Homework How-To

We’ve already discussed Taming the Homework Monster and giving homework for the right reasons:  review, reinforcement, and responsibility.  But, how can we give homework that most effectively accomplishes these goals?

© 2012 Hades2k. Creative Commons. Click here for full citation (#27).

© 2012 Hades2k. Creative Commons. Click here for full citation (#27).

In his book The Battle Over Homework:  Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents, Harris Cooper presents research data that supports the following how-tos of homework assignment.

  1. Distribute content.  The most effective homework assignments distribute the content material to include both practice of past lessons and preparation for future lessons.  These types of assignments are especially important in promoting long-term retention.
  2. Intersperse brief problems/questions into longer, more challenging assignments.  Students prefer and are more likely to complete challenging assignments that have shorter elements imbedded because they perceive them as more manageable and less difficult.  Also, since homework is usually completed at night when the student is more fatigued, interspersal helps alleviate mental fatigue.
  3. Offer choice in homework assignments.  Offering a homework “menu” allows the teacher to individualize assignments based on student needs and learning styles.  This individualization may increase efficiency by reducing the amount of in-class time a teacher needs to spend with a struggling student.  Options should be based on learning style, not difficulty or content, in order to maintain consistent standards and expectations.
  4. Structure and monitor any group assignment closely.  Cooperative learning can be an effective tool, and group assignments may be effective, especially in higher grades.  But, group assignments must be structured and monitored well in order to be effective.
  5. Make sure students have what they need to complete the assignment.  Don’t assume that students have computer or internet access.  Do they need a dictionary?  Atlas?  Thesaurus?  Avoid frustrating the students by verifying that the students have all the resources they need to complete a given assignment.
  6. Offer feedback.  Students need to know that doing homework matters and that their hard work is valued.  Teachers who do not offer feedback on homework invite apathy and non-completion.  The type of feedback can vary.  Students can review an assignment as a class with the teacher commenting verbally.  Teachers can check each homework assignment individually.  Assignments can be graded for accuracy or merely for quality of completion.  Tailor the feedback to the purpose of the assignment, but always offer some sort of feedback.  Assignments without feedback become busy work and lose their effectiveness.

How do you give homework?  What kind of feedback do you offer your students on homework assignments?  

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Cooper, H. (2007). The battle over homework:  Common ground for administrators, teachers, and parents (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Marty Reed teaches at Veritas School, a classical Christian school in Richmond, Virginia. Her twenty years of teaching, coupled with her duties as pastor's wife and mother of two, provide her with excellent insights to share with FOCUS readers.