Monday, July 8, 2013

Reporting Period and Supporting students

Everytime a reporting period goes by we have discussions with parents about how students are travelling.  A recurring theme is the support required by students and whether they are receiving their entitlement of support.

There is a community expectation that students will receive homework.  In most cases homework does not have a return on investment.

If you are a parent, right now you are likely to be having a conniption..... but hear me out - I too was a supporter of homework once but except under some quite specific exceptions I would argue that it is rarely appropriate in a low SES school, increasingly so in upper secondary.

  1. Students lack academic support at home to complete homework.
  2. The spacing between learning and practice is too short for measurable effect.
  3. It takes 10+ minutes out of every lesson to manage effectively.
  4. When given it is rarely done well.
  5. Repetitive practice based resources reduce motivation for low ability students.
  6. It causes unnecessary friction between parents, teachers and students.

There are types of homework that I would encourage:
  1. Any form of regular reading
  2. Preparation of notes prior to testing
  3. Use of engaging online resources
  4. Delivery of instructional resources via video
  5. Revision resources driven by student inquiry
  6. Rote learning of tables, number facts and exact values required for trigonometry
  7. Assignment work that is being graded

There is a difference between the two lists.  One has cause and effect (I do this and I benefit from it) and is possible without significant assistance, the other is I do this (stuff I already know) or can't do this (and have no way to get help) and have little in the way of explicit benefit.  Regular homework all too often falls into the latter category.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the response to video instructional resources that I have written as they are universally watched by students.  I can't explain the effect (as they're not mindshatteringly interesting) but they do most closely relate to classroom teaching (as they are closest to teaching practices) and are in their preferred mode of learning.

SLNs have provided additional help with students gaining access to each other to get help with revision materials and access to teaching staff out of hours.  Online tools like mymathsonline and mathsonline also play their part.

That's not to say our students don't study in their own time.  I make myself available three days a week after school for an hour (along with most of my stupendously wonderful staff and support people), and in doing this we ensure students spend in excess of the expected study time.  It's effective, collaborative, targeted and supported.  It's optional (I tell parents to not force students to come if they do not want to - I don't have resources available for behaviour management) and we have had a clear quarter of the students in the school seeking assistance and not resenting it.


  1. Hi Russ,

    I've stumbled across your blog tonight as I was looking for teachers and parents to connect with in the blogging community.
    I'm also a secondary maths teacher in WA (although not teaching this year).
    I agree with most of what you're saying here, and in particular that any time spent in homework or revision needs to be valuable and accessible for students and their families.
    I've recently created some practice tests with screencast solutions for lower secondary students. I haven't read through your entire blog yet (there's heaps here!), but I'm interested in your opinions on the best strategies for test and exam revision.
    My husband is also a maths teacher so we'll both be interested to keep up with your points of view and opinions :)

  2. I started students using journals in class to great effect - small exercise books used to summarise what was learned in class. Journals would be used to create notes before tests. The years using journals did significantly better than years where I didn't use them.

    Exams are a bugbear.. my low sample observation is that students in low SES schools generally drop 10%+ in exams. The anxiety can be anywhere from underwhelming to overwhelming, work will interfere with study, expectations by parents will reduce available study time, study habits are poor and difficult to instill, quality of teaching staff varies greatly and has significantly higher turnover of capable staff and lower turnover of staff requiring assistance.

    Students need to know that they need to be able to complete questions at the end of exercises and teachers need to be able to do it too! Questions at the start are not sufficent to pass. Saddler did a great thing with his miscellaneous exercises as he created an effective starting point for revision. Students need to do these religiously. It the start of a passing student. Next they need to do work from a revision guide eg OT Lee to understand the level of test questions (Saddler exercises do not provide this level generally). They need to examine the syllabus dott points and understand what is being taught and use this to predict what will be in the test. They need to develop a good group of students to study with. Class time needs to be used effectively. Students need to immediately seek asisstance (peers->teacher->online as a last resort) if they don't understand.

    Always look out for language barriers. Stats is the worst.

    my two cents!


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