). This can be achieved through offering flexibility in terms of the format students can complete their homework in, e.g. PowerPoint, poster, leaflet, radio script, menu, cartoon strip, facebook profile, blog, podcast, video, interview, mood board, board game, song, rhyme, poem, diary entry, story, question, quiz, advert, cake etc… This can also increase motivation, enthusiasm and promote creativity. Incorporating an element of choice of homework tasks can also give teachers a chance to differentiate and can increase the appeal of homework tasks. An example is setting core and optional tasks, the optional tasks being ones which are designed to extend and deepen knowledge whilst not being as crucial as the core tasks (From Good to Outstanding, 2013). Below are some example of choice homeworks.

Challenge menu: E.g. Green, red, blue and black ski slopes, menu A, B or C, or bronze, silver and gold, or beginner, intermediate and advanced..

menuhomework

Task: Choose a special diet e.g. lactose free.

Beginner

Make a list of foods a person with this special diet would not be able to eat.

Intermediate

  1. Make a list/brainstorm of 10 sweet and savoury dishes a person with this special diet would not be able to eat.
  2. Choose three of the dishes and show/explain how they could be adapted to make them suitable for a person with this special diet, e.g. “Swap the beef burger with a Quorn, soya, or vegetable burger to make it suitable for vegetarians”.

Advanced

Write a diary entry/blog/record a video diary as if you have this special diet – How is your day to day life affected by your diet? What impact does it have on your choices, for example if you eat out at a restaurant? What are the consequences if you eat unsuitable foods? What would be your perfect meal? How could adapt a meal to make it suitable for you?

Or…

Create a multiple choice quiz for your class mates to complete with questions about the diet, e.g.

Q: Which one of these foods can’t people with lactose intolerance eat?

  1. Vegetable cous cous
  2. Strawberry yoghurt
  3. Orange jelly

Prepare:

Share the success criteria with pupils to make sure they can achieve the highest marks/grade for their piece of work. You can even encourage students to create their own success criteria, or predict what you will be looking for in a good piece of homework. Make sure you set clear deadlines of when homework will be set and due in – you may which to share a term overview with them so they can be prepared for homework tasks.

Review/Reflect:

Ensure each task provides an opportunity for feedback for example, feedback from peers, the student who has completed the homework, and the teacher who has marked it. Review the homework tasks you are setting regularly in order to form a basis for adapting and improving tasks, for example, in order to gain pupils’ feedback on homework tasks you could give tasks a star rating for pupils to use to indicate how beneficial they’ve found the task (From Good to Outstanding, 2013).

References

From Good to Outstanding (2013) Ofsted 2013: Appropriate Homework. Available at: http://www.fromgoodtooutstanding.com/2013/09/ofsted-2013-appropriate-homework (Accessed: 2 September 2014).

Kohn, A. (2006). The homework myth: Why our kids get too much of a bad thing. Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.

Marzano, R.J. and Pickering, D.J. (2007) ‘Special Topic – The Case For and Against Homework’, Responding to Changing Demographics, 64(6), pp. 74-79.

Pesce, Claudia (no date) 5 Most Creative Homework Assignments: Homework That Works. Available at: http://busyteacher.org/4204-5-most-creative-homework-assignments-homework.html (Accessed: 2 September 2014).