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Homework and Retention

July 10, 2014 1 comment

I’ve been thinking a lot about homework recently. I’ve trialled takeaway homework and found in a non rigours manner that although the take up did increase, only one student saw any real benefit from doing it. This suggests that perhaps its not the best way for me to give homework to my students.

Hattie’s research (2008) suggests that homework has a decent effect size for pupils of secondary age (0.64) and is well worth doing as it is above his hinge point of 0.4. His research suggests that its not worth doing for Primary aged pupils with a tiny effect size of 0.15, but as I’m a secondary teacher, I’m more concerned about those findings.

Hattie drills into the research further and finds that structured, deliberate practice based homework has a better effect size than unstructured open ended tasks, and I think that in a maths context this makes perfect sense. This certainly seems to back up my preliminary findings on the impact of takeaway homework in my own classes.

So It got me thinking, what homework should I be setting? I read a piece recently by Craig Barton (@mrbartonmaths) which suggested that he would be moving towards a two weekly homework regime, where homework’s are 30 marks long, with 20 marks covering recent topics and 10 covering the rest of the topics learned so far in the year. This ties in with something I read recently from Joe Kirby (@joe_kirby) which suggested that he was building in lots of quick quizzes to improve retention and something I read from Bruno Reddy (@mrreddymaths) which said they were structuring their assessments in a similar way.

I think that these ideas are great, and going forward I plan to trial something similar. I am still going to set homework weekly, but I am going to rotate what its on. One week it will be on the current topic and the next it will cover all topics for the year. I hope that this, matched with starters that cover all the topics from the year, will help to build retention and improve the long term maths memory of my students. When setting the homework I will be setting tasks based around deliberate practice, as that is what the research suggests is of the best benefit. For the first few weeks of the year the weeks that cover all the years topics will focus on the core skills involved with maths such as the four rules of arithmetic, fractions, decimal, percentages etc.

A colleague of mine has started setting his homework on coloured paper and sticking them into his exercise books. I think this is a great idea, as it ensures that pupils have it there for revision purposes and it has the added benefit of evidencing progress over time and the setting of homework.

I shall track this trial next year and report back here when I know if it is effective with my classes or not.

Reference:

Hattie, JA (2009) Visible Learning. A Synthesis of over 800 Meta‐Analyses relating to Achievement London: Routledge

Further Reading:

Getting on top of homework, Mark Miller: http://thegoldfishbowl.edublogs.org/2013/09/22/getting-on-top-of-homework/

Homework, what does Hattie actually say, Tom Sherrington: http://headguruteacher.com/2012/10/21/homework-what-does-the-hattie-research-actually-say/

Homework Matters, Tom Sherrington: http://headguruteacher.com/2012/09/02/homework-matters-great-teachers-set-great-homework/

Homework in Maths, Craig Barton: http://www.mrbartonmaths.com/blog/article-homework-maths/

Take Away Homework

July 9, 2014 2 comments

Over this year I have seen a rising number of people tweet and blog about “Takeaway Homework”. Reading all the great things that the majority of these people had to say about it I figured that I would give it ago for this half term and see what I thought of it. I found this blog by Paul Collins (@mrprcollins) to contain an excellent maths based takeaway homework menu, so I used his resource. I chose 2 classes to trial the homework strategy with, one a year 8 class and one a year 9 class. I wanted to look at the take up of homework and the impact it had on the class.

Take up

The take up of the homework in the classes did improve. The year 9 homework rose from around 70% to into the 90% and the year 8 homework increased from 80% to 90%. So this was fairly positive and on this note the strategy was definitely a success. However, I’m not sure that an increased take up alone constitutes a success, so we need to look t the quality of the homework produced and the impact it has had.

Quality

I received some excellent creative pieces of homework from some of the students, some brilliant comic strips and games based around the work we had done in class. But I also received some poor, rushed, homework that fulfilled the criteria yet didn’t seem to add anything to their learning. In this respect, I feel that for most of the students homework which required them to practice a skill would have been much more beneficial as it would have helped consolidate learning better.

Impact

I informally interviewed the 2 pupils in each class who had produced the best homework and two other from each class as well to try and get a feel for home effective they felt the homework was.

One boy in the year 9 class who had produced some excellent work told me that he felt the homework had “helped me understand what’s going on better”. He had produced a series of comic strips which gave sets of instructions on how to do various things. Including one really good one on how to convert between Fractions, Decimals and Percentages. 

The rest of the pupils were less than enthusiastic about the homework. They all said that they had enjoyed the fact that they could chose what to do, and the ones who produced the good work said they had enjoyed being creative, but none of them felt they had improved their maths by doing it. A number of them did say it had helped them learn key words, but not much more. I feel then that the impact was much less than I had hoped.

In all, I feel that this brief trial has not given me any evidence to feel that that takeaway homework is a good thing, and I feel that there are many other homework strategies that can work better for maths. I realise that this brief trial is not at all rigorous, and certainly doesn’t prove anything negative about takeaway homework either, but it does suggest to me that there are better alternatives. I think I will run another trial next year, and look at doing it in a more rigorous and measurable manner, to see if the same findings occur.

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