Homework – what is it and what do you do with it?

The school I work at has different homework policies depending on the department.  Some have longer projects on rotation, so the Art department might have a Year 7 project in the first half-term and then not have a Year 7 project again until the summer half-term.

Maths, however, have homework once every week, to last for about 30 minutes for every year group.  This is to be marked and used as part of a learning dialogue with the student.   There is also an expectation that the homework will not be set for the next day – that there is at least two or three possible nights for the student to sit down and complete the homework.  I’ve read conflicting views on the impact of homework on achievement.  I don’t really have a choice in the setting of homework but have complete autonomy on what that looks like and I want to make that worthwhile.

What to do when students don’t do their homework, though?

I want students to see the benefit of homework and to be able to respond when they aren’t completing it.  This can be an equity issue – there isn’t an appropriate space at home to be able to complete the work but often, students just can’t see the point of completing homework.  So, when I set homework, how can I convince my students that it will be worthwhile?  I could provide a type of homework list:

  • Consolidation: Homework will provide an opportunity for you to practice skills that we learnt in class but didn’t consolidate;
  • Flip: Homework will be a video or audio clip that you are to write one question based on  – either something you don’t understand or something that you’d ask based on it;
  • Functional skills: Homework will be an open problem that will expect you to apply Maths from different topic areas (e.g. Number and Shape).  I will aim to make these problems interesting and engaging;
  • Revision notes: Homework will be to make revision notes that then can be brought into some assessments (addressing a studying issue that lots of my students have).

And I could provide ways that homework will be used:

  • Homework will be marked and feedback will be given on it
  • When I mark homework, I will give some input and then set a question that responds to a mistake you are making or extend your thinking.  You will then have to respond to this question and comment, with an answer and comment of your own
  • For richer homework tasks, I have students mark each others’ work based on a rubric and to give 3 WWW (what went well) comments and 1 EBI (even better if)

I am not allowed to use homework as a way to give a grade to a student – this is all done with external, state set exams at 16, 17 and 18.  Prior to that, my school will only use data from exams based on this style of test set and marked in house across the year groups.

Would you add any other types of homework or ways to use it?

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5 Things I have learnt from recording videos

I've spent 15 hours this summer standing behind a pane of glass and being recorded teaching Maths. This is part of a social learning platform that a local company are trying to implement and I'm one of the local teachers to potentially lend it credibility with my students.

 

I write on a pane of glass which is recorded backwards and then reversed in the editing process. The positive thing about this is I can make eye-contact with the camera and in moments of silence there is a person to connect with.

Here are some of the things I have learnt:

1. Teaching a camera is hard!

It is really weird talking to a camera rather than a group of students. I have no body language or banter to play off, no prior knowledge of who they are and what they've achieved. I can assume they know certain things because there are videos that support them, but it is hard.

2. Wording is key.

When all you have are 3 minute videos (that's the time I've been asked to keep them too) you need to be precise but human. I think much more about the exact wording of what I'm going to say. In the classroom I'm much more concerned with the activities and questions I challenge my students with than the exact phrases I use. I obviously spend time thinking about key vocabulary and difficult concepts but I wonder if I could think more and speak less (in life and the classroom!). When all I can give the people who watch this video is the video itself I want to be clearer than ever. They can't ask me questions or for further explanation (although the social platform means they will have someone to ask).

3. Being directed is interesting

So, this company has a curriculum advisor who plans what topics are going to be explained and writes worksheets that go along with it. I discuss the next three minutes and think about ideas with him and then go. If I misspeak or am not clear enough, he calls me on it and I do it again. We can't do this in the classroom but it is fascinating to be able to be analysed so closely on one aspect of teaching (direct expostion). Granted I don't do a lot of this in my classroom, but still, good skill building.

4. I'm a biased 'progressive'

In the UK we have an external agency (Ofsted) who define what 'good' and 'outstanding' teaching is and who come and inspect schools and teachers using these standards as a benchmark. Schools are generally inspected once every 3 years and judged accordingly. I generally agree with Ofsted as far as Maths education is concerned, they are quite balanced and progressive in what they say about Maths education (unfortunately there are other agencies who are less so). This is a much more didactic project – on the understanding that this will be used for revision and preparation for national exams – but it has made me think about those who value this form of input. Do I do them a disservice with co-operative learning, group tasks, rich activities and exploratory learning? Should there be an element of didactic delivery? My bias screams no but I'm thinking about this.

5. I love digital!

As I said before this project involves writing on a glass pane – I use the pens you use on car windows to write the price on. There are no digital pictures, no dynamic geometry, no accurate scales …. I do love my digital tools and I do think they add to the experience of Mathematics.

 

I've had mixed feelings with being involved with this project. I would be really sad if it was seen as a way of learning the content – I've been clear I see it as a study tool rather than a teaching tool. I don't believe in one size fits all explanations which is hard to see when I'm involved in this kind of project. This is not how I teach and I would hate for any student(or colleague) to think it is.