15 Minute Forum – Closing the learning gap with homework

The 15 minute forum tonight was led by maths Deputy Leader, Sam Down.  Our maths department are very successful – and are always looking to do things better.  With homework, they wanted to minimise the amount of time spent marking, whilst maximising the impact on the learning of the students.

Why is homework useful for students?

  • It can consolidate learning by supporting deliberate practice.
  • It helps them to find out what they are stuck on and gives them feedback about how to improve.
  • It can extend learning.
  • It can be used to introduce a new topic.

Why is homework useful for teachers?

  • Allows you to assess student understanding of a topic.
  • Identifying misconceptions.
  • Helps to formulate improvement targets for students.
  • All of this supports and informs your planning.

Homework – What does the research say?

‘A positive relationship was found between the amount of homework completed and academic achievement of students’ Cooper et al. (2007)

‘Homework is an important determinant on student test scores…additional homework is most effective for high and low achievers’ Eren and Henderson (2008)

‘Homework works if homework quality is high… homework assignments perceived to be cognitively challenging were associated with achievement at class level’ Dettmers et al. (2010)

‘Homework in primary school has an effect of around zero. In high school it’s larger. (…) Which is why we need to get it right. Not why we need to get rid of it. It’s one of those lower hanging fruit that we should be looking in our primary schools to say, “Is it really making a difference?” If you try and get rid of homework in primary schools many parents judge the quality of the school by the presence of homework. So, don’t get rid of it. Treat the zero as saying, “It’s probably not making much of a difference but let’s improve it”. Certainly I think we get over obsessed with homework. Five to ten minutes has the same effect of one hour to two hours. The worst thing you can do with homework is give kids projects. The best thing you can do is to reinforce something you’ve already learnt.’ Hattie (2014)

Moving from simple, low impact marking to effective, formative feedback

Formative feedback is defined as:

‘Information communicated to the learner that is intended to modify the learner’s thinking or behaviour for the purpose of improving learning’ Shute (2007).

If feedback is going to be effective and make a difference it needs to do two things:

1. Make students think.

2. Make students respond and do something.

So, how are the maths department approaching this?

Homeworks are set in the form of past exam question booklets, so students are getting the opportunity to practice and consolidate what they do in class:

down2The front of the homework booklet (above) has prepared targets on it (T1-T5).  The teacher collects in the homework booklets and marks them.  They then highlight the target/s (T1-T5) that the student struggled with.

The next lesson is dedicated to DIRT (Directed Improvement & Reflection Time).  Students are handed back their marked booklets, with their highlighted targets.  The following powerpoint slide is then on the screen:


So, students then look at their target (T1-T5) and then attempt the question that relates to their target.  The idea being that they need to practise more of the questions that they got wrong.  There was a problem though.  If the students couldn’t do something at home, then they were unlikely to be able to do something the next lesson. Which meant they were unable to do the question that related to their target – they were still stuck!  This was overcome, by the teacher including as a part of their marking, a worked example of the one they couldn’t do – so providing them with a model.  This could then be used to help them answer the question.  This has made a big difference.

Sometimes this can take part of a lesson, but sometimes it can take a whole lesson.  What it does though is identify the aspects of the work that the students couldn’t do, show them how to do it and then provide them with the opportunity to practise what they were struggling with.  So it also serves to build resilience too. All too often, we just carry on with the ‘scheme of work’ even though students can’t do, what we’ve just covered.  This goes some way to addressing this.

It is also serving as a useful revision tool.  Over time, students are gathering a bank of exam questions and identifying aspects of these questions that they struggled with.  This allows them to target their revision.

If it is going to be successful, it needs to be planned.  The targets on the homework booklet need planning and time needs to be planned into the curriculum, to allow for the ‘post homework DIRT’ to happen’.

What other feedback do students get?

This is the main form of written feedback that students get in maths.  When they are working in lessons, teachers will go through the solutions to the problems and students will either mark their own work, or peer mark.  There is also a great deal of ‘live marking’ going on.  This, in my view, is one of the most effective forms of written feedback – time efficient and high impact.  So whilst the students are working, the teacher goes around the room with a red pen (NB doesn’t have to be red!).  Look at their work, write a question on their work to improve their work and then tell them to respond.  Come back 5 minutes later, to see if they have.  This is something that I’ve been using in my own lessons.  Now, you would struggle to do this for every student, every lesson, so I aim to do at least 7-8 students every lesson:

marking science2

It’s also happening a lot in geography:

marking history3

And history:

marking history

marking history2

‘Live Marking’ like this is a really effective form of feedback:

  • It’s quick and manageable for the teacher.
  • It is to do with the work that students are do there and then.
  • It makes students think.
  • It makes students respond.

Different subjects, different feedback

One of the questions that was asked at the forum, was how applicable this method of homework DIRT was to other subjects?  This is an important question.  We have recently updated our marking policy, to a feedback policy.  Now, instead of each subject being expected to do the same thing in terms of marking, they have been given the autonomy to state what kind of feedback works best for them – because it will be different, in different subjects.

So whilst this precise strategy may not be appropriate in other subjects, the principle should be i.e. do the homework, mark it, look at improvement points, improve/ practise.

So in science:

  • Students could do a 6 mark, extended writing question for homework.
  • The next lesson, assessment criteria are discussed/shared and the work is marked (or this could be done by the teacher – but there’s a lot to be said for students going through this process).
  • Students then make a note of the key points missing from their written response.
  • They then redraft their piece of writing.

And Finally…

Mary Myatt has written a great blog, given her very sensible views on what she looks for with regards to marking, when she is carrying out an OFSTED inspection.   Read here.

I’ll be talking more about feedback at #TLT14 in Southampton in a couple of weeks.

This entry was posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to 15 Minute Forum – Closing the learning gap with homework

  1. Pingback: Getting Students’ Hands DIRTy | Mr Campbell Writes...

  2. Pingback: Success with low ability students | Class Teaching

  3. Pingback: #TLT14 – Feedback Matters | Class Teaching

  4. sineadmcginty says:

    Reblogged this on CCC learning & mastery.

  5. Pingback: Getting Students’ Hand Dirty by @MrCampbellSHS | UKEdChat.com - Supporting the #UKEdChat Education Community

  6. Pingback: 15 Minute Forums – Autumn 2014 | Class Teaching

  7. How do I add Facebook comment box to Blogger, different in each post?

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