Homework, or not … ?
Homework can be very broadly described as “any task assigned by schoolteachers intended for students to carry out during non-school hours” [Cooper 2007:4]. This includes both the completion of work not finished in class, and set work for children to complete after school.
A more complex definition which attempts to be universally encompassing, describes homework as “the time students spend outside the classroom in assigned activities to practice, reinforce or apply newly-acquired skills and knowledge and to learn necessary skills of independent study” [Butler, 1987]. This description also seeks to establish boundaries which exclude from consideration such things as : home study courses, guided in-school study and extra-curricular activities generally.
[HOMEWORK : What Are the Upsides and Downsides ?, 1, p.2]
The above definitions give a basic understanding of what homework is said to be. Even though people believe they understand what homework is, and its purpose, ‘homework is [still] a topic of media, academic, parental, and community interest. While it [still receives] some prominence, homework has long been a controversial issue and a source of tension’. [Homework in the 21st Century, 5, p.1]
Today, most education systems and institutions favour “homework”. The amount and frequency varies from school/system/institution to school/system/institution and even between levels within these. There are also limited instances of non-conformity with the concept, as individual schools and institutions choose not to have homework in the traditional sense.
With all homework, there are, in fact, Three Groups involved. The first are the teachers who prepare/set the homework [and check the returned work], secondly the parents who are being relied on to provide support and to encourage/ensure its completion and thirdly students who have to complete the work required.
After being in all three groups, one can say there are positives and negatives for all involved !
Having said that, there also appear to be another Three Groups when it comes to homework : those who are passionate about it, those who don’t see any point and those who simply go along with whatever system operates at a particular time. You will know into which group you fall.
In updating this page, reviewing research has been an important process. Rather than simply rely on feelings, we have looked at what data is actually available both from Australia and overseas, reviewed the findings reached and applied this to the role of homework.
In doing so we have tried to cover some historical information; what types of homework are used; the arguments for and against; who should have homework; parental involvement; where should homework be done; what responsibilities do the various groups have; what other options might be available; the role of tutoring; and supplied a bibliography. All are covered in the sections below.
The last provides not only the sources for the included quotes [the numbers relate to the numbers on the listing], but access to a wide range of documents should you wish to read them.
You may strongly agree or disagree with any, or all, of what is included.
However, when modifying or developing your personal position on homework, we hope it assists you to reach a position supported by research rather than simply basing it on what others may believe to be the case. Hopefully, it proves not only worthwhile and interesting but leads you to a clearer understanding of the whole homework dilemma.
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|Homework : Background & Types|
Types of Homework
As parents would be aware [teachers and students too], there are a variety of types of homework. A number of homework types, with basic examples, are included below. Some are more common at specific levels than others.
The Homework Literature review Qld [17, p.6] indicates ‘The type of homework set by schools varies. In the early years, activities are usually based on supporting literacy, numeracy and thinking skills. In the middle phase of learning, homework is more likely to focus on reading, revising, report writing, investigating and project work. Students in the senior years are likely to undertake a range of homework activities dependent on the course of study being completed’.
|What are the arguments For homework ?|
Many arguments are presented to justify homework.
Included are arguments directly related to education. There is also a range of arguments that go way beyond education to things associated with other areas of life. There are passionate advocates of these, just as you will see in the next section, there are many who just as passionately oppose them.
In addition to the listings, both here and in the next section, consideration must be given to the difference between learning and score improvement on tests; to grade levels involved when commentary is given; to equity between students in regard to resource availability and family support; to the impact of other family commitments; an ever-expanding curriculum; and more.
The arguments for homework are not given in any form of priority. Nor are they a total listing. They are simply provided as a starting point for discussion in this area, and you may well arrive at other reasons why homework is seen as necessary.
The NSW Government Schools Homework Policy [15, p.1] indicates that ‘homework is valuable because it :
The majority of these points are raised in one way or another in a variety of sources. These include [1, p.5], [2, p.1], [5, p.29, Section 6] and [14, p.2 of article]. Further statements are provided below.
|What are the arguments Against homework ?|
In the same manner there are listings of reasons For having homework, there are also listings Against having homework. Some of these are rebuttals, others look at a range of different areas, many of which may not at first appear to be educational but which are soon found to have a connection.
A selection of these are provided in this section. As with the arguments in favour, these are not allocated any priority ranking. Nor is the listing seen as finite. You may well find others either from personal experience or from further reading.
In addition to the listings, both here and in the previous section, consideration must be given to the difference between learning and score improvement on tests; to grade levels involved when commentary is given; to equity between students in regard to resource availability and family support; to the impact of other family commitments; an ever-expanding curriculum; and more.
Alfie Kohn [The Homework Myth, 24, pp.10-19;] provides examples for a number of points including the following :
Within each of the above there are a number of separate issues. A number of supporting statements related to these are included in the listings below while there are other factors as well.
Michael Carr-Gregg [Homework for the 21st Century, 5, pp.4-5] lists “interference with family life”, because of conflicts and the loss of important, limited family time; the equity factor where “children from poorer families” do not have access to the range of resources, both physical resources and as a result of other family responsibilities, as children from other families. He also includes other concerns including “limited pedagogical value” of homework at the primary level.
Kralovec and Buell [The End of Homework, 25, p.18] indicate ‘Another important factor can be a lack of parental training or facility with the assignment, or inadequate resources at home to complete a project satisfactorily. The home environment is fundamentally different from the classroom’. They then go on to say ‘The gap between parents’ knowledge and understanding and what is taught in school has led some researchers to conclude that homework doesn’t always strengthen relations between home and school’ [ibid, p.23]. This can include stress about completion, quality, methodology and more;
‘As a teaching strategy, homework can have major limitations. Since the work is done in the absence of a qualified teacher and there is no control over who actually completes the homework [Blazer, 2009; Hattie, 2009] cheating is likely to be commonplace [Blazer, 2009; Cooper, 1989; Forster, 2000]’ [Cited in Homework Policy, Research Scan, 4, p.5].
Stress linked to homework, on the part of parents, is real. Many feel the pressure placed on them to ensure that work is completed, on time, and to a high standard. Stress is also evident with many students. Among numerous studies that are now starting to appear, this is becoming more and more evident. This can be seen in a study done by Conner, Galloway & Pope, [9, pp.2-3] where they indicate ‘many of the [senior] students in this sample report feeling stressed-out, over-worked and sleep-deprived. They speak of the tolls of the pressure on their mental and physical well-being and on their ability to learn academic material’; and Galloway & Pope [13, p.5], where they indicate that the ‘study corroborates research suggesting that homework and schoolwork are significant causes of high school stress’.
“One Size Fits All” homework doesn’t suit or benefit all students.
‘The homework provided for students is not always age appropriate. One study revealed that in Australia there are few differences in homework practices across Years 2, 4 and 6’ [Cited in Homework Policy, Research Scan, 4, p.9].
The learning process is changing quite dramatically. Not only are we more aware of learning styles, individualisation, factors which restrict learning and more, but we are now being impacted by technology including the internet which, in many instances, we are only starting to come to grips with. This is going to continue, especially with the increasing technological changes now becoming evident. In the same way, the process of learning will change moving from a content base to more of a methodology base, i.e. how we will go about finding information of value rather than simply having a static database of information. Indeed, it has been said for some time that much of what we will learn has yet to be discovered. Old fashioned homework formats and processes will simply not be viable.
Research data relating to the link between homework and educational achievement across all school levels will be dealt with in the following section, relating to who should be doing homework.
|Who should have homework and how much should there be ?|
Even though research data would suggest there is some doubt about the usefulness of homework at many levels, most systems still have an overall homework policy which suggests its use, though allowing local schools to fine-tune the exact details of what is to be done. This can be seen through the School Policy & Advisory Guide : Homework [15, Homework Guidelines] and Homework : Information for Parents and Caregivers [16, p.1], for example.
Having said that, research is not in essence an overwhelming supporter of homework at all levels. ‘Most researchers conclude that for primary students, there is no evidence that homework lifts academic performance. There is only a small correlation between homework and achievement in middle school [Cooper, 1989; Walker, 2011]. Only in senior years does homework clearly raise academic performance’ [Homework Policy, Research Scan, 4, p.5]. ‘There is no consensus in the literature as to whether homework raises student achievement’ [ibid, p.8] and ‘A UK study of 20 000 pupils aged 11 years old concluded that there is no evidence that homework in primary schools leads to improved academic performance [Farrow, S., Tymms, P., & Henderson, B., 1999]’ [cited, ibid, p.8].
While there are caveats ranging from degree to what achievement actually means - most commonly designated as grades or results on standardised tests - to the effect of particular homework quantities and types, there appears to be general agreement that in the senior years there can be some advantages. A more extensive review of Cooper’s 1998 can be found here [Cooper, 10, pp.85-91]. Other reviews of Cooper findings can be found at [17, pp. 7-8] and [5, pp. 7-8]. Kohn [24, p. 33] takes a detailed look at aspects of this and finds only one of multiple areas shows significant positive benefits.
Cooper, himself, places caveats on his findings. ‘Homework has a positive effect on achievement, but the effect varies dramatically with grade level’, ‘The optimum amount of homework also varies with grade level. For elementary [primary] students, no amount of homework - large or small - affects achievement’, ‘I found no clear pattern indicating that homework is more effective in some subjects than others’ [Cooper, 10, p.88].
Other research, in most cases, mirrors these general findings. Further examples can be found in a number of bibliography documents but especially in those which synthesised much of the research [3, 4, 5, 6, 17, 24].
There is no single list of suggested times/amounts which is universally accepted. They range from none to a considerable amount, often way beyond what even research has indicated may be appropriate. Several examples of suggested times/amounts are provided below.
Is there a best amount of time for homework at different levels ? The answer is obviously no. However, some suggestions are certainly better than others. Having said that, you do need to take into account other factors as well : age of students, individual needs, type of homework [i.e. quality versus quantity, purpose], individual capacity to complete the work, available/suitable levels of parental assistance, and the list goes on.
Perhaps greater consideration needs to be given to suggestions discussed in the What are other options ? section further down the page. Some of these may provide a more appropriate alternative to the presently accepted concept of homework. They may assist in removing some of the negative aspects while allowing more equitable processes to occur.
|How much should parents be involved with their child’s homework ?|
‘The parent-child relationship … is fraught with enough difficulty without giving the parent a new role as a teacher’ [Kohn, 24, p.12] and this is not what parental involvement in the homework process is [or should be] designed to do. However, ‘Most parents help their children with their assigned homework … Researchers agree that parents should be somewhat, but not overly, involved in their children’s homework. For example, parents should monitor homework; offer guidance, not answers, when asked for help; provide a quiet well-lit place for their child to study; ensure that the required materials are available; and help with time and workload management’ [Bempechat, 2004; Cooper & Gersten, 2002; Cromwell, 1998; cited in Blazer, 6, p.10].
‘Homework does, however, lend itself to getting help from a parent. On many assignments, a child may end up learning more from receiving that help than by doing the task alone’ [Kohn, 24, p.60].
However, having said this ‘The effect of parent involvement in homework is unclear. Studies of parent involvement in homework have produced mixed results’. [Key Lessons : What Research Says About the Value of Homework, 19, p.2]. ‘Some studies have reported minimal positive effects or even negative effects for parental involvement. In addition, many parents report that they feel unprepared to help their children with homework and that their efforts to help frequently cause stress’ [Marzano & Pickering, 27, “Parent Involvement”].
Also, ‘parents can influence the homework environment by creating positive conditions for learning and encouraging children to complete homework tasks’ [Homework Literature Review, 17, p.16] and ‘parents may be able to help motivate their teen by encouraging them to identify the purpose or relevance of a homework assignment; and supporting them to prioritise homework assignments they perceive as useful and engaging, rather than “busywork”’ [14, p.1].
‘Helpful monitoring usually includes being accessible, being willing to help the student understand directions, being available to respond to simple questions, maintaining awareness of the child’s emotional state and work patterns, and offering positive feedback on engagement in homework’ [Parental Involvement in Homework, 28, “Providing General Oversight …”].
An overview of what is seen as a viable role for parents can be found in a number of places including Homework : Information for Parents and Caregivers [16, p.2] and School Policy & Advisory Guide : Homework [15, Homework Expectations, Helping Students]. This last listing includes the following :
There are also resources available from a number of systems [and schools] designed to assist you in such involvement. One example of these can be found at Helping your Children Learn [Department of Education, WA] and also Homework and Study, part of the Schoolatoz site from NSW or even Helping your Child to learn in Primary School on this Government of South Australia site.
Depending on the school/system in which your child is being educated, the general guides such as the Victorian one provided above may be taken over by more specific, even at times demanding, requirements. Examples of these can be seen in Homework [2, p.2, E.], and in the use of contracts in schools both in Australia and overseas [Kralovec & Buell, 25, p.24]. Such contracts often apply not only to students but also to parents. One example from the US can be seen via this Homework Contract link. [Note that it does include a range of other things as well as the obligation sections.]
There is one point that needs to be emphasised. Any homework that is set, is set for the student, not the parent, and unless the student does the work they cannot possibly benefit from it. Don’t do their homework for them - it can be truly embarrassing not to get a good result when you do, and it is usually pretty obvious who has done the work !
Remember - The parent’s role is to provide encouragement, support and advice [where appropriate] to facilitate the completion of any work. If there are difficulties - too much homework, lack of understanding, lack of time, stress, … you should not hesitate to contact the school and discuss the difficulty with the class teacher/grade supervisor/other appropriate school personnel. Do not let it continue and create ever increasing difficulties.
|Where should my child do homework ?|
Is there a best place for children to do homework ? In reviewing much of the literature there are really only passing references as to what is the best place. There are a number of comments such as ‘a quiet and well-lighted place to work’ [Stanton, 2, p.2]; ‘parents can influence the homework environment, through creating appropriate conditions and … ’ [Homework Literature Review, 17, p.4]; ‘provide a quiet, well-lit place for their children to study; ensure that the right materials [books, paper, and pencils] are available’ [Blazer, 6, p.10]; ‘providing, where possible, a dedicated place for homework and study’ [Homework (NSW), 16, p.3]; and ‘Parents … should be asked to create a home environment that facilitates student self-study’ [Cooper, 10, p.90].
When considering the best possible place for an individual, you need to accept that such conditions may not be available. Different families will have not only different priorities, but different physical circumstances in which it may be possible for their child[ren] to work. Such circumstances may range from lack of permanency, enough space, suitable space, noise-levels, disruptions, light, resource availability and more.
One can only suggest a better place for doing homework should include as many of the following as possible :
For those who have the option, there are some alternatives for a “homework place” in the child’s home, with the slowly increasing availability of homework centres [schools and libraries], homework websites, online tutors and more, some of which will be discussed at greater length in the section on homework alternatives. Some of these will require technology, while others will provide access to technology which may not otherwise be available to the child.
|What responsibilities are there for each group linked with homework ?|
From research and other documents there is reasonable material about the responsibilities or expectations of teachers and parents, but less so for students. Responsibility is more likely to be seen as something which they develop by doing homework, rather than being specified as something couched in terms of completion and return. In a number of cases there are responsibilities listed for all groups, in other instances, specific groups are nominated. Some documents also include schools and Principals as separate groups who have input and therefore levels of responsibility.
One of the few specific statements about student responsibilities is ‘students should take responsibility for their own learning in various ways such as being aware of the school homework policy; accepting responsibility for completing their homework in a timely way; following up on teachers’ feedback on their homework; and organising their time to balance home obligations, sporting, cultural and recreational activities and part-time employment’ [Homework for the 21st Century, 5, p.30]. Another mention can be found in [Homework, Stanton, 2, p.2] as part of responsibilities for different groups.
Others may talk about ‘responsibility’, ‘time management’ and more, while those opposed to homework are likely to indicate that students often find themselves in a position where they are told what to do, when and where to do it and when it has to be returned, with little option about developing any of the above. There are probably instances where both positions may apply, but certainly the first is more desirable than the second.
Parents are also allocated responsibilities. One section of these has already been included in the parental role section with the expectations as listed at School Policy & Advisory Guide : Homework [15, Homework Expectations, Helping Students]. There are also responsibilities listed in Homework, [Stanton, 2, p.2] along with those for other groups.
In addition to these, separate listings are provided with reference to leaflets for parents in a UK study and parental responsibility in the a US Helping Your Child with Homework document [Homework Literature Review, 17, p.15] and somewhat different statement that ‘the formal role of parents in homework be kept to a minimum. Parents differ in interest, knowledge, teaching skills and time available’ [Cooper, 10, p.90].
NSW suggests that ‘parents and caregivers can help by … ’ being involved in a number of ways [a form of responsibility/expectation] covering a number of those aspects listed in other sources [Homework NSW, 16, p.3].
Teachers, in fact have more suggested examples of responsibilities in the research than any other group. In addition there are also recommended responsibilities for schools and principals, Homework Policy Guide NSW, [p.6], a document linked with the previous document, and also as part of the recommended responsibilities listed at Homework, Stanton, [2, p.2], Should Children do Traditional Homework ? [29, Teacher presentation] and School Policy & Advisory Guide : Homework [15, Homework Expectations, Helping Students], where teachers can help through ‘setting varied, challenging and meaningful tasks related to class work to suit the students’ learning needs’. through to ‘developing strategies within the school to support parents and carers becoming active partners in homework’.
They are also listed as part of recommended responsibilities in [Cooper, 10, p.90] though this is in a more general fashion than in other responsibility listings.
The most interesting collection of responsibilities/expectations are quite lengthy and clearly explained and are found at Blazer [6, pp.13-16] These are listed as “recommendations” with the statement that ‘in order to increase both homework completion rates and the meaningfulness of assignments, researchers have recommended that teachers consider the following issues when assigning homework’ [6, p.13]. Among the 19 recommendations [not in any priority] are :
and of course involve parents in a variety of ways. Each of the recommendations is well worth reading not only for the research links but for the expanded commentary and the fact that the points go beyond impinging in other areas.
No set of responsibilities has been offered as the best or sole listing to use. There is no such listing for teachers, students or parents. However, there are enough linkages provided for any group to be able to devise an appropriate listing that could suit their particular situation.
|What are other options instead of doing “homework” ?|
‘“If homework is going to be such an important component of learning in [American] schools, it should be used in some way that’s more beneficial,” Maltese says. “More thought needs to be given to this, rather than just repeating problems already done in class”’ [Maltese et al, 26]. As one Australian academic says ‘ setting high-quality homework is difficult for teachers because the capabilities of every student in a class have to be taken into account. Teacher education courses, mostly, do not have the time to help develop these skills’ [Walker R, 29].
It is really looking at the alternatives to the most common form of homework [practice], as well as the traditional format of homework, that this section is designed for. This is not to say that there are no people already using some of the suggested methods, as well as others not listed. There are. The reality though is that they are not found in large numbers even though change is starting to occur.
Non-instructional homework as listed in What Research says about the Value of Homework : Research Review [CPE, 32, p.5] looks at several different types including peer interaction, personal development and enhancing student-parent communication among others; specific programs such Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork) [Van Voorhis, cited in 3, p.38]; ‘After-school programs that provide homework assistance may improve student behaviour, motivation, and work habits but not necessarily academic achievement’ [Key Lesson … , 19, p.2]; The effectiveness of homework relies on the quality of tasks [Walker, 2011; CEA & OISE, 2010, cited in 4, p.11]; ‘giving students homework options in place of traditional homework [Diersen, 2000]’ [cited in 17, p. 13]; ‘teachers providing for greater flexibility in homework to take account of the diversity of lifestyles, needs and interests of their students. An example would be to set a compulsory core of homework each week with a number of options from which students could choose. This would give students the opportunity to organise their time and to develop study skills’ [Homework in the 21st Century, 5, p.28]; and the list could go on.
As indicated earlier, we are starting to see alternatives to the give everyone the same homework, they take it home and do it there alone or perhaps with parental help, they bring it back process. We are starting to see the rise of study periods, homework centres in schools and libraries, tutoring and the use of technology. However, these are still early days for some alternatives. The bonus to obtain from some is the equity they can bring to all students. This can range across a spectrum from greater understanding, provision of assistance with work by qualified people to provision of resources including access to technology. The last can even bring access to tutoring that is freely available online, e.g. Khan Academy.
Blazer [6, pp.11-13], states ‘Researchers have suggested several strategies that may help to increase homework completion rates’. Among these are some of the following. These may be worth considering as options.
There are other methods for providing quality, individualised options but many of these rely on access to a variety of resources not currently available to all students. This may not always be possible. Particularly with access to technology, there appears to be ever increasing scope for the variety of both individual and group activities which can be used as “homework”. The days of only using pen, paper and textbooks should either be minimised or consigned to the past.
These could include the use of online tutoring systems, the use of webquests, the use of resources which operate with other styles of learning [e.g. visual] which are enhanced through these media. Social media will also allow for greater levels of cooperation between and among students, though safeguards in this area will need to be maintained. Creative people will continue to find and/or develop alternatives to replace the everyday processes which currently dominate.
|What about Tutoring ?|
Tutoring has seen an upsurge in recent times. This has included face-to-face tutoring in either specific subject areas, or simply general tutoring covering how to work better and targeting challenges as they arise. With the advent of the internet tutoring is now available to any who can afford it, irrespective of where they live. Again, this may be a specific subject area, a language, a particular skill.
While tutoring has occurred over a long period of time, one emphasis has developed with preparation for specific examinations, tests and particular assessments, though there is still much in the more traditional format.
If you are considering having your child tutored, there are a number of points you should consider before committing to this.