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10 Ways to Make Homework More Meaningful

November 2, 2017

 

Homework is that dreaded word that makes kids shudder every time it is said out loud. There is always a collective groan from my class whenever I say, "And tonight's homework will be..." As a math teacher, I am supposed to be giving nightly homework assignments right?  I am supposed to be giving my students a chance to practice the material that was learned that day, right?  I'm supposed to be giving problems that night so that we can go over them the next day before we move on to new material right?  SIGH.  

 

Truth be told, I have grown to dislike the traditional approach to homework as much as most of my students do. Truth be told, I sometimes get as bored with assigning it and going over it as my students get with doing it. Truth be told when I have a choice, I prefer to not assign homework. 

 

So what can be done about this homework dilemma?  In an era where the "cognitive hypothesis" is dominant (thanks Paul Tough for that term) and most of everything we do in education is driven by standardized testing, it is impossible to not assign homework (at least as far as I know).  There is so much curriculum to get through within a short amount of time that there isn't always class time available to effectively practice and learn what is taught.  So unless you are a rebel like me who chooses sometimes to abandon a pacing guide/curriculum map to slow things down for quality instruction as opposed to "quantity" instruction, you may be facing a great dilemma when it comes to the time it takes to instruct versus the time it takes for understanding to take place.  

 

No matter how you slice it, some form of "my students need to be ingesting these concepts outside of the classroom setting" will have to be a part of your curriculum.  Now, I have had some success (not enough though) in getting a significant portion of my students to engage with the material at home (or wherever they choose) with some strategies that I use from time to time in my classroom. But first, let's just abandon the term "homework" in favor of the term, "home learning" or "home practice".  Calling it something else actually helps to change the negative perception of it, at least with my students.  So here are my top 10 strategies with regard to home learning.  

 

  1. Be considerate of their time. Many of your students are engaged in multiple extra-curricular activities outside of class that can sometimes be as demanding on their time as their studies.  Be mindful that they may already have a hard time with knowing how effectively manage their time.  Assign enough to be doable and meaningful without taking hours to complete and for longer assignments, consider assigning them in advance.  Some teachers choose to give them all the home learning assignments in the beginning of the unit.  

  2. Empower your students in class. Many times, students don't do homework because they don't feel that they can.  If you help them to feel confident in their abilities, they will more likely do their assignments.

  3. Give your students different options. Let them choose which assignments work best for them.  Students are usually well aware of their learning styles and their time and sometimes it is better to have them be a part of the assignment process.  Autonomy can be a big motivator, especially when they feel that they have made their own homework choice as opposed to feeling like these choices are being imposed on them.

  4. Make the assignment more technology based. There are many sites that can be used that can actually engage students a little more.  I found it really useful to assign homework that allows them to check their own answers and get immediate feedback and detailed explanations about concepts that they may have trouble mastering.

  5. Assign home learning as part of a bigger project-based learning activity. Sometimes the issue is that your students don't see how the assignment fits into a bigger picture.  If lessons are introduced as part of an ongoing project-based activity, then students will more likely be able to see how completing various tasks and assignments within the project helps them to move on to other important parts of the project.  

  6. Put specific students (or groups of students) in charge of going over specific things the next day. This could be them having to explain a problem to the class or facilitating a discussion about the problem.  However, if they know that they will have to know what they are doing well enough to explain it or help others to understand it, they will be more likely to do it.

  7. Use positive reinforcement and rewards. Yes, I know that home learning may be something that they are "supposed to" do.  However, my grandmother used to say something to be that is very true on every level.  "Encouragement sweetens labor."  Make them feel good about doing their home learning.  Reward those who consistently see the value of home learning.  You will soon find that more and more of your students will make an effort to do it more often. You will in a better position to show them how their success is linked to their effort.

  8. Flip your classroom.   With a flipped classroom (in general) most of the learning is done at home through multimedia and most of the practice is done in class with you as a facilitator. 

  9. Lead by example.  Make sure that you have done YOUR "homework".  Always be prepared for the classes that you teach.  You will be surprised at much students look at a teacher's preparation (or lack thereof) when they decide if they should take you seriously or not. Don't be a hypocrite.  You want your students to do "homework", YOU need to make sure that your "homework" gets done as well!

  10. Involve parents. Students need accountability so the best way to accomplish that is through their parents.  Parents should never have to depend on their kids to tell them when they have a homework assignment.  If you have a web site, make sure your assignments are posted there and make sure that the parents know how to find it.  Google Classroom is a great resource for this. Another suggestion is through the educational social networking site of https://www.edmodo.com/.  I have even seen some teacher post their assignments on Twitter and Instagram.  Remind (https://www.remind.com/) is also an excellent resource as well!

 

 

 

 

 

Horace Buddoo is an educator, educational consultant, master teacher, speaker, TEDx curator, managing editor of EDUTAKE and the host of the EDUTAKE podcast.  

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