January’s Teacher’s Corner Column: Homework – The Great Debate

The philosophy of education in the U.S. is always subject to disagreement and controversy, but everyone can agree on this: It’s never, ever static. The dynamics in education often seem like those of a pendulum swinging back and forth, from one extreme to the other, as policymakers, curriculum designers and book writers continue to define and redefine what are now called “best practices.”

The current Great Debate over homework is a perfect example of the way the pendulum swings in education. In “The Case For and Against Homework” at http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar07/vol64/num06/The-Case-For-and-Against-Homework.aspx, Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering summarize how homework has been accepted or rejected as a good practice since the early 1900s. Reading the summary is enough to give you whiplash:

Throughout the first few decades of the 20th century, educators commonly believed that homework helped create disciplined minds. By 1940, growing concern that homework interfered with other home activities sparked a reaction against it. This trend was reversed in the late 1950s when the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik led to concern that U.S. education lacked rigor; schools viewed more rigorous homework as a partial solution to the problem. By 1980, the trend had reversed again, with some learning theorists claiming that homework could be detrimental to students’ mental health.

Since the 1980s, the campaign to eliminate homework has marched on with the publication of books and articles and op-ed pieces contending that homework is not only useless but harmful. Today, many schools have banned homework completely, instituting a “no-homework” policy that teachers must observe in lesson planning and instruction.

As always in our profession, however, a change in education theory and best practices is on the horizon. According to Marzano and Pickering, a growing body of research indicates that homework, “when employed effectively,” is, in fact, useful and that “doing homework causes improved academic achievement.” Right now, the pro-homework and the anti-homework forces have squared off, dug in, and begun attacking each other’s credibility and research.

As the debate rages on, Marzano and Pickering’s phrase, “when employed effectively,” is important to note because it implies, correctly, that homework should never be assigned without careful thought and planning. Type “homework” into your favorite search engine, and among the hundreds of articles that pop up you’ll find lots of guidelines, like these:

  • Assign homework that has a legitimate purpose, such as practicing a skill, studying topics that students want to explore on their own, or reading in preparation for instruction.
  • Make sure to consider length and degree of difficulty when designing homework assignments so that students can complete them successfully with reasonable effort.
  •  Keep students’ ages in mind when assigning homework. The older they are, the more likely it is that they will benefit from homework. The younger they are, the less time they should spend on homework and the less likely they are to benefit from it.
  • Since middle school and high school students usually take numerous classes with differentteachers, avoid assigning homework that’s due the following day. Give them some flexibility since they probably have homework deadlines in several classes.
  • Don’t assign homework that’s so difficult or complicated it requires parents to act as tutors.

To learn more about effective vs. ineffective homework practices, check out the two user-friendly charts at Reading Rockets: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/effective-practices-homework. The charts are part of an article that lists five facts about homework every teacher should read before assigning it.

Since at least seven recent studies have shown that homework significantly raises scores on standardized tests, it’s likely that assigning homework will become a “best practice” once again. Meanwhile, until the dust settles, teachers no doubt will do what teachers always do while the theorists are busy debating how to educate kids. They will use their knowledge, training, experience, creativity, and common sense to find the middle ground where learning takes place steadily and consistently from year to year. So thank goodness for that—and for you!

I’ll be back next month with some ideas for second semester. It’s hard to believe that half the school year is over. It’s also hard to believe that 2015 is actually here and not just a fantasy from Back to the Future. I hope it’s a great year for you and your students, even without hover boards and flying cars!

Happy New Year!

Susan


Quick Tips to Make It Through Your Fall Term Finals

1. Find an “Accountabilibuddy”

If you’ve been reading eNotes study tips for a while now you’ll already know the importance of making flash cards and creating a study schedule in time for finals week, so here’s a new tip for you. Make a pact with a friend to be accountabilibuddies; you will agree to check in with and keep each other on the studying track leading up to your exams. If one of you strays, the other is “accountabilibuddyable,” and reserves the right to publicly shame you, or at least make you donate $1 to the procrastination jar.

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December’s Teacher’s Corner Column: Are We Expecting Too Much, Too Soon?

Teacher’s Corner is a monthly newsletter from eNotes just for teachers. In it, experienced educator and eNotes contributor Susan Hurn shares her tips, tricks, and insight into the world of teaching. Check out this month’s Teacher’s Corner column below, or sign up to receive the complete newsletter in your inbox at eNotes.com.

I recently read an article by Laura Katan in which she shares an anecdote I keep thinking about. At a fair, Katan saw a ten-year-old boy and his mom pass a massage vendor, and she heard the mother ask her son, “Do you want a massage? It may relax you.” Katan recalls she was “incredulous” as she overheard the comment. “Since when do 10-year-olds need to relax?” she asks. Well, apparently now. In fact, there seems to be a lot of kids who need to relax, and most of them are in our classrooms.   Read the rest of this entry »


10 Books to Help Every Teacher Rock

Pick up one of these teacher-written guides over your next school break to return to your classroom with fresh and inspiring ideas.

By Lesley Vos, a private educator of French language and a Bid4papers blogger.

A good teacher is not the one who believes he knows everything, but the one who is ready to learn new things and improve his knowledge and skills. A good teacher is not the one who perfectly knows a theoretical part of a subject she teaches, but the one who knows how to talk and behave to her students, how to understand them, how to become their friend, how to make them trust and rely on her.

If you want to become a teacher who rocks, it’s never late to learn some tips and tricks from your colleagues: check out these 10 top books written by your fellow instructors to help you understand your students better, and come back to school a better teacher.

Your must-read books include:

1. Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit

Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit

Your students are different, and big problems may appear because of some stereotypes or prejudices in your classroom. The author of Other People’s Children analyzes all cultural differences that may appear between teachers and students, and tells how to forget about all this cultural baggage and take into account the needs of every student regardless of his color.

Other People’s Children on Amazon: link

2. Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham

Why Don’t Students Like School by Daniel T. Willingham

The author of this book is a cognitive scientist, and he scientifically explains how you can engage students in a classroom. If you want to know how your students’ brain works, this book is your must-read for sure. Here you will find some advice and tricks to use to improve your practice and motivate students. Daniel Willingham explains how important emotions are for students’ learning experience and how memory and context influence the process of study too.

Why Don’t Students Like School on Amazon: link

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November’s Teacher’s Corner Column: A Guide to Summative and Formative Assessments

Teacher’s Corner is a monthly newsletter from eNotes just for teachers. In it, experienced educator and eNotes contributor Susan Hurn shares her tips, tricks, and insight into the world of teaching. Check out this month’s Teacher’s Corner column below, or sign up to receive the complete newsletter in your inbox at eNotes.com.

Keeping Up with Assessment and Grading

Assessing students’ achievement is an integral part of teaching, and like everything else in the profession, it has become more complicated. The days of giving a chapter test and calling it good are over. That’s not a bad thing though. To really keep tabs on who’s learning what, assessment has to be an ongoing process, and it has to offer kids a variety of ways to show what they know and what they can do.

To be thorough and effective, assessment has to include the three main types of measurement: diagnostic, formative, and summative. Diagnostic assessment is imperative, since it’s impossible to know how much ground students have gained at the end of a study unit unless we know where they were at the beginning. Formative assessment checks their learning along the way and provides an opportunity to adjust lesson plans, if necessary, and to address specific problems a struggling student might be experiencing. Summative assessment at the end of a study unit indicates kids’ overall mastery of new material and gives a clear idea about how to proceed in instruction. A review of all six types of assessment can be found here at edudemic.com. Another good site with information about assessment practices is utexas.edu/teaching.

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5 Tips for Writing Your College Application Essay

Happy college app month!

Your college application essay isn’t the sole determiner of where you go to school, but it should live up to the rest of your stellar qualifications. Read our following tips to turn in the best essay you can, and good luck!

college-applications
1. Be you. This may seem obvious, but a college application essay is meant to show its audience something about your character. It’s your opportunity to show off something about yourself that can’t be deduced from your transcript. That means that you should not launch into a list of your many achievements and activities over your high school career. Instead, choose an anecdote that shows the depth of your personality that can’t be seen in mere test scores. Have a clear focus and write one story well.
2. Develop your tone. Before writing the story of you, think about how you’d like to come across to a complete stranger reading your essay. Though the goal is to let readers know how great you are, too much of that can sound like you’re bragging. On the flip side, holding on to disappointments or injustices you may have encountered in your education can sound like you’re whining. Brain storm on paper some adjectives that describe how you’d like to be perceived and keep them in mind as you write. Strike for somewhere along the spectrum of proud and humble, and if you can add a touch of humor for levity; besides a well-woven story, tone is what helps you really jump off the page.

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October’s Teacher’s Corner Column: How To Be Proactive and Organized Year-Round

Teacher’s Corner is a monthly newsletter from eNotes just for teachers. In it, experienced educator and eNotes contributor Susan Hurn shares her tips, tricks, and insight into the world of teaching. Check out this month’s Teacher’s Corner column below, or sign up to receive the complete newsletter in your inbox at eNotes.com.

Whether you’re a new teacher or a classroom veteran, the school year can feel overwhelming, more so than ever since the demands of standards-based testing and professional development have grown increasingly complex and time consuming. Teaching now seems to require holding down two jobs at once: teaching kids with one hand and meeting a plethora of administrative mandates with the other. It’s tough to carry such a load day after day without sinking under the weight.

According to the old proverb, “A stitch in time saves nine.” It’s true, and it’s still good advice. Being proactive takes a little time, but it saves a lot of work and heads off problems, making a difficult year more manageable and less stressful. Here are a few ways to save yourself in the classroom by acting sooner rather than later:

  • Organize your paperwork, but don’t overdo it:
    • An organizational system shouldn’t be so complicated that it takes hours to create and you have to remember what’s filed where when you’re looking for something.
    • Backing up critical information is a must, but recording the same information in multiple places wastes time.
    • Making lists keeps things on track, but if you have so many lists you need a master list to keep track of them, you’ve overachieved! (I’m speaking from experience here, so trust me.)

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