The 15 minute forum tonight was led by Chris Runeckles. Chris teaches history and has been experimenting with Ross McGill’s idea of ‘Takeaway Homework’. Ross talks about the rationale behind the idea here:
The history and geography departments have been trialling takeaway homework with Year 8. This came about because there was a feeling that homework in KS4 was highly structured and purposeful, based around providing opportunities for students to practise key exam skills. In KS3 however, it was more ad-hoc and so less purposeful. In fact, teachers would often just set something, because they felt they had to. This seemed like a missed opportunity – especially as Hattie suggests that homework seems to have a significantly high effect size (0.64) in secondary schools. Tom Sherrington summarises this nicely:
“So, what Hattie actually says about homework is complex. There is no meaningful sense in which it could be stated that “the research says X about homework” in a simple soundbite. There are some lessons to learn:
The more specific and precise the task is, the more likely it is to make an impact for all learners. Homework that is more open, more complex is more appropriate for able and older students.
Teacher monitoring and involvement is key – so putting students in a position where their learning is too complex, extended or unstructured to be done unsupervised is not healthy. This is more likely for young children, hence the very low effect size for primary age students.”
So, the principle of takeaway homework is quite straightforward. Give students a choice of tasks that they can complete for homework. Chris suggests that homework should serve 3 purposes:
- Embed what they have learnt in lessons.
- Extend and develop their thinking.
- Engage them with the learning.
He then went on to suggest that takeaway homework can address all of these, but particularly the third one. When discussing homework with students, Chris says students have often said to him that because they often get stuck with it and have no-one to help them, they often dread getting it. With the takeaway homework though, it’s less threatening as there is a choice. This is one way of looking at it. An alternative view is that actually the fact that they are struggling with it is a good thing and should in fact be encouraged, as it builds resilience with students. There is a balance to be struck here though, as Tom Sherrington suggests above. The difference is that when they are struggling in lessons, we can monitor this and then intervene with some support if we feel that they are not moving on themselves. If they are at home and stuck, they don’t have us to intervene. This could send them into the panic zone:
Linked with this, another concern that I have about takeaway homework is that it reduces challenge, as students can simply pick the easy option – resulting in them completing work that is in their ‘comfort zone’ with limited thinking and learning..
Chris claims to have addressed this, by creating an ‘illusion of choice’ with his takeaway homework. Although there is a menu of homework options, they are all similarly challenging – just slightly different in their format. So although students have a ‘choice’ they can’t choose to do easier work.
Chris shared the example above. There is a choice of 9 tasks and students have to complete 3 over a set period of time. All students have to do task A – which is a DIRT (Directed Improvement and Reflection Time) task. One of the problems with doing DIRT in lessons, is that students often need different amounts of time to redraft their work, which is difficult to manage in a lesson. Similarly, if time is tight, students might just be given ten minutes at the start of a lesson for DIRT, which is unlikely to be enough and will result in a rushed re-draft. So making them doing this at home, eliminates this as an issue and allows them to spend as much time as they need on their re-drafting. Chris shared an example:
This is the first draft that a particular student produced. Whilst it had many strengths, she hadn’t really explained the decision to leave the Catholic church. So, she was given this as feedback and then had to redraft for homework. This was her second response, completed for homework:
Far more detailed – with a clear explanation of why he wanted to leave the Catholic church.
So, having all carried out task A on the menu sheet, they then choose two more from tasks B to I. But again, there is an ‘illusion of choice’ – they are all of a similar level in terms of challenge e.g. a student who produces a cartoon storyboard of the key events of Elizabeth I, will have consolidated the same learning as someone who produces a timeline – just through a different process.
To ensure students complete each task to a high standard, the following checklist is shared with them – a great way of communicating high expectations to the students:
This sheet is then used to mark the work (either by the teacher or the student) and used to give feedback for further improvements. This is a really important aspect of the whole thing for me, as often students don’t always get meaningful feedback about their homework. This structure makes it easy to give students high quality feedback about what they have done.
I have to admit to being somewhat cynical about the idea of ‘takeaway homework’ before this 15 minute forum. Having listened to the thoughtful way in which Chris has approached it though, I think that it can be an effective method of setting homework, that can be used to provide students with a suitably challenge task that lends itself to clear and purposeful feedback – to support and develop their learning.