Two recent news articles about homework reminded us that the “homework question” has been settled in too few schools. Homework, the so-called “flipped classroom”, cooperative learning and constructivist pedagogy can come together in a blindingly simple, effective way that is win-win-win for teachers, parents and students.
When the classroom is orientated towards students answering substantial questions about “big ideas”, then homework becomes the vehicle for finding out things, for gathering “the facts”. The classroom is then the space in which students collaborate to answer the important questions and to extend their thinking to higher levels by analysing, predicting, hypothesising and exploring further, in an environment in which the teacher facilitates investigation. For example, instead of learning about World Wars, the larger idea of “conflict” (or, perhaps, better, “peace”) can be addressed from multiple perspectives. A question such as “Is it possible for us to live in peace” can be asked, and students can be given a range of tasks to perform at home. For example, with appropriate scaffolding, they could
- research a particular conflict
- interview family/friends/neighbours about significant conflicts they know about
- interview family/friends/neighbours about their thoughts about conflict and peace
- watch the evening news, read a newspaper (including digital editions), etc.
- find and watch videos on the internet
- , depending on the focus of the class
Good scaffolding would consist of one or two questions that enable students to explore the issue. Some questions might be factual, but others might be about larger issues and/or opinions. And, not all students need have the same task/topic. Back in class, the information discovered at home can be shared by students with each other and the teacher.
With an integrated approach to teaching, learning and homework, students benefit from doing interesting, relevant tasks both at home and school. Parents can be more actively involved, stress free, in working with their children at home. The teacher does not have to grade tasks than cannot be verified as the student’s own work and do not have to be tied up with making videos, constructing resources, etc – the teacher’s role is primarily designing good questions and creatively finding resources.
 Note that tasks that count towards a student’s graded achievement should only ever be done in class, so that the teacher can verify their authenticity.