Homework: Getting the Wrap Around Support Right

Homework has to be one of the most contentious and hotly debated topics in education. While most students (perhaps reluctantly) accept that it will form part of their educational experience, educators, decision makers, parents and celebrities routinely take sides on the issue. These debates can range from how we maximise the impact of homework and increase student engagement to whether or not we should set it in the first place.

In the recent revision of their toolkits the EEF accept that the evidence base behind the impact of setting homework is limited, however, they still indicate that homework (especially at secondary schools) has a positive impact – an average 5 months additional progress. Perhaps more importantly studies suggest a high level of variation in regards to this impact dependent on the quality of homework set, the support in place for students to complete it (including homework clubs) and the feedback student receive on their homework.

Based on this evidence and analysis of our student homework engagement data from the summer term of last year I have been talking to and working with our curriculum leaders at Durrington about how we can improve the quality of the homework we set, thus maximising the potential impact it can have and also increasing the accessibility of our homework for all students. From analysing the homework that was set last year, what became abundantly clear was that teachers and subjects with high student engagement and completion of homework were those that had clearly taken note of what strategies had worked during remote learning and applied this when setting homework. I like to refer to these as “wrap around support strategies”, and the intention of these should be to make homework as accessible, and yet challenging, as possible for all students.

So, what “wrap around support” can have our departments at Durrington been providing to support our students in regularly completing high quality homework

  • Lesson time: If we are all honest with ourselves we have probably all said at some point “grab a homework sheet on your own way out”. But it has been great to drop in on lessons over the last 3 or so weeks and see staff spending a portion of lesson time clearly explaining the homework task, modelling how to complete certain sections of it, checking the class understand the homework and then checking in on individual students they know may struggle.
  • Clear and Concise Online Instructions: lets be honest if we haven’t done the “grab a sheet and go”, we are probably all guilty of uploading the homework to whatever online system we use with the detailed instructions of “complete the sheet given to you in lessons”. What made remote learning so challenging was the emphasis it put on clear, concise and step by step explanations from staff – where this was done correctly students were much more likely to be successful. It stands to reason then that we need to provide similar high-quality explanations when setting homeworks. This is something our Geography team have been working on this year, with Sam Atkins (Curriculum Leader) using our fortnightly SPDS to share examples of good practice via our connect system.
Examples of the instructions provided on the Connect Homework system shared by Sam Atkins at Geography department meeting
  • Worked Examples: with the reduced opportunity to live model in the remote classroom (particularly for those using recorded lessons) the use of deconstructed worked examples became ever more common. Worked examples provide a great way to demonstrate to students how to complete a task and also the expected standard that they should aim for. Our maths department often include these into their homework booklets, and many other departments are beginning to follow suit.
  • Attaching Supporting Resources: when setting homework, I think it is important we consider where will students go if they become stuck. Their options may include a sibling, parent or friend, their teacher or perhaps most likely “Google”. Unfortunately, Google may not always be as helpful as they expect, often giving them a vast array of information that they cannot filter for their needs, while in many cases (even where they are willing) parents may not have the knowledge to support. As a result, it is important that we offer both the students (and willing parents) supporting resources such as knowledge organisers, links to vetted websites or videos etc so that they may be able to “unstick” themselves. It is also important that we model to students how we as subject experts would refer to these resources if we became stuck, thus demonstrating the self-regulation skills necessary for successful learning.
  • The Power of Loom: I suspect that most of us had never heard of loom before remote learning, but now the software tool that allows users to voice record over on-screen resources such as PowerPoints, can perhaps continue to prove useful beyond just the remote classroom. Our English and Geography departments have been working on creating a series of loom videos to go alongside their homework setting. These videos, created by the staff, may model how to complete tasks within the homework or review the core knowledge students will need to be successful in completing the homework. The English team have taken this one step further and have turned the links to the videos into QR codes which are included on the homework sheets enabling students to access these videos instantly with their phones. While it is too early to judge if these videos are having an impact on homework completion and quality, it was great to speak with Andy Tharby (Co-Leader of English) earlier this week, who informed me that the most recent Year11 homework video had been viewed over 150 times suggesting that students were accessing it to support their homework completion.
Year 11 English Homework with QR code to loom video

Homework will always be contentious, but in the majority of schools it a part of the every day norm. For a number of our students homework is easily accessed and completed with minimal fuss, but it is important that we continue looking for ways to support all our students in completing high quality homework. If we can do this then everyone wins: students will make good progress, staff will receive higher quality work and less homework sanctions should need to be set. What is there not to like!

by Ben Crockett

Ben is an Acting Assistant Head Teacher and Research School Associate at Durrington and will be leading training programs this year on “Secondary Curriculum” and “Using Cognitive Science in the Classroom”. Follow the links to find out more about these courses and how to reserve your place.

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