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Does homework work?

I was reading an interesting article in the Observer this morning about homework not working.

Specific reference is made to a book called ‘The Homework Myth‘ by Alfie Kohn. This is the first I have heard of this book but to quote from the Observer:

“The study, by American academic Alfie Kohn, has sparked a huge debate on TV and radio and in hundreds of newspapers. Last week it reached the Wall Street Journal, where it was reported that some of America’s most competitive schools were cutting or eliminating work beyond their gates.

‘What surprised me is not the downside of homework, but the fact there appears to be no upside,’ said Kohn. ‘No study has ever shown an academic benefit to homework before high school.’ “

I believe that this book is focussing on primary schools, however this got my attention as our secondary school has been reviewing the use of homework recently and will be implementing a new direction after Easter. Previously homework was set to a loose timetable of once a week per subject, and the specifics of this were left to Departments/Teachers. The idea of scrapping homework was mooted but didn’t get far once suggested to the school community. From Easter we will move to a fortnightly system of “Individual Assessments” on pre-agreed topics, with timetables sent to parents at the start of each term, grades recorded centrally and communicated to parents each term.

I do think that this will probably improve the quality and consistency across the school, and it should improve participation levels. The overwhelming problem previously was the number of pupils who did not complete the work, which in turn devalued it and turned it into more of a ‘tick box’ exercise for staff.

It was these low levels of completion, and parental concern that in part inspired us to start our departmental blog in an effort to re-engage pupils and parents with learning outside of the classroom.

Personally I believe that, in Maths at least, there is a need for quality homework to be completed in a peaceful environment away from the classroom. I think that as well as engaging, investigating type projects there is still a scope, and a need for the traditional practice of core mathematical skills. Solving 20 equations is never going to be a thrilling task but the confidence it gives pupils who put in the effort is vital for them to go on and attain at the higher end of school Mathematics.

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