by Harb Gill

Homework: how to help him get it right

“My message has never been to abolish homework, my message has been to get it right” – that’s the clear stand of Melbourne University’s Professor John Hattie, author of Visible Learning, the world’s largest evidence-based study into the factors that improve student learning.

Hattie says the research is very clear that the effect of homework in primary school is very low, close to zero, and the effect of homework at high school is much larger.

“That does not mean you should abolish homework,” he says. “It comes down to the nature of homework that schools give their students.”

So what’s the right kind of homework? 

Practice is perfect

“Giving the kids the opportunity to deliberately practise something they have been taught during the day is very powerful,” says Hattie.

He points to the work of Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, The Story of Success. 

Gladwell’s argument is that the Beatles, Michael Jordan and such weren’t born brilliant. Michael Jordan was a hopeless basketball player as a kid. They put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. That’s the power of homework,” says Hattie.

Assessment and discussion

“If homework is not assessed and discussed in the classroom, kids learn it’s not important.

“And you need someone there telling your son, ‘how about you do it this way?’ Sports coaches do that all the time. Teachers need to show students different ways of learning,” explains Hattie.

Age and stage appropriate

Melbourne neuroscientist Helen Silvester agrees that the type of homework is crucial to its effectiveness. In a recent article in The Guardian, she says that teachers need to make sure students can actually complete the homework.

“Pitch it to a student’s age and skills – anxiety will only limit their cognitive abilities in that topic. A high chance of success will increase the reward stimulation in the brain,’’ says Silvester.

Checking the homework with the students afterwards, Silvester says, “offers a chance to review the key concepts and allow the working memory to become part of the long-term memory”.

Professor Hattie also has some advice for parents:

  1. Don’t be a homework helicopter

“We’ve done the study and others have done the study – the more parents are involved in the surveillance of homework, the more it’s negative.

“The nature of the homework is that he knows what he’s doing. The reason we send them to school is that they are expert at teaching. At home, some of our parents aren’t experts at teaching.”

  1. Encourage your children to ask

“If they don’t know how to do something, encourage them to talk to the teacher – ‘how do you go about solving it?’ That’s the hard part – most teachers think homework is right or wrong. But if it’s about deliberate practice, then the next day when it’s followed up in the classroom, the teacher is there to help students.

“Like in maths, kids who are struggling, one of the best things you can do is give them the answer and then help them get there, because it’s the process of getting there, it’s understanding and interpreting.”

  1. It’s OK if they don’t get it right

“Talk to your children about mistakes as opportunities for learning. All learning is based on not knowing.

“Our school curriculum is so fact-driven, it’s so surface level, it’s so memory-based, it’s killing us.

“In this day and age, we need collaborative teams. 

“The biggest change we need is that someone has to have the courage to look particularly at year 11 and 12 assessments and move them away from the traditional ‘how much do you know?’ to ‘how much can you interpret?’ It’s not just getting the problem right or wrong, it’s how will you explain it. Those are massively important skills.”

Professor John Hattie’s 10th book, Visible Learning, took 15 years to write and half a million copies have been sold. He is currently working on his 11th book, Visible Learning for Parents.



Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Harb Gill is a journalist, university teacher and mother of a 14-year-old boy. She has spent a lifetime of inquiry into how to live consciously. Find her mindfulness column at This article is about


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