Reviews of educational research, such as the one conducted by John Hattie in Visible Learning, provide strong and valuable evidence for teachers.
For example, Hattie found that homework has marginal impact on children’s subsequent results.
However, when you look at the detail of the studies that Hattie reviewed, you find that:
- Homework has virtually no impact in the early years, but a significant impact in secondary school.
- Homework helps bright more than it helps struggling students.
Yet, even these findings depend upon other factors.
Research shows that homework has more impact if it:
- Reinforces and revises things explicitly taught in the classroom.
- Short tasks associated with surface-level learning work better than projects and conceptual understanding.
- Is monitored frequently, so that students do not internalise misconceptions or incorrect procedures.
Given that a lot of homework set by teachers does not follow these three guidelines, it is easy to understand why homework does not always help struggling students. For them, homework only reinforces that cannot learn on their own and that the effort they put into learning does not help their marks.
The homework set in primary schools is often worse, consisting of independent tasks and homework sheets that have little, if any correlation to what the students were taught this day. This may explain why homework has far less impact in primary school.
NOTE: These potential explanations are not facts, but simply plausible ‘theories’ of why things are the way they are. At present, all we know is that homework has little impact on young students or students who struggle. However, the above theories help to illustrate how contextual factors are important, and why more detailed research may be beneficial.
Other examples where context and detail are important:
- Most aspects of a student’s personality do not affect how well they do at school. However, one aspect of personality (conscientiousness) has a sizable impact on student achievement.
- Parents can help their children to achieve better results, however some parental actions have more impact than others. Valuing academic success, and holding high aspirations for their child’s success have far more impact than participating in school activities or even communicating with their child’s teachers.
- Generally speaking, ability grouping has marginal impact on students’ learning (and some negative, non-academic effects). However, within-class ability groups in reading are more effective than mixed ability groups.
- Typically, principals have a small impact on the achievement of students in their schools. However, principals who focus their efforts on improving teaching and learning have a much larger impact.
- Teachers need to know what they are talking about. Subject expertise is essential. However, subject expertise is not enough to make you a good teacher. In fact, experienced experts can underestimate how hard it is for others to learn what they already know.
- A teacher who reads to young students helps them to improve their reading. However, the impact is much larger when the teacher reads to small groups as this allows more interaction. Furthermore, having a parent read to a small group of students has little effect at all.