Banish homework horrors: how to make homework meaningful and deepen learning

 

Plenty has been written about the horrors of homework. A negative impact on leisure time is high on the list of concerns, as is an uneven playing field, where some students benefit from more parental help or access to learning resources than others.

Many students also find the marking process problematic as they are often left with little or no feedback on their work, or get a mark they don’t fully understand. But homework can no longer be seen a much maligned ‘add on’ to the school day.

More complex curricula combined with new pedagogy like the flipped classroom, where rote material can be ingested at home, means that the work students do away from the classroom is crucial to their success. Homework also provides opportunities for reinforcement of work learned during school time and for children to develop their research skills. Students need to seek information for themselves and so are helped along the path to becoming independent learners, and the responsibility of meeting deadlines instills the discipline needed not just in the classroom, but all the way through life.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"347","attributes":{"class":"media-image wp-image-8823 size-thumbnail","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","width":"150","height":"150","alt":"Sam Blyth"}}]] Sam Blyth is director of schools at Canvas

New technologies like Virtual Learning Environments have enabled a smooth transition between in-school and out-of-school work, and made homework more interactive, collaborative and fun. But technology alone won’t mitigate the stress and pressure that homework can bring. Online tools and access to technology must be coupled with a commitment from teachers to make homework as interesting and engaging as the work students complete in the classroom. By prioritising homework, students will feel more motivated working from home without a teacher’s supervision, and teachers will benefit from more engaged students who drive their own learning journey.

As a result of countless conversations with teachers and parents, I’ve found that there are some basic things for schools to do to make homework more appealing and meaningful. These are:

1. Put kids in control of their learning

Empowering students to learn independently, in a way that suits them, is motivational and inspiring. It’s crucial to give children the autonomy to influence their own path to knowledge, creating as much flexibility as possible within the constraints of curricula. 

Giving control to students isn’t the same as abdicating control of the classroom - but offering choices can motivate students to succeed. Give them a page of maths problems, but let them choose any ten to complete. If they usually do written book reports, allow students to write a traditional report, film a book review, or create a comic-book-style summary of the major events or themes. It can’t be done for every assignment, but why not try it occasionally?

2. Promote the use of digital tools and resources

Banish the ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse forever by moving assignment delivery online. For students, Virtual Learning Environments facilitate access to engaging and compelling content. Using cloud-based solutions also means that students can access work from multiple devices, such as phones, tablets and laptops. For teachers the ability to track progress, or measure peer performance, in a centralised manner, allows them to spot trends or issues quickly and adapt teaching to fit students’ needs.

Tracking progress is just as important for students as it is for teachers, seeing how they’re building knowledge shows children that the work they’re doing is paying off. Similarly, knowing what’s coming up builds interest and anticipation. 

Using self marking quizzes is another simple way to bring a fun 'gamification' element to the tuition. Going beyond the traditional curricula, and giving students the possibility to engage with each other in ways that are not associated with homework, often has a positive impact on students’ learning motivation.

3. Enable fast feedback and encourage sharing and teamwork

By acknowledging and feeding back as quickly as possible, you’re telling the students you’ve seen their effort, which means their stress wasn’t all for nothing. Online forums enable two-way conversations with students and are a great way to give concrete feedback in an easy and accessible way. With Canvas, you can also give feedback via audio or video, which is a great way to personalise communication with students.

Peer feedback is equally important. Teachers must enable a collaborative approach to learning by encouraging the sharing of work, feedback and ideas. When children feel that that what they are learning and producing will be shared and likely appreciated by others, they work hard to impress. 

Lastly, and too often ignored, is the process of self-evaluation. Encouraging children to ask ‘what did I learn here?’ and ‘how has this improved my knowledge?’ is key to ensuring they feel that the activities they have undertaken are worthwhile and part of a wider learning process.

So three simple steps, but important ones. Following these methods will help to tackle the negative view of studying at home - promoting homework as both instructional and engaging; a crucial part of a student’s learning, leading to better outcomes for students and schools.

https://www.canvasvle.co.uk/

Written by Sam Blyth the director of schools at Canvas.

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