Sep 05, 2018 By Team YoungWonks *
How effective is homework in helping improve a student’s performance? The answer is a not a simple yes or no. The fact of the matter is that today we hear arguments both for and against homework being assigned to students and hence, this subject deserves a closer examination. The debate between the two opposing camps is not exactly new; on one hand, you have people who say that homework will help the student grow and thus positively impact his / her performance and then there are the others who believe the opposite, that is homework is just extra effort for both students and teachers and that it doesn’t translate into any positive results.
The homework proponents
Let’s look at the first camp that belongs to the homework proponents; this camp believes that there is great benefit to homework and that it is vital to student success. According to this group, homework that isn’t an overload - as in homework that follows the standard “10-minute rule,” which recommends a daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level - can actually help the student with life skills such as organization, time management and independent critical thinking. They are of the view that homework can help the student practice and review what they learnt and that it acts as a reinforcement of sorts.
A research commonly cited by this camp is the comprehensive meta-analysis done by Duke University researchers in the year 2006. They reviewed more than 60 research studies on homework between 1987 and 2003 and concluded that homework does have a positive effect on student achievement. Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and director of Duke's Program in Education, said the the correlation was stronger for older students—in seventh through 12th grade—than for those in younger grades. His analysis focused on how homework impacts academic achievement—test scores, for example. His report noted that homework is also thought to improve study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness and independent problem solving skills.
That said, it must be mentioned that Cooper also came across studies that said that homework can fuel negative attitudes about learning and limit leisure time for children. This is why he recommended further study of such potential effects of homework. But all in all, his study concluded that in moderation, homework tends to improve test scores, but not usually at the elementary level. Secondly, he said that teachers should avoid extremes when assigning homework and lastly that instructors will know best about what is best for their students in a given situation, once they have assessed the student’s capability.
The homework opponents
This group believes that assigning and grading homework takes up valuable class time. That homework particularly in the lower grades often requires help, so it just encourages these students to hurry and cheat by getting someone else to do it, or simply not turn it in time. They also say that time spent doing homework can be spent reading and that homework can cause stress as it eats into time for family, friends, volunteering, sports, and hobbies.
For example, Alfie Kohn, author of the book The Homework Myth, is a well-known critic of at-home assignments. According to him, homework is frequently the source of frustration, exhaustion and family conflicts. He adds that homework can thus even extinguish a child’s curiosity because of its sheer pressure.
What constitutes good, productive homework?
Like in the case of any argument, it’s imperative here to look at empirical evidence in the form of research that has been carried out. This, in turn, needs us to look at several concepts that play an important role in helping determine what a good, productive homework assignment is.
Homework in a flipped classroom
To begin with, we need to look at the concept of flipped classroom. Now what is a flipped classroom? It’s where the traditional roles of the teacher/ instructor and the student are flipped. In a traditional setting, the teacher delivers the lecture in class and assigns homework to the student. The flipped classroom turns this approach on its head. Here, lectures are typically shared in a video format with the student so he/ she can watch it at home and absorb the lesson; that way, you can pause or rewind the lecture at home and learn it at your own pace. The assignment is then worked upon not at home but in class under the supervision of the teacher. So the classroom time is spent on applying the content rather than direct instruction. At YoungWonks, the faculty has worked on making videos and animations an essential part of their specially crafted curriculum and students are given access to this material for them to watch it at home.
Homework complemented with assisted practice
A flipped classroom lets the teacher actually assess how much the student has actually grasped from the video lecture at home and the teacher can now assist the student in his/ her assignment. Hence, this method of teaching is called assisted practice as the student gets to practice under the supervision or with the assistance/ aid of the teacher. The teacher has a more hands-on approach here and this approach has shown to yield positive results.
A key element here in this teaching method is for the teacher to not judge the student and put any pressure on him / her. This is why the instructors at YoungWonks acknowledge how each student is different. The idea then is to customise the teaching/ lecture for each student. For instance, there’s no point in assigning the homework of solving a quadratic equation to a student who doesn’t even know what’s a variable, because the student’s basics are not yet in place. The instructor here needs to dumb down the concept and facilitate easier learning for the student. Similarly, it is also a waste of time to assign the quadratic equation homework to a student who has already covered this at home or in some other class. This is because the homework, in this case, is adding no value to the student.
Similarly, blended learning is a school of thought that believes in using the right mix of the teacher’s strengths - as in the case of traditional learning - and today’s technology to provide instruction to students.
Homework in a project-based learning environment
The whole point of project-based learning is that it makes the lesson interesting as it provides knowledge in the form of a project. So the student has a meaningful purpose he/ she is working towards and that kind of approach always has the kids excited.
Just reading a book or studying a diagram about a circuit can be boring. But if you tell the same kid how he / she can light up an LED with the highest potential in a manner that the current allows maximum light and yet doesn’t blow it up, then he / she would be a lot more interested in the lesson. That’s when you introduce the Ohm’s Law formula and have the kids use them to figure out the solution.
What research says about the new and ‘disruptive’ teaching and homework concepts
Several thought leaders today believe in ditching the traditional forms of teaching in favor of these methods, i.e. customised learning, project-based learning, assisted practice and flipped classroom. This includes the likes of entrepreneur Elon Musk and Sal Khan of Khan Academy. Shying away from traditional styles of teaching may be described as a disruption of sorts but it has also proven to be highly beneficial to the students. The quality of education imparted in such a setting is way superior to that in a traditional setting and research proves this.
For instance, an online survey of 450 teachers conducted in 2012 by the Flipped Learning Network in conjunction with education startup ClassroomWindow found that teachers associate Flipped Learning with improved student performance and attitudes, and increased job satisfaction. Of the teachers surveyed, 66% reported their students’ standardized test scores increased after flipping their classrooms. In the same survey, 80% of teachers perceived an improvement in their students’ attitudes towards learning. Nearly nine in ten of the teachers surveyed reported that their job satisfaction also improved, with 46% reporting significant improvement.
Project-based learning too is shown to make classes more engaging for students and thus improve their learning. For example, the Effectiveness of Project Based Learning in Trigonometry was studied at the Department of Mathematics at the Sebelas Maret University in Indonesia and in the semester 2 of the academic year 2016/2017, they found that the mean / average score of students taught under the Project-based learning (PjBL) learning model was 84.5, significantly higher than 76.26, the average score of students taught under the classical learning model.
Implementation is key
It is interesting to note that these unorthodox methods of teaching have met with opposition from parents. Several American schools tried these methods but had to abandon them and revert to the traditional styles. The reason behind this is their flawed implementation. Most of these schools cherry-picked topics/ questions while using the flipped classroom, assisted practice or blended learning approach. And therein lies the problem.
The modern concepts addressed in this blog are designed for the 21st century and hence, require one to make full use of the available technology. So an instructor needs to not just share a few lessons in the video format but instead maintain uniformity by sharing all lessons through videos. And then he or she needs to observe how the student applies knowledge gleaned from each of these lessons in class and share feedback accordingly.
The bottom line is that homework doesn’t have to be a negative, dirty word. Assigning homework is fine as long as the instructor knows hows the assigned homework will benefit the concerned student and this can be done only when the homework is in keeping with the learning practices of flipped classroom, assisted practice, self-paced learning, personalised learning, blended learning and project-based learning.
YoungWonks strongly relies on these methods. Each teacher here assesses the student at an individual level and then assigns the homework accordingly. This is what makes YoungWonks distinctively different from other coding classes.
Shared below is a video throwing light on the same subject:
*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Photo courtesy: Shutterstock