By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.
Homework. Kids hate it. Parents are frustrated by it. Teachers dislike having to grade/review it. Administrators struggle with it. So why do we do it?
With the amount of research that states that homework has little to no value for learning in the lower grades and little significant effect on achievement in the upper grades, why do educators continue the practice? It’s because we are compelled to follow the myths we all grew up with. We do homework because that’s what we’ve always done.
Here are my ideas on how to make homework work. First, let’s start calling it “home study.” In most cases, teachers will tell you that homework is used to build self-regulation for learning. While this might, in some ways, be true, homework in and of itself doesn’t build these self-management skills. It’s the student who has to build the skills of self-regulation. Calling it home study will redirect the attention from work to learning how to study.
Many of the students who fail out in the first two years of college do so because of their inability to manage the complexities of going to school and, in some cases, being on their own for the first time in their lives. Prior to getting to this point, students need to have developed the habits of study, such as having a set time each evening for study time.
During study time, a child might be preparing for the next day (reading ahead, recrafting the notes from the school day, working through a few practice problems, or simply reading for pleasure for 20 minutes).
Another habit of study is to set a plan for what to do during study time. For example, a third grader might plan this way: I have 30 minutes set aside each evening for study time. I need to work through some math problems, work on my science fair project, and answer some reading questions. I know the math pretty well, so I’m only going to devote 5 minutes to those problems. The science fair isn’t for two months, so I’m only going to spend 10 minutes on the project. Reading is a challenge for me, so I will use my remaining 15 minutes to read and answer the questions.
Learning how to plan for and chunk up assignments is an excellent life skill.
Speaking of chunking, another useful habit is to learn how to take a break during study time. Our brains have a limited ability to stay focused; therefore, learning how to take a break from studying, do something different, and then come back and get refocused goes a long way in learning. During that break time, make sure you do something physical (such as going for a walk or doing some push-ups), do something that is not related to what you were just working on (this helps the brain recharge itself), and remember to take healthy deep breaths (this can clear the brain).
One other study habit to get into is reflection. At the end of the study time, ask yourself questions such as
- How did I do on all the things I needed to do?
- Did I use the time wisely?
- What things or people distracted me?
- What should I do better or continue to do next time?
Reflection is an exceptional learning tool, as long as the focus is on getting better, not beating yourself up over what you didn’t do well. Students can write down their reflections, draw their ideas, or tell someone about what they learned during the study time.
Teachers can help students develop quality study habits by refocusing work that is assigned or sent home. Besides major projects that are done at the end of a unit, home study items should not be graded—what’s more important is seeking students’ reflective comments. What struggles or challenges should you know about so that you can assist them in getting better? Also, don’t send home things for practice if the student does not understand the way to solve the problems.
Students should also have a way to check their work, whether it’s from an answer key or an online portal such as the teacher’s or the school’s website. Practice requires instant feedback—so how will students be able to check their work quickly? Also keep in mind that parents may not have the time, ability, or understanding to be able to help their child. Consider ways to give the students the help they need when they need it.
For more ideas on studying, check out Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn. It has a list of 10 important study habits that will help all your students find both academic and life success.
Let me hear some of the ideas you have for making home study successful.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.
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As a teacher, my emphasis on “homework” is practice. To be a better reader, practice by doing it. If you didn’t have enough time in class to finish something, well, after school is “finishing” time. Parents need finishing time, too. Finish stuff together!