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Rethinking homework, Part 1 of 2

By April 6, 2009June 17th, 20168 Comments

Out of all of the instructional strategies originally identified by Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock (2001), homework continues to be among the most controversial. Every time I get to this strategy in our workshops, I inwardly steel myself for some lively conversations. At its best, homework is a fun way to bridge classroom learning with out-of-school experiences. At its worst, it is a mundane set of worksheets, math problems, and lower level questions. While educators see the benefit of the former, they far too often see the latter and it is this that brings such controversy. In recent readings and Twitter connections, I came across two very different homework strategies that teachers are using that I think show the dynamic learning experiences that can happen if homework is structured, purposeful, and (by all means) engaging. I’ll post these in two separate blog posts.

In the December 2008/January 2009 issue of Learning & Leading with Technology, chemistry teachers John Bergmann, Aaron Sams, and Brian Hatak described how they began creating vodcasts (PowerPoints with animation and recorded audio) of their chemistry lectures. Now, their chemistry homework is a quick, “just-the-facts” session while precious class time is used for labs, experiments, and discussions. These vodcasts can be found on the teachers’ Web sites (linked to their names). Delivering the basic content in digital format taps into this generation’s comfort of getting information when they need it, listening at their own pace, and being able to repeat sections that didn’t make sense the first time. Likewise, it actually enriches what happens in the classroom. No longer do they need to sit and listen to a lecture in order to get basic details. Now they can use the concepts and details to which they’ve been introduced to evaluate, generate and test hypotheses, and think critically.

In Part 2 of this post, I will describe how a teacher uses cell phones and the President’s address to Congress to engage her students in out-of-classroom learning.

Written by Elizabeth Hubbell.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Just read Wes Fryer’s blog post on worksheets: Similar message, I think, from a parent & student’s point of view.

  • Jay says:

    Homework should allow the students to practice on the concept that is being taught! If the assingments are meanigful, the students will better learn the given concept. Hands on activities are the best kind of homework assignments.

  • Adam Dennis says:

    I agree with making homework relevant, but would be interested in hearing more. My students do not have an unlimited amount of resources, many do have access to a computer. What kind of things do you do with these students? I like the way of thinking. It is something I should do more research on. Thanks for the ideas and reflection on homework.

  • Elizabeth Hubbell says:

    Hi Adam,
    When my students didn’t have access to computers, I would still try to incorporate something meaningful and timely to their homework. Perhaps something special was happening on TV that evening (i.e. a presidential speech) or perhaps we were entering a season where students could go outside and observe something in the natural world.
    What made me cringe was the thought of worksheets at the kitchen table late at night.

  • I agree with giving meaningful homework to students. It is also important to give students timely feedback. This helps them to see the homework as something significant that is linked to their development in school.

  • V. Armstead says:

    How do you encourage at risk student to take an interest in homework?

  • Diane Rochleau says:

    I find that there are still students that will not engage or do the homework. Do you just ignore these or how do you deal with these students?

  • Debora Deavers says:

    I agree that if homework is given it should be meaningful. Really as teachers we get more of children’s time during an average day than their parents do. As a parent who’s been through those long evenings with my children spending time from after dinner until bed doing homework I try my best not to give my students any. I do encourage them to read daily at home and to spend some time studying at home, but I do not make any requirements. I believe quality family time is just as important to a child as what they learn at school.

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