Is homework meaningful?

Homework is a topic which generally doesn’t receive much discussion in schools. Of course, there are policies about how much homework students should complete each week (which teachers should be aware of), but little discussion occurs amongst colleagues about what homework is being set. It took me several years to get year level text books off my student’s class book list because teachers commented, “We’ve always had a text book, why do we need to change”. Having a text book or work book makes setting homework easy, just ask students to complete a page, the answers are in the back of the book for the teacher to use when marking,  and homework is completed. But, it isn’t meaningful.

To set the scene, I’ll share how I see homework being delivered in secondary and primary education.

In secondary education, homework is often directly related to the course content, it may involve finishing off work, working on assignments, working from a text book, or as I’d like to assume happens in many schools, flipped learning, where students watch content at home and then work on learning tasks during class time with teacher support. One issue which arises in secondary schools is how much homework is being given to students. As specialist teachers strive to get through their curriculum content, students in secondary education can easily become overwhelmed with ‘too much’ homework. However, this isn’t my focus for this blog.

In the junior primary years, homework usually consists of reading, sight words, spelling and some sort of maths, related to the topic being taught during class. Middle school homework might consist of spelling, reading, math and or finishing off class work. Finishing off classwork for homework, is this meaningful homework?

If students don’t complete tasks during class time there are several possible reasons; (1) The task was too large for completing during lesson, therefore the class teacher might need to allocate more time the following day; (2) The task was too hard and or the student didn’t understand; (3) The student wasn’t on task, therefore classroom behaviour management or student engagement might need to be addressed.

So, if completing a page from a text book or workbook or finishing off incomplete class tasks isn’t meaning for primary students, what might meaningful homework consist of?

At the 2017 EduTech conference, one of the speakers spoke about setting students a ‘Personal Passion Project’ for homework. That is, allowing students to choose a topic and become a genius at that topic. This approach will give students choice, a sense of empowerment over their learning. I think it will also motivate students who reluctantly complete homework, as they will develop a sense that homework is meaningful and relevant. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it, but how might it be achieved in reality?

I’ve come up with an idea which I will trial. I already set homework on a Friday and students are expected to complete it by the following Friday. This allows students to choose to work on their homework on the weekend or during the week. I will stick to this, as it currently works well. On a Friday, I will give students a broad topic, for example Geography, History, Science or Mathematics. Then, I will allow students time to discuss possible sub topics which they might choose to become an expert in. For homework, students then need to become an expert in their chosen topic, keeping a record of their learning. The following Friday, when it is time to hand up homework, students hand in their learning record and share their field of expertise with class members. I have 29 students, so I envision 5 groups of 5 and 1 group of 4. Each student will have 5 minutes to share/teach their expertise with the members of their group. However, there is a catch!

Students will not be permitted to present a PowerPoint, read from a piece of paper or show a poster. The only stimulus they can use to help deliver their expert knowledge are pictures or video footage with no sound. Why? Well, to truly be an expert in a field you need to know your content, to be able to speak about it freely. Students will have the option to use markers and blank pieces of paper to draw diagrams or flow charts as they speak.

Another reason why I’ve chosen this approach is so that parents don’t end up doing the homework. Yes, parents. Most parents are guilty of having done this at some stage. Too much going on at home, or students coming home and telling their parent how wonderful a peer’s model looked, all put pressures on parents and students.

To scaffold students and parents with this new style of homework, I have created the documents below. The first is a record of student’s homework and the second, is a reflection after each student has shared their expertise with their group.

Becoming an expert homework scaffold JVillis-2c45uxf

Becoming an expert homework reflection JVillis-1m3amv3

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