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Saturday Thunks

Homework: A La Carte or Fixed Menu? #SaturdayThunk

“Homework for infants should be done entirely at their parents’ discretion” wrote Justine Roberts the founder of Mumsnet in a TES article this week.  Primary schools are great at setting homework that engages parents or on occasion is actually done by the over eager or guilt ridden parent.  Hit secondary school and the mixed fayre continues between the profoundly challenging and the profound waste of time, for both pupils and teachers, homework.

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

The variation between homework set by teachers in the same school can be as vast as that between schools.  Yet at a secondary level the evidence would seem to suggest that the impact of homework is significant.

Homework, taken as an aggregated whole, shows an effect size of d= 0.29 that is between small and medium?  Oh.. but wait… here comes an important detail.  Turn the page:  The studies show that the effect size at Primary Age is d = 0.15 and for Secondary students it is d = 0.64! … On this basis, homework for secondary students has an ‘excellent’ effect.

Tom Sherrington (2012) Homework: What Does the Hattie Research Actually Say?

To what extent is homework solely about the acquisition of knowledge and to what extent is it about forming good habits?  Whilst clearly not an either/or the balance is important as the ubiquitous homework timetable demands the regular setting of homework on a Tuesday evening whether or not there is a valid and valuable task at that point in the learning pathway.

In a cross phase Trust it’s interesting to think at what age homework should be compulsory for pupils and what might actually constitute homework.  Having been brought up on Janet and John listening to my children read Biff, Chip and Kipper was a revelation.  Would it be unreasonable to expect parents to listen to the children read and read to them every night or most nights of the week?  The exposure to language, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, is such an important part of their early years in primary school.  Given my gut feeling about the potential impact on future learning I’m surprised the primary effect size for homework is so low.  It may be that reading didn’t count as homework or the differing capacity for parents to engage limited the impact; as ever the disadvantaged become more disadvantaged.

Some schools have started experimenting with different types of homework.  Following a visit to Michaela Free School earlier this year we have two trials running using online learning programmes, one in Maths from Years 5 to 8 with Mangahigh and one in some classes across Year 7 & 8 utilising Bedrock Learning.  Setting the homework is very easy, marking is done by the programme as is the analysis of the work and the pupils seem to be enjoying it.  We’ll be looking for impact on pupils, learning and progress, once the arrangements have been in place for a longer period of time but the impact on teachers in terms of reduced workload is already very positive but an interesting addition to the debate.

#TakeAwayHmk by @TeacherToolkit creates a menu of homework for pupils to choose from; it’s more a la carte than fixed menu.  We all like to have a bit of choice in life and so maybe it will help encourage some pupils to actually start developing homework habits who haven’t before.  Given the quality of some homework I’ve set and some I’ve seen maybe a well thought through list to choose from isn’t a bad idea at all.  Concerns about pupils needing to learn certain aspects of the curriculum could be addressed by simply having a compulsory element; I’m sure there will already be examples of this.  As with a number of things it might work better in some subjects and for some age groups than others.

Homework can be very time consuming for teachers in terms of setting it, marking it and inevitably chasing us a few of the more recalcitrant youngsters who fail to produce it.  Would a more a la carte approach to homework assist pupils’ in their learning or lead to an even greater variation in progress with yet more stress for teachers, parents and pupils?  If you weren’t setting, marking and chasing homework what could you be doing to enhance pupils’ learning?  As with many things in a teacher’s life; time is finite and you can’t spend it twice so what should you focus on and who should determine this?

#SaturdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week.  The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short.  It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger.  The intention is for it to be read in two minutes as you’re relaxing or busy running around on you day off.



4 thoughts on “Homework: A La Carte or Fixed Menu? #SaturdayThunk

  1. I think the online maths homework can be very beneficial for teachers. However, as I parent I’ve noticed that it’s very easy for teachers to set too much homework this way. Without the brake of their investment of time in marking, it sometimes for them to ask students to do too much.

    Posted by Carol | February 6, 2016, 7:08 am
  2. As a HoD in Science I find that setting quizzes on previous or current learning is an excellent way to attempt to transfer knowledge from working to long term memory. It shows me areas where students do not understand concepts that I have taught. Currently I am trailing this with all year groups that I teach. The positive is that once I have set these up, it can be used again for different year groups.
    I am going to see whether those groups that get this input achieve higher scores than groups that don’t on mock exams.

    Posted by Darren 58 | February 6, 2016, 10:00 am


  1. Pingback: Teacher's Nightmare: Parent's Facebook Rant Goes Viral — Geek Teacher - February 7, 2016

  2. Pingback: Takeaway Homework… – Learning & Teaching Magpie - March 9, 2016

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