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The great homework debate - how do we ensure it is useful?


There has been a lot of research over the years around the usefulness of homework. In general results have shown that there is impact from doing homework the higher up the years we go. Definitely at secondary school, homework provides opportunities to practice, prepare and extend learning beyond the constraints of the school timetable. It also prepares students for the more independent learning and motivation required for study at 'A' level and university. It does still get a lot of bad press too, however, and this is usually due to one of the following issues:

  1. Worksheet overload - an excess of worksheets from multiple subjects can make homework an unending pile of uninspiring work. Quality over quantity is definitely the key with worksheets. A well prepared maths worksheet which directly follows on from the lesson of the day and consolidates skills taught is an example of a well timed worksheet. However if a worksheet is given purely for the sake of giving homework and has been printed from a website without any alterations by the teacher, it may be considered more "busy work" than useful.
  2. Pressure and stress - students may find doing homework stressful at home. This may also cause unnecessary pressure for parents if they are unable to help their children with the subject matter at hand. A parent who struggled with grammar at school is probably not best placed to assist their child with grammar at home and it may create tension in the household. A student who feels burdened with a lot of homework and who also struggles at school may get particularly stressed and switch off from their learning. On the flip side pupils who aim to be top of the class can find that homework extends this pressure into their evenings too.
  3. Detentions and other sanctions - pupils may be concerned about sanctions for not doing homework. This may be especially concerning for those who have commitments outside of school - part time jobs, caring for a family member, and so on.


Another downside of homework for teachers is the time it takes, on top of lesson planning, to prepare and mark homework.


There is no quick one-size-fits-all answer to making homework useful. But using technology can make homework more flexible for students and teachers alike.

If we look at the three usual aims of homework we can find some examples of ways in which technology can help with making homework something with real value and with minimal stress:

Read our blog: Formative Assessment using OneNote

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Practice - if homework is meant to practice a skill already taught in class this can cause extra worry for students who struggled during the lesson. This is particularly worrying as these are the very students who need the practice the most! The main reason a worksheet or textbook activity can cause extra worry is that the student may need a recap by the teacher on how to complete the activity. Technology can help if you use a platform which allows you to hosts extra materials with the assignment. This should not require any extra work by the teacher. They could add the PowerPoint they used in the lesson so that the student can go back through it at their own pace before completing the assignment given for homework. You could also add hyperlinks and other resources or documents from elsewhere to help any students who are still struggling. If you do want to add a little extra support you could even make a video of the teacher explaining the concept - or find a good quality one already available on YouTube or elsewhere.


Preparation - the 'flipped learning' movement has grown in popularity over the years and involves giving students something to study BEFORE you teach it in class. The idea, in a nutshell, is to give students the basic knowledge and concepts they need to learn so that class time can be spent supporting them through a task or project rather than the teacher spending the class time explaining something then leaving students to complete homework tasks on their own. One example of this could be asking students to watch a video about the solar system and play an interactive game to give them the basic knowledge of the planets, then in class using time at the beginning of the lesson to answer questions they have before moving on to a project where they need to build a scale version of the solar system. This method of working removes the worry that students may have no support to complete the tasks. It also allows students to start on a more level playing field on a topic - which is useful when you have a range of abilities in your class. You can also plan lessons which delve deeper into subject knowledge than they would if students need the basics explaining first in a short timescale.

If you use a platform which works on mobile devices too for watching videos etc., then you also give students more flexibility regarding when they complete the work. They may choose to watch the video on their commute home or while waiting for their younger sibling to finish school. Then they can enjoy the rest of their evening knowing they have completed their homework and you would be more likely to find the majority have completed the tasks. 


Extension - if you want to use homework to extend the knowledge and understanding of pupils you could use technology to collect assignments of a more varied format. By using an online platform to gather assignment responses you could set much more open assignments such as "Present your knowledge of the solar system" without dictating how that presentation should look. Students could then concentrate more on the knowledge than the delivery. This is particularly useful for students who may struggle to write an essay or complete worksheets but who have a very good working knowledge of the planets. They might choose to make a video or animation, to perform a song or make a PowerPoint presentation. By allowing for online responses with multiple file type uploads they might surprise you with their ingenuity!


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