Compared to the rest of Singapore, my boys did not have much homework from school…that is… until the school changed the principal two years ago. This year, Aaron has been bombarded with tons of homework when for the past few years, his response to friends asking him if his school gives a lot of homework was, ‘No, my mother gives more homework.’
Today, I learn from writer Annie Murphy Paul of the NYT Syndicate that there are different kinds of homework: busywork (work or assignments that are time-consuming but not useful), and smarter work.
Simply put, smarter homework or more effective and raises test scores and grades. This type of homework makes use of three positive impact methods:
1) ‘Spaced repetition’: Instead of concentrating the study of information in a single block, students encounters the same material in briefer sessions spread over a longer period of time. With this approach, students are re-exposed to information throughout the term. Spaced approach to learning doubles the retention rate. Exposing ourselves to information repeatedly over time fixes it more permanently in our minds, by strengthening the representation of the information that is embedded in our neural networks.
2) “Retrieval Practice” : This emphasizes the testing method to reinforce learning. Everytime we are tested, we pull up a memory and make it stronger. Simply taking notes and making outlines, as homework assignments require, doesn’t have this effect. This self-quizzing involved in retrieval practice need not provoke any anxiety. It’s simply an effective way to focus less on the input of knowledge (passively reading notes and textbooks) and more on its output (calling up that same information from one’s own brain.)
Thus, the use of practice papers or ten years series that we have been drilled on is an effective ‘homework’. The mock spelling tests that mothers give to younger children during spelling practice is another example of this method.
3) ‘Cognitive disfluency’: When we work hard to understand information, we recall it better; the extra effort signals the brain that this is knowledge worth keeping. Thus teachers may use interleaving assignments, where assignments mixes up different kinds of situations or problems to be practised, instead of grouping them by type. When students can’t tell in advance what kind of knowledge or problems-solving strategy will be required to answer a question, their brains have to work harder to come up with the solution, and the result is that students learn the material more thoroughly.
Now, if only I can find an assessment book that incorporates the three methods above, which by the way, is classified by neuroscientists under the discipline of Mind, Brain and Education.