So this is a topic that I am barely going to scratch the surface of and the research into homework is varied and flawed and is one of those questions that doesn’t have a sensible answer. I am going to discuss my own homework journey and also the observations I have made of students that I teach.
The reason I have chosen to cover this is I read an article today, see link, that has looked at research of a small subset of society that do what I would consider a ridiculous amount of homework each night. The article does point this out and says that after 2 hours the effectiveness of any homework diminishes.
When I was at school I would have a designated time to complete homework each night. I went to a boarding school where prep came in the time after dinner and before a short relax time before bed. This time was enforced rigidly and getting out of it was really difficult. I know this will age me slightly but there wasn’t the world wide web in those days either. These enforced sessions were silent work periods of about an hour and a half in which I would sit there attempting to answer the questions set or the exercise I had to finish in order to complete the task started in class. Even with this fixed time especially in my later years at school I would find it really difficult to concentrate and work through. I would get easily distracted or fall asleep at my desk and end up completing the homework in a mad rush in the morning just before the lesson.
There is a massive parallel between this and my own students that I teach. Out of the 200 odd students that I teach each week I would say that less than 10 start their homework the night it was set. I would say that 2 of my students actively work ahead of their homework and look at topics that either we haven’t covered or that interest them. So the rest are like me. They don’t have a rigid plan of how to complete their homework before the lesson or even start it in plenty of time. Students complain of having other commitments that prevent them from completing their homework. A number of my students arrive in school and frantically find someone that has done it and then copy the work from them which completely negates the whole point of the task.
With all of the advancements in technology and ideology in schools on what homework is and how it should be completed everyone is completely aware that this goes on. Teachers are under no illusion that students complete their work in the last minute before the deadline or not at all.
I personally find it difficult to set a really meaningful piece of homework that either consolidates their learning or that prepares them for the next lesson. Also how long do I give students to complete their work? I know if I give them a week they will only look at it the night before and then complete it in the last minute, so why don’t I simply say your homework is due tomorrow? Why bother filling up the calendar with a wasted amount of time prior to the deadline. I could simply say complete this task before next lesson and then wait for the barrage of angry students and parents complaining about not having time to complete it.
I have been setting homework that requires students to plan in advance because that have to do some research as part of the task. This week’s was to find some angles in the home. Very few responses from a group of year 7’s. Everything is right angles in my home, there are no angles in my home! So I drew a rectangular house for one student and then one that looked like a cloud for the other. I think this links back to my post on imaginative students.
There is no simple answer to how much to set. Top performing kids will cherish the additional workload and the opportunity to show their ability to get things correct. Others are scared by the opportunity to be wrong again and these students will do anything to get away from it.
The problem with any research into homework and it’s effectiveness is completely flawed before it gets started. There is no way to prove outcomes from any one intervention in education. It is impossible to attribute the effectiveness of homework, technology or specific teacher intervention.
I think it is important to give homework that relates whatever you are doing with the subject you are working on. Give students something that buy in to the topic, get them doing some sort of research and then it will be a task worth doing.