Few topics in education can stir more conversation and controversy than that of homework. Typically, we consider homework any practice that is done outside of the school day or classroom. Most often, homework is practice of what was taught during the day, completion of work assigned during class, or work toward a product or presentation in school. For gifted students, homework usually has little variation from that assigned to all kids. However, I want to start a campaign to change the focus of homework for all students, and most specifically gifted kids.
There is little to no evidence to support the use of homework as a way to increase student achievement, test performance, or engagement in future learning. In fact, studies show that too much homework can actually have an adverse effect on learning and school engagement. And study after study—and conversation after conversation with teachers, parents, and students—reveals that homework is a huge matter of discontent.
Teachers dislike it because they don’t have the time to evaluate the materials or provide feedback to the student in a timely manner that has an effect on the learning process. Students are frustrated by it because there is little connection between what they did during the day and what is expected in the practice. Parents hate it because they don’t understand the “new” methods employed in the subject (especially mathematics), can’t help their child, or don’t know how to support their child during the practice process.
So why do we continue to give, do, and support homework when indications are that it not only doesn’t help but instead causes discord for all involved?
In my opinion, the reason we continue to assign and reinforce the practice of homework is because we are stuck in an Industrial-Age (19th century) mentality of control and reward and the idea that “what worked for me should work for my kid.” However, our children are living in an increasingly differentiated world where new ideas and discoveries are far more important than repetition of the past. We need to break out of the old pattern for work done outside of the classroom (homework), especially for gifted students.
First, let’s look at a fundamental of learning: motivation! The most effective, long-lasting learning is accomplished when students have an intrinsic desire to be competent. Gifted students are motivated to expand on their skills, talents, and abilities when they find value, joy, and benefit in the work they are doing. In my experience as a teacher of gifted children for over 25 years, they are able to see through work for work’s sake, fluff-and-stuff activities, and “waste of my time” assignments. What is more beneficial for our gifted learners is to learn the process of studying outside of classroom or school time. Learning study habits will be far more valuable to their long-term educational process than the sometimes nonsensical coloring of maps, excessive mathematical equation practice/repetition, or word or vocabulary searches.
Study habits are those tools necessary for acquiring information, connecting old and new content, or preparing for exams or assessments. Effective study habits are far more necessary in future (post-secondary) learning experiences than the excessive and often useless practices of 20th-century homework.
Here are five ideas for teachers to assist gifted students in developing effective study habits:
- Have your students select a topic of interest outside of the classroom or school content. Ask them to create a list of websites, texts, or expert resources that can enhance or enrich their understanding of this topic. This activity is meant to get them to approach studying information that matters to them. So many times our students are forced to review materials that are of low interest or that they already know. Studying topics of interest can shift your gifted students’ mindsets toward thinking positively about learning new skills and abilities.
- Ask your students to survey their home or study environment. They should look at the surroundings for organization, proper lighting, low or less distracting sound volume, and necessary space to spread out materials or to access the proper technologies. Have your students report back on how conducive they feel their study environment is and what they can do to enhance or change it.
- Assign them the task of recrafting the notes they took during a class session. If they took linear notes (bullet points), then have them craft their notes into a nonlinguistic format, such as drawing a picture of the main ideas/concepts or using a Frayer model. You could also have them recraft their notes into a Cornell style graphic or write a script to explain the ideas/concepts in 2–3 minutes.
- Set a time limit for your students and ask that they stick to it. Research suggests that the effectiveness of homework recedes after a student works for two hours. I suggest having your students stick to the 10-minute rule (10 minutes for 1st grade, 30 minutes for 3rd grade, to a maximum of 60 minutes through middle school and 90 minutes for grades 9–12). This is a total amount of time, NOT per class or subject.
- Have your students set a timer or ask a parent to tell them when time is up. No matter where they are in the completion of the work, they should stop! This will help them learn to manage their time efficiently and effectively. They can report in class how much they accomplished, what caused them to stumble or succeed, and so forth. Do not grade this type of at-home work! The idea here is to teach (and have students reflect on) the regulation process of studying outside of the class or school.
- As above, have students monitor their work time at home. Also have them list things that were disrupting and pleasurable to the learning process, as well as what to avoid in the future and how well prepared they were for the study time. (For example, did they have all the materials they needed? Were resources needed that they didn’t think of? Was there help when they needed it?) Again, don’t grade the work, but assist students in reflecting on the productivity of their time outside of the classroom.
You can find many more ideas on the Internet for teaching effective study habits. As you learn more about your students’ learning habits and levels of self-regulation, you can add more ideas and strategies for them to accumulate.
I’d love to hear some of the strategies and techniques you have found valuable in teaching your students how to be better prepared for post-secondary and beyond.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally. His most recent book is Differentiation for Gifted Learners, coauthored with Diane Heacox, Ed.D. He is also author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century.
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