Monday, October 4, 2010

What Is "Good" Homework?

This month's (September 2010) Educational Leadership, published by ASCD, contains several articles surrounding the topic, What Is "Meaningful Work"?

There are "Five Hallmarks of Good Homework," according to author Cathy Vatterott.  Homework should:
  • Have a clear academic purpose
  • Efficiently demonstrate student learning
  • Offer choices to make homework relevant to personal interests
  • Be completed with little or no outside assistance, developing a student's sense of competence (academic efficacy, or the 'I can do it' attitude)
  • Be enjoyable & interesting to the student

In "Show Us What Homework's For"author Kathleen Cushman describes the findings from the "What Kids Can Do" Project, which collected students' perspectives on homework & motivation to complete it.  She relates ideas that are both obvious and revealing in the article:

Kids won't do homework if they don't know why they're doing it.  If it's just busy work, they'll skip it and take the zero.  If it's meaningful to them, they're more apt to do it.  Also, occasional & meaningful homework made more of an impact on students than daily routine homework.
  • They understand that some homework-for-practice is necessary.  However, if it interests them, making them think deeply or divergently about a classroom topic or how it will affect them out in the 'real world', then they were more likely to complete the homework-for-practice because they understood that it was a small part of a bigger picture that would help them be successful later in life. 
  • Kids want feedback on the work they do.  If their teachers spent the time to give feedback, help with corrections (not just mark something right or wrong), and thereby validate their hard work as important to the teacher, then the students said they would be more likely to continue or increase their efforts.   In short, if the teacher blows if off, so will their students.
  • There's a difference between correcting and grading, and the kids understand that.  Correcting means helping fix mistakes.  Grading  tells a kid they're either "good" or "no good," and over time, that can have dramatic effects on how kids feel about themselves and their ability to complete future tasks.  If kids must be graded on homework, then they appreciate and understand when the value (points) are comparable to the effort expected/needed to accomplish the task.
  • Kids also had some ideas about homework logistics:  Talk to other teachers to balance the homework load.  Give time in class to start on homework & make sure it was being done correctly.  Having multiple days to complete an assignment or project is more helpful than daily busy work.  No one's perfect, so allow opportunities to revise or correct work before collecting it for a grade.

The article also contains a number of "instead of... try this" ideas, to help teachers make homework assignments more meaningful and engaging.

In addition, the September 2010 Educational Leadership points out a number of other homework-related topics, including:
  • Using technology to support student learning
  • Peer-to-peer teaching
  • Experts in the classroom
  • Project-based learning
  • Community-based education
  • ...and more!

BTW: Next month's (October 2010) issueis on RtI "Interventions That Work."  Don't miss it!

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