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Homework and Retention

I’ve been thinking a lot about homework recently. I’ve trialled takeaway homework and found in a non rigours manner that although the take up did increase, only one student saw any real benefit from doing it. This suggests that perhaps its not the best way for me to give homework to my students.

Hattie’s research (2008) suggests that homework has a decent effect size for pupils of secondary age (0.64) and is well worth doing as it is above his hinge point of 0.4. His research suggests that its not worth doing for Primary aged pupils with a tiny effect size of 0.15, but as I’m a secondary teacher, I’m more concerned about those findings.

Hattie drills into the research further and finds that structured, deliberate practice based homework has a better effect size than unstructured open ended tasks, and I think that in a maths context this makes perfect sense. This certainly seems to back up my preliminary findings on the impact of takeaway homework in my own classes.

So It got me thinking, what homework should I be setting? I read a piece recently by Craig Barton (@mrbartonmaths) which suggested that he would be moving towards a two weekly homework regime, where homework’s are 30 marks long, with 20 marks covering recent topics and 10 covering the rest of the topics learned so far in the year. This ties in with something I read recently from Joe Kirby (@joe_kirby) which suggested that he was building in lots of quick quizzes to improve retention and something I read from Bruno Reddy (@mrreddymaths) which said they were structuring their assessments in a similar way.

I think that these ideas are great, and going forward I plan to trial something similar. I am still going to set homework weekly, but I am going to rotate what its on. One week it will be on the current topic and the next it will cover all topics for the year. I hope that this, matched with starters that cover all the topics from the year, will help to build retention and improve the long term maths memory of my students. When setting the homework I will be setting tasks based around deliberate practice, as that is what the research suggests is of the best benefit. For the first few weeks of the year the weeks that cover all the years topics will focus on the core skills involved with maths such as the four rules of arithmetic, fractions, decimal, percentages etc.

A colleague of mine has started setting his homework on coloured paper and sticking them into his exercise books. I think this is a great idea, as it ensures that pupils have it there for revision purposes and it has the added benefit of evidencing progress over time and the setting of homework.

I shall track this trial next year and report back here when I know if it is effective with my classes or not.


Hattie, JA (2009) Visible Learning. A Synthesis of over 800 Meta‐Analyses relating to Achievement London: Routledge

Further Reading:

Getting on top of homework, Mark Miller: http://thegoldfishbowl.edublogs.org/2013/09/22/getting-on-top-of-homework/

Homework, what does Hattie actually say, Tom Sherrington: http://headguruteacher.com/2012/10/21/homework-what-does-the-hattie-research-actually-say/

Homework Matters, Tom Sherrington: http://headguruteacher.com/2012/09/02/homework-matters-great-teachers-set-great-homework/

Homework in Maths, Craig Barton: http://www.mrbartonmaths.com/blog/article-homework-maths/

  1. September 11, 2014 at 3:53 am

    Great article. I’m going through many of these issues as well..

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