From Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock (Classsroom Instruction that Works)
The chapter in Classroom Instruction that Works (ASCD 2001) was one that gave me many opportunities for self-reflection and evaluation of my own practices. Using convincing research, Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock review what best practices say should be the purpose of homework and offer very practical, common-sense advice for teachers to make the most of their homework assignments.
A most compelling fact is the research on the benefits of appropriate homework: the authors use research from Harris Cooper that shows that at the high school level, homework produces “a gain of about 24 percentile points” (61).
They state two common purposes of homework. The first is practice, but when assigning homework for this purpose, the teacher must insure that the work be “structured around content with which the students have a high degree of familiarity” (63). Practicing a skill with which the students are not familiar can create misconceptions, reinforce errors, and frustrate students. The second common purpose is to prepare students for new content or have them elaborate on material that has been introduced.
If homework is assigned, it should be commented on, say Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock. One study they used reported that the effects of homework vary greatly, depending on the feedback that the teacher provides (64).
Finally, the authors give several tips to guide teachers in their homework planning:
1) Establish and communicate a homework policy to both students and parents. The authors give suggestions for parents to make homework more productive.
2) Design homework assignments that clearly articulate the purpose and the outcome of the work. It’s important for students to know the point of the assignment: Are they supposed to practice what they’ve learned in class or prepare for new information that’s been introduced?
3) Vary the approaches to providing feedback. This doesn’t mean that the teacher needs to grade every piece of homework students do, but some sort of feedback helps reinforce the value of the work. In fact, when the purpose of an assignment is to do help students practice a skill, students can often provide their own feedback of the progress by tracking and monitoring their success.