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Geography homework

‘Homework is a contentious issue in any school; some people are supporters, others have their doubts. What seems clear, however, is that if it is set with clear guidelines and a sense of purpose; if it is interesting and engaging; it has the potential to encourage enthusiasm and produce excellent quality work.’

Moira Duffy, 2013

Topics on this page:

  • What is good homework?
  • How to make it meaningful
  • Setting homework for your classes
  • Reviewing your homework practice
  • Flipped learning
  • Reading

We are using the term ‘homework’, as described in the DfE Frameworks, for all ‘out-of-class work’ or ‘home learning’. Some schools use alternative terms.

The EEF (2020) noted:

The evidence shows that the impact of homework, on average, is five months’ additional progress. However, beneath this average there is a wide variation in potential impact, suggesting that how homework is set is likely to be very important.

Different schools have different approaches to homework. Most have a policy in terms of when and how much homework should be set. As a classroom teacher, you will not have control over this. However, you have considerable control over the type of homework set.

What is good homework?

The most important thing is the quality of homework and not the quantity. Homework is an ideal opportunity to develop effective study habits in older students and to practice key knowledge and skills. Homework should be integrated with the teacher’s overall goals for what students will learn in a unit of work. Homework can be part of independent practice.

Criteria for good homework:

Homework should:

  • develop students’ geographical knowledge and skills
  • be related to the learning in the unit of work currently being studied
  • be linked to in-class activity
  • be challenging – but pupils should be able to complete it successfully
  • be inclusive, so all students can gain from it
  • have a clear purpose that students understand
  • be engaging and manageable, i.e. students have access to the resources/support to complete it.

Students should receive feedback on homework. One way to do this, without a marking burden, is to review it at the start of the lesson.

Explore the variety of homework activities in your school.

  • What do you think are good tasks?
  • Meet a group of students and discuss with them their thoughts on homework and the types of tasks they find exciting and engaging and that help them to learn.
  • Discuss homework with geography teachers in your school: Start with these questions:
    • Why do they set geography homework?
    • How do they approach homework with their classes?
    • How do they view homework – the ‘bane of their life’ or an opportunity?
    • Do they use independent research tasks?
    • Do they consider homework to be ‘home learning’?
    • Are there different purposes with students of different ages?
    • Do they mark homework? How do they make this manageable?

How to make it meaningful

The diagram, which comes from chapter 21 of the GA’s Secondary Geography Handbook (2006), outlines some of the reasons for setting homework in geography and some questions you should consider about each.

Think about why you are setting homework and make sure that you set homework that is valuable for students’ learning. The quality of homework and its relevance to the teaching is more important than the amount set. Consider how you can use homework to engage and motivate students to learn geography.

It is important that the learning that students do away from the classroom is fed back into your lessons. However, bear in mind that students from different backgrounds have different opportunities and experiences of doing schoolwork at home; for some disadvantaged students it can be difficult.

  • Read Balderstone and Lambert (1999) and Duffy (2013).

Setting homework for your classes

There are many opportunities for setting rich and varied homework in geography. Some homework ideas are:

  • Figure 1 Balderstone and Lambert (1999) lists several good examples that you could explore.
  • The independent research tasks illustrated in Duffy (2013). The full task sheet is available in the online resources accompanying the article.
  • Wall (2017) in Teaching Geography, Summer 2017 p. 53 explains how his department uses homework to develop students’ enquiry skills and ability to work independently.
  • Noyes (2019) p. 105 describes how her department uses homework projects for year 7 and 8 to develop the skills required for GCSE. A homework task is available as a download.
  • Look at the PowerPoint from The GA Conference 2021 Adding mastery, breadth and depth to the curriculum through homework by Jen Monk.
You may wish to ask students to access the internet to complete their homework. You need to take into account that Ofcom (2022) found that 17% of secondary age students did not always have access to an adequate device for online learning at home and 3% never had access.
 

Homework should not be an ‘afterthought’ that is set for students just before the bell! Look at these further examples of how geography departments carefully planned how they would use homework. Harris (2017) suggests different imaginative ways of using homework.

  • Example of a lesson plan on crime for year 7 (Balderstone, 2006). The annotations show how the homework has been carefully planned and is integral to the lesson.
  • Case Study on Challenge by Jen Monk in Enser (2019). Chapter 1 illustrates how one department tackled the provision of challenge in homework and supplementary work.
  • Harris (2017) chapter 13 introduces the idea of take-away homework with a menu approach for students to select from. This uses tasks with different levels of challenge, and the teacher guides individual students in their selection. He also discusses the role of flipped learning (see below) to engage students to work independently and a more traditional approach to homework using homework booklets.
  • Why am I setting this homework? What is its purpose?
  • What do I expect students to learn from it?
  • Do students understand what is expected and why they are doing it?
  • Is this the best way to achieve the intended outcomes?
  • Am I setting homework that sets high expectations for geographical learning?

Reviewing your homework practice

Do not overlook the evaluation of the effectiveness of the homework you set and its impact on students’ learning. Do this regularly as part of your overall lesson evaluations.

  • Did it fulfil its purpose? Did all students complete it?
  • Did I share the intended objectives for this homework with students? Did they fully understand them?
  • Did I successfully adapt the task for the range of abilities in the class?
  • How well did students respond to the task? Were my expectations met? Did they find the task engaging to complete?
  • What learning gains were achieved?
  • Did the tasks successfully extend or consolidate learning from the lesson?

Flipped learning

Flipped learning is when the convention of classroom learning followed by homework is inverted. Students are introduced to the learning material in advance, and during lesson time they explore the topics that have been introduced in greater depth. The phrase came into general use in the early mid-2000s and is often related to the use of online resources. Students might watch video explanations of key concepts or techniques, or complete research activities.

This model of learning is more than just a different approach to homework. It is a student-centred approach with a strong focus on developing independent study. Class time is devoted to expanding on, and mastering, geographical content through collaborative learning activities, projects and discussions. In a flipped learning environment, students have more control to learn at their own pace.

For example, a typical flipped lesson might work like this in the context of a topic on ‘coasts’:

    • Students are set a preparation homework in which they read a textbook explanation of coastal erosion processes and watch a video of forms of coastal management to combat erosion. They are asked to make notes.
    • The lesson starts with students asking the teacher about anything they found confusing. They add these explanations to their notes in their own words.
    • The teacher questions them about coastal erosion and coastal management techniques to check understanding and explaining finer details where necessary.
    • The teacher introduces a case study of coastal erosion on the Yorkshire coast, which they discuss together as a class, and apply their new knowledge to the case study.
    • Working in groups and using OS maps, students are set a problem-solving activity to recommend a coastal management scheme for this stretch of coast.
    • The class debate the alternative proposals.
    • Read Baston (2016).
    • Read Developing Independent Learners – Attempts at Flipped Learning.
  • Read the article by Alcock, Fryer and Robinson (2023) which describes the use of Harkness discussions in A level lessons to increase student engagement and develop skills of evaluation and synopticity. This type of discussion usually focuses on a shared stimulus, for example an article, which students have studied in advance so is a good example of flipped learning.
  • Discuss the flipped learning model with your mentor. Has he/she used this approach? Have any other teachers used this approach? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages as they see it.
  • Consider some opportunities to put this into practice with one of your classes. Plan the flipped learning together with your mentor and invite them to observe one of your lessons and jointly evaluate the outcomes.

Reading

  • Alcock, D., Fryer, L. and Robinons, H. (2023) ‘Active geographical learning using Harkness discussions’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Balderstone, D. (ed) (2006) Secondary Geography Handbook. Sheffield: Geographical Association, chapter 21.
  • Balderstone, D. and Lambert. D. (1999) ‘Sunday evening at the kitchen table’, Teaching Geography, April.
  • Baston, J. (2016) ‘A flipped learning model’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Duffy, M. (2013) ‘Home learning: How can we make this more meaningful?’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Enser, M. (2019) Making Every Geography Lesson Count. Crown House, chapter 1.
  • Harris, M. (2017) Becoming an Outstanding Geography Teacher. Routledge, chapter 13.
  • Noyes, H.F. (2019) ‘Making homework count’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Rogers, D. (2017) 100 ideas for Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Geography Lessons. Bloomsbury Education Idea 76.

Reference

  • Education Endowment Foundation (2020) Homework (secondary) Teachers’ Toolkit.
  • Ofcom (2022) Children and Parents: media use and attitude report 2022.