Another dot in the blogosphere?

Homework is rotten chocolate-covered broccoli?

Posted on: February 25, 2015

I read this tweet conversation on this week’s #asiaED slow chat with some concern. Click here to see the whole conversation if only the first tweet appears.

The chat focused on the issue of homework and opinions flew left, right, and centre. It was good, it was bad, it depended on context, it could be flipped, it could be renamed, it should be redesigned, etc.

The conversation I highlighted was a bit different in that it implied that homework had a bad name and needed good “public relations” or a better public perception.

What immediately sprang to my mind was homework as chocolate-covered broccoli.

Broccoli is actually good for you, so the imagery was not quite apt. Perhaps most traditional and uncritically assigned homework is better described as rotten chocolate-covered broccoli.

Say “homework” to teachers and the majority will:

  • not question it
  • view and practice it as they experienced it as students
  • not factor research on the impact of homework on learning
  • not reconsider the practice and design of homework

Not many will associate homework with rotten chocolate-covered broccoli. As a result, not many will associate homework with a challenge to change mindsets and behaviours.

Homework is rotten chocolate-covered broccoli when:

  • it is the thing to do (it is in your formal or informal job description)
  • you dish it out because someone else (a superior or a parent) expects you to
  • it is no different from what you experienced as a student despite the differences in contexts
  • it keeps everyone busy for business sake
  • it does not reinforce or enable learning
  • it does not provide meaningful and spaced practice

Is there an alternative to rotten chocolate-covered broccoli? Yes, it is called NONE: No Other Non-critical Extras. Learn instead to GAME: Generate Authentic and Meaningful Experiences.

If homework is a knee-jerk response instead of a well thought out and designed activity, leave it out. If the practice of homework is not informed by context, good educational research, and concern for learners, leave it out.

When in doubt, leave it out.

There should be no doubt that there is homework that is useful or powerful. There should also be no doubt that homework is work and can be difficult. Anything worth doing or learning takes effort. But it does not have to be dreary, dreaded work.

Games are difficult, but they are fun. They are fun because they are difficult. But do not gamify homework; that is creating a contest for eating rotten chocolate-covered broccoli. Unpack a game to determine good design principles for homework: Relevance and reach, reward, returns, rapid response.

The redesign of homework is not a superficial change in moniker or the reinvention of something old. It is the opportunity to innovate and change. That is your homework!

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