Four Successful Homework Strategies

Homework is one of the most fraught areas of secondary teaching. We know it’s important, its impact is visible and its routines don’t offend common sense. Yet in the daily reality of the classroom homework is so often reduced to an after-thought, a misery and a distraction.

In line with my determination to make my students’ learning meaningful – and my teaching more interesting and effective, I’ve been experimenting with a variety of approaches to homework. The foundation principles for what I’ve been doing are simple:

  1. Tasks have to be purposeful and challenging
  2. Homework outcomes must be relevant to core learning and measurable
  3. Students must feel accountable for their work

To follow I outline some of the homework activities I have generated this year that are my attempt to meet all three objectives of great learning experiences. I’ve included links to the students’ work so you can evaluate for yourself the efficacy of my approach.

Strategy 1:

THE NEWSROOM – Premise: Authentic Context

Key opportunities: work to deadlines, work accurately, co-operate with others, competition to drive standards, a real-world audience for authenticity

One area of the world outside the classroom where the deadline has real meaning is the newsroom. Having worked in radio broadcasting myself, I am familiar with the thrill of the deadline – and the excitement that comes from meeting the demands of accuracy at the same time as having to meet a fixed, non-negotiable, deadline.

How it worked:

For a term, the Year 8 classroom was transformed into a newsroom under the title “Edutronic Investigates“.

  • The students were divided into two competitive media companies, each of which had to develop a print, radio and television arm. 
  • In the weeks leading up to their live broadcast/publish date, they were given a series of assignments, each with their own deadline. A missed deadline meant a null rating
  • The companies were also charged with the task of building an audience for their live broadcast – audience figures counted in the final outcome
  • Assessment of the students’ work focussed on the key learning outcomes: Writing, Speaking and Presenting for audience and purpose; high accuracy in spelling, diction, punctuation and grammar; sophisticated appreciation of content matters such as bias, objectivity, evidence and veracity of sources.
  • On broadcast date, the newspaper articles, radio broadcasts and television newscast were all published live on the internet. The radio had live announcers and pre-recorded packages, as did the television. The written journalism was published online simultaneously.
  • Parents, friends, colleagues and members of the wider school community all tuned in to Edutronic Investigates.
  • The packaged material was archived online

Why it worked:

  1. Tasks have to be purposeful and challenging: The authentic context of the newsroom and the live broadcast with its attendant audience meant the students brought their “A game” to the project.
  2. Homework outcomes must be relevant to core learning and measurable: The technical and content demands of investigative journalism ensured the students were working at the very edge of their existing knowledge and capacity. Initial tasks were focussed on specific aspects of language and content and detailed feedback was provided in each case through discussion and written feedback
  3. Students must feel accountable for their work: The live audience and on-going publishing of their work means that the work had high stakes for the students. Their voices and writing was published to a wider audience and it was this, as opposed to the teacher or the marking scheme, that concerned them when it came to producing strong material

 

Strategy 2:

THE THEME INVESTIGATION – Premise: High-Stakes Outcome

Key opportunities: work in depth, engage in independent investigation, the valuing of extra work, a live audience for authenticity

As part of their Key Stage 4 programme, my students engage in an further and extended reading project called their “Theme Study“. In this they investigate a theme of their own choosing across a range of different texts, fiction, non-fiction, film and television. The majority of this project is completed in homework time. What ties it all together is their evening presentation to parents and peers, where they present a report on their investigation. This evening is run formally, and represents the final deadline for the project.

How it works:

Why it works:

  1. Tasks have to be purposeful and challenging: Thinking about a range of texts from disparate genre is an advanced process in English. Engaging in this outside of the formally assessed component of the course allows the students the tackle such ambitious work without the risk-aversion that often occurs when a GCSE grade is added to a piece of work.
  2. Homework outcomes must be relevant to core learning and measurable: Higher-order reading processes can be difficult to assess. This process allows the gradual development over time of these skills, and the ongoing journal and final presentation ensure that the students are doing more than simply reading each text dis-engaged from the other
  3. Students must feel accountable for their work: The live audience of their parents and on-going publishing of their work means that the work had high stakes for the students.

 

Strategy 3:

ROMEO AND JULIET PROJECT – Premise: Choice leads to Engagement

Key opportunities: work in depth, engage in independent investigation and analysis, the valuing of extra work, a live audience for authenticity

While these students have to produce an analytical essay in response to the play, Romeo and Juliet, they are also engaged in a project that allows them to choose a range of other additional means of providing response and analysis

How it looks:

Why it works:

  1. Tasks have to be purposeful and challenging: The authentic context of the newsroom and the live broadcast with its attendant audience meant the students brought their “A game” to the project.
  2. Homework outcomes must be relevant to core learning and measurable: The technical and content demands of investigative journalism ensured the students were working at the very edge of their existing knowledge and capacity. Initial tasks were focussed on specific aspects of language and content and detailed feedback was provided in each case through discussion and written feedback
  3. Students must feel accountable for their work: The live audience and on-going publishing of their work means that the work had high stakes for the students. Their voices and writing was published to a wider audience and it was this, as opposed to the teacher or the marking scheme, that concerned them when it came to producing strong material

 

Strategy 4:

FILM CLUB – Premise: Learning through Making

Key opportunities: work with experts, engage in a highly theoretical approach, learning through making, the valuing of extra work, a live audience for authenticity

I’ve written about this in much greater detail elsewhere – but it fits this ‘homework’ category perfect because while no-one involved realises it, the fact that the students work together with a teacher and a film maker to devise, plan, perform, film and edit their own short film which is then presented at an international film festival – the audience at which the students must answer to – means that this is the ultimate out-of-class learning activity.

How it works:

Why it works:

  1. Tasks have to be purposeful and challenging: Making a film in this programme requires enormous patience and dedication. The rules of the project are strictly imposed and derived from the high domain of film theory. The students’ final six minute “Film Essai” is presented to an international audience where they must defend it against searching challenges from other film makers. They watch a wide range of film and experiment with improvisation and filmed exercises for months before they even begin to tackle their final film. The whole project has a clear sense of purpose and challenges them to function at their interpersonal and intellectual finest.
  2. Homework outcomes must be relevant to core learning and measurable: Higher-order reading processes can be difficult to assess. This process allows the gradual development over time of these skills, and the ongoing journal and final film ensure that the students are doing more than simply ‘making a film’ – they are exploring film theory through making a film.
  3. Students must feel accountable for their work: The live audience Q & A at the festival in Paris means that the work has the highest possible stakes for the students. Issues of attendance and deadlines are matters for the real world.

Here is an the best example I’ve got of the result of 100 hours of homework:

The question is: where on a league table can you place any of this?

 

Posted by Christopher Waugh

  1. […] out if curating a Shakespeare museum. When I spotted the advice on Edutronic/Chris on meaningful homework tasks over the weekend, I decided to create a few extra to keep them going as I couldn’t help but […]

    Reply

Respond