A new perspective on Homework (for me, at least!)

 

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I remember doing homework when I was a high school student. I was one of those kids – and had two of those parents – who got into homework pretty much as soon as I got home (or else!). We lived a fair way from anywhere, so afternoon sport or meeting with friends didn’t really happen.

I remember the type of homework I used to get as well. In the junior years, it was either a worksheet, an assignment or a ‘Left-hand side/Right-hand side’ Mathematics set. In High School, it was worksheets and exercises – working up to our major Common Assessment Tasks (CATS) and exams.

Now that I am an educator, the shoe is on the other foot, you might say. Whenever I set homework, I can’t help but feel this twinge of guilt that I am inflicting the same tedious processes on my own students that were inflicted upon me all those years ago.

Hang on a second, though. Homework is important. Students can use homework as an opportunity to practice what they have learnt in class. They can expand their understanding of the topic covered in the classroom by reading and comprehending a relevant extension of the in-class activity. They learn how to organise themselves and their time, they learn the skills on how to revise and take appropriate notes to make exam revision easier…

As I write the above, a sense of unease comes over me. Why do I expect students to complete such important tasks as those mentioned above at home? What if they get stuck – what if they can’t answer a question or understand a paragraph? Do they ask their parents? What if they don’t know?

I recently had a student and his parents come in for a meeting about the progress that was being made this year. This student is a smart kid but easily distracted and especially hard on himself. He doesn’t have the greatest self-esteem and has quite low academic resilience. During the meeting, I asked the student what I could do to help him feel more comfortable in asking questions during class time? His response was, ‘Give me more time to practice my maths with you around. If I can’t do something, I’d like to be able to ask you.’

Mum and Dad looked at me with a shrug, ‘We can’t do his level Maths anymore – it’s been so long!’

This episode got me thinking – how can I create more time in a 48 minute Mathematics session?

The concept of a flipped-class isn’t new. I first heard about it during an Elluminate session in mid-2010 with Ramsay Mussallam but have only recently tried the concept in my own classroom. The idea is simple – rather than spending class time teaching a concept, record a short video of the explicit teaching and have the students watch this for homework. While the students are watching the video, the can take notes into their exercise books just as if they were in class. If they don’t understand something, they can rewind the video and watch it again.

What does this do? It frees up class time for practicing concepts with a teacher handy for questions. Using this method in my middle years mathematics class, I have found that the classes become a richer collaborative learning session. Rather than spending 10-15 minutes teaching a concept, this time is used working individually and in small groups to apply the previous nights’ homework. What I have found particularly valuable is that the greater amount of time spent in this way has allowed even the most reticent mathematicians in my class to enjoy the success of understanding and ‘getting it right’.

This process is not all smiles and roses, however. I am continually busy in class time – never for a moment am I able to stand back and watch. If I’m not working with a student one-on-one, I’m running a small ‘tute-group’ on one side of the class. I worry that some students don’t have the patience to wait for me to get to their question. I heavily promote the use of alternative resources within the classroom – be it another student, or one of the recently available wi-fi enabled iPads. I am very keen to reduce the students’ reliance on any teacher for knowledge. It is important to me that students feel the ‘pull’ of curiosity and the resilience that comes with occasional difficulty and setbacks. In future iterations of my flipped class, I hope to introduce more avenues for students to explore their own learning, rather than relying on their teacher.

My hope is that by setting the students’ homework in video format, I give them the opportunity to take the explicit teaching at their own pace. By using class time for application work and collaborative learning, I hope to demonstrate to students the benefits of the social learning environment. I intend to assess this method of teaching over the coming months and ascertain if it has a benefit on the students overall comprehension. Here’s hoping!

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Kathy
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Do all of your students have access to a computer?

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[…] few years back, I wrote this post on my developing perspectives towards homework. Between then and now, Mike Horsley and Richard […]

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