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Flipping is not reinventing bad homework

Posted on: April 7, 2015

This is the third part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.

Yesterday I explained why changing the medium but not the method in a flipped classroom is not flipping.

I used my podcasting experiment in 2007 as an example. That experiment also highlights another potential wrong of flipping: The reinvention of bad homework.

As I had required my students to consume content outside of class, I was assigning homework that was no different from how teachers or tutors tell students to read X chapters before class. I did not consider if such homework was meaningful or effective.

It was not meaningful because my students did not know the rationale for consuming that content in advance. The question that remained unanswered was: “Why am I doing this?”

It was not effective because, even if my students knew why, I did not provide an adequate advance organizer to help them milestone their learning. The question that remained unanswered was: “Where does this fit in the scheme of things?”

Most school homework seems to be dished out because teachers tend to say “Do because I want you to!” or think “Parents will question me if I do not give homework!”.

I am not against homework. I am against unquestioned, unconsidered, and unchanged homework. There is a body of research on the ineffectiveness of homework, how to design it better, and how to use it strategically [see my Diigo links].

38/365: Homework by cplong11, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  cplong11 

How might one right this flipping wrong?

Teachers could reconsider the place for homework. A central idea of a flipped classroom is providing time and space in class for homework. “Home” or “independent” work is when students actually need the help of their teacher and/or peers the most. If you give learners work to complete at home sans structure or help, they will seek it in the form of their parents, friends, or as become common now, their tuition teachers.

The making of meaning typically happens when the learner has to put theory into practice. It does not normally happen when the teacher is talking. That is the reason MOE Singapore has a “teach less, learn more” (TLLM) approach.

However, this approach falls apart if teachers interpret this as teach less because tuition teachers will fill in the gaps. Or teach less but give more homework to compensate. In flipping, TLLM should be (teachers) talk less, (students) do more that is meaningful, and (both) be there as they try.

Teachers could reconsider the design of homework. Instead of drill-and-practice or busy work, teachers might use spaced practice/repetition. Furthermore, instead of requiring only isolated practice, teachers might provide sounding boards in the form of offline or online* peer support.

*When I monitored my son’s use of Edmodo, the most non-teacher initiated postings were by his classmates asking about homework. BTW, Kidblog offers some ideas on how students, teachers, and parents can use social media to help with homework.

Teachers could change the current rationale for homework. If there is a need for homework, make it logical to or driven by learners. Instead of appeasing parents, keeping kids busy, or practising outside of context, teachers could explain the rationale for doing the homework in class. Doing this provides support structure for explaining, clarifying, and reinforcing content.

Doing homework in class also requires curriculum time. This is how a teacher might explain the need for learning content outside of class. As I mentioned yesterday, such content must be redesigned too; it cannot be a simple transfer from face-to-face delivery to online delivery. Ideally such content is designed with the pedagogy of questions so that meaning-making starts outside of class, and continues or is solidified in class.

Rationalizing the where and how of homework is a step towards creating learner ownership. Homework is a chore because kids to do not want to do it (and if teachers are honest, they wish they did not have to check and mark it). Now imagine flipping so that the “delivery” includes problem-finding and the “homework” becomes problem-solving.

When I conducted flipped courses for teachers, I required them to choose and even define topics. They took ownership of those topics and worked hard in the time assigned to them to prepare and facilitate lessons. Their peers did the homework in order to learn and to support their classmates’ efforts.

Doing something like this does not reinvent bad homework. Instead, it creates ownership and autonomy, both of which are desirable outcomes of flipping and characteristics of self-directed learners.

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