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Homework/Extended Learning

Homework develops knowledge and good time-management skills, but quality is better than quantity. Homework shouldn't be about rote learning. The best kind deepens student understanding and builds essential skills.

The best homework tasks exhibit five characteristics. First, the task has a clear academic purpose, such as practice, checking for understanding, or applying knowledge or skills. Second, the task efficiently demonstrates student learning. Third, the task promotes ownership by offering choices and being personally relevant. Fourth, the task instills a sense of competence—the student can successfully complete it without help. Last, the task is aesthetically pleasing—it appears enjoyable and interesting (Vatterott, 2009).

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, says

"Homework assignments should not feel like mindless, repetitive exercises; rather, they should present novel problems for students to solve, require them to apply what they've learned in new ways, or ask them to stretch to the next level ... For example, suppose that students are learning about the rise and fall of civilizations. Their homework assignment might be to apply their learning by designing a civilization that would either thrive (by building in positive factors) or implode (by building in risk factors). They can write the story of their civilization and what happened to it. Or suppose students were studying Shakespeare's sonnets. For homework, they could write a sonnet to the person or animal of their choice in the style of Shakespeare"

Kathleen Cushman, author of Fires in the Mind puts it this way:

"What would it take to turn homework into the kind of practice that would help students strengthen their skills and knowledge in academic subjects? Perhaps the most powerful steps in that direction would occur, we speculated, when students could start to think of homework as 'getting good' at something—and when teachers could welcome feedback from kids on what best supports that developing mastery."

Finally, consider this from Alfie Khon:

"When students are treated with respect, when the assignments are worth doing, most kids relish a challenge. If, on the other hand, students groan about, or try to avoid homework, it’s generally because they get too much of it, or because it’s assigned thoughtlessly and continuously, or simply because they had nothing to say about it. The benefits of even high-quality assignments are limited if students feel 'done to' instead of 'worked with.' "

Homework should not involve students in mechanical repetition such as copying from the texts/notes or just rote learning. It is not there simply to occupy students' time at home. It should not be boring or lead students to learn in a passive way. It is the quality and not the quantity of homework that counts. The points to note when setting meaningful homework are as follows:

  • The homework given is relevant to the school curriculum and has a clear learning goal, aim, or objective. A piece of homework should not contain too many ideas.

  • Rote learning is to be de-emphasised. Help students to learn through using different resources, e.g. libraries, reference materials, the Internet, other community resources, and also to develop independence and creativity.

  • Recitation or other forms of memorisation should not be totally discouraged but should be selectively used for study, such as promoting appreciation of literary texts, memory for understanding.

  • A variety of approaches and styles can be used for designing homework to motivate students. Offer interesting and challenging tasks for students to do, e.g. experiment, survey. Worksheets should not be the only form of assignment. Oral reports on observation/discussion with parents and friends, model-making, and other activities that interest students can be set.

  • Make use of homework in helping students to plan and take control of their own learning, see their own progress, develop good studying habits, and work in groups to develop collaboration skills.

  • It is learner-friendly. It is neither too hard nor too easy and it is framed in such a way that it encourages students to do their best.

  • It helps to improve students' thinking and promotes a deeper understanding of a specific theme or issue.

  • It caters for individual differences

  • It links classroom learning to students' lives, e.g. by linking events/people of the distant past and/or places in remote parts of the world to learning contexts familiar to students.

  • There may be short-term or long-term assignments. Short-term assignments help students to review and practise what has been covered in class. Long-term assignments such as projects require students to plan their pace of work, delve into subjects that interest them, and present the information and ideas that they have formulated.

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