One key aspect of connecting with learners of the modern digital age concerns what to do about homework. While the debate about its significance rages on in education circles across the globe, we seem to agree (for the time being, at least) that it is still necessary. That said, many teachers are scrambling to find homework alternatives that not only measure understanding and reinforce learning, but provide the type of appealing challenge and engagement our learners expect in school.
In Kathleen Cushman’s outstanding book Fires in the Mind, she details how to make homework a more meaningful and ultimately beneficial endeavour for our learners. Having interviewed many students on the subject, she revealed that there are 6 characteristics that our learners believe make up the ideal homework assignment:
- Purpose—It should have a goal, and not just be busywork.
- Differentiation—Everyone is at a different level and assigning the same thing to everyone is not helpful.
- Attention and focus—Doing assignments at home when kids are tired, perhaps from after-school sports or music, is not the best time.
- Repetition and rehearsal—These are mainstays of sports and music regimens and should be with other subjects.
- Careful timing/proper scaffolding/sequence—Do not give homework at the very end of a semester “just to get grades in.”
- Deliberate practice—This should be intended to lead to new skills. Don’t grade homework.
Of course, it’s helpful to have some idea of what this might potentially look like in a classrooms, and Cushman doesn’t disappoint. In a recent article on TeachThought, they shared this chart of homework alternatives that comes from her book itself. In it she offers up 6 simple but innovative suggestions on how to begin making homework more meaningful. From the article:
“Rather than simply a list of alternatives to homework, it instead contextualizes the need for work at home. It does this by taking typical classroom situations—the introduction of new material, demonstrating a procedure, etc.—and offering homework alternatives to traditional assignments.”
When considering homework alternatives like the ones below, we may need to rethink both the purpose and the method. In the end, perhaps it’s deliberate practice, and not assessment, that the whole idea of homework should be about. The assessment factor comes naturally as our learners work through their own process of self improvement.
Enjoy the chart, and allow yourself to be inspired by Cushman’s clever recommendations. Keep the fire of learning alive.