Homework: Bringing Purpose to the Practice

During last week’s Late Wednesday, faculty at the middle school began a conversation about homework, led by our incredible MS Learning Facilitator, Lynda Morse. (Click here for a link to the slideshow.)  Rather than fixate on the question of quantity (a well-worn topic by all accounts) we began with the notion of quality.  How intentional are we about the “so what” for the homework we assign, and, perhaps just as important how do we communicate the often deliberate and multi-faceted purpose(s) of homework assignments to students so that they have a sense of why they are spending time outside of class writing sentences with vocabulary words, interviewing a trusted adult, blogging about a reading, or doing some practice problems on a worksheet? 

In order to begin with some common vocabulary, we used the table below to introduce four possible types/purposes of homework: practice, preparation, extension, and integration (Fairbanks et al., 2005).  Faculty then used post it notes to document sample homework assignments they’ve given that connect to each category and stuck them to the appropriate posters.  

Faculty were given just a few minutes on an early morning Wednesday to jot down the range of homework assignments they have designed to accomplish specific purposes; the results were inspiring.

By clicking on the hyperlink of each type of homework below, you can view an image of the poster and the homework ideas that were elicited.  

PRACTICEReinforces learning and helps the student master specific skills
* Quizlet flashcards to learn vocabulary
PREPARATIONIntroduces material that will be presented in future lessons (but does not require mastery of the information)
* Write 2 questions you have concerning the chapter you just read.
*Watch a BrainPop video introducing unit measurement to prepare for a lab 
EXTENSIONStudents apply what they learned in class and connect it new situation (promotes the shift of previous learning to new tasks)*Create your own Hero’s Journey graphic novel
 *Design a game of your choice  on a topic we have covered in history, depicting your voice  as a ______ as the events occurred.
INTEGRATIONStudents apply information to an unfamiliar situation by applying many different skills to a single task*Read the chapter on letter-writing. Then write a letter that breaks every single rule you know.
* Write a 30-second radio spot using George Washington to sell deodorant soap. Work in four facts about his role as a general. 

I’m a bit biased, but I think our faculty came up with an impressive breadth of potential homework assignments that are more than just “creative” or “fun” . . . they are purposeful and steeped in their distinctive disciplines.  For more ideas for alternative homework assignments, check out this resource

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