This weeks’ 15 Minute Forum was led by Senior Leader Chris Runeckles. One of his whole-school responsibilities is homework and ensuring that the setting of this is meeting the needs of our students and our teachers. He began with the following guidance from Ofsted:
Teachers set challenging homework, in line with the school’s policy and as appropriate for the age and stage of pupils, that consolidates learning, deepens understanding and prepares pupils very well for work to come.
Durrington does not do things for the sake of Ofsted, however this guidance does summarise what homework should be aiming to achieve. The key messages from this, are that homework should be:
- Challenging – so that students are pushed to extend their thinking or develop their skills.
- In line with the schools’ policy – there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.
- Consolidating learning – allowing students to go beyond what is achievable in a series of lessons.
However, the current argument based around headlines, such as that from The Telegraph, is whether homework should be set at all. Actually the research shows that ‘pointless homework’ is pointless not that all homework is pointless.
Other research, such as that from Hattie, shows that homework can have positive effects on student development.
Hattie’s research, in relation to homework, is complex as it does not provide a single, simple ‘soundbite’. However, he does stress that:
- Tasks should be precise and specific – therefore they are teacher defined and set tasks per class/group of students.
- Open and complex tasks are more suited to able and older students – potentially thinking about KS5 students, rather than KS3/4.
- Teacher monitoring and involvement is key – therefore there should always be some form of teacher involvement in the task, at some level.
At Durrington, we firmly believe in the value of homework. We view homework as an opportunity for students to deepen their understanding and develop their skills further. However, that homework has to be appropriate and carefully considered. As a result, the school has created its own ‘Homework Policy’ which is focussed on the following principles:
- Homework should either:
- It shouldn’t require learning without the input of a teacher before (or after) the task has been set.
- Homework should be specific and work on the mastery of a particular skill or section of content.
- Feedback, and the application of that feedback, should always inform what homework is set.
From this, whole school policy, departments have devised their own departmental policies which account for the bespoke needs of each subject at KS3 and KS4. It is vital that each department is not constrained by the whole school policy, but is able to work within it and set homework that is most appropriate to the needs of each subject.
What does this look like in practice?
- The majority of our homework tasks are centred on the idea of embedding.
- This is particularly evident with the introduction of new specifications at GCSE.
- The aim of ’embed’ homework tasks is to:
- consolidate learning that has taken place in the classroom.
- As can be seen from the example, students are asked to learn/improve their spelling of key words and complete activities based on knowledge learnt in the lesson.
- The aim of ‘improve’ homework tasks is to refine skills and knowledge already learnt in the lesson.
- Most of this type of homework is set by our practical subjects.
- This should be informed by teacher/peer feedback.
- Students are applying their knowledge in different contexts.
- In the example, students have been asked to improve their self-portraits. What is evident from this example, is that students are provided with clear guidance in order to improve their work.
- This type of homework provides an opportunity for students to move beyond the learning that has taken place in the classroom.
- These tasks allow students to develop their breadth of knowledge.
- It is important that clear guidance and structures are set with this type of homework, in order to make it effective.
- These homework tasks allow students to use the learning that has taken place in the lesson to complete a specific task.
- Often this is focussed on exam questions or essay writing skills.
- In the example, the Year 11 students have been given specific expectations (in terms of length) and guidance (in terms of what to include).
The schools’ expectation is that feedback should be provided for homework tasks and this should help to inform the students’ learning and next steps. However, this does not mean that formal, extended and written feedback needs to be provided for every homework task. Often, if this is a requirement, homework becomes burdensome and onerous for the teacher. If this happens, the homework task loses it effectiveness and value as the feedback is often delayed and therefore has less impact.
Homework has a value when it is used effectively to help develop students’ thinking and understanding, but also when it is manageable and sustainable for teachers.
Posted by Martyn Simmonds