This is a graph that means something very odd. This is a graph many research get when they study homework. What this graph means is this: Doing some homework is better than doing none at all, but doing larger amounts of homework is actually less beneficial than doing smaller amounts of homework.
Does this mean anything about homework? No. Not really. What it means is the way we approach and study the topic, apparently since the late 1880s, is flawed. I suggest starting over, and in 2014 starting over can be easier than in 1914 because many educators are lucky enough to work in 1:1 programs. These programs allow schools to redefine the keyword in the compound word homework- WORK.
I have been asked to be on a panel about 1:1 programs and homework and to make a presentation on the topic. As someone who always assumes what I know is flawed or outdated, I re-read some homework research. I re-read some Roger Schank who I feel is usually ignored by K-12 educators but is in fact one of the worlds best experts on human learning. I looked passed the politics and the concept that in many cases homework is babysitting and a tool for punishment.
In conclusion, I have decided that when working with children above year 7 in a 1:1 school, schools need to stop saying this is your homework, and start saying this is THE WORK.
When students begin a course of study they need to know what is expected. The first 1-2 weeks should be spent explaining and exemplifying where they need to be by the end of the course and why they need to be there. This should be broken down into the estimated number of hours the average student needs, and the resources and skills required, to complete the course.
In addition students should understand the payoff. Is the course designed to simply level them up? It is designed to prepare them from some third party assessment? Is the outcome actually meaningless for academic purposes, but meaningful for other reasons?
This is the work. This is what they need to understand.
Hours of time to complete something are finite. Students can understand that. If they are not reaching a certain goal in a certain amount of time then they will know they need help or they need to study more. Adolescent children lose track of time all the time. They also lose track of value, money, and many personal possessions. Giving them some metric they already understand to help maintain their space in a course, is a good idea.
This only works though if the teachers understand the work. I firmly believe many teachers assign work that they feel should take an hour, but actually takes much longer. I do not believe most teachers simulate the work to make sure their plans and expectations are aligned with reality.
The Work in a 1:1 Environment
If the course and course work has been defined, then leveraging the 1:1 environment is the next step. Weather flipping-out a classroom with media or simply organising all the materials for digital distribution, the next step is to give the students everything. A friend of mine use to call this giving them “the brick”.
Every student should have everything the teacher has. This includes but is not limited to old exams, samples of work, teaching notes, links and resources, search terms for databases, etc. Anything that is not illegal to share with students, should be shared, in mass, and immediately.
This immediately makes the 1:1 program a real resource. It allows students to have immediate access to information and new opportunities for learning. This process eliminates the ubiquitous and time wasting “Googling” students get lost in, which I find to be a core waste of classroom time.
The teacher must be able to initially help students organise material, or come-up with strategies for organising the material. The teacher also needs to review the skills needed to use the material. However, shouldn’t they be doing that anyway? Instead of doing it in small pieces, the tools and skills are given up-front.
Day-to-day there are topics that have to be covered. At the end of a 2-3 day cycle teachers should be aware of how much class-time has been used effectively. If class-time has not been sufficient, then students immediately can be prompted to do the work on their own until they are at, or close to, where they should be in the course.
The Work Outside the Classroom
If students are aware they are behind, especially as a class, then teachers can easily assign tasks to them to keep them moving on their own time. Because students have the materials and resources at the ready, teachers merely need to have a strong grasp of the time needed to cover material and master skills.
Asking students to “read for the next class”, is not going to influence them to actually read and pay attention. However, looking at 30 students, dividing them into groups of 5, and dividing the reading by 5, means five groups get to make 5 discussions and lead the learning. The assessment for something like this would be in realtime, done in the classroom, and can easily be explained to the students.
This technique can literally be used all the time with reading. Students can team up, open their materials, and start working. They can work in groups at school, online from home, or asynchronously in numerous ways. They all have equal access to resources and communication. Communication strategies for this type of work can be suggested or modes of communications can be strict and monitored. The options are there, and the problems are easy to resolve.
When students need to do key assessments such as mid-terms, final exams, mock exams, etc., reviewing in class will often lead them to believe that the content in class, is the content on the exam. Working outside the classroom and using the material they have and tools for group work, they should be able to collectively create exam-like questions, and answer them. The teacher can provide oversight and correction during class-time.
I use these two examples as they seem to be the most common types of activity that teachers and students engage in- reading, discussing, preparing, and assessing.
Everyone always likes to throw this around as a great educational theory~ Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.
If I had a dollar everytime I heard someone say “UBD”, I would have a bunch of dollars. Like many things though, schools and teachers tend forget this little gem by Wiggins and McTighe~ THE SIX FACETS OF UNDERSTANDING . In summary those are:
Just to be clear, this means when students are working and learning, they need to be able to explain, interpret, and apply information and skills. They also need to be able to see around the concepts, find errors, explain the errors, and understand other points of view.
Applying a traditional model of studying for tests by doing homework, does not meet this standard. Students should spiral through explanation to self-knowledge often. They may never achieve self-knowledge, but they need to always be heading there.
Following the path of homework to test, is a circle, and those who master the circle, can master the appearance of achievement. UBD does not seem to be possible without including the six facets. Yet, they are often ignored.
In a 1:1 program the students should be able to use their own time for the initial exposure to new material, skills, and ideas. They should be able to use the class-time to engage with the teacher. The teacher can use the class-time to push the students further into the spiral of learning, and use the out of school time to move from regurgitation of content to actually creating something or proposing something new.
Walking The Path vs Jargon
A few days ago a friend of mine when to a job interview. When it was done he said, “I am not sure what they are doing at the school, but they use alot of jargon and buzzwords.”
Much of what has been written could be construed as a rant, a theory, or an untested philosophy. I would like to admit to teaching and running my classes in the manner listed in this post since 2005.
I worked like this, because it is how I would want to work. I always resented not being able to know what I was going to do next in school. Sometimes, playing the numbers, I knew I could slack off during a semester if I only knew what was coming and when. In high school I was very busy with more than school. In university, even more so. I wanted to do things, and sometimes I just could not do my homework. Sometimes, somethings, were bigger than homework.
Even with year 5 students in robotics I would post videos showing what the next robot could look like, and more importantly, what it could do. I would post pictures of robots and the homework was for the year 5 students to go home and find problems with those designs.
Even with adults doing professional development I use these techniques. I send people required to do PD after work information and tasks. If they get those finished, they can go home. If they have more questions, I speak to them during the event while others are doing things for the first time. Every teacher has a laptop so I expect them to be able to use it for learning not just showing presentations.
Do The Research
I encourage everyone to spend a few hours, yes hours this is not Twitter, to read the following resources. This is important, because after doing the research it will be difficult NOT to agree with me. 🙂
Flipped-Classroom by Cara Marlowe
Does Homework Matter by Alfie Kohn
Classrooms are a Terrible Idea and Trial-and-Error by Roger Schank
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