In our work with districts across the county, we often find that homework and practice is a bone of contention in many schools. Many issues arise if the strategy of homework and practice (H&P) is misapplied. Sometimes H&P is too large a part of the students’ total grade. This enables some students to pass a class without really showing that they know the subject. Other times H&P is not differentiated enough resulting in some students finding the work too frustrating and others seeing it as a total waste of their time. Furthermore, the purpose of an H&P activity might not be communicated well to the students or the activity really has little or no purposeful connection to the learning objectives at all. For instance, we have all seen busy work such as word searches assigned as homework for homework’s sake. If the teacher, and more importantly the students, cannot readily tell you why an H&P activity is important, than it probably does not have a good purpose and should not have been assigned in the first place.
But the problem I find most egregious is when there is no opportunity for feedback on H&P activities. When you practice something you are trying to see what you are doing well and what you need to change about what you do not do well. This requires feedback, usually from someone as skilled as or more so than you in the subject. This is why master teachers pair homework and practice with its sister strategy, providing feedback.
Providing feedback can be tiered to give every opportunity to the students to receive the guidance they need to learn. For instance, teachers could lead students through checking the work and accuracy of their math homework (whole group feedback). Then the students could pair up and discuss how to solve the three practice problems that were most challenging to them (peer feedback). Then the teacher could encourage students to revise their work based on the feedback (mastery teaching). Finally, the teacher could collect a random assignment at the end of the week for in-depth feedback by the teacher (expert feedback).
In any case, students should have the opportunity for meaningful practice that includes criteria-based corrective feedback. These feedback should be both positive and negative in that is lets the students know what they are doing well and not well and how to improve it. Then the students should have the opportunity to act on this feedback to make the corrections. Sports coaches and master teachers know this practice and feedback loop very well. Do you have an example of a practice/feedback loop that you use with your students?
By Matt Kuhn – Curriculum & Instruction Consultant – STEM