Homework: Setting the right amount and type of activity
Every school has a homework policy- this many hours per week per kid- and there are lovely
detentions if they don’t get it done.
Of course all homework is speedily marked right?
And of course- the evidence is clear that homework leads to improvements in
The actual message from the evidence on homework is messy- and that’s why
you can navigate to this page from both the ‘Myths’ and the ‘Solutions’ links on
the top navigation bar.
The effect size of d=0.29 reported by Hattie (2009) gives Jimmy Smith from set 7B3 excellent
evidence to justify why he never does it, “there’s no point miss, and besides my dog ate it”.
Cooper (1989) provides us with an important moderator: the age of the learner.
The effect size for primary school kids is d=0.15, for kids at KS3 it’s around d=0.31 and for year
11s and older it’s d=0.64.
Hattie (2009) adds that the effects are greater for higher ability than for lower ability students- and
suggests that lower ability students may merely learn from attempting homework that they just
‘can’t do school work’ (see Dweck’s work for more on strategies for valuing effort).
Marzano and Pickering (2007) make it clear that homework should be ‘do-able’. They state that,
“...students should be able to complete homework assignments independently with relatively high
How many hours?
To get homework tasks completed with relatively high success rates, the task itself cannot require
too much time. Cooper, Robinson and Patall (2006) state that when students spend longer that two
and a half hours per night on homework the ‘positive relationship with achievement diminishes’.
They suggest that one and a half to two and a half hours per night is the optimum for 15-18 year
old learners. In my experience that’s an optimum that isn’t regularly met in practice!
Unsurprising, it appears to be the amount of homework completed per night rather than the amount
set that is key:
Cooper (2001) makes it clear that homework should not be used to teach new material. It can be
used to introduce ideas or set the context for new learning, but needs to be followed up with
teacher-mediated exploration of the learner’s understanding.
Marzano, Pickering and Pollock (2001) provide some compelling findings from Walberg (1999) that
demonstrate how essential it is that, if homework is completed by students, then it is explored in
some way in class, and feedback provided:
Think about the common practice towards homework in your school or college:
How much homework that a learner produces is actually acknowledged in more than a ‘tick and
How much homework is set that is never thoroughly assessed- by teacher, peer or self?
How much homework that a learner produces is followed up by feedback that truly makes the time
invested in doing the homework result in refined development of understanding?
Marzano and Pickering (2007), in response to criticisms of their meta-analysis, make it clear that,
“homework should not be assigned simply as a matter of routine”.
Nancy Protheroe (2009) quotes some students’ views on what helpful teacher-practice looks like
with regard to homework:
There are lots of strategies with large effect sizes that should be used to enhance the value of
homework on achievement:
Make it engaging and motivating d=0.48
Give it a realistic but challenging goal: d=0.56
Be clear about success criteria: d=0.97
Include active learning approaches: d=0.81
Plan for feedback: d=0.73
Teacher’s quite rightly resent being given meaningless, seeming bureaucratic tasks that they can’t
fit into their working day but must do in the evenings and weekends. If the instructions from ‘on
high’ are not sufficient for them to know how to go about doing them adequately, then it’s even
Our learners are the same- homework needs to be seen as being valuable, should be engaging,
should make sense and be referred to and used afterwards.
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So... examine the evidence
So... adopt evidence-based methods
So... enhance learning