Using Research, and a little about Homework

Will Thalheimer, PhD, President of Work Learning Research, Inc. contributed the following reminders about using research articles and findings. These originally came up in the context of parental discussions about the value of homework.

About me (Will):  I am the parent of a kindergartener (who by the way has been craving homework since her preschool days, but who just this week said “I’m not doing my homework.”). For over 10 years I have been working as a researcher and consultant focusing on workplace learning. See more at my website or blog.

Careful consumption of Research

I’m a big believer in using research to make decisions, but I’ve learned a few things over the years translating research into practice. Here are some things to think about.

·         Be careful which research article you look at. It may be well designed, poorly designed, relevant or not relevant. It may be contradicted by zero or dozens of other articles.
·         Review articles (articles that look at many separate studies) in reputable refereed journals often provide the best information, but reviewers can make mistakes in drawing conclusions.
·         Often, if you are not a researcher, it is difficult to look at scientific journal articles and give them a fair reading. The jargon makes it difficult, and background on research methodology and statistics helps in really understanding the meaning of the data.
·         Sometimes, author’s conclusions are not supported by their own data, so it is not enough to read the abstract or conclusion section of an article—or to read a quotation from the article taken out of its context.

With some of these things in mind, I did a quick search of the research on homework this morning. The most recent (that I could find) review article related to homework in a refereed scientific journal was published in 2006.

Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003.
Cooper, Harris; Robinson, Jorgianne Civey; Patall, Erika A.
Review of Educational Research. Vol 76(1), Spr 2006, 1-62.

I also found a review in the magazine Educational Leadership from 2007, which seems fairly balanced on a quick read. It is called “The Case For and Against Homework,” and is available in a PDF from the author. I recommend it.

One thing I would also recommend is that all perspectives be entertained, and some flexibility be allowed as all families are unique.

I recommend research-based prescriptions to my clients all the time, but I also tell them that they need to utilize their wisdom in integrating the research-based prescriptions into their practices. They need to try things out, but measure the effects of those trials, and make changes based on the fair and valid information they find.

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