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Creating homework that doesn’t suck

Homework. Students dread it. Parents have a love/hate relationship with it. Teachers feel they need to give it. There are arguments on all sides. Some cite studies which show that homework doesn’t help students, while others defend it to the bitter end.

What if…

  • We thought differently about homework?
  • It wasn’t as painful for parents to enforce?
  • It wasn’t as painful for students to complete?
  • It actually produced positive results?

The problem of homework

The biggest problem with homework is that we send home “stuff” that students can’t do, or that intimidates them. This happens for a variety of reasons. The material may be too complex, time is limited due to after school activities, the home structure does not allow for a quiet place to study, or ...you fill in the blank.

Let’s consider this in light of Bloom’s Taxonomy and the traditional class. In a traditional class where the teachers spend much of the class delivering information, teachers are typically working at the “knowledge” and “understanding” level of Bloom’s. Let’s call this the “easy stuff.” We then send students home to apply, analyze, evaluate, or create (“The hard stuff” or the “harder stuff”). It’s no wonder that they can’t do it to the best of their ability or at all! When students are successful it is often because they have a strong support system at home. Sadly, this does not describe the homes of many students today.

Flipping the thinking of homework

When I was doing research for a recent book about homework, I discovered one stunning finding about the best practices in homework. In 2001, Harris Cooper stated that homework should never be used to teach new material. Instead, effective homework should be for practice and extension of the things learned during class. At first glance that makes sense, but then I reflected on the work I have been doing with “Flipped Learning” for eleven years. I realized that in Flipped Learning we are asking students to be introduced to new material when they are at home. Sounds crazy, and it sounds like it shouldn’t work.

But if we consider Bloom’s Taxonomy again, and then change the shape….a new picture emerges.  What if the homework we sent home was the “easy stuff,” and we left the “hard stuff” for class time.

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What if homework was either a short micro-video or reading which introduced new material, and then class time was spent on the “hard stuff.” The benefit is that when students are wrestling with the “hard stuff,” they have an expert there to guide them. Though it may sound great to spend a huge amount of class time at the top of Bloom’s, it seems unrealistic for most K-16 classrooms, thus the modified diamond shape above.

In 2010 Cathy Vatterott wrote “Five Hallmarks of Good Homework” (Educational Leadership 2010), where she said  homework needed these different elements:

  • Purpose
  • Efficiency
  • Ownership
  • Competence
  • Aesthetic Appeal

All of these resonate with me, but especially competence. I have seen my children, students, and other teachers’ students struggle because the homework was simply too hard. The key element to an effective Flipped Homework assignment is that it stays in its lane. It must only be taught at the knowledge or understanding level of Bloom’s.

Won’t flipped homework glue students more to their screens?

I thought so too, so I asked some students—2,400 of them. And they said..

Did you catch that? Eighty-five percent of students in flipped classes report that Flipped Homework either replaces screen time, or only adds a small amount to it. Let’s face it, we live in a screen culture. Instead of students spending unfruitful time on screens, wouldn’t you rather they were engaged with your Flipped Homework assignment?

Does it work?

The research of Flipped Learning is now in and the results are astounding. Robert Talbert, Professor of Mathematics, Grand Valley State University, and a Research Fellow at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative, recently wrote a summary of the research on Flipped Learning which is showing that Flipped Learning is working.

Not Too Good to be True!

So there is a simple way to take the pain out of homework. Homework which students can actually accomplish, that parents won’t pull their hair out over, and that teachers can get behind. So let’s flip our ideas about homework, and embrace Flipped Learning.

Jon Bergmann is one of the pioneers of the Flipped Classroom Movement. He is the author of nine books including Solving the Homework Problem by Flipping the Learning.