by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist
The value of homework is the subject of longstanding debate among educators. In simpler times, homework required no more than rote repetition of concepts taught in class. That’s no longer enough. Today’s teachers don’t want reinforcement to be merely repetitious. They want homework to drive deeper understanding of concepts. They use techniques that reinforce daily lessons while promoting deeper understanding through application and differentiated instruction. For example, one study of teachers who assigned technology-based homework linked their students’ improved performance on final exams to the way the teachers structured the homework ccording to the principles of cognitive intervention (Butler, Marsh, Slavinsky et al., Educ Psychol Rev (2014) 26: 331).
The JFYNet blended skill building programs provide an ideal platform for cognitive intervention. The three key components are immediate feedback, spaced intervals between assignments, and follow-up problems throughout the semester. JFYNet’s structured, supported, differentiated online instruction promotes deeper understanding by meeting individual student needs so that learning doesn’t get blocked by cognitive barriers.
There are many ways to teach most topics and many reasons why a student might give an incorrect answer. Take slope as an example. Students might not understand the formula, or they might apply it incorrectly. One student might use the algebraic formula while another might be more comfortable counting spaces on a graph. A wrong answer might be due to a simple skill deficit, such as weakness in signed numbers. The student might understand the formula, but if she can’t manipulate signed numbers she’ll still get the wrong answer. Online instruction provides immediate feedback that can guide students and their teachers toward gaps in fundamental concepts or operations that need to be filled. Online homework shows the teacher her student’s strengths and weaknesses at a glance. The online curriculum provides the appropriate remedy at a keystroke.
Online homework is also useful for reading comprehension. A group of students can read the same article, but they will be reading text adjusted to their individual levels. They have digital tools for support, such as speech- to- text to help get thoughts into writing. This speech- to- text function is especially helpful for English language learners. Students get immediate feedback when they answer a reading comprehension question, and teachers can assign lessons in any order to give students sequenced exposure at graduated levels with review of important concepts as needed.
Teachers can also test students’ understanding of science topics. It can be fun. With a little research, students can find examples of good and bad science in movies. Let’s take mitosis.
I’m not admitting that I actually like the Twilight movies, but there’s a nice description of mitosis in the first one. Students can easily find this scene on YouTube. Teachers can break down the stages of mitosis and splice in microscopic views of each stage. There are many other video clips of good and bad science in movies. Students can use these clips to analyze how the movie is explaining the concept and whether it is correct or incorrect. The key here is that students can fulfill curriculum requirements by participating at different levels according to their skills, their individual interests, and the ingenuity of their teachers.
Online resources make differentiated instruction a real option. Technology helps students engage and stay engaged. They learn better because they work at their own pace on material chosen with an eye to their individual interests and pitched at their actual skill level. This kind of homework isn’t boring, repetitious or frustrating. It’s an invaluable tool to stimulate interest and commitment, reinforce learning, and improve student performance.