Virtually all of my teaching ideas are stolen, but I think I came up with this one myself last summer. Maybe that’s a bad sign. I’d love to hear from others who have tried something similar…
It’s not exactly complicated: students choose their own homework. Obviously they require some guidance. Click here for the document I show the students outlining my advice. The basic structure:
- Students must choose questions which they can check the answers for (so I’m expecting that they’ll mostly work from the textbook, which has answers at the back – and this has turned out to be the case)
- I suggest a minimum of 90 minutes per week for most of my classes, rather than a specific number of questions.
- Students should try to challenge themselves, and find questions with which they struggle. If they’re doing the final few (most difficult) questions from each exercise fully correctly, that’s fine, but otherwise I expect to see mistakes and (attempted) corrections, with questions for me if they can’t get to the correct answer.
I should point out that this is not very different to my usual expectations for homework. I have always asked students to check their own answers, so that I can focus my time on helping with the problems with which they’ve struggled.
What Went Well
The quantity of work done has impressed me – normally more than I would have set. I obviously can’t tell if a student has actually spent 90 minutes but in general, I think they have done so and many have done much more.
There has been much better differentiation in the difficulty of problems tackled: some students have tackled drill problems from the starts of exercises, others more varied problems from the harder end, and some have extended themselves with Olympiad or university entrance exams.
There has also been differentiation of the topics covered: students have spent different amounts of time on different topics, according to their needs. Some students have also varied the topic they’re working on, and worked on topics covered some time ago, giving them a chance to constantly revise. I continue to encourage all to do this.
It has encouraged greater reflection and independence: I’ve seen more evidence than before of students learning from their mistakes, and many have engaged in very useful written dialogue with me, asking specific questions about how to tackle a particular problem and letting me know exactly what they don’t understand.
Even Better If
As I discovered in my end of term report, some students have found it difficult to choose questions and hence haven’t enjoyed the freedom as a result. I feel that this issue will diminish as they get more used to the approach. I do suggest a set of questions on each topic during classwork, so if they really don’t want to use initiative, they don’t have to!
A couple of students wanted to be more frequently in a situation where they weren’t able to look up the answers, so that they are forced to check their work more carefully. This is a fair criticism and so I’ll balance DIY homework with occasional ‘assessment homework’ next term.
It is taking me a little longer than previously to give written feedback, as I have to look through a variety of different topics and often have to find the relevant questions for my reference. I don’t mind this too much as I have enjoyed the process of engaging with my students more than writing repetitive comments on a set of near-identical work.
I’ve been keeping a record of which questions each pupil has struggled with, and so far not many have been good at returning to these questions in future homework. I need to continue to encourage them to do so, and this term I’m going to set up a shared spreadsheet to check their progress on them.
It was probably a bit much to go for this approach with all my sixth form homework this term: when I have a new idea, I do tend to go for it in quite a big way!
However, I do feel that the WWW’s outweigh the EBI’s and so I will continue to use it for at least half of sixth form homework time, probably more.
I’d love to hear from anyone else who has tried something similar and has suggestions on how to make it more effective.