Friday, July 19, 2013

Thoughts on Homework for Next Year

Recently I read a short article titled “Target Homework to Maximize Learning” by Ray Heitzmann. There wasn’t as much theory or discussion about the merits of homework, but rather the article was that targeted and thoughtful homework can in fact “contribute to significant achievement in the areas of knowledge, skills, and values.” Heitzmann notes that “practice” is the most common type of homework that is assigned, and also has the potential to be the most boring and most useless. Rote learning does have a time and a place, but overdoing rote learning can also have the detrimental effect of reducing the love of learning in a student. Though it is important for students to practice certain skills, I do believe that this type of homework should be limited. 

Preparation homework is something that I find myself assigning on a somewhat regular basis in my history class in the form of vocab work or a short reading with some questions. To be honest, the main reason I assign this type of homework (especially the readings) is because we have so much content to cover and I find it helpful to cover some of that content outside of class. Ideally we’d have less content to cover and I wouldn’t have to assign outside readings. One of the problems with assigning readings (or other prep work) is that you know that now all students will do the assignment, so right out of the gate it’s intended purpose isn’t being fulfilled. Beyond that, inevitably there will be a group of students that will complete the assignment, but they won’t “get it”, which again prevents the purpose from being fulfilled. My intent this year is to assign less and less of the "prep" homework.

Extension and Creative homework appear to be the most beneficial and useful types of homework, and they also appear to be the most enjoyable types of homework for students. In my years of teaching these types of assignments (projects, papers, etc...) have been a staple of my class and they’ll likely remain. Not only do these types of assignments challenge students to “operate at a higher level of thought” as they investigate the content, they also teach many of the so-called ‘soft skills’ that we want our students to develop. They will have to collaborate with their peers, think creatively to solve a problem, and efficiently manage their time. One of the arguments in favor of assigning nightly homework is that it teaches time management skills, however I - and many others - find a much more authentic way to teach those time management skills is to assign larger projects.

Ultimately I want to move to more and more projects (PBL?) in my classes, and have the homework be much more authentic and engaging.Going forward I will most certainly continue to think about homework and practice, how much to assign, what type to assign, when to assign, etc...and I’m sure my views will continue to evolve. However, I will try and be more thoughtful and purposeful in what I assign, and in doing so I will also try to minimize the Practice and Preparation homework that I assign and increase the Extension and Creative homework. Additionally, one thing I would like to do is to prepare (or find online!) a “Homework Menu” where students can choose from a list of options based on their ability, skill-set, interest, etc...sometimes they could have free reign to choose, and other times I could limit the choices based on objectives and desired outcomes. One resource that I have already come across is this chart that offers “alternatives to traditional homework” located here.
Student choice is incredibly important, and something that I value in my classroom. While there are times that they do not have an element of choice in the work that they do, I try to make sure that students have that element of choice in most of the projects we do throughout the year. I’ve found that there’s much more buy-in and ownership, and higher quality work produced, when students have choice in what they do to demonstrate their learning. Creating a homework menu seems like a great way to offer that choice to students on a consistent basis. I want to spend some time this summer working with other teachers in my department to develop a homework menu that we can use in our classes this coming school year. It will likely be a work in progress, but it should be a great way to provide student choice, and to make sure that the homework is meaningful and beneficial to the students.

No comments:

Post a Comment