Have you ever considered the idea of reinventing homework? Easier said than done, of course. Nevertheless, consider Kathleen Cushman’s book Fires in the Mind. She asks students critical questions about education from their point of view. She talks specifically on the subject of homework and how to make it more meaningful.

From the students’ comments in the chapter, they demonstrate that they know what alternatives to homework they need. It’s worth our while as teachers to listen to them.

Cushman’s students agreed that these common traits were a must:

  • Purpose—There is no secret to what the goal is. It’s not going to be “just to keep students busy.”
  • Differentiation—Everyone is at a different level. 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. Again, this repetition must be meaningful to the learners.
  • 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.

The following suggestions were also offered as alternatives during a school day. This was in light of time constraints and students being overloaded with homework.

  • in-class practice time
  • have a period specifically for academic support
  • individual attention during an extended period
  • after-school support

Finally, they offered these tips for creating great alternatives to homework:

  • Give students the opportunity to carve out their own path. Ask them to think up their own homework task that will help them along their goals. This does entail good goal-planning as students will need to know what they are striving for.
  • Since students are searching for relevancy in their homework, getting them to write down questions that they would have after an assignment gives them that opportunity.
  • Students love collaboration. Demonstrating something in their choice of medium offers an opportunity for them to showcase their other talents. By using activities that they enjoy, the content is absorbed strongly.
  • Students want to know why they are learning something. Small groups and real-world problems are a great way to get them to apply important concepts in meaningful ways.
  • Students want to save time. Memory tricks, clever acronyms, and mnemonic devices to help remember something are always helpful. Even better if they can come up with them on their own!
  • Feedback is key to progress. Formative assessment along the way in the form of short quizzes is critical. Remember that students are practicing skills, so grading these quizzes is counterproductive. Frequent and regular feedback is crucial.

Reinventing Homework the Right Way

We here at GDCF also advocate one other form of alternative homework, and that’s the flipped classroom. Here are links to our most popular blog articles about it:

When considering alternatives to homework, we teachers might need to rethink the purpose and method. It is deliberate practice, not assessment—the assessment comes from the student as he or she works through their own process of self improvement.

This is according to the great kids in Cushman’s writing, and it’s obvious they know what works.


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