Homework is valuable for learning!
- can be any task that a teacher may set to be done at home
- should foster independent practice
- should be relevant to classwork
- should be age and learner appropriate
- develops time-management skills
There is no set amount of time that a student should invest in doing homework. However, a good rule of thumb is 10 minutes/day for each year level. For example for a student in Year 7 the thumb rule suggests that 7 x 10 = 70 minutes each day is appropriate, although that may vary depending on assessment coming due etc. At Warwick Christian College, the expectation is that homework will follow that thumb rule, and that students will complete it at home. In the early years, homework is checked regularly and feedback is given. As students progress and homework time increases and the complexity of tasks increase to the point that it is not possible that the homework is checked and feedback given; instead we progressively encourage students to monitor their own learning and set appropriate times and tasks to reinforce the learning from the day, week, month, term and year.
- Time on task is vital. There is no substitute. It should be clarified: mental time on task is key. Merely having a textbook open while you do something else such as, watch tv while doing spelling practice, is of no value. Imagine listening to your favourite band, all the while “practicing” a difficult, albeit different piece on the violin. It stands to reason, that divided attention means that little learning will occur. Find the time when the student is able to focus best and encourage a student to concentrate on the task at hand and not divert their attention. The quantity of time is also important.
Notice here, that the total amount of time the best violinists invest is indistinguishable from the amount good violinists invest – at the start. A good violinist at age 12, to become a best violinist, will need an extra 1000 hours of practice to catch up. By age 18, the good violinist has 2000 hours extra practice to catch up. Of course, we aren’t encouraging students to spend countless hours practicing basic concepts; it is to simply make the point that increasing skills, understanding and fluency, requires time, and there is no substitute.
If your child is struggling, please talk to the teacher to get tips to help your child succeed. It will require an investment from you, but what it means to the student is invaluable.
- Quality is important.There are all manner of ways that people (parents, students and teachers) dress-up homework to make it more “fun”. However, in the attempt to make it less onerous, the difficult and challenging components are omitted or attract a much lower priority. While we don’t aim to make homework an arduous experience, some concepts just require hard work, much practice and even more patience with a lot of encouragement from home.
- It should be related to classwork.The more neural connections, the more likely that learning develops. Parents are encouraged to keep up with what is happening in the classroom to ensure that the meaning is developed sufficiently in the student’s mind.
- Memory is as thinking does. Cognitive science has shown that what ends up in a learner’s memory is not simply the material presented—it is the product of what the learner thought about when he or she encountered the material . For example, if I teach about Pearl Harbor, some sailing enthusiasts may starting thinking about the ships of the era and pay minimal attention to the rest of the lesson—just a few minutes after the bell rings they won’t remember much about the causes and consequences of Pearl Harbor. Memory is as thinking does. The one factor that trumps most others in determining what is remembered: what you think about when you encounter the material. What are you thinking about when doing classwork or homework?
- Homework allows for spaced practice. One of the foundational aspects of homework is a concept of “spaced” or “distributed” practice. A very large body of evidence has shown that when students “go back” and practice, revisit, refresh and check learning, the more they do this, the greater and deeper the learning. In fact, this is so well established, that for basic memorisation skills such as multiplication tables, spacing the practice can significantly reduce the amount of time required to learn by more than 50%. For more complex learning, spacing still provides significantly longer retention and understanding for the same amount of time invested. When doing homework or study, make sure you go over last week’s homework, last month’s and last term’s homework. It doesn’t feel as though much improvement is being made each time, but it makes you immune to forgetting.
- The greatest learning occurs when the answer is wrong and you go back, reflect and correct. The effort involved in this task deepens neural pathways faster and more permanently than anything else. The learning does not occur when there is reflection and no correction. An simple example to illustrate: a mistake in practicing spelling requires a student first to recognise a mistake has been made, and find out why the mistake has been made. This requires an analysis of their own thinking and identifying the correct rule that should have been applied. But, merely crossing out the offending letter(s) does not equate to a correction. To overcome the mind’s prior error, the entire word needs to be rewritten. How often? Research suggests that approximately 28 times it needs to be written correctly to overcome the prior incorrect imprint. While this can be time consuming, spacing out this rewriting (see point above), will make the student immune to forgetting.
Homework is balanced by the need for families to be together and should include:
- Some time to relax and play and be creative at home and outside each day
- To be read to by a parent each day for fun and relaxation and to enjoy some parent-child time
- To read a book from school each day or second day
- To eat together as a family as often as possible without the TV on, so children are practicing speaking, listening and sharing together.
- To provide lots of things at home to write, draw, create and construct with.
I heard that homework has no academic value!
It is true that there are reports that suggest this and the media loves to repeat controversy. What is important to remember is that media does short snippets and does not take time to explore the nuances of the studies that purport that homework has no value.
In 2012 a study was reported on the ABC that homework had no value. But reading further, you will note statements such as:
[Associate Professor Walker, of the University of Sydney] says another point that emerged from the research was the effect of the involvement of parents in homework.
“Where parents are over-controlling or interfering in their student’s homework activities, then that’s been shown pretty clearly to not be beneficial,” he said.
“But where parents support their children’s [sic] autonomy and essentially try to provide guidance and assistance rather than being interfering and controlling, that’s beneficial for students.”
The NSW Department of Education specifically supports homework and parent involvement,
“Homework bridges the gap between learning at school and learning at home. It reinforces work done in class. It helps develop skills such as research and time management. Homework helps to establish the habits of study, concentration and self-discipline. Parents/caregivers have the opportunity to see the progress of their child. Homework provides challenges and stimulus to gifted and talented children.”
An OEDC report that is frequently relied on to support that homework has no impact says that “once the soci-economic advantage was taken into consideration, the extra homework that private school students do compared to their public school counterparts, they were no better off.” That statement is like saying, once you take into account the soci-economic status into consideration, rich people don’t buy more expensive cars than poor people. It is the fact that good students aren’t born, they are cultivated through life. Parents who value learning generally promote learning to their children as a valuable pursuit and investment of time. Low socio-economic students typically have lower attendance than high soci-economic students. If you “control” out attendance as a factor in learning, it is obvious to see that high socio-economic students have a reduced advantage.
Paying too much attention to academics can lead to some very wrong conclusions. In May 2015, it was suggested on Radio National, and then reported in many newspapers that parents should be mindful of the advantage that a loving home or that reading bedtime stories to their children gives them over their peers. The implication was strongly that this was unfair and parents should think carefully about the disadvantage that it conveys to others. This shows that practice and involvement from parents leads to significant advantages in setting students up to be life-long learners. ( http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/philosopherszone/new-family-values/6437058 & http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/philosopherszone/family-values/6424366)
The end result is that it cannot be denied that additional, reasonable homework and study practices foster the skills, and character traits that develop upstanding, contributing members of our community.