At Homework4 HQ we’ve created an amazing online tool that streamlines the administration of homework setting, tracking and monitoring.  It supports teachers and students to engage in homework tasks that will have the greatest impact on their understanding and progress.

As a former teacher, I’ve put together some key considerations in creating homework tasks that will ensure the deepest, most meaningful types of leaning activities. Whilst many of these revolve around tried and tested ideas, their subtle employment will ensure a more rewarding experience for everyone.

Top ten tips for improving engagement and outcomes from Homework:

1. Clearly identify the purpose of your homework task. This is really important as your students will understand the value it will bring to their understanding and learning. They’ll see more clearly the point of the effort they’re going to put in. If this can be presented in a coherent format for the whole school or faculty, or at least a subject – even better. The benefits routine brings can streamline the work for both teachers and students plus help parents to better support their child.

2. Setting a time limit. Whilst students will complete homework at their own pace, some will either rush through it with minimal effort, believing they’ve completed it, or at the other end the extreme perfectionist will pick over it for hours until they’re full happy with it – stressing over the fine detail unnecessarily. Neither of these situations really benefit the student. Setting the time frame your students are expected to complete the homework in, and even going as far as to ask them to record the length of time spent on it, will provide a healthy guide. Parents will also be thankful of this as they can better gauge their child’s approach to homework. However, setting a time limit should be realistic and not be too short or too long. Clearly homework tasks should be set in accordance with your school’s homework policy.

3. Identify clear success criteria. From my days as a teacher, I know that building students’ confidence in identifying what represents quality work is a real challenge. However, once achieved this can have a massive impact on work submitted for homework tasks and the subsequent knock-on effect for classwork. This all begins with you – providing exemplar work which represents quality and success will support your students to develop their own understanding and appreciation. Scaffolding homework tasks with these types of resources will help provide clarity and a resource that students can use to compare their own work to. This, coupled with clear success criteria presented as simple and clear assessment points, will further help your students tackle homework with greater understanding and ownership.

4. Involve your students more. This can be achieved in a number of different ways – if successful it will demonstrate your value of students’ ideas and points of view and provide them with greater ownership of their homework task along with the learning they gain from it. Some easy wins are to provide a choice and differentiate the tasks, taking into account students’ strengths and interests. Other ideas I’ve seen successfully implemented include:

  • Asking students to set homework tasks and identify the assessment criteria.
  • Differentiate the whole of the homework task into chunks across the class, requiring every student to complete their task in order for it to be fully completed.
  • Publishing and sequencing tasks for a term or topic, allowing students to decide in which order they’re completed.
  • Using students to mark other students’ work, ensuring they’re feeding back to each other in such a way that’s seen as supportive and instructive.
  • These are just a few ideas but whichever you choose, recognise your students’ efforts with praise and reward.

5. Variety and surprise. It’s not always easy to provide different activities for students but from time to time asking your students to submit different types of work requiring a wider range of approaches will help them develop greater enjoyment and even fun elements to their work. Identifying the skills you’re focusing on in the project, topic or subject and building homework which provides opportunities for students to use and demonstrate them is key. These could include:

  • asking students to video a response,
  • interviewing relevant people,
  • researching articles,
  • writing a book review or newspaper article
  • analysing appropriate famous photographs,
  • documenting an appropriate visit
  • making something 3-dimensional

Of course, there needs to be a purpose to these tasks and not just thrown together without real thought of why the task is better than a more traditional one.

6. Scaffold learning. As already mentioned, providing exemplar work helps provide a clear target for your students to aim for. Alongside this, the aim of every teacher, I’m sure, is to help their students see the value of learning and instil a hunger for broader knowledge related to their subjects. Developing a bank of subject relevant resources including videos, articles, tasks, etc., is crucial and something teachers do very well. Utilising these specifically for different homework can support your students with their work and develop how they value learning and wider understanding.

7. Identify a real audience for the work your students produce. To add an additional purpose and focus for your students in the work they’re about to produce for homework can provide a real incentive and motivation in how they approach it. This can be achieved by developing live briefs from external sources, competitions, utilisation of the internet and social media to promote and share their work. Skype in the classroom is an ideal resource to help develop an appreciation of a global audience. However, don’t miss opportunities closer to home to create galleries and displays of work to share with other students, teachers and parents. This can easily be done with a variety of tools built straight into smart phones, tablets and websites.

8. Provide a context which your students can identify with. Where possible, building in relevance to your students’ interests will always be a winner. This can be achieved through linking tasks to cultural artefacts such as music, fashion, sport and beliefs or even significant events around the world. Begin to collect current newsworthy subjects that your students will be inspired by or that may be controversial but relevant to them and their future. Students also will identify with a cause – as you’ll be aware, students have a heightened affinity with right and wrong/fair and unfair. When best used this will result in work that not only demonstrates greater engagements but the likelihood is it will be more personal and the learning will be memorable and stick.

9. Involve parents more. This is of real importance and utilising the benefits that parents bring in supporting us as teachers should be given the respect it demands. This starts with ensuring your students have all the resources they need and that homework is recorded accurately and thoroughly. There’s nothing worse than those conversations with parents when they complain that what was recorded was not clear enough and how stressed their child had been trying to do the work, failing due to lack of clarity and unrealistic expectations. Parents want to be involved but they don’t want such difficult tasks set that their child has to seek an unrealistic and significant amount of help from them in order for it to be completed. Sharing mark schemes and success criteria, comprehensive support materials and exemplar work and an overview of how the work fits in to the bigger picture, will encourage parents to be more involved as they’ll feel included and kept informed. Acknowledging their support is crucial and warmly received.

10. Finally, be kind to yourself. For homework to be really effective it needs to be marked in such a way that provides your students with genuinely useful feedback. Consider this when setting the homework. How will the task be effectively marked and how will this feedback have the greatest impact on learning? There are many ways you can do this and best manage your time commitment. Consider reducing the marking to certain aspects that you will focus on, perhaps the more common errors or the more challenging aspects of the task. Feedback can be provided in many forms from video marking, voice feedback record, in class marking with the group, etc. The push to reduce workload is a big priority for schools, so look to find ways which will work for you and your students.

So how can the Homework4 digital planner help?

Put simply… Homework4 provides an intuitive tool which:

  • Saves teachers time and enables them to achieve more with individual timetables and classes synced directly from your MIS
  • Helps students manage their time more effectively with 24/7 access to timetables, homework and resources
  • Scaffolds materials so they can be distributed digitally and directly accessible from within their homework task
  • Simplifies homework setting, tracking and monitoring, including attendance and behaviour information, saving a lot of time and information at you finger tips
  • Enables greater engagement for parents in helping them support their child’s learning in school and at home
  • Is easily accessible via our iOS and Android apps or any web-connect device

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and will look to reflect on potential ideas which can help improve homework in your school. If you’d like a demo or to discuss a free trial for your school, contact us today.

We’d also love to hear from you with your very best tips and tricks!

Just email me