Ideally, homework should be “deliberate practice,” targeting individual areas of need and pushing each student to a new place just within reach. But students tell me it rarely works that way.
The kids make their case in Chapter 8 of Fires in the Mind, part of which is adapted as “Show Us What Homework’s For” in the new September issue of Educational Leadership magazine. (If you can’t access the magazine article, you can download a free PDF of Chapter 8 on the Resources section of this blog.)
Cognitive researchers have specific criteria for the kind of practice that steadily makes people better at what they do. It would make sense if homework matched those criteria, but my research for “Fires in the Mind” shows that it usually doesn’t. For example:
- Deliberate practice always has an express purpose, but students say they usually don’t know what its point is.
- Deliberate practice is geared to the individual, but typically everyone gets the same homework tasks, no matter what they need to work on.
- Deliberate practice involves attention and focus, but kids say they usually do their homework without thinking.
- Deliberate practice requires repetition or rehearsal, but often kids tell me that they are repeating something just to get it over with, not to perfect and remember it.
- Timing is important in deliberate practice, yet homework often takes more time than kids have for it.
- Finally, although deliberate practice should lead to new skills, students say they don’t use it for anything after it’s done.
What would it take to turn homework into the kind of practice that would help students strengthen their skills and knowledge in academic subjects? Perhaps the most powerful steps in that direction would occur, I propose, when students think of homework as “getting good” at something–much like practice in athletics or the arts.
Let’s use this space to brainstorm some new ways to lift homework to a new level of deliberate practice. How are you already designing homework that accomplishes this? I’ll send a complimentary copy of Fires in the Mind to the first three commenters who offer good examples here!