An End To Homework!

Homework

This week I worked with some terrific students at the Oasis Academy in Enfield. We were working with them on the Learning Futures Engagement Diagnostic, which we’ll be making available to schools  next year. The purpose of the process is to gauge the level of student (and school) engagement. The school’s head teacher, Paul Hammond, was clearly pleased to hear that his students were highly engaged and clearly motivated about their learning, and there’s a great relationship evident between teachers and students.

However, one, somewhat surprising, response was their attitude to homework – these students didn’t seem to mind getting it. Any parent (or teacher) reading this, will know that, generally, students loathe getting homework, and fail to see the point of it .

And, frankly, I don’t either.

I became convinced of, not just the detrimental nature of homework, but its lack of effectiveness, when I read Alfie Kohn’s ‘The Homework Myth: Why Our Children Get Too Much Of A Bad Thing‘. I can really recommend this forensic dissection of all the sacred cows surrounding homework: that it improves student outcomes; that it inculcates ‘study skills’; even that it develops time management and self-discipline skills.

Homework has a monolithic quality about it – it seems like it’s always been with us, and always will be. Except that repeated studies, going back as far as 1897, show that there’s precious little evidence that it does any good. In 1901 the California State Legislature passed a law, banning homework for under-15s. But by the time of the early 60s, we saw successive nations, afraid that their prosperity was at risk from their competitors, crank up the amount of homework given to their kids, in the deluded belief that it would improve test scores. To be clear: there is no clear causal proof that links homework to improved student outcomes at secondary level, and absolutely no evidence that it ‘works’ at primary level. So, why do we persist with it?

Most of the ‘explanations’ were laid bare a few days ago, on a radio discussion between Alfie and Professor Janine Bempechat. It really wasn’t a fair fight – you knew that when Prof. Bempechat, who’d earlier acknowledged that there is no clear evidence showing improved performance through homework, argued instead that it was useful for kids to learn how to ‘endure boredom’, that the jig was well and truly up (you can hear the whole discussion here). It forcibly brought to mind something James Surowiecki said in The Wisdom of Crowds: “It’s easier for individuals to create explanations to justify the way things are than to imagine how they might be different”

While no-one seems to be able to provide a really compelling reason for  continuing with it, it’s still a brave school leader who’ll abandon homework, so much have we invested in this myth. In an era where we’re all urged to implement ‘evidence based policy’ in education, we need to take a hard look at the evidence, and stop putting our kids through this cruel, pointless, nightly ordeal. Set aside the lack of evidence of improved outcomes for a minute – why do we put family harmony under such strain by fuelling endless rows between parent and child, when kids could be using the time to read, relax, play music or sports, or just be a kid?

And here’s one final thought: if a parent comes back from a hard day’s work, and is praised for refusing to bring work home, because time with the family is sacrosanct, how is it acceptable to ask a child to work 6 hours at school, and then forsake time with the family, to do another 2-3 hours at home?

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23 Responses to An End To Homework!

  1. mcarrib7 says:

    The Homework dispute seems to be an ongoing battle these days and I’m still on the fence on the issue. I have limited the amount of homework I give to my regular classes but I don’t see how I would get through the honors curriculum without it. So honestly before asking teachers and schools to get rid of homework perhaps curriculum needs to be offered that is already design to exclude the need for homework.

  2. David Price says:

    No doubt that we pack the curriculum so much that we have breadth, but not depth. But we could get smarter about content coverage (Google for example Learning Futures’ ‘Spaced Learning’ tool) and the typical pedagogical methods (transmissive teaching and worksheets) often mean we have to re-cover old ground.The ‘flipped’ classroom offers a take on homework that woud ease a lot of stress for students. And learning that is so compelling that students CHOOSE to do extra work (because it doesn’t feel like work) is also a possibility – see Ron berger’s ‘Ethic of Excellence’ as a shining example.

  3. Jaclyn says:

    The issue is, it is such a personal opinion that in a larger school setting, offering this viewpoint could create a hurricane! Those able and willing to deal with the aftermath could create a beautiful scene, but otherwise, could be challenging…..I for one would love to create a school-wide investigation into homework. Hoping I have the courage.

  4. joebower says:

    I asked Alfie Kohn to respond to Bempechat’s concluding words on that radio program and here it is: http://www.joebower.org/2011/10/homeworks-misinformation-campaign.htmlThanks for this post.Joe

  5. David Price says:

    Joe: Thanks for this. Alfie’s never going to get a job as a UN Peacekeeper, but he does his research, and speaks powerfully on a host of ‘sacred cows’ which constipate any real change in schooling.Thanks for dropping by and sharing this follow-up.

  6. unpopular says:

    I’ve not set homework on the GCSE course I teach for nigh on a decade. I have really relaxed, positive learning relationships with all the students. Exam results are always above 90% A*-C year in, year out. Individual student residuals are always amongst the highest in the school.Setting homework puts in place a system guaranteed to cause confrontation. Don’t set up a fight you can’t win.

  7. David Price says:

    (Un)popular – you’re clearly NOT unpopular with your students, and offer confirmation of the, at best, unproven effect of setting homework. Kudos to you for resisting the overwhelming pattern of piling work on to kids.Anyone else out there not setting homework? If so, how do your results compare?

  8. Eugene Spiers says:

    I have just started a new job as an AH and one of my roles is to look at HW across the school. I have started with a survey of staff, students and parents and have some time to introduce some of the latest research on not doing HW and also some best practice from around the world.I will certainly be sharing some of what I have read here – particularly from David and (Un)popular.Any ideas or thoughts for my prject would be appreciated.

  9. David Price says:

    Eugene:Can heartily recommend Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth for a good presentation of much of the research (albeit from one-side of the fence)!

  10. _imaginaryme says:

    We are a three form entry junior school, so 7-11 years of age. I recently (last year) led a review of our Homework Policy. In particular, this was to address inconsistencies that had emerged over time across the school (and even within year groups) in the amount and type of homework that was set. Much of this was down to an influx of new staff, particularly younger staff whose attitude to homework was slightly different.I must say first of all that all staff felt that home work should still be set, but there was opinions on the type and amount varied greatly from the more ‘old school’ reading/tables/spellings to more creative approaches to promoting learning away from the classroom. The decisions that we made tried to marry these two poles and were, I must admit, influenced to a degree by the weight of expectation from most of our parents in terms of homework. Whilst there are some aspects of the policy that I am still not 100% happy with in this respect (e.g. weekly spellings, recommended timings etc) I think that two things that we did have had a positive impact.The first was a simple semantic change, but attitudinally it has made a difference. We no longer have a home work policy, we have a Home Learning Policy. Some staff persist in referring to it as homework, but putting the emphasis on learning has changed the mind set of many pupils.This alone would not have been sufficient thought. Yet alongside the second change, the impact has been considerable. The second change was a move towards Learning Logs. Rather than having subject specific home learning, the pupils now tend to be given broader contexts for learning linked to aspects of school-based learning. The key is that they are given the freedom to present their learning in any way they choose – so some produce artwork, others write, some take photographs or produce collages, or Ppt presentations. The children are now taking the home learning on with enthusiasm and are keen to show what they have learnt in a personalised way.I’m not trying to argue that home work is right, but I would say that the home learning/Learning Log shift has had a positive impact on our pupils and has promoted independence. It is not a cure-all, but for the vats majority of our pupils it is no longer the chore that it once was.Below is a link to our ‘We Are Proud’ blog. It has only been up and running a few days, but there are a couple of examples of Home Learning on there if anybody wants to look (and maybe comment):http://dwjsweareproud.edublogs.org

  11. David Price says:

    This is a really great response – thank you. It seems that what you’ve got your kids to do, is exactly what good learning should look like, giving a sense of agency.I’d still query two things: 1. Why not make it voluntary? If it’s compelling learning,(and they can see the point) they’d want to do it anyway; 2. I can see how staff would still think homework should be set, but based upon what evidence? I suspect most schools can’t bring themselves to ditch HW because ‘it’s what we’ve always done’.And I know many parents support the idea of HW, but they also support the idea of league tables, too, yet most teachers would like to get rid of them too! Part of the responsibility of the profession, in it’s quest to be valued, is to take decisions in the best interest of students first, based upon evidence of what works. And if there’s no evidence, we should question why we’re taking any particular action.But great to see an enlightened, engaging approach, to a source of such distress and conflict!

  12. _imaginaryme says:

    I completely agree with the notion that many teachers set home work ‘out of habit’ because ‘it must be good for the children’ and that idea must be challenged. However, I believe (in terms of my school context) that we have tried to challenge that, or at least challenge people’s thinking in that respect. We need to continue to do so.With regard to voluntary home learning, I am still hesitant. The reason is this: I know of pupils who, if initially given the option, would not have completed the home learning. However, now that they have done it ‘because they were expected to’, they are really positive about it and take it on willingly. They enjoy the independence that they have gained and they have grown as learners. This would not have happened if it had been voluntary as they would not have chosen to do it, probably because prior experience of homework had led to negativity; the home learning approach has countered this and fostered a more positive approach.

  13. Steve Smith says:

    As Twitter is no place for a reasoned response, let me say that there is some research in favour of homeowrk. A quick google will confirm this. I teach four periods of French a week to my students and set two sessions of homework during which students do mainly written work which I prefer to avoid in class. Students dutifully complete work to a very good standard. This alows me to spend more time on oral and aural practice which must inevitably lead to better outcomes.Maybe in some schools homework is less productive, but in our context it is highly valued.Practice makes perfect. The more you practise the better you get. This is why I cite common sense as a reason for setting homework.Of course the homework has to be appropriate and competent teachers make sure it is.RegardsSteve

  14. David Price says:

    Steve,Thanks for commenting – the comments here certainly seem to reflect the general division of views on this subject. Re evidence: I’d love to see the specific reference you got from Google. My research suggests that there’s no evidence in primary, and some evidence that it might be useful in Maths and science at secondary, but no real evidence for other subjects improvement. I found your comment that you ‘prefer to avoid’ written work in class fascinating because this is what gives homework a bad name tbh. If students get no enjoyment out of the kind of stuff avoided in lessons, then the likelihood is that they are likely to think of learning as a chore. How many kids have, as a result of years of dreary homework had their love of learning killed?As for the ‘common sense’ argument – well that’s how ideology works. We’ve set homework for so many years that we’ve had to convince ourselves that it is ‘good’ for students. And I don’t believe practice makes perfect I’m afraid – especially if it’s encouraging students to seek quick answers, jump through hoops, or get their parents to do it for them. I play golf, and practising badly often develops really bad habits that take years to get out of my swing. But practising because I love to work out the cause and effect of changes to a golf swing – well that’s following an enquiry and following my passion. If students can’t see the point in what they’re doing the chances are they won’t do well. After all, if practice really did make perfect, why do so many students fail re-sits?

  15. Gareth Surgey says:

    A very thought provoking piece with some very interesting responses.To claim that homework (h/w) is either useful or useless is rather missing the point: it all depends on context. If Steve Smith’s situation works then who is to say otherwise.It would also be useful to define what we mean by h/w; complete ex1, read Y, view video Z or even ‘study for tomorrow’s test’ can all be described as h/w – if the student/pupil is doing it at HOME. The h/w debate takes on another dimension when viewed form the ‘Flipping Classroom’ paradigm.For years I gave out prescribed h/w at set times because my PT said so. Now I’m slowly introducing to my seniors the notion of doing the exercises in class, taking notes and going over the lessons at home and ‘fixing’ problems next time I see them.So when it comes to issuing (or not) h/w we must be afforded the courtesy of professional judgement. Just a thought!

  16. alexcj says:

    About four months ago I was asked to help a school who wanted online resources to help parents be a better support to their children doing homework. With a colleague we undertook a short survey of research on homework to try to ensure that what we proposed was well founded. We used academic libraries online – as I have access to the OU online search facility and my colleague Sheffield Hallam University. The overwhelming result was that homework is not an evidence based policy. As you argue here we found no evidence of a benefit during primary school and only limited evidence of benefits later.Having worked in and with schools for more than 20 years I know that there has always been a very strong pressure to set homework. Parents ask about it and school leaders who discount it take grave risks with student recruitment. I wonder why the homework myth is so powerful. We live in a culture where longer hours of work are correlated with greater achievement and better outcomes. The Telegraph reported that ‘Free School Norwich, a primary school based in former offices of the Aviva insurance group, will be open 51 weeks a year from 8.15am to 5.45pm six days a week.’ as if this was admirable. And so the overwork of parents is facilitated by the overwork of children.

  17. David Price says:

    Gareth: I hope I didn’t give the impression that students should NEVER be asked to do work at home. We’ve all had times, working on projects and a deadline is looming, where we just have to put in some extra hours. But our respective partners soon (and rightly) complain if it becomes a nightly ritual. We’re urged to get our work/life balances in order. The same parents who might complain in these situations seem to be the ones asking why their child isn’t getting enough work to bring home.Alex: you put the case very objectively and powerfully. I. Was told by a senior leader that OFSTED (the UK schools inspections agency) is now looking to se each school’s homework strategy, which sort of rules out the option of a school having the choice to set homework or not! And your comments about Free Schools are spot on. Although, in general I support the idea of alternative models of schooling, if they simply become the domain of ‘pushy parents’ , then that’s a depressing thought. Just because we’ve always had homework doesn’t make it either immutable or in the best interests of children. I agree that professional judgement is important – which is why schools should be free to set homework, or not. But we also have to challenge long-held habits of mind, that have no clear evidence behind them. Kids learn at home – all the time, using all sorts of media. Let’s encourage learning which is passion-driven, not passion-killing!Thanks for all of your comments – please keep them coming!

  18. spsmith45 says:

    I question the validity of research in this field. Are we saying that if you practise something more, both in terms of time and frequency, you do not improve? Ask any musician or linguist and the answer will be clear.SteveHttp://frenchteachernet.blogspot.comhttp://www.frenchteacher.net

  19. Gareth Surgey says:

    David: no -ve impression given. It just got me thinking why I give out h/w and what I (we) consider to be h/w, particularly having read a piece on reverse (flipping) classroom. So, I had a conversation today with my seniors and we’ve agreed to limit h/w to ‘that which is necessary’ based on class work and they’ve agreed to write-up a few thoughts every night on that day’s lesson – I’ve no great expectations, but got to try something.Thanks again for making me think!Gareth

  20. Don Mayne says:

    It is amazing how we stumble across these things on the internet. I was only having this exact conversation with a colleague today about not only the validity of homework in general, but subject related homework. For instance Math’s Homework sheets may serve a purpose for learning fundamental skills in Mathematical applications however in History it may be not condusive with that pattern. I personally look at my career as a teacher and the fundamentals of the teaching I had as a student, and I have created at least in my own mind this philosophy. If a student can complete work in the class, there is no real need to give them extra homework. If a student wants to do extra work at home to further develop their skills, I endorse and give them all the support I can, but I see the need as a music and ICT teacher, the need to educate students to be well rounded people in their community, to use the skills they learn sitting in a classroom to improve their worlds at a academic and social level. This is not done by giving them homework, but it is achieved by allowing students to have the free time to learn to be people and successful citizens.

  21. Steve says:

    http://education.qld.gov.au/review/pdfs/homework-text-for-web.pdfGood summary of the literature here. One key finding is that there is raised achievement with older children when homework is done. The study is worth reading in full. In common with Cooper et al. they report that younger children may benefit little. This study does not lead me conclude that setting homework is a waste of time.We surely need to take context into account. In a difficult school where there is a poor culture of homework it would be easy to avoid conflict over the issue, but this just reinforces the social advantage of middle class students. If students cannot easily work at home, then schools should offer after school time for homework.Schools finish early in England, so there is ample time for an extra hour or so of individual work. French secondary schools end the day at around 5 o’clock and then students have homework as well. If we do not develop our children’s skills and knowledge as much as competitors we put them at a disadvantage.Homework develops persistence, autonomy and research skills. On the whole, the more you practise, the better you get. I

  22. alexcj says:

    Very timely to come across this piece about a visit to Shanghai by a teacher and group of students – http://bit.ly/ruIpRu.The author states ‘ the essential ingredients in Shanghai’s extraordinary success [are] hard work, by which I mean really hard work. Students and their teachers work long hours. They want to do well. They put in huge amounts of extra time. Through homework they relentlessly practise the drills and routines needed to achieve highly in tests.’

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