School & District Management

Homework That Helps

By Liana Loewus — September 13, 2011 1 min read
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In a New York Times op-ed piece titled “The Trouble With Homework,” Annie Murphy Paul writes people should not be concerned with the quantity of homework students are getting—a much-contended topic in education—but rather the quality of that work. She says that through a new scientific discipline called Mind, Brain, and Education researchers have found several techniques that evidence a positive effect on student learning. “And after-school assignments are ripe for the kind of improvements the new science offers,” she writes.

We described one of these techniques—the use of retrieval testing to improve recall—here.

Paul also advocates the use of “spaced repetition,” which she notes nearly doubled the student’s retention rate in one study:

Here's how it works: instead of concentrating the study of information in single blocks, as many homework assignments currently do—reading about, say, the Civil War one evening and Reconstruction the next—learners encounter the same material in briefer sessions spread over a longer period of time. With this approach, students are re-exposed to information about the Civil War and Reconstruction throughout the semester.

Makes sense, right? And it’s a technique teachers use frequently in class already—during stations, with structured reading programs, in daily warm-ups, and review sessions. It’s also the philosophy behind the spiral curriculum. But how many teachers take the time to pepper homework assignments with questions or skills from prior lessons? Does this sound feasible? Would it take an overhaul of the curriculum and resources you’re currently using?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.