So, you’ve decided to give homework. If you haven’t read my previous post, “Should I give homework?”, go back and read that first. Perhaps you haven’t decided one way or the other, but you’re interested in seeing some examples of high-impact homework. Many of the following examples could be used as exit tickets as well as short homework assignments.
The examples provided are aligned to John Hattie’s (2018) work on strategies that most impact learning. The effect sizes reported are indicators of the strength of the relationship between the activity and student learning. To give you a sense of what the numbers mean, a large effect size is 0.8 and up, a medium effect size is around 0.5, and effect sizes around 0.2 are small.
Continue projects started in class. Activities involving cognitive task analysis “require a lot of cognitive activity from the user, such as decision-making, problem-solving, memory, attention, and judgment.” This kind of activity has a 1.29 effect size, the largest of any student activities! Students should be asked to think through multiple steps to solve a large problem or complete a complex task.
Create a mind map. You could use this to jumpstart a unit or introduce a concept, connecting the topic to things they already know. Having students integrate new learning with prior knowledge has a 0.93 effect size. Another approach would be to have students map out the connections after a lesson, in the middle of a unit, or at the end of a unit. Concept mapping has a 0.64 effect size. You can have students create a mind map on paper or use a digital program like Coggle.
Brainstorm. If you’re just starting a unit, you may want to offer students a compelling image to take home and write down what they notice and wonder. This could provide some good conversation the next day in class, kicking off the new unit with high student engagement. Again, integrating prior knowledge has a 0.93 effect size.
Set and track goals. Student self-efficacy has a 0.92 effect size. Goal setting and tracking progress towards those goals has been shown to improve students’ self-efficacy (Schunk, 2003), and simply having a learning goal has a 0.68 effect size in relation to student learning. Click the button below to get my student goal setting template. It's a Google Doc, so you can make a copy & edit it!
Summary tweet. Simply asking students to summarize what they learn or read has a 0.79 effect size. When you limit the amount of writing required, students may be more willing to complete the assignment because of the short length. Choosing this approach, you’re less focused on writing stamina, and more focused on developing students’ ability to think critically. They have to be able to decide what’s most important to distill an hour lesson or a week’s worth of lessons into a short blurb.
Record a mini lesson. Having students teach each other (reciprocal teaching) has a 0.74 effect size. You can read more about what reciprocal teaching is and the brain science behind it here. Asking students to use a tool like Flipgrid or Screencastify to record a video of themselves teaching a mini lesson (explaining a concept learned in class, perhaps with a visual) will help them internalize the learning. Additionally, you can select some of the best videos for your personal resource library. Sometimes, students learn best from other students, so for the students who are still struggling with the concept, have them watch a student-made video. It might just click for them!
Quiz yourself on Quizlet. Sometimes, maybe for standardized test prep, we may need students to memorize basic facts. Rehearsal and memorization practice has a 0.73 effect size. I like Quizlet, and I like teaching students how to make their own flashcard decks on the app, as it helps them take ownership of their study skills. Students can play different games with the same deck, and the app tracks their progress and highlights cards they need to study more. Spaced practice has a 0.60 effect size when compared to mass practice (learning information once and not coming back to it). So, Quizlet is a great way for students to review older material, not just that day’s lesson. For example, one curriculum suggests reviewing at 2,6,15, and 30 days after the initial lesson is taught.
Tackle one tough problem. Problem solving teaching has a 0.68 effect size. It works best when it’s well structured and students have access to the relevant concepts and have all of the necessary information. It’s also ideal to do an initial brainstorm in class to have students start thinking about the problem and make sure everyone starts strong. You could also provide an online space for students to talk outside of class to brainstorm problem solving approaches. (This could be in teams or whole class.) One challenging problem for the night is enough!
Fill out the Frayer model for vocab. Vocabulary programs that provide definitions and context and offer multiple exposures to words over time have a 0.62 effect size. The Frayer model asks students to go beyond simply defining a word, also requiring them to think of examples and non-examples of the word. See more information on the Frayer model here.
Metacognition journaling. Metacognition strategies have a 0.60 effect size. Having students think about how they think (and articulate that thinking—in writing or by video journal) is valuable. You could have students brainstorm a list of different approaches to solve a problem. So, assign one problem and tell students the goal is not to come up with a solution, but to come up with the longest list of ways you could go about solving the problem. (You could also have students solve the problem itself, but the emphasis here is on having students consider different approaches, not getting a “correct” answer.) Alternatively, you could have students solve a problem and then explain why they approached the problem the way they did. Or, you could ask students to reflect on a day or week of school and explain which strategies have been working for them (i.e., leading to more learning) and what changes they want to make for the next day/week.
3-2-1 Synthesis. Combine some of the above ideas in a 3-2-1 reflection format. For example: write 3 things you learned (summary), 2 problem-solving strategies you used today (metacognition journaling), and 1 thing you want to learn or work on tomorrow (goal setting).
Whichever type of homework you choose to assign, remember to keep it purposeful and mangeable. You want to promote thinking and learning, not overwhelm and exhaustion. As you try different strategies, check in with your students. See what’s working for them. Ask them for their thoughts, and maybe let them choose which homework would be most effective for them.
Remember, we’re trying to build student independence. If we can introduce students to various learning strategies that can be applied in different contexts and we help them see why and how these strategies are effective in improving learning, we gain student buy-in for doing the work and we prompt them to think about which activities help them learn best.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.