The homework debate at Secondary Back to list

Does homework really help?

All too often, teachers give out homework in the hope that their students will spend just a little longer practising English each day. But should the work that teachers give to students to do at home just be a series of worksheets or exercises from the workbook or should homework be a much more engaging experience?

Interestingly, ‘setting homework’ is rarely touched upon in initial teacher training. It seems to me to merit at least an awareness course of the issues involved. Should we be setting homework? Which age-group benefits most? What type of homework? How much? How should the homework reflect your overall teaching methodology? How does the marking help your students to gain a better understanding of the language?

According to PISA results around the world, younger students who spend longer doing homework do not necessarily achieve better results in either Science or Maths. However, students who spend longer reading novels and stories did improve reading scores. While it seems that older students seem to benefit more from spending longer doing homework in Science and Maths, the results from different countries are mixed. According to Richard Walker, an educational psychologist from Sydney University, data from within countries also shows that the students who benefit most are in their final years of schooling (Reforming homework: Practices, Learning and Policies, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

The homework debate would seem to suggest that the quality of homework at Secondary is also key, as is the purpose of the task. It shouldn’t just be a repetition of what’s been done in class or a we-didn’t-get-time-to-do-in-class exercise. I believe homework can provide the opportunity for real engagement and learning in a different environment but needs very careful planning and overall integration in the course work.

While a good homework task for Primary might be to encourage them to read stories in English, ensuring the level of the reading is appropriate to the child, at Secondary the task might involve preparing for, applying and/or extending the language in a personalised way. You might like to get them writing a blog entry; revising a text following clear guidelines (not just red corrections on the page); reading; finding out information for a later task; analysing information already collected or creating a presentation. Some digital tasks also help learners to revise what has been done and learn from their mistakes.

The task to be done at home, therefore, has to personalise the learning and use the home environment to engage, if it is to be of any use at all. If it doesn’t engage, don’t bother.

What do you think about homework?

Looking forward to hearing your comments!

Maria Toth