Getting the most out of homework

by: Erin Howland


In my junior year of high school, my AP European History teacher became demonically possessed by the idea that creating a restaurant would be the most fun and effective way to learn about Renaissance culture. The assignment was to use one 8.5x11in paper and to draw out the restaurant layout – with one inch margins – and label all the works of art and architectural styles you would use and where. We were not allowed to use a key or a computer. I remember being incredibly irritated over such a worthless, time consuming assignment that in all actuality had nothing to do with what we were reading in our book or learning in class, and that irritation doubled when I received my B+ for following directions, er, because my writing was “too small”.

I think everyone has a tale or two of their own restaurant assignment. In Oslo, the Department of Teacher Education and School Research (Institutt för lærerutdanning og skoleforskning) is finding that the way homework is used and the quality of homework assigned makes a difference in its effectiveness. When comparing Finland, Sweden, and Norway, ILS noted that Finland stood out as having the most successful homework policy.

Sweden and Norway are less likely to track homework, rendering the homework meaningless. Finland, on the other hand, does track homework, thus forcing the students to assume responsibility for their education. However, assuming responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean the homework is good. In Finland, the assigned homework was more closely tied to class lectures and discussions than in Sweden or Norway. The more immediate tie in and follow through with the class content and the use of homework tracking make a difference in effectiveness.

While Finland uses homework to enhance the learning process, Sweden and Norway are more prone to using homework as a way to cover material that was not discussed or not discussed enough in the lessons. One proposed solution to this problem is to tweak teacher education programs by refocusing on teaching methodology, a subject that has been largely ignored for the past quarter of a century. In the meantime, the National Agency for Education (Skolverket) in Sweden is working on materials to help current teachers increase the effectiveness of homework.


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About the Author:

Erin Howland is a Thesis staff writer focusing on International Policy, Standardized Tests, and Study Skills. A former University of Iowa graduate, Erin completed her Masters work in Nordic Studies last year while studying at Linkoping University in Sweden. Erin’s interests in international education have grown with time spent in a variety of different countries like South Korea, Iceland, and Japan.

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