The Great Homework Debate Part II – What is the effect size of homework on student learning?

As covered elsewhere on our blog , Hattie’s approach in his groundbreaking book, “Visible learning for teachers: maximising impact on teaching”, is to compare the impact of different teaching interventions using a single ‘barometer of effect sizes’. Effect sizes above d=0.40 are considered to be within the ‘zone of desired effects’. In other words, anything above d=0.40 is really worth our time – it can significantly improve student achievement.

effect size scale

Skimming over the 5 meta-analyses of homework that Hattie includes, one might be forgiven for thinking that the impact of homework is not strong. The mean standard effect size of homework is only d=0.29, not really anything to write home about. But dig a bit deeper, (as summarised in a great post from the fantastic blog by headguruteacher Tom Sherrington, called Homework -what does the Hattie research actually say? ) and you discover this important distinction:

Effect size for primary schools: d = 0.15

Effect size for secondary schools: d= 0.64.

Hoorah! An effect size of d= 0.64 is the equivalent of approximately a years learning, but why is there such a difference between age-groups?

Hattie’s analyses of this difference are thorough. He considers both the variations in measurements amongst the studies and the ability (or otherwise) of younger students to complete homework tasks unaided.  But what does this all add up to for the classroom teacher? Further interpretations of these analyses (see the Headteacherguru link above) summarise the findings:

  • Younger students may not yet have developed the correct study skills needed to organise their homework efforts.
  • As a rule, the impact of homework is greater if the task is concise, meaningful and tightly linked to current classroom learning.
  • Only as students get older, are they more able to complete open-ended activities.

Perhaps then, news stories headlined French parents to boycott homework are not as alarming to advocates of homework in the as we once thought. After all, this article simply restates what Hattie’s research so eloquently demonstrate  s- the effect sizes of homework are smaller in primary schools. But we should realise that we need to correctly set up and manage the transition from primary school, in terms of our homelearning expectations. Year 7 students are often our most enthusiastic students, but we need to support their efforts and design tasks carefully.

Next week for some practical homework ideas for Key Stage 3 students! 

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