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Research School Network: Encouraging self-regulated learning through effective homework

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Encouraging self-regulated learning through effective homework

by Research Schools Network
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In this blog, Dr Jo Castelino, a Science teacher based in West Yorkshire, applies her passion for evidence-informed strategies to home learning.

Homework has always been my sticking point in teaching. Often, it was set as an afterthought, and the tasks themselves didn’t do enough to help my pupils consolidate their learning. However, during lockdown, I was forced to think about it very carefully, as remote learning is essentially an extended period of homework. 

But unlike homework, we had no periods of face-to-face teaching in between tasks during lockdown. Several of my lower-attaining pupils struggled with the work during remote learning, and have returned to school feeling less confident. 

We know that secondary pupils can really benefit from good homework, and in our current climate of blended teaching, I think it will be particularly important to provide pupils with self-regulated learning strategies to work independently. If I can support them to develop these in lessons, they will do better when they’re at home.

What makes effective homework? 

In Science, pupils have to answer questions where they draw together knowledge from a range of topics, and usually feel overwhelmed. For example, in a question on photosynthesis, pupils could be asked about cell structure, plant tissues or abiotic and biotic factors, all of which are taught in different topics. 

For homework, I’ve been providing my pupils with opportunities to practice these types of questions, together with plenty of retrieval of key facts, so they’ll have the pre-requisite knowledge, and confidence, required to tackle them.

How do I help my pupils be more successful at homework? 

Research implies that my more disadvantaged pupils are less likely to use effective metacognitive strategies when they find homework challenging, presenting particular challenges for blended learning. While I can provide support during lessons, it becomes harder to motivate pupils when they are at home. 

Here are some strategies I’ve been using to support my pupils’ independent and self-regulated study: 

1) Design high-quality homework 

I think carefully about how I can build pupils’ knowledge and confidence through homework.

  • Initially, I base homework on fact-recall to build confidence. 
    • e.g. While teaching Ecology, I set questions such as What is an ecosystem?’ and Name 3 biotic factors’.
  • As more content is covered, I add questions that encourage retrieval of key ideas from previous topics. 
    • e.g. After teaching Ecology and moving on to Cells, I set questions that incorporate fact-recall on Cells but interleave these with questions from Ecology.
  • Eventually, I introduce questions where pupils need to access knowledge from different sources.
    • e.g. I set a question about a food chain and get pupils to apply their knowledge of cells by asking them to describe the structure of a cell in: grass (producer- plant cell), a grasshopper (consumer- animal cell) and bacteria (decomposer- prokaryotic cell). I also ask questions about the role of these organisms in the ecosystem.
  • I standardise the homework format, to focus attention on the questions rather than on extraneous factors.
    • e.g. I set questions in a simple numbered-list format with no diagrams unless it is required for a question. This is the same format I use for questions practiced in lessons.

2) Create and consistently implement routines around homework completion 

A good study environment is distraction-free, with relevant resources close at hand, which I know will be a struggle for some of my pupils. I try to help them regulate any factors that are within their control and support them to mitigate others. For instance:

  • I keep deadlines to the same day each week, so pupils know when to expect homework, and can plan for it. 
  • I provide an approximate time limit for homework completion – pupils are just as likely to spend too long on something as they are to rush it. It’s important they know when to stop, and how to seek help but equally that they use the time to put in complete effort.
  • I provide a checklist, so that pupils can monitor their progress.
JC Table
Example of a checklist to help pupils self-regulate their learning

3) Provide resources and explicitly teach pupils how to access them while they’re with me 

I use lesson time to help pupils develop the skills and strategies they’ll need when working independently. For example:

  • I use booklets to support independent practice in lessons, and help pupils get used to reading them before answering questions.
  • I model my thinking using worked examples to explicitly teach the process of arriving at a correct answer.

4) Get pupils to reflect on their homework 

I help pupils reflect on the strategies that work well in different circumstances, such as:

  • Pupils discuss how they reduced distractions, and what they did when they found a question challenging.
  • I encourage pupils to think about how long it took them to complete the homework, and set specific goals for next time.

Impact of self-regulated learning on homework standard and completion 

By following these strategies, I hope that my pupils will have more confidence to work independently and will be better able to seek help when tasks are challenging, particularly when we go through periods of blended learning.

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