Today’s blog was written by Chris Walsh, a Year 12 student visiting the SPC offices on work experience. He’s presented some interesting and helpful points on setting and marking homework.
The debate over whether or not homework is useful has raged on for quite possibly over a century and will continue to be debated for another. Even I myself made a presentation about it for English Language class. Any stakeholder in education has an opinion: parents, teachers, students, even inspectors.
But none of this actually helps teachers; schools rarely address the issue and some issue minimums for how much homework is set. People are slowly beginning to take more issue with homework and teachers are starting to set less– though, some say in the bigger picture there’s actually more homework. Either way, for now, it’ll stay; but there must be a way to maximise its usefulness, and minimise the issues it causes.
Firstly, the most common issue, and perhaps the most valid, is how time-consuming homework is. This is especially a problem for minors, as they are at an age where they should spend more time with parents, can spend more time outside, and must spend more time sleeping. The solution to this is obviously setting shorter homework.
But what does the research say about shorter homework? Well, it says that’s exactly what’s needed. Students who spend over 90 minutes on homework usually perform worse than those who spend less than 90 minutes (Cooper et al., 2006). This is great news, as it means more time for kids to be kids, and less time you spend marking. So next time you’re searching for homework tasks and find one that seems too short, perhaps reconsider whether or not it would actually be more appropriate.
Another issue with homework is the question of how useful it is. Research suggests that there is some correlation between good exam results and the amount of homework completed (Sammons et al., 2012). However, the real question here is of how useful homework is for each individual student. With everything else a teacher must do, there isn’t time to create unique homework for each student. There is a solution, though; you can have a few pieces of differentiated homework, that can – and here’s the key here – be chosen by the students. Not only does this mean that students will get the most relevant work possible, but also they can take pride in undertaking harder work which they made a choice to do.
Okay, so those are just recommendations for what homework to set, and this won’t always apply to all subjects or teaching styles. On the other hand, some more useful recommendations are the new methods of marking homework (and schoolwork in general) more easily are always being searched for. Here are a few tips to help both you and your students, as recommended by teachers with the same issue.
Firstly, if you’re doing live marking, you shouldn’t delay the lesson to spend a few minutes marking – this is because without you and your students have settled into the swing of the lesson, a chunk of class marking will feel like it’s delaying more productive and important activities, so it will drag on. Instead, do it partway into the lesson, so it feels like you’ve already been productive. For your students, this can also act as a break from intensive learning.
If you’re marking work in your own time, then you can help yourself and students by ensuring you don’t write too much in the form of feedback. This will speed up the overall marking process (plus your hand will ache less), and your brain will be less distracted by nitpicking over feedback. Additionally, students are more likely to pay attention to your marking if they can read all of the feedback quickly and take it all into account on the spot. Long-winded paragraphs end up being skipped by students who can’t be bothered to read it all. To limit the amount you write, leave only the most important parts that the student must change.
This last one’s brilliant, simple, and works whether in the classroom or at midnight on your desk: mark with checklists. This type of formative assessment makes marking much easier, as there are very clear-cut points to look for; just skim across the work, looking for points to check off. Of course, this is faster for you at home or your students at school. Students can understand more easily what they did right or wrong with a formative assessment, and checklists are one of the most comprehensive types.
There are various other small tips for speeding up the process of marking. Don’t bother marking with a coloured pen; students can certainly distinguish your marking from their writing, and there’s no other reason to do it. It is a myth that Ofsted look at the pen colour for your marking (in fact, consistent and frequent marking is much closer to what inspectors are looking out for). Also, don’t bother stamping work to identify feedback having been given; students get nothing from this, and they serve to make a page look messy (and less worthy of students’ pride).