Homework is a rite of passage for children, parents and teachers.
Children must dutifully do it, parents must dutifully check to ensure the homework is done; and teachers must dutifully mark it
But should children be doing homework? What is the purpose of homework? And how long should children spend doing homework?
So Does Homework Work?
The debate about homework seem to relate to four key areas:
- time management skills, responsibility and study habits (Warton, 2001 & Bempechat, 2004, Xu & Yuan, 2003);
- better academic achievements (Cooper, 1989; Corno & Xu, 2004);
- causing pupils stress (Galloway, Conner & Pope, 2013); and
- contributing to social inequality (such as Marilyn Achiron, OECD 2014)
The research on whether homework works does indicate that homework leads to better academic achievements (Cooper, Robinson, Patall, 2006), but it is an area of some debate – some argue that socio-economic reasons account for the differences in academic outcomes -.
Where there seems to be less of a debate is that parental involvement makes a difference in their children’s cognitive and social development (Schenider et al. in Dumont, Istance and Benavides, 2010, Patall, Cooper and Robinson, 2008).
Galloway, Conner & Pope, 2013:
“Families can be instrumental in developing the values and attitudes that encourage student engagement, motivation and success with learning. For instance, in helping with homework parents not only reinforce lessons and concepts learned in school, but also demonstrate attitudes and behaviours associated with success in school (Desforges, 2003; Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler, 1995).”
So it seems clear that homework may be isn’t the determining factor in academic achievements but parental engagement is key.
What is the purpose of homework?
Homework can be for the purposes of:
- completing work started in class;
- practicing materials covered in class;
- preparing for a next lesson (potentially in a Flipped Classroom context);
- extending knowledge learned in class to other areas; and
- aggregating knowledge learned in classes into one task (e.g. as a research project).
What research is clear about is that for homework to have an impact the work must have a meaning (Cooper et al., 2006 Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C. and Patall, E. A. 2006). In practice, pupils must know why they are doing a piece of work as part of their homework and what they will learn or consolidate.
There have been suggestions that to lower the impact on social inequality that homework should only relate to (a) completing work started in class.
(b) Practicing materials covered in class is a traditional view of the core of homework. While this work sounds repetitive, there are a lot of gamified solutions that increase engagement with these tasks (see www.emile-education.com ).
The Flipped Classroom concept advocated by many (including Bill Gates) is an extreme example of pupils preparing for their next class (c). A Flipped Classroom is where pupils encounter their next topic at home and then does their “homework” in class with a teacher present to help. This moves the teacher’s role from presenter to helper. Flipped Classrooms currently rely on technology to deliver the new topic generally by video. (Sometimes the term Blended Learning is used rather than a Flipped Classroom, but Blended Learning typically relates to using digital and traditional resources irrespective of location.)
Fundamentally, homework needs to be specific and targeted and pupils must understand the relevance.
And how long should children spend doing homework?
In Finland, so often looked to as a beacon of educational reform, students do not start formal schooling until seven years of age and are assigned virtually no homework (15-year olds doing an average of 2.8 hours per week).
In Shanghai- China, the world leaders in education according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 15-year olds do an average of 13.8 hours a week.
So what is right?
Research indicates that the effect of homework plateaus at about 2 hr per night for high school students. Beyond 2 hr, homework may have detrimental achievement effects, leading to suggest somewhere between 90 min and 2.5 hr per night as optimal in high school (Cooper, 2008, Cooper, H. 2008. Homework: What the research says [Research brief], Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics).
There are contradictions in the research regarding frequency of work.
Research by De Jong et al 2000 and Cooper, Lindsay, Nye and Greathouse, 1998 indicate that frequency does not relate to achievement.
However, work by Dettmarset al, 2009, looked at 40 countries and produced convincing results that daily homework assignments resulted in higher score results (also see Trautwein et al 2002, and Weinstein, 2001)
It seems clear that parental engagement (not homework) is the determining factor in academic achievement.
At its best homework needs to be specific and pupils must understand the relevance of the targeted learning. And the effect of homework plateaus at about 2 hr per night for high school students.
 OECD Study