Homework has become a staple part of school systems. It gives students the chance to consolidate what they have learned in class by practising it independently. But as well as improving learning, research also suggests that homework can help students develop one of life's most important skills: self-regulation.
Self-regulation is students’ ability to monitor and manage their behaviours, thoughts, and emotions as they try to progress toward their goals. It is key for developing independent learners who take charge of their own learning.
So, what makes homework so good for developing self-regulation skills?
Time management and planning
If students want to complete their homework in time to meet the deadline their teacher set, they need to plan ahead, make sure their plan is feasible, and then stick to it. This allows them to consistently practise and hone their time management skills.
Research has shown that students often struggle with this and can underestimate how long it will take to complete a task (this is known as the "Planning Fallacy"). Therefore, having the opportunity to allocate their time accordingly gives them a more accurate base for guessing how to do so again in the future.
Persisting with difficult tasks
Homework tasks can be challenging. Students need the persistence to complete them independently.
A key to students developing persistence is to believe that they can accomplish the task to fuel their motivation. Fortunately, research has shown that homework activities can help develop self-belief in students of all ages. Some students may need assistance with getting started on their homework independently, but when they are on a roll, they could see some improvements in their self-belief and ability to persist through difficult tasks – making future homework easier to get through.
Avoiding getting distracted is key to get any task done – especially homework. The growing use of phones among students makes this skill even more essential.
Research suggests that reducing distractions during homework is related to overall achievement and shows that high-achieving students are more prone to have this skill than their low-achieving peers.
So, what can students do to stay on task while completing homework? Some easy strategies include:
- Putting their phone away in another room
- Choosing a quiet space to work, away from the TV
- Turning off their music
Organising their environment
A focused environment is essential for students to concentrate on their homework, but it’s not just about getting rid of distractions. It’s also about surrounding themselves with only the tools that they will need or that will help them and making sure that their environment allows them to complete their homework efficiently.
Again, this gives students the opportunity to practise organising their working environment, which is an important self-regulatory skill that can help them complete tasks more productively.
Overcoming unwanted emotions
Self-control of emotions is another self-regulatory skill that helps students to manage their behaviour. It can be a little bit more difficult for students to manage their emotions as research has concluded that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain largely responsible for this, does not fully develop until age 25.
Doing homework allows students to practise overcoming their frustrations in the face of challenges. A key to this is to develop their mindset, to believe that with effort, curiosity and a good outlook on setbacks, they can achieve the task at hand.
Reflecting on what they have learned
Finally, homework can help students develop self-reflection, which is a metacognitive skill as well as a self-regulation skill.
Essentially, this means that students are aware of which learning strategies are working for them and what they can do to elevate their learning. For example, they can ask themselves reflective questions throughout the homework task to monitor their progress and see how they can improve their thinking processes.
For example, research has shown that reflecting on learning during homework helped increase the academic achievement of 9–10-year-olds after only 5 weeks of training.
Self-regulation skills are necessary for students in both their educational and personal lives. Homework is a low-cost and effective way to develop these skills for students across all age groups.
This is not to say that other extra-curricular activities such as sport, dance, music or drama can’t also help nurture these skills. However, evidence suggests that homework is certainly one vehicle for students to practice and enhance their self-regulatory behaviours.