A Very Small Taxonomy of Homework

First posted on The Homework Project website on 15 December 2017.

Researchers write a lot about homework and there seems to be no real consensus on what really works aside from slight benefits for learners (Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006; Hattie 2009; EEF, 2018). However, the literature can be quite infuriating as many researchers do not define different types of homework activity when assessing the generalised benefits (or limitations) of homework. It would be useful for busy teachers researching the topic if there was an agreed taxonomy of homework types; although this ignores the fact that there would probably be lots of disagreements on how to define the types of activity that could make up such a taxonomy – let alone what to include!

However, there does seem to be regular references to at least three types of homework activity in the literature on homework. These include:

  • practice
  • preparation
  • extension

According to researchers, these activities are often used by teachers when setting homework activities (Rosário et al., 2015; Yu, 2015; Minke, 2017).

Practice

Practice homework centres on activities based on previously taught content. The idea here is to build mastery, reinforce learning, consolidate knowledge, and retain specific skills over time (Epstein, 1998; Rosário et al., 2015). Minke (2017) suggests that practice homework is often used in mathematics and in English/literacy to increase fluency in calculation speed and spelling proficiency respectively. However, teachers at TRFS also suggested that practising GCSE questions or a piece of music also count as practice homework.

Preparation

Preparation homework activities simply focus on preparing pupils for the next lesson or series of lessons (Rosário et al., 2015; Muhlenbruck et al., 1999). This type of homework is inherently linked to pre-learning as opposed to prior learning (Vatterott, 2009; Minke, 2017). At TRFS English teachers suggested this was vital for learning set texts and language teachers also suggested it was useful to have pupils learn vocabulary before lessons.

Extension

Extension homework activities facilitate the shift of previous learning to new tasks (Lee & Pruitt, 1979; Rosário et al., 2015; Minke, 2017). Here, extension activities require deeper learning and often promote higher level or abstract thinking as pupils spend more time on making conceptual links between facts and concepts and/or concepts and other concepts. Minke (2017) suggests teachers can use this form of homework activity to encourage pupils to collaborate with peers away from the classroom. Of course, extension activities could simply foster an intrinsic interest amongst eager learners or be centred around project work. An example could include researching infant baptism in the Eastern Orthodox Church in RE after learning about Anglican and Roman Catholic baptism in lessons. Pupils would be required to make links between what was taught and what they are discovering at home (or in the library). Of course, extension activities could include longer term project work, such as a project spanning a number of weeks on World War One in History, for example.

Other types?

When discussing these types, colleagues at TRFS also discussed how ‘revision’ is set for homework and that ‘creative homework’ activities, such as designing posters and building things, is also occasionally set. Another suggestion for a type of homework – and one we all probably set from time-to-time – is ‘finishing off’ homework. Nonetheless, it looks like practice, preparation and extension are the nearest we will get to any operational taxonomy.

References

Cooper, H. Robinson, J.C. & Patall, E.A. (2006). ‘Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003’ in Review of Educational Research, Vol 76, Issue 1, pp. 1-62.

Educational Endowment Foundation (2017). Homework (secondary) [online]. London: EEF.

Epstein, JL, & Van Voorhis, FL. (2001). ‘More than minutes: Teachers’ roles in designing homework’ in Educational Psychologist, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 181–193.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Lee, J. F., & Pruitt, K. W. (1979). ‘Homework assignments: Class games or teaching tool?’ in Clearing House, Vol. 53, pp. 31-35.

Minke, T. A., (2017). ‘Types of homework and their effect on student achievement’ in Culminating Projects in Teacher Development [online], Vol. 24. Available at: http://repository.stcloudstate.edu/ed_etds/24 [retrieved 13.12.17].

Mulhenbruck, L., Cooper, H., Nye, B., & Lindsay, J. J. (1999). ‘Homework and achievement: Explaining the different strengths of relation at the elementary and secondary school levels’ in Social Psychology of Education, Vol. 3, pp. 295-317

Rosário, P., Núñez, J., Vallejo, G., Cunha, J., Nunes, T., Mourão, R. & Pinto, R. (2015). ‘Does homework design matter? The role of homework’s purpose in student mathematics achievement’ in Contemporary Educational Psychology. Vol. 43, pp. 375-406.

Vatterott, C. (2009). Rethinking homework: best practices that support diverse needs. Alexandria, Va: ASCD.

Yu, Y. (2015). The Influence of Types of Homework on Opportunity to Learn and Students’ Mathematics Achievement: Examples from the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project [online]. University of Chicago: Graduate Theses and Dissertations. Available at: http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7006&context=etd [retrieved 16.12.17].

Photo credit: Max Pixel (used under a Creative Commons Licence).

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