I loved the article from CathyVatterott in Educational leadership this month! Just what we need to know: By using homework for practice in self-assessment and complex thinking skills, we can put students in charge of the learning process.
In my discipline – Mathematics - No more p. 238 5-57 the odds for assignments, no more 32 “drill and kill’ math worksheets, no more 90 minute homework assignments, no more going over homework the next day for 25 minutes of class, no more assigning homework at the last minute, no more students not knowing the answers and being able to check your work as you practice, no more homework filled with only lower level cognitive demand tasks! Homework will be worthy of our students’ best efforts? Right?
Not so fast.
Is homework really an essential element to the process of student learning? The short answer is yes. But the best protocols to follow for homework are not quite as clear.
Mathematics homework is an area that often lacks clarity, purpose and certainty for your students, your parents, your schools’ intervention support personnel, and most importantly for you. Your team asks, “Why do we give students homework? What is the purpose of homework? Why won’t students do their homework? Why do we spend so much time going over homework in class? Why is homework assigned for a grade?” The very idea of homework, and what to do with it is often a conundrum for you, your team and for your students.
Here is what we do know: The assignment of homework can no longer be a superficial exercise for you or your team. My colleagues and I now think the “homework” you assign students, as well as the way you think about homework as an in-class activity is one of the most important team discussions you can have, for agreement, before the unit begins.
Research does indicate that homework can be helpful in improving student achievement if implemented correctly (Cooper, 2008). Practice is important, but not without first developing student understanding in class.
Matt Larson, a national mathematics expert and lead author on our 2012 Common Core Mathematics in a PLC at Work series and our new 2014 handbook series on Beyond the Common Core in a PLC, suggests that student practice without understanding may be detrimental to students’ development of fluency, and in many cases avoiding this danger means that instruction should place greater emphasis on guided practice in class – practice that is supported by monitoring and feedback – prior to independent practice outside of class
Research also supports the idea of spaced (sometimes called distributed or spiral) vs. massed homework practice during the unit of study (Hattie, 2012) as having a significant impact on student learning. That is, provide homework assignment (practice) tasks that are spaced throughout the unit, allowing your students to cycle back and perform distributed practice on prior learning standards, including those learned earlier in the unit, previous units, or possibly the previous grade level.
As each teacher on your team begins to honor teaching to the same set of essential learning standards and designing high quality common assessments for your grade level or course, then it is a natural outcome that the nature of independent practice for student learning outside of class (homework) would be designed from the same core set of problems for each student, no matter the assignment of teacher for the grade level or course.
Understanding the purpose of homework
This spring you can and should use the questions in the Collaborative Homework Assignment Protocol Discussion tool to help you and your team develops a better understanding of the purpose, the content and the expected protocols for the units’ homework assignments. Think of it as a sort of spring-cleaning of your current homework habits.
Collaborative Homework Assignment Protocol Discussion Tool
Mathematics homework should be a formative learning activity, i.e. an opportunity to obtain independent feedback and improve learning. Think: Primary purpose of mathematics homework is independent practice. More importantly, successful independent practice. That is, students must understand and use homework as an opportunity for formative assessment learning – while you are not in the room (Hattie, 2012).
Perhaps the homework paradigm shift for you and your colleagues is to stop calling it “homework”. Certainly “Independent Practice” can be done at the coffee shop, or after school in a classroom at school, or on the bus, or sitting in a hallway, or in the car on the way to practice or a game, or with friends at the library, or at the neighbors house. Independent practice does not have to be done at a specific location… it just has to be done.
The work of your collaborative team is to decide, before the unit begins, what and how much homework to provide for additional student independent practice. Your team must decide how you will communicate the homework assignments to students and parents. And your team must decide the role homework plays as part of your classroom protocols.
Using effective homework protocols
Final Thoughts: Why are students expected to do homework? Not because they will receive a grade, not because they hope you will “go over” the problems in class the next day (which makes homework no longer an independent practice exercise), not because they are being punished.
Only because your students understand the importance of “formative assessment” and successful practice as a critical aspect of their long term memory learning process.
In class students do need your teacher modeling and lots of peer-to-peer guided practice, then out of class, and in a timely fashion, they need to do accurate independent practice with feedback (self-feedback and action or with peers) – well before they are back in your class the next day.
I wish you the best in your homework, oops, independent practice, journey. I hope these protocols and guidelines help as you think through this often-difficult aspect of your teaching and leading students!