Four simple tips for setting better homework

One expert tells us how we can make homework more positive, based on scientific research.

Yana Weinstein

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As students grow older, most of them face a similar situation: an increase in the amount of homework that they are expected to do.

Of course, there’s a lot of variation in how kids react to homework, and how parents handle the requirement: some children will enjoy it and do it without being asked, while others need more prodding. Some parents will be stricter about when and how homework is done, whereas others may let kids handle it more independently.

Some teachers and parents even reject the whole notion of homework – there is a small but significant movement to “ban homework” because some feel that the time it consumes and the disagreements it causes at home after school are simply not worth it.

One teacher recently sent a note home to parents saying she was effectively outlawing homework for the year and encouraging families to spend more time together instead.

So, is there any truth from a scientific perspective, that homework is a waste of time?

Yes and no. Here are four simple recommendations we can make, based on scientific evidence, about homework:

  1. The quality of the homework is much more important than the quantity. Look at what your students are doing – and don’t give homework just for the sake of it. If parents perceive the homework you assign to be mere busy work, they may not put much emphasis on its completion at home.
     
  2. The main point of good homework is that it lets children independently practice something they learned at school. As such, the goal should not be necessarily to “get everything right”, but to make an effort to actually attempt the task at hand. Then, children should make sure to get feedback and try to understand where they went wrong.
     
  3. Children should be given roughly 10 mins of homework per night per year, so a Year 3 student might spend 30 minutes per night on homework. If you are giving more than this amount, you may want to reconsider your reasons for assigning a heavy homework load.
     
  4. Reach out to parents. Explaining the value of the homework you are setting and encouraging them to have their kids attempt their homework will be a big help to you and your students. Of course, the time it takes different students to complete one piece of work will vary; try to be flexible with respect to the amount of work you expect to be completed. If a child is having a particular difficulty in one area, encourage parents to contact you so it can be addressed in school.

Dr. Yana Weinstein (@doctorwhy on Twitter) is an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She co-runs the Learning Scientists blog. Follow the Learning Scientists on Twitter at @AceThatTest.

For more on the research behind homework, you can read this post by Dr. Paul Kirschner on their blog.

TES has recently launched the free TES Teach app to help teachers create interactive lessons using digital content. For more information please visit www.tes.com/lessons

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Yana Weinstein

Yana Weinstein, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the UML Psychology Department.

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