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Posts Tagged ‘homework

Yesterday I reflected on how a field trip was a lost opportunity for modelling and teaching critical thinking.

Today I reflect on how I used a holiday book report to teach my son about metacognition.

In simple terms, metacognition is thinking about thinking. When a person steps back from a task or problem to consider alternatives, the strategising is a form of metacognition. When learners rise above a lesson and ask themselves what they actually learnt, that reflection is another form of metacognition.
 

 
When my son was given a book report to complete during the June school vacation, he started reading his book without considering what the instructions and his options were. This is what many students do: When told to do something, the dutiful take the straight path without question.

I asked him if he had been taught how to analyse questions or if he had been taught study skills. He replied that he had not.

I am giving the benefit of the doubt to his teachers since kids often do not see the point of such things when they are told. This is often because they do not get to practice those skills in a meaningful context.

My son’s book report was an excellent context and it was very well designed. He and his classmates could choose from a list of books instead of being forced to read just one book. They were also given several options to submit their report.

The options were varied, e.g., draw a comic to illustrate a key chapter, craft an alternative ending for the book, write a poem as a response, etc. In all options, students had to rationalise and justify their choices.

I was impressed with the design of the task because the teacher had incorporated learner choice into the report. I highlight choice and not learning “style” because the latter is a myth.
 

 
My son was about a quarter way through his book before he considered his options. When he decided on one, I asked him why he chose it and he struggled to articulate his reasons. In doing so, he had missed at least two opportunities to exercise metacognition.

When he did not read the instructions and options first, he failed to plan for his journey. That is like plunging into an actual journey without planning, research, money, schedules, or destinations.

The book report options were varied enough so that he could take advantage of his strengths or address weaknesses. He selected an option because it appealed to him. While that seems reasonable on the surface, powerful learning is about knowing when to leverage on what one is good at or face up to what one struggles with.
 

 
Our discussion on metacognition will not be the only one we have. This form of learning is a long process of self-discovery and awareness, and I will be there as a guide.

I reflected on the interaction I had with my son about cognition and metacognition.

Metacognition is arguably more important than cognition, particularly of the lower level sort, e.g., factual recall. It is easy to Google for information or find a solution in YouTube. It is not as easy, but certainly more important, to be able to decide if what you find is valid and reliable.

Facts will come and go. Students who face tests and exams are smart enough to adapt and rely on GIGO — garbage in, garbage out — as a strategy.

However, this form of schooling and assessments conditions them into that sort of pragmatic but lazy thinking. The more important types of thinking lie in metacognition. They need to be able to analyse, evaluate, reflect, and strategise. They need to focus on the long tail, not just the short game.

Have you ever stood in front of a mirror and said a word (any word) out loud over and over again? That word starts to lose its meaning and it might start to sound funny.

The video below explains why.


Video source

So how does meaninglessness result from repetition?

Psychologically, it stems from semantic satiation.

Neurologically, it is dues to to reactive inhibition.

Pedagogically, it can be called drill and practice. Or most homework.

 
This is a sort of oldie but goodie, 14 Hilarious Homework Excuses from students.

I asked a question in my tweet and I suggest some answers. Warning: My answers are not funny. They are actually quite sad.

  1. This is the way things have always been done.
  2. I know no other way. There is no other way.
  3. You can show me better alternatives, but I will reject them (see #1 and #2).
  4. I do not want parents to complain that their kids do not have homework.
  5. It is business (busy-ness) as usual: I am busy, parents are busy, so kids must also be busy.
  6. If I suffer, they must suffer. Suffering builds character.
  7. Practice makes perfect.
  8. We could not finish all the work in class, so they must do the work at home.
  9. Like blood, sweat, and tears, homework is manifestation of effort or lack thereof.
  10. All the above prepare kids for work.

Where is the reflective and critical practice around homework? What does research reveal about homework? Dare you read and learn from these curated resources?

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I tweeted this yesterday. The link led to an interesting article about how one school principal got the teachers in his school to rethink homework.

The principal based his initiative on research on homework and its effectiveness. I have collected my own resources in Diigo on the issues and research on homework.

Ask most teachers or school leaders if they would also ban homework from their classrooms and schools and they might reply that the principal’s actions were brave. They fear the backlash from parents or higher authorities.

Although important, the driving factor was not bravery. It was one of logic because it was based on good research and critical practice.

It was about questioning previously unquestioned standards and practices. This in turn was about doing what was best for learners and learning.

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After reading this review of research on homework, my mind raced to how some people might resort to formulaic thinking.

This was the phrase that seeded it:

Based on his research, Cooper (2006) suggests this rule of thumb: homework should be limited to 10 minutes per grade level.

What follows were examples and an important caveat:

Grade 1 students should do a maximum of 10 minutes of homework per night, Grade 2 students, 20 minutes, and so on. Expecting academic students in Grade 12 to occasionally do two hours of homework in the evening—especially when they are studying for exams, completing a major mid-term project or wrapping up end-of-term assignments—is not unreasonable. But insisting that they do two hours of homework every night is expecting a bit much.

If you assume that people would pay more attention to the caveat than to the formula, you assume wrongly. Doing the former means thinking harder and making judgements. The latter is an easy formula.

Most people like easy.

If those people are teachers and administrators who create homework and homework policies, then everyone who is at home will likely suffer from homework blues.

Am I overreaching? I think not. Consider another example on formulaic thinking.

I provide professional development for future faculty every semester, but this semester was a bit different. There was a “social” space in the institution’s learning management system (LMS) where a certain 70:30 ratio emerged.

A capstone project for these future faculty is a teaching session. The modules prior to that prepare them to design and implement learner-centred experiences. At least one person played the numbers game and asked what proportion of the session should be teacher-centred vs student-centred.

I provide advice in person and in assignments that the relative amount is contextual. My general guideline is that student-centred work tends to require more time since the learners are novices and that the planning should reflect that.

However, once that 70:30 ratio was suggested in the social space, it became the formula to follow. It was definite and easier than thinking for and about the learner. It allowed future faculty to stay in their comfort zone of lecturing 70% of the time and grudgingly attempt student-centred work 30% of the time.

But guess what? When people follow this formula or do not plan for more student-centred activities and time, they typically go over the 70% teacher talk time and rush the actual learning. This pattern is practically formulaic.

Formulaic thinking is easy, but that does not make it right or effective. In the case of the course I mentioned, the 70:30 folk typically return for remediation. It is our way of trying to stop the rot of formulaic thinking.
 

I listened to a podcast on “flipped homework” yesterday. What my ears heard almost made my eyes roll. Almost, because I tried to take the perspectives of those trying to promote that idea.
 

 
The podcaster and his interviewee did not go beyond a general definition of flipped homework: Tasks that are meaningful to the student. So I tried to fill in the blanks. Flipped homework could involve its design and implementation.

The design of flipped homework could first start with research on homework [examples] and what makes it effective and meaningful. The redesign of homework could include on-going professional development for teachers on better homework models and practices. This should include the discarding of old, unproven, and frustrating practices like hand-me-downs, always-done-this-way, and homework for homework’s sake. Teachers could also share their practices for flipped homework models to emerge or be refined in context.

The implementation of “flipped homework” in a flipped classroom is more straightforward. What used to be homework (e.g., practice done outside the classroom) is done in class in the presence of peers, coaches, tutors, or teachers. In the conventionally defined flipped classroom, the “new” homework might be the consumption of materials (e.g., YouTube videos, web quests) before entering the classroom.

However, I remain critical of homework, flipped or not. If it is not critically examined and designed, it is busy work that takes away personal, social, and family time. Flipping homework in terms of where content is initially consumed or where practice is conducted merely changes the nature of homework.

Flipped homework is a misnomer because it is not necessarily work done at home. This might seem like a trivial argument, but it is not. If you are trying to address the mindsets of teachers and change their behaviours, they need to learn and use other terms that are not homework. Using that term again allows old practice to creep and infect new ones.

Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile.

I am in favour of “doing what works”, but perhaps we should be more critical and humble and say “doing what seems to work”. We cannot be sure unless we have data and one or more theoretical foundations that altogether stand up to scrutiny. If we do not have that evidence, we delude ourselves into believing “what works”.

What do you do when something that seems so ordinary is questioned?

What if a practice that has gone unchallenged has evidence stacked up against it?

Most side with the status quo because it is the safe bet. However, doing this might not be the best bet.

A meta study of 180 studies on homework revealed that homework had no good returns — and could even be harmful — for primary school children. The meta study also revealed that gains for older children were better, but marginal.

So why do schools and teachers dispense homework? Is this because they know no other way or because things have always been does this way?

What will it take for schools and teachers to question the assumptions for homework, to design better homework (e.g., based on spaced practice), and to be more literate on the research on homework?

I looked back at what I have reflected on for the issue of homework:

I also found my talking points for an #edsg Twitter chat in 2012 that focused on homework. One of the things I mentioned was this:

Practice is important because it reinforces, it can be formative, and it can generate feedback. These are all essential for learning. Why do it when the key enabling and support structures are missing at home and present in school?

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