Tuesday, March 18, 2014



Homework can be a source of contention for students, teachers, and parents.  However, some recent studies on homework offer potential insight to guide teachers in assigning homework.

Title : 5/365 | so. much. homework. 12 chapters to read & do journal… | Flickr - Photo Sharing!Source : https://www.flickr.com/photos/anniferrr/4097009340Author : anna gutermuthlicense : Attribution 2.0 Generic

Planning: Taking the Stress Out of Homework

The development of student’s time management skills seems to play an important role in homework completion.  I offer a two-week course that provides instruction on time management, using their smart-phones or a paper planner.  Students who employ these time management skills, have communicated greater confidence in their ability to complete their work, are more likely to have their assignments completed before the deadline, and have seen significant improvement in their overall achievement.  A study of low-income students found that almost half of low-achieving students were confused about how much time it would take to get their homework done (Bempechat, Li, Neier, Gillis, & Holloway, 2011).  As one of my students stated, “I think I have too much to do, so I don’t even bother trying.”  Once she started using the simple time management strategy, her achievement in school and attitude towards homework increased. 

Why Bother? The Cycle of Indifference

Bempechat et al. (2011), found that teachers who did not hold high standards for homework or rarely assigned it communicated to the students that it was not important.  This attitude was picked up on by the students who chose not to do their homework.  I have heard from several teachers that they do not assign homework because it is not being completed.  I wonder if the reason for the lack of completion is that teachers have communicated that the homework is not important. 

What Works in the Classroom also Works at Home

The same engagement strategies that are used in the classroom apply to homework as well.  The power of collaborative learning and providing meaningful learning seem to be lost when learning takes place at the kitchen table.  Students who do not see value in the work that they are doing are not motivated to complete it (Bempechat et al., 2011).  While it does not replace the power of going to a friend’s house to work on an assignment, online programs offer many opportunities for collaborative learning.  Through using technology like Google Docs students can work collaboratively on assignments in a real-time environment.  Learning at home still has a social component.  

Applying Technology in New Ways

A new study offers an interesting way of providing homework that seems to have promising applications.  The study implemented the following practices in delivering homework:

1. Repeated retrieval practice – In addition to receiving the standard homework assignment, students were given follow-up problems on the same topic in two additional assignments that counted only toward their course participation grade.

2. Spacing -- Rather than giving all the problem sets for a week's lectures in one assignment, the researchers spaced the problems over three weeks of assignments.

3. Feedback -- Rather than waiting one week to learn how they did, students received immediate feedback on intervention homework, and they were required to view the feedback to get credit for the assignment.  (Ruth, 2014, para. 6).

The result of this implementation of homework was a 7% increase in the scores of students (Ruth, 2014).  This follows with what educators are taught about the power of feedback on learning.  One of the particularly interesting components of this work was the requirement of students to read the feedback that the instructors provide.  Placing importance on feedback and then providing students with the opportunity to implement what they have learned is not new to education; however, this study demonstrates, that technology could enhance feedback.  

Many electronic learning environments can be utilized in this manner.  For example, Moodle is a highly developed open source environment that can support this type of learning.  The developers at Kaizena provides the ability to include the teacher's audio feedback in a Google Doc  (see: https://kaizena.com/).  
Kaizena provides a good explanation of how to provide effective feedback using their application.


It is easy to forget that many of our students do not have the self-management skills to successfully complete their homework. We need to provide instruction in this area. Furthermore if teachers do not communicate the importance of completing homework to students then students will not see the value of doing it themselves. The nature of learning does not change because it happens at home the instructional techniques that work in class also work at home. Finally there are many applications of technology that can support collaborative learning in the classroom.

Bempechat, J., Li, J., Neier, S. M., Gillis, C. A., & Holloway, S. D. (2011). The homework experience: Perceptions of low-income youth. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(2), 250-278. 

Ruth, D. (2014). Rice study: Simple changes to homework improved student learning. EurekAlert!, Retrieved from http://news.rice.edu