Research Spotlight – February

Research Focus – Homework

Homework is a controversial subject. Rarely a parents’ evening goes by without half the parents complaining that their child seems to get no homework and the other half complaining that their child gets too much. Some people value it as an important part of the learning process, others see it as a way of developing character traits such as independence or resilience whilst others still see it as nothing more than a way to torment children and ruin their childhoods.

Part of the problem is that the research on homework, although plentiful, is unclear. In his post Homework: What does the Hattie research actually say? blogger, author of The Learning Rainforest and education consultant Tom Sherrington unpicks the meta-analysis carried out by John Hattie into homework and explores his findings. The headline findings are impressive with a strong suggestion that homework makes a profound difference to pupil outcomes in secondary schools (although are likely to have little impact in primary schools); however not all homework is equal. He points out:

… there is no evidence that prescribing homework develops time management skills and that the highest effects in secondary are associated with rote learning, practice or rehearsal of subject matter; more task-orientated homework has higher effects than deep learning and problem solving

So the character building aspect of homework is unlikely to pay dividends and we are better off setting shorter, more precise pieces of homework that link to what has been done in class. He goes on to add:

…effects are higher for higher ability students than lower ability students, higher for older rather than younger students.  Finally, the evidence is that teacher involvement in homework is key to its success.

Those of us who read last month’s journal club piece Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work by Kirschner, Sweller and Clark won’t be surprised by these findings. One problem with homework can be setting tasks where pupils are essentially having to teach themselves. This doesn’t work in the classroom and is unlikely to work at home. It would also help to explain why homework tends to benefit higher attaining students than those who are already struggling.

Another useful read on how homework can be made more effective is The truth about homework by Alex Quigly, in which he poses questions that leaders and teachers should ask about the homework they are setting.

So what is the solution? How can we make sure that homework we set has the maximum value for our pupils? One way would be to simplify the homework that is set and focus on the “rote learning, practice or rehearsal of subject matter” that has found to be effective.This post by RE teacher Dawn Cox, The same homework for 3 years – how and why, explains her process of using the same three tasks of learning key words, writing questions and then quizzing with these questions and why it has been effective.

In Cracking homework, History teacher and author of Making Every History Lesson Count, Chris Runeckles takes a slightly different approach with a greater possible variety of homework tasks but still based on the premise that it should be based on what has already been learnt: embedding, practicing, extending or applying.

In English, Amy Forrester talks about using spaced practice as homework to help her students learn the quotations they need for the exam (see Something that helped with learning quotations for the new GCSEs) and we have put in place something similar here in Geography to help pupils look back over things they have learnt previously as part of their homework. Once again the principle is the same. Homework not being used to introduce something new but consolidate what has already been studied.

Education Conferences

There are now Three ResearchEd Conferences in our area.

Durrington’s event is on April 27th – tickets here

London (national conference) is September 7th – tickets here

Surrey event is October 19th – tickets here

For those who like a more informal Teach Meet style event – BrewEd (teachers meeting in pubs for a chat and sharing of ideas) is coming to Tunbridge Wells on the 8th of June! Tickets to be confirmed.

Research at Heathfield CC

As ever we are busy running small scale, and slightly larger scale, research projects here at the college.

We are looking at:

  • How academic transition can be improved between KS2 and KS3 through using learning journals in Year 6 science lessons.
  • How effective teachers are at identifying pupils in need of wave one intervention, and whether that intervention is then effective.
  • Whether retrieval quizzes have an impact on pupil outcomes in Year 8 Geography and History.
  • The use of interleaving during homework tasks in science.
  • How exemplar pieces can be used in assessment in the arts.
  • Comparative judgement as a way of making assessment more reliable in English.
  • The way assessments are carried out in Maths.
  • The use of rank order assessment in Geography.

If you would like to know more about any of these trials, and would like to get involved yourself, get in touch.

Journal Club

This month’s reading is Roediger et al’s chapter on The Ten Benefits of Testing and their Application to Educational Practice. In this piece they discuss positive washback, the benefits that pupils get from testing. You can access it here.

By Mark Enser. Head of Geography and Research Lead

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