Saturday, February 6, 2016

More Homework ≠ More Learning

It's been a while since I've blogged, and it's because I've been working on my comprehensive exams for the past few weeks. I ended up doing a sort of Twitter-fast in the process, because I just did not have the time to devote to those connections and conversations, though I love them so much and find them so valuable for stirring my thinking.

Today, I decided to take a break from other homework and just scroll through my TweetDeck for a few minutes. It felt good to be back, like having a cup of coffee with a dear friend and catching up. (There is probably some commentary about my love of technology there...)

And...wouldn't you know it...? One of the very first tweets I saw was a retweet from my Twitterfriend, Erin Olson (whom you should be following, if you are a teacher)...

The piece that was linked in her retweet here was intriguing to me, since I have an ongoing axe to grind about crappy homework. Here was the tweet:

Friends, if you are convinced that homework is a good thing for kids, you really have to read this.

Here, I'll make it easy...just click this link: "Homework in primary school has an effect of zero."

Okay, I'll make it even are a few quotes from the piece. Just read these:
"Homework in primary school has an effect of around zero. In high school it’s larger. (…) Which is why we need to get it right." 
"It’s one of those lower hanging fruit that we should be looking in our primary schools to say, 'Is it really making a difference?'" 
"Certainly I think we get over obsessed with homework." 
"Five to ten minutes has the same effect of one hour to two hours." 
"The worst thing you can do with homework is give kids projects. The best thing you can do is to reinforce something you’ve already learnt."
These quotes come from an interview with John Hattie, an education researcher who has investigated over 130 influences on education and ranked them in order of the effect they have on student achievement (i.e., measurements of actual learning.) I've mentioned Hattie's list in an earlier blog post, where I noted that homework does make the list; it comes in at 88th place in terms of the effect it has on learning. There are so many other things we could (should?) be doing to improve student learning...why are we still assigning so much homework?

Let's get this right, my fellow educators: more homework does not mean more learning!

Image by David Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Comprehensive Exams

I have not posted much lately because I have been working on preparing for my comprehensive exams, and then writing my exams.

This has been so, so challenging for me. I know, of's supposed to be challenging. And truthfully, I am feeling quite well-prepared for this. It's just trying to write while working around all the other parts of my life...sometimes it has me feeling like...

Those of you who know me well might be able to see this. Those who don't perhaps know me as well might be surprised. (Actually, I'm all dark and twisty on the inside...)

Honestly, things are going pretty well for the actual writing, but I there are times that I sort of hit a wall, so I start reading more to get on top of things, or hopefully break through.

The problem with that is, sometimes I find a new article or chapter to read, and all of a sudden, I'm like...

I'm not writing this for any sympathy or words of affirmation or anything like that. I know that I chose this, and the stress is temporary, if even of my own doing. (As my friend, Tom, reminds me, "I'm not life is rich and full!")

But if you could give my wife and kids a little extra encouragement, I think that would be welcome. They have been amazing, actually, throughout this process, and I'm so grateful for them.

Thanks for reading all. You guys are the best.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Do You Have the Guts to Ask?

Image by Alan Levine [CC BY 2.0]

After my last post, I tweeted a series of questions, challenging teachers (I suppose) to try asking their students for feedback about their teaching. Here's one:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Satisfaction in Learning

My friend, Erik Ellefsen, recently tweeted this one to me:

Interesting thought, isn't it?

To what degree should we be concerned with student satisfaction? As an instructor in higher education, I am acutely aware of my end-of-term evaluations, and sites like Rate My Professors (I don't look at my reviews there...yikes...) that allow students to sit in the evaluator's seat and give the instructor a "grade." It's a tricky dance; it certainly feels good to have students give you accolades about your teaching...but does that mean catering to what they want, to their whims? Or does that mean challenging them with what they need...even if they don't necessarily want it? What is the mark of satisfaction in learning?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Creating Better Homework

I've been on a tear lately against "crappy homework." I've written before about how I think homework assigned to "teach responsibility" is misguided; I still stand by this argument. More recently, I've been thinking about how bad most of the homework I assigned as a middle school teacher was, and how we can make homework better. I've also been encouraging teachers to think about homework from a parent's perspective, something I did not do enough of as a middle school teacher.

All of this has stirred up some good conversations with friends and fellow educators--I'm always grateful for feedback and pushback on my thinking!--but a common theme in response has been, "So what do you think we should do about this, Dave?"

Public Domain Image
via Wikimedia
That's fair. As Teddy Roosevelt once said,

"Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is whining."

And...I think he's right. So, lest I be accused of simply whining about the sorry state of affairs when it comes to homework, let's start thinking about how we might go about creating better homework.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Homework from a Parent's Perspective

I assigned a lot of bad homework over the years.

Looking back to the beginning of my teaching career, I'm embarrassed about the kind of work I assigned. As I shared in my last post, I never really learned how to write "good" homework, and I just sort of emulated my own teachers, and gave my own students the kinds of work I remembered being assigned.

And so it was that I assigned ridiculously lengthy math assignments. I gave my middle school math students problem sets like, "Do p. 188 1-51 odds" (because the answers to the even numbered problems were in the back of the book. Can't have them peeking, and just copying down the answers!) And usually they would have some time to get started in class, and usually what they didn't get done would become "homework."

Sound familiar?

But let's look at this a moment...

Friday, December 11, 2015

Let's Fix Homework

In a recent post, I shared some of the research that has been done about homework and it's effectiveness (or lack thereof) for helping elementary, middle school, and high school students learn. This has led to a lot of conversations with fellow educators, both face-to-face, and via online connections. It's clear to me that this is something teachers feel pretty strongly about...and to be fair, I have some strong opinions on this topic as well.

I think we can do better than what we've "always done" with homework. I don't think that much of the homework assigned in schools today is doing what we think it is doing. And, if I'm going to say it baldly, I think some teachers are being downright lazy in the work they assign to their students.

If we're serious about helping students learn, let's make sure that the work we assign is really going to help students learn. And that goes for in-class work, certainly, but for out-of-class work too.

Teacher, how confident are you that the assignment you are giving your students is really going to help them learn? I mean, really help them learn, and not just be "something for them to do" or "something that I can grade and put in the grade book."

My friend, Alice Keeler, recently tweeted about something that got me thinking. She is a fantastic teacher, and is thoughtful about her teaching practice. In a series of tweets, she pointed out that throughout her professional training as an educator--both in undergraduate teacher education courses as well as her Masters degree--she was never instructed in how to create "good" homework. And as I reflected on this, I realized that the same is true for me. We mentioned homework in passing in several courses, but we never really talked about how to really create homework that was well-designed to help students learn. And now that I'm a teacher educator...I'm thinking that I'm probably doing a disservice to my students--future teachers--and even to the students and families they will eventually serve; we better talk about homework now!

This makes me wonder about how many of the hundreds of thousands of professional educators in the world today have ever really thought deeply about the quality of the homework they assign. Are we really assigning homework because we are sure it will help students learn? Or are we assigning it because we feel like we "ought to" or out of some vague sense of, "Well, I'm sure homework helped me I probably should assign some to my students too...?"

We can do better than that, teachers. Let's fix homework.

Image by Corey Seeman [CC BY-NS-SA 2.0]