Is homework a valid strategy?
Many schools in their effort to transform education are researching homework and its effectiveness. Some may turn to the work of Robert Marzano, due to his impact on teacher evaluation systems. Education “experts” once loomed large in the halls of academia — universities and journals; now they lurk in their own research, which may not be the best. For instance, Mark Barnes writes about the Marzano homework research, and concludes “his evaluation of the homework research is flawed.” Especially notable is this quote about the work of John Hattie, educational researcher and author of two books Visible Learning and Visible Learning for teachers:
Hattie measures more than 130 areas that affect academic growth and homework is number 88 on the list!
- Homework does not improve grades or scores
- Homework does not improve character development
Kohn provides an excellent explanation of the study — and how to look at a study — to understand its implications, which also address Mark Barnes’s ideas:
“First, no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school.“Was there a correlation between the amount of homework that high school students reported doing and their scores on standardized math and science tests? Yes, and it was statistically significant but “very modest”: Even assuming the existence of a causal relationship, which is by no means clear, one or two hours’ worth of homework every day buys you two or three points on a test. Is that really worth the frustration, exhaustion, family conflict, loss of time for other activities, and potential diminution of interest in learning? And how meaningful a measure were those tests in the first place, since, as the authors concede, they’re timed measures of mostly mechanical skills? ” and “There was no relationship whatsoever between time spent on homework and course grade, and “no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not.”
— this is one link, but the key idea from many sites: to face and accept the realities of poverty. Focus on school work.
Give Feedback, Not Homework: The work of John Hattie shows that learning improves with feedback that shows “where to next.”Perhaps we should spend the time providing and grading homework on providing feedback instead. Mark Barnes recommends these four words to change education through feedback, which includes the “what next” suggested by John Hattie:
In my class, the feedback loop is: recognize what was done, recheck what needs to be done, review where to find resources and lessons to this, and resubmit for re-evaluation.
Learning as Retrieval
Current research on learning focuses on retrieval — the ability to retrieve the needed information. We supposedly have used homework as a repeated practice to learn and have also taught study skills and required repeated readings. New research suggests that quizzes — frequent with staggered repetition over time, will help students retrieve — remember – better [see also this abstract].
Some teachers have blogged about their success with quizzes:
In my mind, quizzes are questions, and if I want my students to be better retrievers of information, one of my tasks should be teaching them questioning strategies in which they quiz themselves and each other with student generated questions.
I’ve discovered and am implementing the Question Formulation Technique from the Right Question Institute. As suggested in the information on retrieval, we ask and evaluate open and closed questions. We review our work to refine our retrieval, which helps us deepen our understanding of the topic as the facts become more clear. The closed questions become the triggers for deeper discussions of the central topics, and how those topics are developed. Both are questions and our answers include feedback from peers and teachers to further develop the strategy.
Our question development is collaborative in Google Doc teams. Our quizzes [student and teacher questions] are given through Socrative. Our deeper learning is through collaborative team development of chosen projects on the topics we study using Google Apps and blogs.
Instead of planning homework and practice, perhaps we should spend our planning time providing better feedback, relevant quizzes, and questioning strategies, all if which will enhance learning and memory. Instead of homework, ask questions in quizzes. Instead of homework, provide more meaningful feedback. I believe these will help transform education and learning.
How has your concept of homework evolved? I know there are even more alternatives for both teacher and student time.