The controversy over homework is not new.  Too much or too little?  Useful or a waste of time?

I struggle with this issue of homework every year.  I have parents who complain about too much homework.  Students are not always very happy, either.

I am committed to the belief that homework must be used as an authentic learning tool toward the development of skills and is necessary for amassing knowledge of history.  I also agree that play and family time is extremely important to young adults.

How can homework and classwork be conducted most effectively?  How can a student build up a deep foundation of history knowledge?


Most of my students are ESL (English as a 2nd Language) learners: listening, reading and writing exclusively in English.  Some of my students have dyslexia or have other reading challenges.   I have students who never read a book or a long article on the Internet.  I have students who never read/listen to the news, no matter how long or in what media.  I have students who come to me with low academic skills or with little self-confidence in those skills.

YET, all my students are pre-university students.  Half of my students are IB Diploma students (grades 11 and 12) who will be taking IB finals at the end of 2 years.

All of my students pass their IB exams and receive an IB Diploma.  BUT, I give all of my students homework.  Reading, note taking and some writing.   Sometimes they watch a movie as they answer guiding questions.  Sometimes they work on a project.  But, the primary goal is to help them absorb and remember information so they can process that information at the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy.

In an uninterrupted week, my students are in classes 25 hours a week.  They attend my classes 2.5 to 4 hours a week.

Yet, in order to do well in the IB History final exams, my IB students must develop an in-depth knowledge of and ability to manipulate and analyze: the results and consequences of Wars (WW I, WWII, Spanish Civil War, Chinese Civil War, Korean War, Vietnam War), the causes, results and consequences of the Cold War, the Interwar Years (1918-1939), the history of China and Japan from 1839-1945.  Students do not have text books.  They must read from the best scholars in the field in order to have an understanding of and be able to evaluate the perspectives of multiple historians.  Class time is taken up by discussions of readings, learning source analysis skills, learning higher-level history essay writing skills and a 6 week “historical investigation.”  Many of my students also spend one year doing rigorous research and writing for a 4000 word “Extended Essay.”


How and when do students have time to acquire the needed skills and knowledge required to become young history scholars?  Is there a Matrix type fast learning process out there?  Neo, plug me up!


2 responses to “Homework

  1. How long do you take to plan a one hour lesson? How long do you plan a one hour homework assignment? Do you spend the same amount of time of both? I don’t. It takes me anywhere from 1-2 hours to plan a good lesson and I usually just add on the homework at the end.

    Next year I hope to only assign homework that I have planned in detail. What are the objectives of the homework? How will it be assessed? I think if I am more intentional with my assignments, my students will learn more.

    As the NY time article states, there is not a direct correlation between the amount of time students do homework and how well the do on their final assessment. Since we will never learn as fast as they do in the Matrix, we need to find the maximum learning potential without overloading the students. Cognitive Psychologist studies show that the brain can only process a limited amount of information at a time before it reaches a bottleneck and begins to filter out information. We need to find students maximum learning capacity and stop there. There ability to proces the information is just the beginning that helps the information enter the short-term memory. For information to enter the long-term memory, the students need to find meaning in the work and ideally relate it to their lives.

    Instead of a 15 page detailed summary of the Russian Revolution, why not have students watch a 3-minute BrainPop video on the basics for homework. The short video covers most of the key terms and has great visuals (that are proven to rapidly increase retention). They can take notes while the watch the video and then take the online quiz at the end of the video (testing also significantly increases retention). Then in class you enrich the bascis with primary sources (a gallery walk is a fun way to do this).Then you can introduce different historical perspectives and do a RAFT type roles play to help students understand these different points of view. Warp it up with an essay. After a few assignments like this, you can then have students create their own BrainPop type videos that the class can learn from. Here is the summary of the weeks lessons:

    Weekend homework :BrainPop video, notes, and quiz (about 10-30 min homework)
    Monday: review basic terms
    Tuesday: gallery walk
    Wednesday: Introduce historiography and begin RAFT
    Thursday: RAFT presentations and reflections (homework: prepare for in-class essay about 10-30 min)
    Friday: In-class essay

    The total homework for the week is 20-60 min.

    My overall point is that less is more. If students learn 10 terms in details they will remember then much better than 20 terms that they cover quickly. Covering terms in detail is called the elaboration process by Cognitive Psychologist and has been proven to significantly increase student’s ability to recall information.

    See this websites for help:

    BrainPop: http://www.brainpop.com/socialstudies/worldhistory/
    gallery walk: http://www.facinghistory.org/resources/strategies/gallery-walk-teaching-strateg

  2. Great reply! Such thought went into this. Thank you. I will examine very carefully what you are saying. Then I will tell you what I think.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s