Monday, February 16, 2015

Homework -v- home learning

This week two of the three #pypchats on Twitter are about home learning.  While I haven't assigned any homework for the past 15 years, I've always been at schools where homework (or home learning) has been part of the culture of the school.  I do think that it is interesting to reconsider the advantages and disadvantages of home learning from time to time, especially in the light of what research has to tell us about the impact of homework on student learning.

Actually there is very little evidence that shows such a link. Professor John Hattie studied the effect of various factors on learning by analyzing metadata from over 800 million students over a 15 year period and found that homework has very little effect on achievement.  Of course there is research that shows homework does have benefits and other research that shows it has little or no impact on learning.  There is some variance depending on the age of the students, the time spent on homework, the content of the assignment and the quality of the feedback.

When I was an upper elementary homeroom teacher I assigned quite a lot of homework - an hour a day for Monday through Thursday that involved math, writing and reading.  Most of the time I collected in the work the next day or else, in the case of maths, spent time in class checking it - time that could have been better spent by both myself and my students in doing other things that would have extended their learning.  I also spent a lot of time chasing up students who hadn't done their homework, often making them stay in at recess time to complete it (as this was the school's policy at that time).  In fact, when I think back, quite a large part of my day was spent on explaining the homework, checking to see it was done, staying in with some students at recess times to make sure they "caught up" and then taking a large amount of the work home to grade in the evening and add comments that I hoped would be encouraging and helpful.  Sometimes I spent so long on the homework in class that I didn't manage to finish everything that I'd planned to do in class, and again I would ask the students to "finish it off at home".  This was typical of my first 15 years or so as a teacher.  I had very little time to reflect on what I was doing, but if I had I would probably have seen that giving less (or no) homework would have given me much more time to focus on personalizing the learning for each of my students - something I just didn't have enough hours in the day for.

For me as a young teacher homework was just something I took for granted.  It was something I did when I was at school, so I just assumed it was something I needed to give as a teacher.  I don't remember even discussing it when I did my PGCE to train to become a teacher.  At that time I never questioned what the purpose of giving homework was.

This week as I've been thinking about home learning for the #pypchat, I've been doing some reading about it and realising that there is much more to it that I'd imagined.  In her book Bringing Homework into Focus Eileen Depka writes about the 4 purposes of giving homework:
  1. It can be diagnostic - teachers can use the responses to this type of homework as a pre-assessment to find out how much background knowledge and skills students have.  A pre-assessment might show up certain students' strengths and weaknesses and may help the teacher in designing a unit of inquiry that will better meet the students' needs.  
  2. It can be used as part of the flipped learning model - students can be introduced to new information through viewing, reading or listening to various resources to build their background knowledge.  The idea behind flipped learning is that students then apply their learning to the activities that are being done in class.
  3. It can be used for formative assessments - so students can continue to work on the skills they are in the process of learning.  Again teachers can use this to make decisions about the next steps they need to make.
  4. It can be used for summative assessments - so students can work on projects that provide evidence of their understanding.
As I look back at these 4 purposes of homework, it occurs to me that none of these (except the flipped learning) need to happen at home.  All too often students see homework as something that is being done for the teacher, not necessarily something that will benefit them.  Often they don't see the connection between the homework and the learning goals because the homework simply isn't connected to real-world learning.  And as a teacher I think a lot of the homework that I gave was "busy work" because I knew the students needed an hour a day - which of course then had to be marked by me!  And if truth be told, there were days when I simply checked that the students had completed the homework - rather than checking to see what they had learned, giving feedback and then adjusting the upcoming lessons to better meet the students' needs.

Some of the positive aspects of home learning are that it can promote a positive home-school connection and also give parents an opportunity to work on something together with their child (I notice a lot of positive parent-child interactions in our Maker Saturdays, for example - could the same be true of some types of home learning?)

Well now I really am looking forward to this Wednesday night's AEM #pypchat .  I'm interested to learn from teachers in schools that have decided to give up homework.  I want to know what impact this decision has had on student learning.

Photo Credit: toledo589ad via Compfight cc

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