Hattie on homework: support for flipped learning?

Like most teachers, I’m aware of John Hattie’s research because of its fame and wide influence. However, I hadn’t read his book (until now) or looked into it in much depth. Now, as a new master’s student learning about research methods in education, I was curious about how Hattie was able to synthesise meta-analyses and reduce each of the influences to a comparable number. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how he did this. The purpose of this post is not to explain the process or debate it (I’m aware that there are critics). Rather, I just want to highlight some of the points that I have found interesting and share some connections that I have made.

The influences have been placed on the graph below (Hattie, 2008) to show their impact on achievement. The red line indicates an effect of zero; neither positive nor negative. As the green arrow shows, almost everything that we do in schools has a positive impact and raises attainment. “Almost everything works!” Hattie states, which is why he warns against using zero as a benchmark for making decisions. Instead, we must consider how much impact these influences have in relation to one another. Therefore, he uses the average of 0.4 as the “hinge point” (indicated by the blue line below). Any influence with a larger impact than 0.4 falls within the “Zone of Desired Effects”. He argues that influences below 0.4 are little more than “political distractions”.

IMG_2180For me, the most interesting findings are the ones relating to homework. According to Hattie, the impact of homework increases significantly in secondary, reaching 0.64 (within the “Zone of Desired Effects”). For elementary students, the impact is 0.15. Almost zero. Despite technically having a positive effect, the impact is minimal and insignificant.

“Homework in primary school has an effect of around zero. In high school it’s larger. Which is why we need to get it right. Not why we need to get rid of it… many parents judge the quality of the school by the presence of homework. So, don’t get rid of it… It’s probably not making much of a difference but let’s improve it.”

Hattie, 2014

I’m not sure I agree with this as a reason to keep homework. The debate rages on, but exploring this debate is not the purpose of this blog post. Instead, I want to focus on Hattie’s recommendations for improving it.

Throughout the book, I was reminded of the best practice principles of the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. In a nutshell, flipped learning is when the teacher introduces content before the classes, typically through video homework. By “flipping” this, students and teachers can then use the all-important class time for application of that content and deeper learning. Last year, I became Flipped Learning Certified and many of Hattie’s recommendations reminded me of this online course. To my knowledge, Hattie has never publicly promoted flipped learning (please correct me if I’m wrong). Nevertheless, his recommendations appear to support this method of instruction. This post will revisit the key principles of flipped learning and highlight the connections to Hattie’s recommendations.

Teachers have a huge impact

Despite what people think, flipped learning is not about video lessons. It’s not even about homework. Flipped learning is about the active and deep learning that can take place in class because of the videosIt recognises the impact that the teachers have when students are learning with them. Hattie similarly recognises the impact of teachers. Most of the influences in the ‘Teacher’ category are within the “Zone of Desired Effects” and therefore have a significant, noticeable impact. The flipped learning approach benefits students by making the best use of their time with teachers.

Homework should be surface level

Also in line with flipped learning principles, Hattie warns against deep conceptual or project-based homework tasks.

“Homework that is surface level is much more effective than homework that is deep level. It should make sense to us. If kids need to be deep and they don’t know, they usually need a teacher.”

Hattie, 2011

This is the whole point of the flipped learning approach. By introducing surface level content before class, we can utilise face-to-face classroom time for deeper learning and application. Students need their teachers during these cognitively challenging tasks. Content such as facts and procedures are important but students can access these without the teacher. Our time with students is limited and precious, so we should use it for tasks in which students actually need us.

“The effects are highest, whatever the subject, when homework involves rote learning, practice, or rehearsal of the subject matter.”

Hattie, 2008

Homework should be short

Hattie claims that the impact of homework actually falls below zero when more than an hour of work is assigned, meaning that too much homework actually has a negative impact on achievement (Hattie, 2011). He recommends around five to ten minutes per night. This reflects the recommendations from the Flipped Learning Global Initiative that video length (in minutes) should reflect the child’s age (in years). E.g. approximately ten minutes for ten-year-olds.

Videos should be interactive

At 0.52, interactive videos that supplement lessons have an above-average impact on achievement. This obviously connects to flipped learning because content is typically assigned through videos. The key word here is interactive. For several reasons, flipped content should include some form of interaction. This might be through note-taking or a short quiz, for example. Interactivity ensures active listening (and learning) and also keeps students accountable for completing the task(s) prior to class. Furthermore, it allows the teacher to gather important assessment data. These key principles of flipped learning are reinforced in Hattie’s research. He also suggests that the teacher should be seen or heard in the video, especially at the elementary level. This connects to the next point.

Flipped videos should contain the class teacher 

For me, one of the key implications from the flipped learning course was that the video lessons should, ideally, be made by – and include – the class teacher. In the course, Jon Bergmann claims that students have strong connections to their teachers and will, therefore, respond much better to videos that contain them. With a huge impact of 0.72, the importance of teacher-student relationships is confirmed in Hattie’s findings.

“The effects [of interactive videos] were greater when regular class teachers rather than specialist teachers were used.”

Hattie, 2008

Students’ interactivity should be monitored and used to inform

Hattie points out that homework should be carefully monitored. Once again, I can connect this to flipped learning principles. The assessment data that is gathered from video homework should be used to inform upcoming lessons. The class teacher can use this data to differentiate and more effectively meet students’ needs.

Homework should not reinforce incorrect routines

A common criticism of homework is that it often reinforces incorrect routines. Hattie also acknowledges this. For example, if a student incorrectly worked through a page of problems, their incorrect methods were internalised, usually without anybody there to intervene. Rather than using homework for practise or application, the flipped learning approach uses it to introduce new content.

For more theory and recommendations regarding flipped learning, click here to revisit my Flipped Learning Certified blog post. If you’re interested in becoming certified yourself, click here for more details. Again, I’m not sure if Hattie has ever discussed flipped learning and I don’t know if he would promote it. This post is just me making connections and speculating (hence why the title is posed as a question).

As the quote on the cover shows, Hattie’s research is often referred to as a “bible” or “holy grail” for education. I agree that the findings are interesting and worth exploring, but we should also remain critical and open-minded. The jury is still out regarding homework and there are many other factors, beyond achievement, to be considered. As I said, the debate rages on. To explore more studies and recommendations, consider reading Ditch That Homework by Matt Miller and Alice Keeler. Admittedly, I haven’t read it yet, but it comes highly recommended and it’s next on my reading list.

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    1. Hi Norah,

      Thank you. I hope you’re right. I just wanted to share the many times that I was reminded of flipped learning throughout the book. I’m concerned that nobody else has made these connections (not that I know of anyway). I might be totally off! I’ll await further feedback…

      Thanks again!


      Liked by 2 people

      1. We make the connections where we see them. It’s good to point out what we find to others. Sometimes it takes that one creative spark to see a new way of doing things. Keep sparking!

        Liked by 1 person

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