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Student first homework in Science

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Sarah Swan, from Queen's High School in Dunedin, discusses the importance of putting students first. In this video Sarah demonstrates an approach she uses for student first homework in her science classes.


I think if you put students first, you’ll see in the classroom greater engagement, greater motivation and better understanding. Students are really understanding the material they’re dealing with. Firstly, it’s about having student centred activities in your classroom. It’s about having clear learning objectives for your students - and being very explicit about these - and making sure that they’re aware of them. It’s about student choice and voice. If you go into a student centred classroom you’ll see students working together, students sharing ideas. You won’t see the teacher upfront directing all the activities.

One of the examples I use in class is a homework activity. Students do their homework independently at home. Then they bring it to school rather than handing it in, or the teacher up the front reading out answers. Students share their answers with each other. They have the opportunity to correct or change their work and then they hand it in as a group. And as a group they review the work and review my comments.

Student 1 ‘And then it can pull it like a magnet does I’m not sure how it twists... ‘

Student 2 ‘...Because the teacher said something about the thing... ‘

Student 3 ‘...I thought it would be something else, not twist, because I thought that was balanced force because it’s got the same force the same way, making it twist.’

Using the group homework session with the students I’ve had quite a lot of feedback from them. I would say out of a group of 45 students all bar one or two of them felt it was a really good way of using the homework method. Some of the comments I’ve had are, such as: ‘I like this way because the debate about whether it’s right or wrong you can work out together and explain to each other why the answer is right’. 

Or I’ve had: ‘I like this method because it gives you a chance to discuss your homework so you can fix up your mistakes and help other people if they don’t quite understand.’ 

One of the issues schools always have is about completion of homework. I always think if the students haven’t done the homework anyway, a punitive approach doesn’t necessarily change anything. Whereas at least in this format, students are coming to class, they are actually reviewing the homework with their other group members. They are learning which is really what it’s all about - improving understanding and improving learning.

I really think you just have more fun in the classroom. The students look engaged, there’s often more talk. Doesn’t have to be more talk though. Putting students first can be students working on their own quietly reading questions and answering. But I think the key thing you see more student engagement, more active, on task behaviour and less behavioural management issues.

We probably focus on it in our junior school but once you’ve got it going it just transitions into senior school. If it’s an advantage to juniors it’s an advantage to seniors. You can do things a little bit differently with more of a senior assessment focus but the principles are the same.

I think the benefits for teachers are really the benefits for the students. Hopefully, they achieve better, they have a greater understanding of what is required of them, so they know, therefore have a greater understanding of what they have to do to reach that endpoint and to achieve at a high level.

Leading this with my staff has been a gradual process. Staff have gone off to PD's where they’ve looked at, for example, the homework session where students work on their own, came back from an idea somebody picked up in Australia. So it’s about working as a team, people have brought ideas back to the department. We have regular meetings so we’ve got an opportunity to share ideas. The whole school has a focus on student centred learning as well so it’s coming from the school-wide approach. But it’s about being prepared to take a risk for some teachers and change your way of teaching. Once you get into that mentality of using it, it’s not any more work, it’s just different work. 

Published on: 29 Sep 2011