Monday, November 22, 2010

"Homework Done Right"

Each month the staff at Manson Northwest Webster meets in Learning Team Groups to discuss educational topics, most of which go hand in hand with our professional development focus. This month our staff examined the Article Homework Done Right. A couple of questions that might be asked by my staff, other educators, or parents: Why this article and why the emphasis on “meaningful work” and “homework”?

As our professional development focus moves to learning about the Characteristics of Effective Instruction, the concept of Teaching for Understanding along with Student Centered Classrooms. When the concept of teaching for understanding is present within a classroom many of the other Characteristics of Effective Instruction fall in line. As we focus on Teaching for Understanding, taking a look at the types of homework assignments we give and the reasons behind them is also necessary. This article, in my opinion, is a nice starting place for future conversations we will have about the Iowa Core Effective Instruction characteristic, Teaching for Understanding

Teaching for Understanding is a Characteristic of Effective Instruction and is an essential component of the Iowa Core Curriculum. It shifts instruction from a paradigm of memorizing and practicing to one of understanding and applying. It is through Teaching for Understanding that students develop the ability to think and act flexibly with their deep conceptual and procedural knowledge. In Teaching for Understanding, teaching is less about what the teacher does, and more about how the teacher engages students in thinking and demonstrating understanding. This performance view focuses on the ways in which students use what they know to demonstrate their understanding and operate in the real world. In other words, we know that students understand when they can carry out a variety of “performances” concerning a topic, such as explaining, interpreting, analyzing, relating, comparing, and making analogies (Perkins, 1993, Wiske, 1998).

After reading the article Homework Done Right our staff examined the following questions. Should all educators have a clear answer to the questions below?

1. Moving from less meaningful “fact based” work to more meaningful application of knowledge seems like a simple concept but is it? Do you ask yourself the following questions when planning a unit or lesson? Talk about them as a group.
*Why am I teaching this particular concept/topic/unit the way I am?
*What is my learning goal or goals for the unit?
*How else could the learning goals be achieved?
*What assessments are in place to help students meet the learning goals?
*Are any assessments being used that don’t help students meet the learning goals?
*Why am I using these assessments?
*Why am I doing this? Do I believe its important? Can I convey that to kids? Not just because it’s the next lesson or because it comes from the textbook.

2. Using the Continuum of Meaningful Homework from the article, think back on your last unit of study and in your own mind, discuss where your assignments/assessments would fall. Discuss as a learning team.

3. Using the Continuum of Meaningful Homework from the article, think about your Trimester One exam or final project. Was it fact based memorization of information, or application of knowledge? Discuss the differences as a learning team.

Do educators think about units/lessons/concepts in this way before teaching? Is there a clear learning goal in place prior to organizing the details of the unit? How do our assessments help meet the goal? I would like to hear what others have to say.


  1. You might be interested in this blog post/presentation I did about Technology Alternatives for Standard Homework Assignments. Comments are worth viewing as well.

  2. I just had the same conversations with my staff. In fact, I shared your article with them today. As a teacher looks at his/her educational practices, he/she can't ignore homework practices. Your questions about clear learning goals and assessments are so essential to improving learning. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Dr. Sanford AranoffNovember 24, 2010 at 5:24 AM

    I tell my students that their goal is to understand the material. Teachers must understand how students think and build from there using the basic principles and logic. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better". Check it out on amazon.

  4. Hello Mr. Holloway,

    My name is Ben Botwinski and I am a co-author of the article you are discussing. I would be happy to talk to you or anyone from your staff if you have any additional questions.

    Thanks for all that you do on behalf of children.