So I was at a dinner party last night, and was the only high school teacher in a room of university students and academics. It was quite an enjoyable night, and I got to reconnect with a bunch of old friends.
Of course as a teacher, eventually the subject of what I do for a living comes up. It’s pretty clear that everyone has an opinion of good and bad teaching. I made the declaration at one point that I no longer assign typical math homework.
Actually it’s true, I haven’t assigned a problem set from the textbook this entire school year. This is a conscious decision, not me just being forgetful and a real reason behind based on research. I do assign other types of homework occasionally.
I read something in the summer that changed my perspective on homework. It was about the value of feedback when learning. I don’t remember the exact title of the article, it was in my course readings. In any case, what the authors of the study discovered is that the length of time between when you make a mistake and when you get feedback on that mistake makes a huge difference in whether or not you remember either the correct material or the incorrect material.
If you make a mistake and get feedback within a few minutes, chances are pretty good you’ll remember the feedback rather than the mistake. As time goes on, the probability you remember the mistake instead of the feedback increases. If it takes more than a day or so to get feedback on your mistake, chances are pretty good you’ll make the mistake again and forget the corrective feedback you received.
The implications of this in assigning student homework is pretty easy to see. If I assign to be done Monday night, and some of my diligent but struggling learners do the homework that night, then I see the students on Wednesday, chances are pretty good that there’s very little I can do to correct the misunderstandings of the students for that assignment.
So I’ve stopped assigning homework which doesn’t give immediate feedback. I’ve discovered dozens of websites which offer free online quizzes which are marked immediately and display the correct answer for the students. Assistment.org is especially good, it gives hints on how to solve the problem as they go wrong and keeps track of how many hints each student makes.
There are other types of homework you can assign. Anything which forces the students into a state of active engagement with their material is good. This could mean internet research and summarization, gathering curriculum resources, creation of online tutorials, extended project based work, etc… The analogy here is, what types of things do you do as preparation for school? These types of tasks are also appropriate for the students to do.