Homework – learning activities set by the teacher that students are expected to complete outside of normal class hours (such as on the weekend or after school).
Homework has always been a contentious issue. Some teachers argue that children should not be required to do homework at all and that it’s ineffective, while others believe that homework is an essential part of learning and that it helps to develop a range of academic and non-academic skills.i Most teachers are somewhere in between and believe that homework has its place when implemented in an age-appropriate way.
Like any lesson, teachers need to consider the homework lesson structure, the content, the resources required, motivation and learning strategies, feedback and questioning techniques, formative assessment and metacognitive skill development.
The primary purpose of homework is to increase the amount of time spent on learning. However, there are various other reasons why teachers set homework:
No discussion about homework is complete without a mention of flipped learning. Traditionally, teachers introduce new topics during class. Later that evening, students complete more advanced activities to practise what was introduced earlier in the day. As outlined earlier in this book, flipped learning reverses this pattern. Activities that don’t require teacher support are completed at home. Students can then spend valuable and limited class time learning and practising more complicated skills with the support of the teacher. This approach is gaining popularity due to the way in which it maximises the use of teacher expertise. As a concept, flipped learning makes logical sense – why waste class time reading through a chapter or book when students can easily do that on their own – more can then be squeezed into the lesson.
Another way to think of flipped learning is like this: list out every activity a student will complete for a given week in order of difficulty. The easiest activities can be used as homework (usually in preparation for the following day’s lesson). Obviously, some practical sense is required here – even if students learn the basics on their own, the teacher will still have to spend some time introducing the topic and modelling worked examples. However, the time it takes to do this is substantially reduced.
Homework is an important strategy for many teachers, and it becomes even more important as learners progress in age and ability. Homework can be thought of as a lesson like any other, albeit without the direct support and guidance of the teacher. Like any lesson, teachers need to consider the homework lesson structure, the content, the resources required, motivation and learning strategies, feedback and questioning techniques, formative assessment and metacognitive skill development. In addition, best practice approaches to homework should include:
Hint: experienced teachers (particularly when faced with unmotivated students) take a positive reinforcement approach to homework. When students don’t do homework – ignore them. When they do homework – reward them (even for partial completion). Begin by making it short, easy and simple. The easier and shorter the homework activity, the more likely students will complete it – once a routine and habit is established, more challenging and longer activities can be gradually introduced. Expect that students will relapse now and then and ‘forget’ to do homework – be forgiving and simply ignore these instances.
There is no consensus on how much is too much when it comes to homework.ii As a rule of thumb, with each passing year students are expected to do slightly more schoolwork at home. Young students do very little homework other than reading with their parents for 10-15 minutes and maybe practising some phonics or number sense. At this age, homework is not really homework. Middle-to-upper primary school students might complete half an hour of homework several times each week. Middle school students (years 7-10) may be required to complete an hour of homework several times each week. High school students in academic streams are regularly required to complete 60-90 minutes of homework 4-5 times per week, and even more around exam time. However, these suggested times don’t apply to every scenario and some teachers set no homework whatsoever.
As a rule of thumb, with each passing year students are expected to do slightly more schoolwork at home.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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