14 SES 01 B, Homework and Home Learning Environments: Challenges for inclusion
This study examines teachers’ views about and practices in homework in 235 primary schoolsin England. Homework is a global phenomenon and children in primary schools spend increasing amounts of time on homework (Baker and LeTendre 2005). Worldwide, less than 7% of fourth graders said they did no homework (Mullis et al. 2012) but it is valued and enacted differently in different countries.
Homework in the primary years of schooling in England is a contentious topic. Claims about the role and impact of homework are mired in partial understandings of a number of educational debates. These include the expectation that homework is a way for parents to support their children’s academic achievement, the belief that homework improves academic achievement and extrapolation from ‘high performing’ countries where high levels of homework are a cultural tradition, an extrapolation that, itself, gives teachers and parents mixed messages about homework. Moreover, the pervasive nature of homework means it is used as a signifier of good parenting, under the banner of "parental involvement", "parent expectations" and 'parental entitlement"..
Sharp et al. (2001) noted that parents in England want schools to set homework, even though it may cause conflict between parents and their children. The limited UK research suggests a positive relationship between parental involvement in homework and children’s attitudes towards homework, school and learning in general (Snow et al. 1991). However, Hartas (2011) cautioned against simplistic assumptions about parents and their interactions with children. Her re-analysis of the millennium cohort study of 10,000 seven-year-olds found that three quarters of parents from all socioeconomic groups routinely helped children with their schoolwork and no link was found between parental support for learning and children’s language and literacy levels at age seven.
In England, numerous home reading projects have embedded home school reading into the practice of virtually all primary schools (Brooks et al. 2008). However, research about the effect of this in improving reading indicates that mere involvement is not enough. Internationally, positive effects of reading with children (Sharp et al. 2001) or between parental involvement early and reading fluency (Sénéchal and LeFevre 2002) as well as enjoyment of reading (Baker and Scher 2002; Baker et al. 1997) have been noted but the nature of the involvement seems to be more important than past studies have considered (Sénéchal, 2006)
Although Hutchinson (2012) notes that primary homework is usually supported by mothers and parental involvement with homework is assumed as an aspect of ‘good’ parenting, involving parents in homework may also have negative consequences if parents have unrealistic expectations, apply pressure or use inappropriate methods. They may even promote cheating or lack of independence (Cooper, Lindsay and Nye 2000). International studies have also suggested that homework may magnify differences between high- and low-achieving pupils, because high achievers from economically privileged backgrounds may have greater parental support for homework, including more educated assistance, higher expectations and better settings and resources (OECD- 2014). How these aspects of parental involvement play out in primary schools in England is largely unknown, but a subject of concern for teachers.
This study asked:
- whether schools were setting homework and, if so, what type of activity and what types of materials were being used;
- what teachers believed about the importance of homework in primary schools;
- how teachers were supporting, setting and managing homework completed by children in England;
- what views teacher held about the role of parentsi n homework.
This study examines teachers’ views about and practices in homework in primary schools, based on questionnaire data from teachers in 235 primary schools and 19 in-depth interviews. The questionnaire used in this study was designed to find out: • whether schools were setting homework and, if so, what type of activity and what types of materials were being used; • what teachers believed about the importance of homework in primary schools; • how teachers were supporting, setting and managing homework completed by children in England. Draft questionnaires were piloted twice to explore both content and method (Van Teijlingen and Hundley 2001). Open questions about the purposes of homework, priorities for homework and the difficulties of homework. These answers were used to generate categories of answers for attitude scales. The second pilot was electronic,and sent to key members of staff in 60 schools to determine response rates. They thus became the target of the final questionnaire. A response rate of 31.6%,was achieved. The sample in this study was stratified to reflect the distribution of school types. Follow-up interviews were undertaken with 19 volunteer teachers from the questionnaire sample, 11 face-to-face and 8 by telephone. These interviews sought to expand the responses to the questionnaire and explore teacher’s beliefs further (Wengraf 2001). They were semi-structured but focused on: • Examples of the type and quantity of homework set for children; • Expectations of teachers and parents; • Exploring further the teacher’s choice of reason for setting homework and what they believed about the purpose of homework; • Examples of how the school supported parents and children doing homework and the barriers they encountered; • Examples of how teachers managed homework and, particularly, how they arranged book selection for home reading; • Examples of changes to the homework practices of the teacher. The resulting recordings were analysed using a content analysis (Patton, 2015) of each of the major question headings. The outcomes of the interviews are presented alongside relevant questionnaire results below.
Findings suggest that teachers prioritise contradictory goals and act in ways that support only some of these. Despite teachers' expressions of a wide range of purposes for homework, they overwhelmingly prioritised creation of parental partnership and skills practice. However, practices did not align well with the declared priorities or internationally identified goals. Pupils reading with parents was a universal form of homework and other homework focused either on English or mathematics or took a project-led approach. Integration of homework into class learning was problematic and scarce resources meant most homework received no teacher feedback. This contrasted with the international examples of skills practice espoused by government. In short, despite the resource limitations on feedback practices, schools in England appear to continue to prioritize both partnership with parents and practice of skills and knowledge, knowing that this results in homework that has little effect on pupil achievement. This study raises questions about which purposes for homework can be successfully addressed within current resources. It also raises the question of whose work primary homework is. Schools’ priorities and resources seem to be directed at parents, rather than children, and it is parents who are seen to be accountable, or ‘failing’ if homework is not completed. Teachers are also particularly concerned about the possible effects of homework on educational inequality and this privileges those families seem as both able and willing to participate.
Baker, D. and LeTendre, G. (2005). National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling. Stanford: Stanford University press Brooks, G., Pahl, K., Pollard, A. and Rees, F., (2008). Effective and inclusive practices in family literacy, language and numeracy: a review of programmes and practice in the UK and internationally. Reading: CfBT Education Trust Coutts, P.M. (2004). Meanings of Homework and Implications for Practice. Theory into Practice, 43 (3), 182-188 Hallam, S. (2004). Homework: the evidence. London: Institute of Education Hartas, D. (2011). Families' social backgrounds matter: socio-economic factors, home learning and young children's language, literacy and social outcomes. British Educational Research Journal, 37 (6), 893-914. Hutchison, K. (2012). A labour of love: mothers, emotional capital and homework. Gender And Education 24 (2), 1-18 Mullis, I., Martin, M., Foy, P. and Drucker, K. (2012). PIRLS 2011 International Results in Reading. Boston, MA: International Study Centre, Boston College http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/pirls2011/downloads/P11_IR_FullBook.pdf OECD (2014) Does homework perpetuate inequities in education? PISA in Focus 46. DOI 10.1787/5jxrhqhtx2xt-en Sénéchal, M. (2006). The effect of family literacy interventions on children’s acquisition of reading. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Snow, C. E., Barnes, W. S., Chandler, J., and Hemphill, M. (1991). Unfulfilled Expectations: Home and School Influences on Literacy. Harvard: Harvard University Press Thomas, S., Kyriakides, L. and Townsend, T. (2016). Educational effectiveness research in new, emerging and traditional contexts. In Chapman, C., Muijs, D., Reynolds, D., Sammons, P. and Teddlie, C. (Eds) The Routledge International Handbook of Educational Effectiveness, London: Routledge. Pierre, A. (2007). Homework beliefs and practices of middle school teachers. Unpublished DEd thesis, University of Southern California Patton, M. (2015). Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods. Thousand Oaks, LA: Sage Van Teijlingen, E. R. and Hundley, V. (2001) The Importance of Pilot Studies. Social Research Update, Issue 35, (Winter). Guildford: University of Surrey. http://sru.soc.surrey.ac.uk/SRU35.pdf Van Voorhis, F. (2003). Interactive homework in middle school: Effects on family involvement and science achievement. Journal of Educational Research, 96, 323-338. Walberg, H., and Paschal, R. (1995). Homework. In Anderson, L. (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Teaching and Teacher Education (268-271). Oxford, UK: Elsevier. Wengraf, T. (2001) Qualitative Research Interviewing. London: Sage
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