Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ways to think about homework

I just finished reading Rick DuFour interesting post on thinking about homework. He commented on the ironic situation where someone learned all that was expected of him-her but then failed the class because of a refusal to do homework. He recommends that one decide the purpose of providing homework and go from there. The following is copied from his post though I recommend reading the whole thing:

Therefore, I submit the following propositions:

  1. Homework should be given only when the instructor feels it is essential to student learning. If, for example, the teacher believes that by practicing a skill and receiving prompt and specific feedback students will learn at higher levels, homework is very appropriate and should be assigned.
  2. The teacher then has an obligation to monitor the homework carefully and provide individual students with precise feedback based on their specific needs.
  3. If the work is deemed essential to a student’s learning, that student should not have the option of taking a zero but instead should be required to complete the work. This necessitates a coordinated, schoolwide approach to responding when students do not complete their work because there are limits as to what an individual teacher can require. The schoolwide response should be timely, directive (non-invitational), systematic (not left to the discretion of individual teachers), and should never require the student to be removed from new direct instruction. (For examples of such a systematic approach, see Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn by DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, and Karhanek and/or Pyramid Response to Intervention: RTI, Professional Learning Communities, and How to Respond When Kids Don’t Learn by Buffum, Mattos, and Weber.)

How might I implement these ideas in my practice...? We'll I like the idea in his second scenario:
...that students will not be required to continue practicing each day when they have demonstrated they are mastering the content. There will be daily homework for all students for the first two weeks of school, at which time a unit test will be given. Students who earn an A or B on the test will not be required to complete daily homework during the next unit. For them, homework will be optional. All other students will be required to continue doing their daily practice.
The idea of the "Martial-Arts Metaphor"--which I'll develop soon--could work smoothly with this idea. Perhaps I would provide a pre-test of the skill, also, so students could opt out of the after-school practice if they had previously mastered the content in some other context. However, this undermines the coercive effects mentioned by DuFour: a student is motivated to do well on a unit/summative test so as to avoid required HW for the next unit.

Hmmm... thinking this through. Let's say someone doesn't pass the summative/formative 'test' of measuring mass, for example. Well, we are moving on to the next skill of making concept maps. Well, assuming that no one passes the concept mapping pretest everyone will have that HW to do. However, what intervention then does one use for the students who didn't master measuring mass? Additional HW? After-School-Required-Study? One can feel the workload creaking...

I agree with DuFour's perspective on being explicit on one's goals for HW, requiring it/or not (and not permitting "0's") and making it a useful learning tool by providing students with providing students with individually-useful feedback. Nonetheless, providing useful feedback on students' HW adds up to a LOT of time outside of class. I know this as I've attempted it sometimes. Adapting/creating good curriculum not to mention preparing materials for this instruction already is taking a lot of out-of-class time.

In addition to calling families, communicating/coordinating teammates, and all the administrative requirements to teaching, this HW concept is sounding questionable in the practicality dept.

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