A Network Connecting School Leaders From Around The Globe
"Children work all day, go home and do more," says Sue Thomson. Photo: Craig Abraham
Schools are under pressure from parents and academics advocating more, less or something different.
The radio presenter Alan Jones doesn't believe in homework because children should have time to play outside and learn skills that only time after school with your family can teach. Normally, I would agree. But do children today have these types of experiences after school?
Families are so busy working that when children come home, they often sit in front of the TV for hours or play computer games. Children spend hours every day networking on Facebook. Exhausted parents do not realise just how dangerous these modern technological tools can be.
Technology can open a world of excitement to children. Yet it can also glorify gangster lifestyles through MTV, and encourage the use of bad language and ''text speak'' in social networking.
An hour of homework a night distracts children from such activities and enables them to practise what they were taught at school. Excellent learning requires constant revisiting, and homework is the perfect tool to reinforce facts and skills. Teachers often find that children forget what they learnt the day before. At high school, you may not see your history or geography teacher for a few days until the next lesson. Without any homework in between to bridge the gap, often teachers take two steps forward, then one step back in the following lesson.
It is the school's responsibility to inform parents that homework has been set - easily done through a diary system. The school should also ensure the homework set is of quality and not some assignment that can essentially be downloaded from the internet. Equally, it is the parents' responsibility to ensure homework gets done.
No one said raising children was easy. I am a teacher from Britain, and I believe similar cultural trends exist all over the Western world: if something is hard, better to give it up rather than work harder to achieve it. Do teachers want to mark homework? No. Do parents want to make children do homework? No. And if children themselves don't want to do it, the conclusion seems simple. But we have a responsibility to give children the best opportunities to learn, and homework is a crucial part of learning.
Katharine Birbalsingh is a teacher and the author of To Miss With Love (Penguin).
Homework, traditionally defined as tasks teachers give students to complete at home, is a complicated area of educational research. It involves highly complex interactions between factors such as parental involvement, student capabilities, teacher attitudes and practices, classroom environments, and school cultures and policies.
However, some things can be said about homework with a reasonable degree of research support.
First, homework varies according to the subject, so what can be said about homework in one field, such as maths, is not relevant in other curriculum areas, such as humanities.
Second, homework has a clear value in improving academic achievement only in the senior years of high school. It has not been shown to improve the achievement of children in the early years of primary school. It has negligible benefits in the higher grades of primary school and very limited benefits in junior high school. At the senior high school level, homework benefits the achievement of about 45 per cent of students.
Third, homework helps develop independent and self-directed learning. This has only been shown to occur when students receive scaffolded support from their parents in primary or junior high school. Many parents are not able to provide this support.
Fourth, homework outcomes depend on the quality of tasks. High-quality homework tasks are well prepared, interesting and challenging, but not overtaxing. Low-quality homework is repetitive, boring and too easy or difficult for students. High-quality tasks motivate students, encourage them to invest effort in their homework, and lead to improved outcomes. Low-quality homework has adverse effects on motivation, effort and on achievement outcomes.
Fifth, 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.
Sixth, students report more negative emotions when working on homework than when working on class work. To enhance homework motivation, students need to be given some autonomy and choice in relation to their tasks. This does not commonly occur in schools.
So the answer to the main question is both yes and no. Traditional homework does have benefits but there is scope for reform.
Richard Walker is associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney and is writing a book on reforming homework.
I took the job of writing this article home one night this week, but after a long day at work I really didn't feel like doing it. So here I am first thing in the morning doing it before I start work again.
I have three perspectives on homework. When I was a maths teacher, the school policy was that we should set homework at least twice a week. Why? "It's good for kids to learn time management and discipline." I wondered about that at the time, and after a few years of teaching knew that assigning traditional homework did no such thing. Children who understood what was going on in class whipped through their homework and probably got a bit of benefit in terms of reinforcement. Those who didn't understand just didn't do it, or struggled for hours longer than they should have.
As a researcher, the data from international assessments such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tell me the relationship between homework and achievement is not straightforward. There is a positive correlation between the two up to about 1½ hours of homework in year 8, but then the relationship is in the opposite direction.
Probably that is because it is the students who have problems in class who spend too much time on their homework. Why is it that we expect children who struggle in class to be able to finish the exercise they were lagging behind in at home with no support? By year 8, it is unlikely that many parents will be able to help, layering frustration on top of feelings of underachievement and making children hate learning.
Meta-analysis of research by John Hattie in New Zealand and Harris Cooper in the US has cast doubt on the benefits of homework, but still it is the norm that children work all day at school, then go home and do a couple more hours.
As a parent, homework became the bane of my life. It was usually boring and repetitive, but at times enormously demanding (such as the task of building a volcano). My children were lucky that they had parents with the time and resources to be able to help them - what about those whose parents or parent work a couple of jobs, or have poor language skills?
I wanted to talk to my children about their day, read with them, cook dinner with them. That is what homework should be.
Sue Thomson is the director of educational monitoring and research at the Australian Council for Educational Research.
I have been given some homework by the Herald - I have to write an essay about homework. And I don't like it. I've been given less than 24 hours to complete the task. I've been given a tight limit of just 400 words.
And my work is going to the toughest of markers: the public, including students, teachers and parents.
Homework creates tension. There is the tension of requirement: the student may get a detention if he or she fails to complete the homework. There is the tension of assessment: the student's future pathways are being determined by the quality of the work completed at home. There is the tension of alternatives: the student may prefer kicking a ball or visiting friends. There is the tension of exerting effort: it's much easier to do anything else than work, like sleeping or watching television.
Is the tension worth it? Dr Etta Kralovec, co-author of The End of Homework, says ''homework simply doesn't make sense in this brave new constructivist world of teaching and learning''. But common wisdom tells us that many hours of extra effort are required for a swimmer to win gold at the Olympics. A couple of hours with a coach each week is just not enough. Practice makes perfect.
Many additional hours of revision and familiarisation are required to become immersed in the discipline before a maestro performance. Every subject taught at school also requires directed practice and recapitulation to reinforce and improve skills and understanding.
The discipline of doing what is required has value. But beyond that discipline there is also the spark of interest that feeds excellence. Many of the students at my school have become enthused by original scientific research or music composition or football or poetry - and spent many more creative hours than could be demanded towards outcomes that attract the attention of experts and the media.
Finally, we live in a competitive world. It would be of great benefit to my students if all the other schools decided homework was not necessary. Then my students could trump them all. But I am sure most schools will continue to direct study both at school and at home to coach their students towards a goal beyond competence towards excellence. And surely this is what we all desire for our common future good.
Jonathan Cannon is the principal of Redeemer Baptist School, North Parramatta.