Homework and equitable conditions for learning | Skolforskningsinstitutet

Homework and equitable conditions for learning

– teachers’ working methods before, during and after homework assignments

This systematic review is a compilation of studies about teachers’ work to promote equitable conditions for student learning. The review is based upon this question:

What characterises teachers’ work with homework that can contribute to equitable conditions for student learning?

Results of the review

The results of the studies included in the review focus on how teachers’ work with homework can promote equitable conditions for student learning. In the review, we highlight important aspects relating to how teachers can work to encourage equitable conditions before, during and after the students’ homework assignments.

Before the homework assignment:

  • consider the purpose and choice of assignment
  • design the assignment to provide further knowledge or as preparation
  • think about whether the assignment is engaging
  • think about how the assignment can be adapted according to students’ needs

During the homework assignment:

  • cooperation between home and school
  • inform parents/guardians about assignment structure
  • be aware of the varying resources available to students at home
  • use parents/guardians as a resource

After a completed homework assignment:

  • use the assignment in a formative manner to develop teaching
  • follow up the assignment in a time-efficient manner
  • benefit from students learning from each other
  • be aware of assumptions and expectations.

Overall, the results of the studies included in the review show that teachers can contribute to equitable conditions for student learning by planning the design of the homework assignment, taking account of the students’ home circumstances and following up homework in the classroom.

Prior to the homework assignment

The results show that the purpose of, preparations for, and type of homework assignment are important aspects to consider in creating equitable conditions for student learning. A teacher’s work prior to the homework assignment includes describing how to work on the assignment and clarifying for students whether they should do the assignment alone or with others.

The review also demonstrates that some types of homework assignments work well, regardless of the students’ resources at home. One example of this is interactive homework, such as when the student interviews someone at home It is also apparent that engaging assignments can promote equitable conditions for student learning.Examples of engaging assignments are flexible games, which can be played on different occasions and in different places, perhaps with parents or guardians. Assignments that enhance knowledge – extension homework – have proven to engage students and further their knowledge, regardless of resources available in the home. Extension homework that is related to classroom content provides students with the opportunity to describe, analyse, discuss, investigate or make comparisons, giving the assignment a problem-solving character.

The review also covers the importance of being responsive when adapting homework to students’ differing circumstances. The results discuss adaptations that were appreciated by the students, which were mainly assignments that could be done in school where students could get help from teachers. The adaptations that were appreciated by most students were those that did not single out a particular student, but that would benefit everyone. Transferring results from one school context to another is not always possible; individually adapted homework and adjusted support may be experienced as unfair and stigmatising in one context but not in another.

Work during the homework assignment

The results show that good cooperation between the student, teacher and parent/guardian is necessary for all students to successfully complete a homework assignment. The parent/guardian may need to be informed that the child needs a clear structure for doing homework. The studies show that it can be a good idea for teachers to inform parents/guardians about the importance of pupils receiving help to set aside time for homework, that they have somewhere quiet to do their homework and that they may need help getting started. Parents/guardians should not be controlling while homework is being done but, when necessary, be an interested and curious partner in discussions. Homework can have a negative effect on conditions for equitable learning when, in designing the assignment, teachers have not considered the differing resources available to students at home.

Some of the studies in the review discuss homework in the form of a flipped classroom. In a flipped classroom, students prepare for class by watching videos, which requires resources such as a computer and a stable internet connection. The results show that this type of homework can benefit students with a high rate of absence, for example due to illness. However, studies of flipped classrooms also discuss the potential for students to prepare at their own speed by watching a video several times, on the one hand, and on the other that their differing resources at home can have a negative effect on equitable learning opportunities for this type of homework.

The results also show how homework which requires that parents/guardians have specific subject knowledge can make it more difficult for some students to do the assignment and develop their knowledge. There are examples of the types of homework where people at home can be resources when doing the assignment; these are productive regardless of the parent’s/guardian’s native language, experience and knowledge in various subjects.

After talking to people in their home environment, in their home language, students can share their experiences. This allows students to learn from each other when homework is followed up in the classroom.

Following up a completed homework assignment

Following up a homework assignment is an important part of a teacher’s work, and the results show how teachers can utilise an assignment in planning the next lesson. Determining the level of the students and bringing up any misunderstandings that arose when the homework was done benefits the students and the planning of future lessons. The review describes this as a way of using the homework assignment to develop teaching. For example, teachers can discuss misunderstandings with the entire class, so clarifications are made to all students without anyone feeling targeted. Evaluating an assignment can make teachers aware of any ambiguities and problems in classroom teaching; these can then be rectified in the next class. Allowing students the opportunity to reflect on the homework assignment and what others learned can provide the right conditions for learning from their own experiences and those of other students. The results show that this is a way for teachers to follow up homework assignments more effectively. Lessons are more efficient when teachers show examples from assignments to the whole class, rather than going through all the students’ work individually. Studies of flipped classrooms show that interactivity during lessons may increase when students have had the opportunity to watch a video in advance.

The results also show that teachers need to be aware of their own assumptions about, and expectations of, the students, so as not to draw erroneous general conclusions about students’ attitudes, motivations or knowledge outcomes.

Selection of research

The studies included in the review were selected after comprehensive literature searches in international scientific reference databases, have examined teachers’ work regarding homework for students aged 5 to 15 and relate to equitable conditions for student learning. The search resulted in 7,333 unique studies. After an extensive review process, 15 studies were assessed as being able to contribute to answering the question posed by the review. The included studies were conducted in the US, Sweden, Portugal, Greece, Australia, Germany and Turkey.

The systematic review is available as summary, information sheet and full report (in Swedish).

Project group

The project team consists of external researchers (specialists in the field) and staff at the Swedish Institute for Educational Research.

External researchers

Jöran Petersson, PhD, Senior lecturer, Malmö University

Max Strandberg, PhD, Senior lecturer, Stockholm University 

From the institute

Alva Appelgren, PhD, Project manager

Pontus Wallin, PhD, Assistant project manager

Lisa Jonsson, Information specialist

Catarina Melin, Project assistant