"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

No Homework Policy

In the General Chemistry class that I teach there is homework. I do find that homework is one place where technology can really help. My class currently subscribes to Sapling Learning. For each chapter, there is a set of about 20 problems and students generally have a week to finish these problems. The platform allows me to monitor each student's progress and anticipate difficulties students may be facing with the course material. The problems are not repetitive as each one has been chosen to focus on an important aspect or point within the chapter. The homework also offers an interactive learning experience as it provides hints and explanations. This can indeed benefit learning. After all, educational psychologists have demonstrated that practice problem solving and distributed practice are the most effective learning techniques. 

For homework to be effective, it has to be done right. For instance, when students try to finish their homework an hour before the deadline, it defeats the purpose of distributing the work. It also does not help a student to learn what he or she may be missing way past the last lecture on a particular chapter. Feedback is necessary, but this is only useful if there is still time left to make adjustments. It is therefore not surprising to see that research hardly yields evidence in support of homework. One parent in the Philippines is certainly justified in asking teachers the following on a Facebook post:



Homework needs to be meaningful. Daniel Willingham has noted this on a post on his blog, "Important New Study on Homework":
There's plenty of research on homework and the very brief version of the findings is probably well known to readers of this blog: homework has a modest effect on the academic achievement of older students, and no effect on younger students (Cooper et al, 2006)
In a way, this outcome seems odd. Practice is such an important part of certain types of skill, and much of homework is assigned for the purpose of practice. Why doesn't it help, or help more? 
One explanation is that the homework assigned is not of very good quality, which could mean a lot of different things and absent more specificity sounds like a homework excuse. Another, better explanation is that practice doesn't do much unless there is rapid feedback, and that's usually absent at home.

A third explanation is quite different, suggesting that the problem may lie in measurement. Most studies of homework efficacy have used student self-report of how much time they spend on homework. Maybe those reports are inaccurate.
These explanations will indeed make homework not seem effective in learning. Designing homework problems and grading them is of course additional work for a teacher. Not doing this task diligently, unfortunately, can easily destroy the value of homework.  In elementary schools, there is plenty of time inside the classroom for students to practice. In the presence of peers and a teacher, instant feedback is possible. Making room for work to be done inside the classroom likewise provides ample opportunities for a teacher to assess where his or her students currently stand. For this reason, I am very happy that the school my children currently attend has a "no homework" policy. Valerie Strauss recently shares a story from another elementary school that has a similar policy in "What happened when one school banned homework — and asked kids to read and play instead":


The school mentioned in this article is Orchard School in Vermont.

And similar to the school my children attend, the principal at Orchard sees the following:
" Students have not fallen back academically and may be doing better, and now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.”"
I hope teachers in the Philippines will likewise listen Ray Vargas, that unless you are giving a well-thought and worthwhile homework, "Give children their time at home with family and loved ones."



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