Resistance is futile.


I think I’ve cracked the homework problem. I don’t want to get into a debate about whether kids should get homework at all. That isn’t why I’m blogging about homework.  Over the last few years it has been increasingly difficult to get our kids do do any homework. This becomes a problem when we get to the senior years and they need to do some work out of class time to get the results they want at the HSC. Last years HSC class were the absolute worst. Apart from a stalwart 4 or 5 kids who did everything they were asked, the rest resisted any attempt to get them to do any work outside class time, and whinged about it, became resentful and just didn’t seem to make the connection between a bit of work and better results. And it did show in their results.

After some feedback from last year’s year 12, it was clear some changes needed to happen. Their main concern was that homework often felt like more pressure when they clearly needed less. As one kid put it , “it’s homework miss, not an assignment”. Quite by accident I set some simple HW for year 11 on the first day. We ran out of time to complete their interest surveys and I asked them to have it done for the next day. There was an amazing 90% return rate, and the other 10% had it done by the end of that day. Then I set 1/2 page of writing on “One Word” that would be their academic motto for the year. Another amazing 90% return rate. The light bulb went on.

Since then I’ve experimented with my current year 12 and year 9 and 10. The results have been consistent. Each group has had about 85-90% return rate, no whining and a lot more effort. Half a page of writing is all it takes. I’ve increased the frequency to 2-3 times a week. At first I was hesitant to set more than on piece a week, mainly because I was worried about the time I needed to read and return it. At the same time I recognised less and more often might reinforce the habit I wanted to develop. I have been able to keep up with reading and returning. Half a page doesn’t take long to read and I’m not setting things that need “correction”. I’ve confined myself to underlining inaccurate spelling because I’ve been more interested in what they have to say. At the same time, the standard has been high, with few errors, maybe because half a page is easy to rewrite and correct. And that’s another spin off. Kids are frequently rewriting and not handing in first drafts.

This has been really useful with Year 12. The things they have been asked to write give them practice at succinctly linking concepts in class to texts they are studying, preparing the groundwork for essays in exams. This also came from feedback from last years HSC cohort. During the year they had a writing task at the beginning of most lessons. This was usually a quote from the current text that they explained in a well structured paragraph. We collected this work and the feedback focused on the micro skills of essay writing, like how to integrate a quote or embed the technical language. Past students had told the new group to keep all these bits, because they had found them useful when preparing to write essays.

There are of course a few kids still resisting and if I really want to push the point, ten minutes at lunchtime solves the problem easily enough!

About lyntiernan

I teach kids. Mostly English but sometimes good manners, how to have fun learning, that you are never too old to learn something new, that we all make mistakes and what we do about mistakes is who we become, that the future is not some place we are going to but a place we are creating and... I like learning and adapting new technology in the classroom I'm good with my new IWB, websites and email but hopeless with mobile phones!

2 responses »

  1. Hi Kelli, apologies for taking a while to reply. Used up my fast download in 3 days and had to wait a month for new plan to kick in. I blame the ipad!

    There may have been some intrinsic motivation since the short tasks were directly related to the work we had done in class that day. For example, in Year 9 we created an imaginary world where the kids drew a city and there were lots of short writing tasks adding detail. Then for homework they were asked to write 1/2 an A4 page in their notebooks describing their city. I had already started collecting their notebooks about twice a week, forcing me to look at them and get them back pronto, so they knew they would get quick feedback and they were delighted with their cities, so happy to talk about them.

    I do think the quick feedback is part of the response. With year 11 and 12 I have asked for 1/2 a page of writing up to 3 times a week and usually get a good response, with those who didn’t have time making some effort to do it the next chance they had. Since most of these tasks only take 15-20 minutes, are directly related to work in class and consolidate their learning and skills they seem more willing to do it. And you are right, they don’t take long to read and feedback, with minimal comments. I use stickers which they love and only “mark” it if I have asked them to do something specific, like write a well structured paragraph using a quote. A lot of these short tasks are paragraphs they could recycle later into an essay. I’m working on the principle of practicing the micro skills of essay writing rather than asking for full length essays every two or three weeks. Because I have clearly stated the purpose of the tasks most kids can see the value. And it helped that the previous Year 12 told the new Year 12 to keep all the bits of paper because they discovered all those bits added up to an essay!

    I have been able to keep it up with some help from co-teachers, since we are team teaching Year 11 and Year 12 advanced, when I get snowed under.

    I have tried Bianca’s medals and missions and I like it a lot. It is a very quick way to target feedback.

  2. I think you’ve made some great progress with your classes and their homework habits! My first thought when reading this post was that the intrinsic motivation was making the most difference – that you were getting a better response rate because students were more interested in the tasks. And that might be part of it (do you think?) but I agree with you that the ‘less, but more often’ approach is the real winner.

    Sometimes when I have a massive pile of essays or other long responses to grade, it can take me a long time to get back to the students. But because you are making less for yourself to read, you’re able to turn the feedback around, and students must feel like their work is really being attended to! Have you been able to keep this up? How many comments would you say you write at the end of each? I have thought of using the ‘medals and missions’ system of feedback that Bianca has had success with, have you seen that?

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