Teaching strategies

Homework: A guide for educators and parents

Homework – learning activities set by the teacher that students are expected to complete outside of normal class hours (such as on the weekend or after school).

Young student doing homework.

Homework has always been a contentious issue. Some teachers argue that children should not be required to do homework at all and that it’s ineffective, while others believe that homework is an essential part of learning and that it helps to develop a range of academic and non-academic skills.i Most teachers are somewhere in between and believe that homework has its place when implemented in an age-appropriate way.

Like any lesson, teachers need to consider the homework lesson structure, the content, the resources required, motivation and learning strategies, feedback and questioning techniques, formative assessment and metacognitive skill development.

The primary purpose of homework is to increase the amount of time spent on learning. However, there are various other reasons why teachers set homework:

  • To consolidate learning and to commit learning to long-term memory.
  • To develop student study skills, work ethic and independence.
  • To encourage students to practise something by repetition.
  • To introduce students to the basics of a topic (flipped learning).
  • To finish tasks that were not completed during class.
  • To prepare for tests and exams.
  • To complete a project or assignment.
  • To meet expectations (of school policies, parents and the community).
  • As a form of punishment or a consequence (not recommended).

No discussion about homework is complete without a mention of flipped learning. Traditionally, teachers introduce new topics during class. Later that evening, students complete more advanced activities to practise what was introduced earlier in the day. As outlined earlier in this book, flipped learning reverses this pattern. Activities that don’t require teacher support are completed at home. Students can then spend valuable and limited class time learning and practising more complicated skills with the support of the teacher. This approach is gaining popularity due to the way in which it maximises the use of teacher expertise. As a concept, flipped learning makes logical sense – why waste class time reading through a chapter or book when students can easily do that on their own – more can then be squeezed into the lesson.

Another way to think of flipped learning is like this: list out every activity a student will complete for a given week in order of difficulty. The easiest activities can be used as homework (usually in preparation for the following day’s lesson). Obviously, some practical sense is required here – even if students learn the basics on their own, the teacher will still have to spend some time introducing the topic and modelling worked examples. However, the time it takes to do this is substantially reduced.

Homework is an important strategy for many teachers, and it becomes even more important as learners progress in age and ability. Homework can be thought of as a lesson like any other, albeit without the direct support and guidance of the teacher. Like any lesson, teachers need to consider the homework lesson structure, the content, the resources required, motivation and learning strategies, feedback and questioning techniques, formative assessment and metacognitive skill development. In addition, best practice approaches to homework should include:

  • a sustainable long-term routine
  • regular discussions about the purpose of homework
  • regular negotiation with students about homework expectations. Expectations should be set that are clear, precise, transparent, documented and achievable.
  • teaching goals (micro, daily, weekly, long-term) as well as how to achieve them
  • acknowledgement if students meet their goals and the teacher’s expectations
  • opportunities for students to provide feedback about what does (and doesn’t) work for them
  • systematic communication with parents or caregivers (via a homework diary, conferences or calls)
  • a degree of flexibility to allow for student illnesses, travel and unexpected events
  • a reward system (if used) which is carefully constructed and documented
  • content and learning that is directly linked and relevant to school activities
  • activities that are interesting, engaging and achievable
  • differentiation based on student interests, abilities and individual goals
  • more multiple or sequenced short activities and fewer long activities
  • allocated time to check homework as soon as possible after it is completed
  • encouragement (including towards parents) to provide a secluded study area that minimises distractions
  • scheduled regular homework breaks (such as ten minutes every half hour)
  • encouragement to get plenty of physical exercise and sunlight
  • the development of metacognitive skill (included in all discussions and activities)
  • a reasonable, systematic and consistent consequences for homework non-completion
  • a positive approach in order to develop long-term habits that lead to self-directed learning:
    • never allow homework to become a source of conflict
    • never use homework as a punishment or consequence
    • never have unreasonable expectations
  • an awareness of the effect that homework may have on some students including their mental health (stress levels, anxiety, depression).

Hint: experienced teachers (particularly when faced with unmotivated students) take a positive reinforcement approach to homework. When students don’t do homework – ignore them. When they do homework – reward them (even for partial completion). Begin by making it short, easy and simple. The easier and shorter the homework activity, the more likely students will complete it – once a routine and habit is established, more challenging and longer activities can be gradually introduced. Expect that students will relapse now and then and ‘forget’ to do homework – be forgiving and simply ignore these instances.

There is no consensus on how much is too much when it comes to homework.ii As a rule of thumb, with each passing year students are expected to do slightly more schoolwork at home. Young students do very little homework other than reading with their parents for 10-15 minutes and maybe practising some phonics or number sense. At this age, homework is not really homework. Middle-to-upper primary school students might complete half an hour of homework several times each week. Middle school students (years 7-10) may be required to complete an hour of homework several times each week. High school students in academic streams are regularly required to complete 60-90 minutes of homework 4-5 times per week, and even more around exam time. However, these suggested times don’t apply to every scenario and some teachers set no homework whatsoever.

As a rule of thumb, with each passing year students are expected to do slightly more schoolwork at home.

Foot notes:

  1. Research shows a positive correlation with homework and achievement particularly when parents are involved and supportive such as: Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 1987–2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1–62. doi:10.3102/00346543076001001.
  2. A widespread rule of thumb is 10 minutes per year level. However, this ‘rule’ only works for some levels – for example, few teachers would assign 70 minutes of work per night for a year 7 student.

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.


Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Teaching Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners. Amazon #1 best seller in the category of Classroom Management.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.


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