7 Homework Assignments That Guarantee Learning and the Secret Sauce That Makes Them Work

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eat pizza Brilliant or Insane
photo credit: Happy Bite via photopin (license)

Want your students to learn more immediately? Want higher test scores? Want the secret sauce for making your students like you and love your class?

Not only is this possible, it’s ridiculously easy,  classroom tested, kid approved best practice. It’s what many teachers do to reinvent their classrooms. So, what is this amazing strategy, you wonder.

It’s homework.

That’s right, I said it, and I haven’t lost my mind. All you need to reinvigorate learning in your classroom and at your school is good old the right kind of homework.

7 homework assignments that guarantee improved learning

1 – Read from a self-selected novel

I’ve written widely on the many benefits of reading, even suggesting that reading is the best teacher, and certainly the best homework. When I was a classroom teacher, the most successful yearlong project I ran was called Reading All Year, or RAY. Students selected book all year from many places, including my vast library (over 1,500 books in most genres).

I never assigned traditional homework but students were encouraged to read and complete activities related to their personal RAY project. With reading as our most important out-of-class activity, my average student read more than 25 books each year.

2 – Read an article, blog post, or other content on a social network

Many teachers complain that their students never read. “They don’t read at all,” I’ve heard a few educators and parents say. Do they read game instructions? Do they read Facebook posts, Tweets, email, or text messages? When you think about it, today’s digital learner reads often. What if teachers leveraged social media and other Internet content? Encourage students to read a bevy of items from their favorite online spaces. Steer them to content related to your class. Challenge them to locate something thought-provoking. Imagine the discussions that might ensue.

3 – Talk about X on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest

Replace “X” with something topical from your class. Instruct students to read and write about it on their fav social network. Who is the most popular teacher at your school? Not sure, but I’m guessing the one who asks students to discuss organic chemistry in a Twitter chat or to share opinions about a presidential debate on Facebook is certainly in the running.

4 – Eat pizza, potato chips, chocolate, or some other unhealthy food

The next day in class, blog about or discuss what makes the food unhealthy and how to mix the good with the bad, creating a healthy balance in one’s diet.

5 – Write a song, paint a picture, or design a building

This homework doesn’t have to be for only art or music class. Want kids to love math?

Tell them to design a room and write a rap song about its dimensions or paint a perfectly scaled picture of an Egyptian pyramid.

6 – Play a game

Invite students to select a grade-level game, or create a new one. In class the next day, help them write detailed instructions for the game and teach their peers to play it. Need a scaffold for more advanced learners? Give them a peer’s game and instruct them to create a more difficult version for adults.

7 – Walk the dog, shop at the mall, or go for a bike ride

The next day in class, ask students to connect their activity to your subject. How far did they travel? What would need to happen to cut the journey’s time in half? How much were the LeBron James shoes they tried on? If all of LeBron’s shoes suddenly disappeared, how would this impact the global economy? If they owned the mall and needed to cut their budget by 30 percent, how would they do it?

The secret sauce 

You may have figured it out already. The sauce contains three key ingredients that make not just homework but every assignment engage students and guarantee improved learning: creativity, choice, and fun.

Send students home with the same boring workbook pages nightly, they will hate the work and, in most cases, learn very little.

Traditional homework lacks creativity and rarely gives students any say in when, where, and what is done. It is perceived as work and, in many cases, as punishment. Without the fear of losing points, most students will never complete a traditional homework assignment.

Give them one of the seven activities above, with no promise of a grade, and all students will participate, because the homework is creative, provides choice, and, most important, is fun. Eat pizza or chocolate? Play a game? Tweet or Pin? Students do these things anyway, so they will never seem like work.

Test drive them

Try homework like this for one month. Observe turn-in rates and participation in your follow-up activities. Check your test scores.

Does learning improve? Will you ever go back to homework the old way?

I think you know the answer already.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder and CEO of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 140,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
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