Homework needs some homework.
That’s the conclusion of two researchers who have just published a book for teachers, parents, policy makers and even students entitled Reforming Homework: Practices, Learning and Policies.
Professor Mike Horsley of Central Queensland University and Professor Richard Walker of the University of Sydney conclude that how much homework a student does has little bearing on their academic performance and educational outcomes.
But, in what might be disappointing news for some students, they do not advocate the abolition of homework but recommend that the concept of homework needs reform.
“We believe there should be a homework curriculum, just as there is a curriculum,” Mike Horsley told me.
“We are saying to teachers to ask themselves ‘what is the nature and purpose of the homework?’.
“Homework that is merely reviewing what’s been taught in the classroom has very little benefit,” Professor Horsley said.
“Students need to build skills outside the classroom that develop autonomy, the capacity to plan and manage time, independent research and independent thinking. That means homework should be challenging, but not too challenging, and not just going over what they learned that day or earlier in the week.”
The book also looks at extensive research on the value of homework, how it has evolved, and the relationship between homework and motivation and homework and academic achievement particularly in the United States and Germany.
Professor Horsley said many teachers are not supportive of homework and provided valuable input to the study.
“Teachers intuitively understand that homework does not necessarily help. The key is less homework but of higher quality.”
The professors also do not prescribe how much homework there should be.
“We’ve looked at all the research and there is no reliable evidence on how much time should be allocated to homework,” said Richard Walker.
Schools should develop a ‘homework policy’ with the school community involving teachers, parents and students that balances what is taught in the classroom, activities outside the classroom and homework.
The book also gives some critical advice to parents.
“If you wish to encourage learning, the most effective thing you can do is involve yourself in their school life,” Professor Horsley said.
“This is much more important than helping them with homework as it creates the conditions and expectations that learning is important and school is important. This is a significant factor in how your child does at school.”
That involvement can come from assisting in the canteen, being on the school committee, helping to organise a sports day or a variety of other activities.
“But our message to parents is - homework isn’t the way to be involved,” says Professor Walker.
“That last minute rush to help with an assignment, which most parents do, is not beneficial. If your child is late, they are late: let them deal with the consequences, but don’t get in there, become too controlling and tell them how they should do it or what they should do.”