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December 2010 | Volume 52 | Number 12
Teaming Up to Lead Instruction
"I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework."
Most teachers have wrestled with the issue of homework at some point in their careers. Few teachers have mastered the art of assigning meaningful homework. Usually, we provide homework to students in order to give them an opportunity to independently practice what they learned in school. And most of the time, we hear students complaining about taking this additional work home.
In my 12 years of experience as a teacher dealing with teenagers, I learned the following about assigning homework:
Do your homework before giving homework to your students. Assigning the right kind and the right amount of homework is important. Homework should be based on the application of the concepts learned in the classroom. Teachers should assign work that presents students with a challenge while also engaging them in age- and skill-appropriate activities. Any homework that requires straight copying from the textbook or the Internet will be simple drudgery for students and will not help them in any way. Also, consider the homework and tests pending in other subjects by working with your colleagues to develop a "homework timetable" that factors in the need for homework in various classes.
Provide goal-oriented homework.
"Study without thought is vain; thought without study is dangerous," said Confucius. Be clear about the goal you want students to achieve through the homework assignment. Is it improving reading or analytical abilities, is it writing practice, or is it preparing students for the forthcoming test? When you are clear about the goal, you can communicate it to your students.
Be sure to discuss the homework.
I usually set aside 10 minutes of the instructional period to discuss the homework or the concepts needed for doing the homework before I assign it. Giving pointers and clues makes homework achievable for all the students and helps tremendously in reducing the error rate.
Allow for collaboration in homework. Technology has changed the traditional ways of giving and doing homework. Instead of insisting on individual work, provide opportunities for students to engage in group work that allows them to use technology. Lots of peer teaching and learning takes place online, and it helps in building the personal relationships between the students.
In my business class, I assign topics to different groups of students and they have to collaborate to design a presentation they will share with the entire class. The students use Facebook, Google Documents, and conferencing tools to research, discuss, and debate their topics, and they build the presentations by editing them online simultaneously from their respective homes.
Devise various strategies to give feedback on students' work. In my experience, a positive note from their teacher motivates a student to do well. I write a small note in the assignment book of each of my students, giving some personal comments about their work, an observation I made about them in class, a note about improvement shown or needed, and so forth. And believe me, it works so well with teenagers. They look forward to their checked assignment books just to read those personalized comments about their work and about themselves.
I also keep the homework record chart on the notice board of the class and paste colored stickers next to students' names. The symbols are orange to indicate excellent work, yellow for mediocre work, and red for incomplete or missing work. Students strive hard to have more orange than red stickers in front of their names.
In my opinion, we do not need to abolish homework; we just need to reinvent it to better suit the needs of today's generation.
Bijal Damani is an 11th and 12th grade commerce and business studies teacher in the Galaxy Education System in Rajkot, India, and has received numerous honors.
Copyright © 2010 by ASCD
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