The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

From the Head of Senior School


I am at school all day; why do I need to do homework?

Homework is the bane of a student's life. So why do most schools still set homework? It is important to state at the beginning that most studies still find that homework is statistically linked to improved academic achievement. Additionally, supporters posit that homework encourages independent learning, promotes responsibility as well as good work and study habits and ultimately supports students in developing the character traits necessary for success in life. Research has also shown that too much homework can be detrimental and in such cases opportunities for play, socialisation and family time can suffer. Of course, this all needs to be balanced against several other considerations, least of all is the need for a physical outlet. Our boys certainly have this opportunity through our commitment to the PSA, House sport activities and our Health and Physical Education programme.

So what is the difference between homework and study?

Simply put, homework is what one does day to day to reinforce learning or introduce a concept to be further developed in class. Homework is generally a short-term task. Study is work over and above set homework and generally moves skills, processes and knowledge from short term memory to longer term memory. As students' progress through the Senior School assessments in each subject cover more content learnt over longer periods of time. Study refreshes this content in one's mind while also allowing students to identify areas to be clarified. Study should be:

  • Part of a regular routine. Set aside times in a study timetable to study specific topics. Spend more time studying the topics you find hard or need to improve the most.
  • Task specific - by that I mean choose one particular area of work to study and have a plan - write notes, make a mind map, highlight material, test yourself.
  • Don't leave study to the last moment - schedule regular study times. Make study a habit.

What should doing homework and/or study look like?

I subscribe to the theory that students should look to make the most of the time available for them to complete their homework and study by ensuring all distractions are put aside. One of the great myths we encounter as parents and teachers is the myth of multi-tasking. That is, students today can complete multiple tasks applying equal attention to detail to each. This is a myth. I have heard it best described as multi-switching. That is, sharing one's attention across several tasks, apportioning a fraction of the available attention and cognitive ability to each. Managing two mental tasks at once actually reduces the brainpower available for either task. The more one multi-tasks, the worse one does in each task and the more distractible you become and the more disorganised your memory becomes. Dr Richard Restak, neuropsychiatrist, further describes multi-tasking as follows; "Most of all multi-tasking impairs our ability to think in a human way, to go into depth, and to develop our own ideas because it takes time and focus to form meaningful associations and connections."

Homework and study are an important part of the learning process. Developing a study regime which efficiently works is a skill in itself and should be developed over one's time at school. One of the greatest challenges to teaching study skills in isolation is the lack of context in which the skills are instantly valuable. I know that teachers regularly refer to study habits in class, such as, practise by doing, summarising notes, underlining key 'action' words which students only tend to pay attention to when it is of most importance to them. I encourage all students, especially our Years 11 and 12, to review their study routine and consider how they may be more efficient in the use of their time. If you or your child need any further assistance please discuss subject specific strategies with your teachers or in general speak to your House Head or Tutor.

Mr Dean Shadgett
Head of Senior School