Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back to School 2010! Do your Homework!

Homework! What do I think of homework? Well, first, let's make a few provisions:
1. Homework should reinforce student learning with the necessary practice to master concepts.
2. Homework should offer students feedback on how they are progressing.
3. Homework should give the instructor information about how to help the student.
4. Homework should be timely and not a time-waster.
5. Homework should NEVER be a penalty.

I LOVE homework. This kind of homework is a wonderful tool for me as a teacher and in the last few years I've made some changes that completely altered how I and my students feel about it.

First, the homework that I assign is "outsourcing" and that means tasks that can be done outside of class to give the necessary repetition of items for a student to master a skill. After a few practices in class only a fraction need the drill and kill. The rest should not suffer.

Second, the homework is due within a window of time-meaning that the students have the assignment several days ahead and can fit the homework into their schedules. This is especially great for vocabulary that needs to be mastered within a certain time period. And the rate of completion goes up to close to 100% when the middle school student learns that she can choose to do it on Tuesday after soccer or Wednesday before watching TV. What a great skill for students to learn! In the real world adults have deadlines and set their timelines, and this is how children learn the skill of time management.

Third, the students can see exactly how having done the practice improves their performance. "Gee, because I had practiced and used the feedback to learn I helped my team in class win points on the challenge questions. Hmmmm. Maybe this is cause and effect?"

Thinking hard about good homework assignments isn't easy, but the payoff is HUGE. Students who are meeting expectations on time and are ready to learn at each step makes my job of planning much easier. When the student isn't succeeding, I can address it quickly, provide opportunities to catch up and they are then back with the class having a great experience. The stress level has gone down considerably for everyone involved (parents have noticed), and students are willing to take risks because they know if they fall down, they won't be left behind and trampled.

What set me off about homework anyway? The fantastic book, The Art and Science of Teaching by Robert Marzano. His discussion brings many studies into the question (Good and Brophy; Cooper; Bennet, Finn and Cribb; Epstein) but the bottom line is this: "Small amounts of well-structured homework. . . may produce the desired effect."


tech guy said...

Great post....I'm curious though...what happens when students don't do the homework? They choose not to do it? Are they are penalized or is not being prepared penalty enough.

I have read some of Cooper's and of course Marzano's research as well. It is interesting material, yet neither can come out with definitive statements about the power of "may produce the desired effect" is about as strong as they get. Cooper's work also shows that the older the student the better chance there will be a positive impact...but that you walk a thin line...too much or unrealistic expectations will have negative impact. Get a copy of Alfie Kohn's The Homework Myth at the library or Amazon. Mr. Kohn likes to address both Cooper and Marzano's research on homework directly. The three have even politely sparred via Educational Leadership the last few years. I can send some articles your way if interested :)


Andrea Weis said...

Do send them!

And what happens when they don't do it? Well, when it's not done on the due date credit slips and your team doesn't do as well earning points in class because you don't know your stuff. Then, if it's still not done, credit drops again. But. . . this is key-you can earn it back if you get it done and retake your quiz before the next deadline. We have a built in "Braves Time" where I REQUIRE them to come and do the work. I give them the pass, sign them up, meet them in the lab and they do it. Yes, I can and do track them down. Then they re-take the quiz and get immediate results. Not good? Do it again. Until it's mastered. Do we have to chunk it down? Okay, we will! It will be mastered. Then we build it back up so that they can do the expected amount of material on time.