(Most) teachers agree: practice (based) homework generally makes perfect

Earlier in the year I wrote a blog arguing that practice based homework activities, such as answering GCSE style questions on previously taught content, have the most impact on pupil outcomes, especially at KS4. After further research both within my school and beyond, I now feel I have an even stronger justification for arguing that practice based questions work best in terms of setting homework. 

Why do I say this?

  • External research: studies by Marzano (2005), Cepeda et al. (2008), Carpenter (2014) and Brown, Roediger  & McDaniel (2014) amongst others all empirically demonstrate the importance of improving knowledge retrieval via practice based questions.
  • My colleagues: 69% of staff at The Reach Free School involved in a homework working group believed that – after researching and setting different types of homework in their subject areas – practice homework had the most impact on pupils’ learning, progress and attainment. Reversely, creative and finishing off homework activities were seen to have least impact on pupils’ learning, progress and attainment.
  • My pupils: in a survey of 34 pupils studying RE, 74% said they felt practice based homework activities had improved their assessment grades the most. Although a subjective opinion, the pupils were asked to complete different types of homework and then qualitatively assess which improved their knowledge, confidence and exam skills. They did, however, use their assessed work to make this judgement.
  • Two control groups: showed 91% and 92% improvements in attainment (i.e. pupils being on target) over the trial period (where they were only set practice homework activities) as opposed to 45% and 79% respectively prior to the trial period (where homework activities were mixed).
  • Teacher Tapp: over 2,259 teachers took part in a quick survey, based on the questions I asked my pupils and staff, which was sent out by Teacher Tapp (an app for teachers that ‘buzzes’ them with questions each day at 3:30pm). These results, I feel, collaborate the results from pupils and staff in my own setting.

Teacher Tapp’s results

Most teachers (62%) thought setting homework activities centred on practising something already taught in class ‘best help’ pupil outcomes (although they could tick more than one option). This is in agreement with my own colleagues’ opinions (69%) and pupils’ views (74%). Preparation homework was perceived as the second most conducive type of homework in terms of helping pupils reach their potential (35%). Creative and finishing off homework activities were seen as the least helpful; this is the same as my school’s findings (see the Teacher Tapp results in the chart below).

When forced to choose, 40% still chose homework that involves practicing previously taught content as the best type of homework activity for helping pupils improve their outcomes (see chart below). However, primary school and humanities teachers were most likely to opt for extended projects and creative work. Interestingly, creative teachers were less likely to pick creative homework activities than humanities teachers.

As Teacher Tapp’s Laura McInerney points out, “practice varied enormously as a favoured homework type – with a substantial majority (76%) of maths teachers in favour of it, but just over a third of English teachers in favour (35%).” This is exactly the case with my colleagues, in meetings my school’s maths teachers immediately concurred that practice homework made sense, whereas the English teachers argued preparation homework, especially the reading of texts in advance of lessons, were the most advantageous form of homework.  Nonetheless, the English teachers still felt that practice homework activities, particularly those centred on GCSE and A level questions, where essential preparation for exams.

Considering the results above, perhaps more subject based research needs to be done here; this is acknowledged by academic researchers too (see, for example, Fan, Xu, Cai and Fan, 2017).

I am also interested to know whether it is better to set shorter homework assignments for pupils, particularly considering that the quality of their work away from school may be affected by a lack of concentration due to various distractions, such as social media. However, the Teacher Tapp survey was more ambiguous and less concrete on this. It is an area that I need to look into further.

Overall, therefore, I would argue that this data backs up my initial assumptions. Nevertheless, these findings are largely focused on teacher (and pupil) assumptions and more complicated research needs to be done in relation to correlations between types of homework set and actual pupil results.

In the Autumn, the Herts & Bucks Challenge Partners’ Hub will be publishing a summary of a number of papers that look at maximising the impact of homework on pupil’s learning. My own findings, including those gathered at Teacher Tapp, will be included. They will be published on the Hub’s research website (click here).

References

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., III., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Carpenter, S. K. (2014). ‘Spacing and interleaving of study and practice’ in V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.), Applying the science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum (pp. 131-141). American Psychological Association.

Cepeda, N. J., Vul, E., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J. T., & Pashler, H. (2008). ‘Spacing effects in learning: A temporal ridgeline of optimal retention’ in Psychological Science, 19, pp. 1095-1102.

Fan, H., Xu, J., Cai, Z., He, J., & Fan, X. (2017) Homework and students’ achievement in math and science: A 30-year meta-analysis, 1986–2015 in Educational Research Review, Vol. 20, pp. 35-54.

Marzano, 2005, R. J. (2005). Homework and Practice [online]. Available at: https://escmarzano.wikispaces.com/4.+Homework+and+Practice [Retrieved 09/02/2008]

Picture credit: photo from Libreshot and used under a Creative Commons Licence. The chart graphics are from Teacher Tapp.

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