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8 Meaningful Homework
This is one of the chapters of the Basic Education Curriculum Guide - To Sustain, Deepen and Focus on Learning to Learn (Primary 1 - 6). Its contents are as follows:
8.1 Background
8.2 Purposes of the Chapter
8.3 The Place of Homework in the Learning, Teaching and Assessment Cycle
8.4 Setting Meaningful Homework
8.5 Balance of Homework Quality and Quantity
8.6 Guidance and Feedback on Homework
  8.6.1 Guidance on Homework
  8.6.2 Feedback on Homework
8.7 Drawing Up a School Policy on Homework
8.8 The Role of Parents in Homework
8.1 Background
Homework is an important component of the learning process and has always been an area of concern of the educators and parents. Since the Curriculum Reform, most primary schools have made reference to the guidelines provided by the EDB for drawing up a school-based homework policy. To summarise what is seen over the last decade, the design of homework has become more and more diverse, and it not only aligns with the development of the curriculum but also caters for the learning needs of students. In order to maximise the benefits of homework, schools should balance the quality and quantity of homework and conduct review and holistic planning on a regular basis, so as to facilitate alignment among various KLAs/subjects and further improve the schools’ homework policy.
8.2 Purposes of the Chapter
* Illustrate how homework can contribute to students’ self-learning
* Explain how teachers should set homework that suits the abilities of students and provide students with effective guidance and feedback on homework
* Make recommendations to schools on the arrangement of homework taking into consideration students’ learning needs and the role of parents
* Illustrate how to strike a balance between the quality and quantity of homework
8.3 The Place of Homework in the Learning, Teaching and Assessment Cycle
Schools and teachers should make effective use of homework to extend and consolidate students’ learning outside classroom, and help students deepen their understanding and construct knowledge. Formulating a school homework policy helps to achieve the following:
* It not only consolidates classroom learning but also prepares students for new learning and facilitates self-learning.
* It helps students understand their own progress and problems, and provides them with opportunities to learn to solve problems.
* It helps teachers identify students’ learning problems and adjust the teaching plans and strategies in order to provide timely feedback to students and enhance their learning effectiveness.
* It provides information on the knowledge students have acquired and the skills, attitudes and values they have developed. It gives effective feedback on the planning and implementation of the curriculum.
* Parents can understand their children’s progress and learning styles so as to provide timely support for their children.
* Parents can understand the requirements of the school curriculum so that parents and schools can work together to help students improve their learning.
8.4 Setting Meaningful Homework
Well-planned and well-designed homework can help students consolidate their knowledge, explore different issues and apply what they have learned. It also enables students to learn to take up their responsibility, build their confidence and develop their capabilities in independent learning. Quality homework can even enhance students’ high-order thinking and inspire students to set their goals and pursue excellence.
In setting meaningful homework, the following should be taken into account:
* Well-defined goals: The homework given aligns with the school curriculum and has clear learning goals. A piece of homework should not contain too many concepts. In addition, the goals and requirements set for the homework should be easily grasped by students. They should not be too hard or too easy but motivate students to do their best.
* Strengthening reading: The homework is conducive to developing students’ interests in and habit of reading, so as to help students build a solid foundation for life-long learning.
* Diversification: Different types and formats of homework can be assigned to motivate students in learning. Interesting and challenging tasks can be designed for students, e.g. experiments, surveys and creative work to develop students’ habit of self-directed learning, independence and creativity. Students can be invited to give oral reports based on the findings from their observation or discussion with parents and friends, or given homework such as model-making and other learning activities that interest them.
* Thinking and collaboration skills: The homework assigned helps improve students’ thinking skills and develop their deeper understanding of a specific topic, or nurture students’ communication, organisation and collaboration skills through group work.
* Relevance to daily life: Contexts and themes familiar to students are adopted so that classroom learning is linked to students’ daily lives, which helps to enhance their interest in learning.
* Using learning resources: Students are asked to make effective use of different learning resources including libraries and other community resources, the Internet and e-learning platforms so as to develop their learning to learn and independent learning capabilities.
* Flexibility and tailor-made materials: Homework with the same design may vary in requirements and allow flexibility to cater for students of different abilities and learning styles. It enables teachers to understand students’ performance in learning and help them solve problems.
* Meaningful and appropriate amount of recitation: Recitation or other forms of memorisation, such as comprehension, appreciation and memorisation of literary texts, should be selectively used to help students build a good language foundation.
* Adjustment in learning progress: Make use of homework to help students plan and monitor their own learning progress so as to develop a good habit of learning. Assignments that last a longer time such as projects and book reports allow students to plan their own pace of work, delve into subjects that interest them, and integrate various information, ideas and opinions.
Exemplar 1
A primary school has designed a “Reading Journal for Self-selected Themes”. It allows upper primary students to take the initiative in selecting themes, planning and employing appropriate thinking strategies for compiling and recording the information obtained from reading. Students can achieve their personalised targets within the scheduled time and experience the process of self-directed learning. Students can also choose to complete the journal either individually or in collaboration with their classmates, which helps to cater for individual differences.
Exemplar 2
數學科工作紙A Mathematics teacher provides a pre-lesson worksheet, which contains tips on preparation steps, revision mnemonics, practice exercises and self-assessment, to help students prepare for the lesson on specific topics effectively.
Schools should formulate the homework policy according to the school’s vision, goals in curriculum development and students’ needs. The homework set can vary in design to achieve different learning goals and outcomes. Table 8.1 provides some examples of homework design and their special features:
Table 8.1 Examples of homework design and their special features
Examples of homework design Special features
a learning plan or a daily-life plan Placing emphasis on helping students to develop good learning habits such as reading habits and positive values and attitudes including self-discipline, self-reflection, responsibility and passion for learning
cross-curricular homework or theme-based homework Giving students opportunities to connect concepts, develop their thinking skills and spirit of enquiry, and ability to apply their knowledge, skills and attitudes in different contexts
diversified design related to students’ daily life Allowing students to decide the amount and depth in their participation according to their needs, in order to arouse their motivation and interest in learning
For Reflection and Action For Reflection and Action
* What are the characteristics of your school’s homework? What can be done to further improve its design to help students learn better?
* Collect homework of different types from various subjects. Which is interesting, challenging and able to enhance students’ motivation and interest in learning?
8.5 Balance of Homework Quality and Quantity1
It is the quality rather than the quantity of homework that matters. An appropriate amount of meaningful homework should be assigned to motivate students to learn. In addition, students should be given sufficient time so that they are willing to complete their homework. To this end, schools should note the following when they assign homework to students:
* A holistic homework policy should be formulated through collaboration between subject departments. The Vice School Head or Primary School Curriculum Leader can be assigned to oversee and coordinate the homework policy across different subject departments, and monitor the implementation and effectiveness of the policy.
* Class teachers can check the amount of homework assigned by different subject teachers to avoid assigning too much homework on certain days.
* When assigning project work within or across key learning areas, teachers should check if the total number of projects for a particular level or class is reasonable.
* Currently, there is a wide variety of homework including worksheets, lesson preparation, note-taking, research, book reports, oral practice, newspaper clippings, drawing and handiwork. When formulating the homework policy, schools should draw on their previous experience and strike a balance between quality and quantity. Homework which helps to consolidate and facilitate learning should be given as much as possible. Excessive mechanical drills and copying such as copying texts or words and penmanship practice should be avoided in consideration of students’ levels and practical needs.
* Meaningful homework not only motivates students to learn independently after class but also connects what they have learnt with the content/issues of the next lesson. Under the principle of life-long learning, quality homework should naturally fit into students’ schedule after school and enhance their motivation for learning in the long run but not take up all their time.
* Schools should flexibly arrange the timetable and encourage teachers to make effective use of double lessons, tutorials and class-teacher periods to guide students in completing some of their homework with a view to reducing their pressure and enabling them to enjoy more leisure time.
For Reflection and Action For Reflection and Action
* How can the school homework policy help to develop students’ good learning attitude and positive values?
* Is the quantity of daily homework for different levels appropriate in your school? How can coordination between teachers of different subjects ensure that an appropriate quantity of homework is assigned so that students’ family life and participation in sports or aesthetic activities are not adversely affected?
* How are the guidelines for teachers on setting and allocating homework formulated in your school? How can schools help teachers to strike a balance between the quality and quantity of homework?
* To encourage students to be more focused when doing homework and practise time management skills, a school suggests the time required for completing each piece of homework for students’ and parents’ reference. Do you think this is feasible?
* To address the differences in students’ learning progress, some schools provide individual assistance to the students in need after consulting their parents. Do you think this practice can serve as a reference?
* Some schools conduct a questionnaire survey to gauge parents’ views on the pressure of homework on students so that timely adjustments could be made to the homework policy. Do you think this practice works?
8.6 Guidance and Feedback on Homework
8.6.1 Guidance on Homework
* Teachers should ensure that students know the meaning and purpose of homework, which is to help them enhance learning effectiveness. Teachers should let students understand their expectations of homework at the beginning of the school year. It is a common practice for some teachers to ask students to sign a contract on their personal goals for the academic year. Mutual expectations of homework (e.g. quality and completion on time) may also be part of the contract.
* When setting homework, teachers should provide sufficient guidance and explanation in order to ensure that every student understands the requirements and ways to complete the homework.
* Schools should encourage students to complete their homework. Schools and teachers should look into the reasons when students persistently fail to complete their homework. Parents’ assistance should be sought and resources should be reallocated to help students overcome difficulties in completing their homework.
* A range of supportive programmes can be set up to help students with different needs. For example, “Peer Support Scheme”, “Big Brother and Sister Scheme”, support measures for helping students with special needs or those who cannot catch up with the progress and homework guidance sessions before or after school can all positively support students in need.
* Parents can be informed of their involvement and the extent to which they are expected to support their children with homework.
Exemplar 1
家課問卷調查A primary school uses different channels such as notices to parents, “Parents’ Classroom”, “Parents as Learners” and Parents’ Handbooks to strengthen parent education and enhance their understanding of the school-based curriculum and homework. Besides, parents’ views on the homework quantity at all levels and subjects are gauged through parent questionnaires. This facilitates effective parent-school communication and cooperation as well as evaluation of homework policy.
Exemplar 2
家課調適紀錄表A primary school adopts a whole-school approach to student support and formulates appropriate homework and assessment policies to address students’ learning needs. Teachers also discuss with parents to facilitate their understanding of and involvement in particular support programmes.
8.6.2 Feedback on Homework
* Specific and constructive feedback should be given to students to help them understand their strengths and weaknesses and to enhance their learning.
* In addition to scores, grades and written comments, feedback should include specific suggestions for students. Feedback through online platforms might also be provided for students.
* Students’ efforts in learning should be frequently recognised and development of problem-solving skills and creativity should be encouraged to stimulate their motivation and build their confidence.
* Peer feedback helps students to learn how to assess the learning outcomes of their own and others’ efforts, and develop the positive attitude of appreciating others and accepting different opinions.
* Self-evaluation should be encouraged to help students understand their learning progress and weaknesses so as to adjust their learning plan and strategies.
* Parents' feedback can help students to understand their learning performance from different angles. Parents’ recognition and support can stimulate students to move forward and improve parent-child relationship.
A Chinese teacher in a primary school adds four columns, namely, Teacher’s Comments, Peer Comments, Student’s Self-evaluation and Parents’ Feedback at the top of the Chinese writing paper. Students are encouraged to improve their writing skills after reading the feedback from various parties.
For Reflection and Action For Reflection and Action
* For guidance on homework, how could your school further strengthen the support for students in consideration of the students’ family background or academic performance?
* What kind of problems do your students usually encounter in their homework? How can your school encourage students to solve these problems to improve learning?
8.7 Drawing up a School Policy on Homework
To draw up an overall school policy on homework, schools should have adequate communication with teachers, parents, guidance teachers or educational psychologists, and listen to and accept opinions of different stakeholders including those of students, where appropriate. The following should be taken into consideration when drawing up the school policy on homework:
* Homework should be designed to achieve the goals of the school curriculum, e.g. nurturing reading habits and a sense of responsibility. The needs of students at different levels should also be addressed, e.g. assignments for lower primary should be simple. More advanced study skills should be incorporated gradually in homework at higher levels so that students can gradually grasp such skills.
* Schools should take into account the time students need for participating in after-school activities when setting the type and amount of homework for each class and each level.
* Schools should conduct regular review of the school homework policy to meet the needs of students and the curriculum development. Schools should involve teachers of different subjects in the evaluation of the quality and quantity, variety and balance of homework. Parents’ feedback should also be taken into account.
* Schools and teachers should inform parents as soon as problems in students’ homework completion arise to work out a solution.
* Schools should explain the homework policy, specific implementation arrangements and appropriate parental support strategies to students and parents at the beginning of the academic year. Schools should also communicate with parents frequently and help them understand the purpose of homework and explain that quality is more important than quantity, so as to gain their understanding and cooperation.
A primary school has conducted an action research to draw up the homework policy for Mathematics at Primary Two. They believe homework can consolidate learning as well as develop students’ creativity. They set up three principles and the results are as follows:
* De-emphasising the place of written homework → Students’ capability in oral presentation and mental arithmetic is enhanced.
* Strengthening the interaction and communication in homework design → The relationship between teachers and students, between parents and children, and among peers could be improved.
* Encouraging students to take the initiative in reporting their learning outcomes from homework → Students are more willing to show their creativity and share their success experience.
8.8 The Role of Parents in Homework
As most of the homework is completed at home, schools should help parents understand that they play an important role in helping students develop good habits and learning skills. Schools should maintain communication with parents through different channels including Parent-Teacher Association meetings, Parents’ Night, Parents’ Day, notices, web pages of schools and other information to suggest how parents might assist their children in homework.
The following are some suggested duties for parents on their children’s homework:
* Schools should help parents understand the learning objectives and learning focuses of homework so that they can provide suitable guidance for their children. They should help their children develop a sense of responsibility, instead of doing the homework for their children.
* Parents can help in setting a regular schedule for homework and creating an environment at home that enables learning to take place, e.g. turning off the TV to remove distractions. Parents may also help their children develop a good habit of rest and work and help them plan their homework based on the requirements and priority, make schedules and start working well ahead of time to ensure that the homework can be completed on time.
* Parents should have appropriate expectations on their children and understand more about their children’s difficulty and needs so as to provide timely support for their children. They should care about their children as well as appreciate and acknowledge their efforts. When their children encounter difficulties, understanding and encouragement should be offered. Parents can make use of questions beginning with “why”, “how”, “what do you think”, etc. to guide their children to think about the issues from different perspectives.
* Parents should ensure that their children have sufficient time to rest so that their children can enjoy extra-curricular activities such as reading, sports and arts programmes. All-round and balanced development, both physically and mentally, should be fostered.
* Life-wide learning or parent-child learning activities arranged by schools require the support and participation of parents. Children can be guided to make reflection and share the learning outcomes.
* Parents should make effective use of different channels for communication, keep in contact with teachers and understand students’ learning progress, attitudes, habits and performance. Parents can also understand more about their children’s strengths and weaknesses through the teachers’ feedback on their homework so that they can help their children improve and further develop their potential.
* In order to assist their children in knowing their responsibility regarding learning and self-care and in developing their own self-management skills, parents may make reference to the following methods and help their children develop the habit of completing their homework and packing their school bags independently at a young age.
  For example, parents may guide their children to make effective use of the Homework Log in their handbooks. Students should first prioritise the homework to be completed. Then, they tick the homework that has been completed and pack their school bags by themselves according to the Homework Log and the school timetable. In doing so, their sense of responsibility and time management skills are developed.
  Homework Log
* Parents may refer to the “Parent Pamphlet on Meaningful Homework” to facilitate their children’s learning and help their children develop their potential to the full by supporting the homework policy of the school. They can also help their children develop good learning habits and a sense of responsibility.
The “Parent Pamphlet on Meaningful Homework” published by the EDB in 2011 can be downloaded from the EDB’s website at:
Parent Pamphlet on Meaningful Homework
* Parents may refer to the pamphlet on “How to Help Your Children to Reduce the Weight of School Bags” to develop their children’s habit of packing school bags and enhance their children’s self-management skills, and avoid the problem of over-weight school bags.
The pamphlet on “How to Help Your Children Reduce the Weight of School Bags” published by the EDB in 2014 can be downloaded from the EDB’s website at:
How to Help Your Children Reduce the Weight of School Bags
For Reflection and ActionFor Reflection and Action
* Regarding the homework policy, what new measures are proposed by your school to improve students’ learning?
* How can teachers, parents and students cooperate to enhance students’ learning effectiveness through homework?
1 Since the modes of homework have become more diversified, it is difficult to set the maximum amount of homework for schools. According to recent research, most primary students agree that teachers give them various types of homework and there has been improvement in the extent to which students are given excessive mechanical drills such as copying. As a result, the suggestion of setting a maximum amount of homework stipulated in the Guidelines (2002) (i.e. lower primary students’ daily writing homework should not exceed 30 minutes and upper primary students’ daily writing homework should not exceed 60 minutes) has been removed. Instead, schools can exercise their own discretion in deciding the amount of homework according to their school-based policy.
The following references are by no means exhaustive and listed for reference only.
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Cooper, H.(2001). The Battle Over Homework: A Common Ground For Administrators, Teachers, and Parents.(2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.
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Wahlberg, H. J. (1985). Homework's Powerful Effects on Learning. Educational Leadership, 42(7), 76-79
“Parent Pamphlet on Meaningful Homework” (有效益的家課 – 家長錦囊)
“How to Help Your Children Reduce the Weight of School Bags” (如何協助子女減輕書包重量)