What are the benefits of homework from the NET blog

Watching the clouds go by.

Over the past six months I have been conducting unscientific polls of how many primary schools currently set homework. Of around 300 school leaders that I have asked, around 70% do so.

Whilst this might not be representative of the national picture, it suggests that homework is regularly set in many primary schools. And this is despite the fact that the evidence for doing so is weak. This is what the education endowment foundation toolkit says:

It is certainly the case that schools whose pupils do homework tend to be successful schools. However it is less clear that the homework is the reason why they are successful. There is some evidence that when homework is used as a short and focused intervention it can be effective in improving students’ attainment. Overall the general benefits are likely to be modest if homework is more routinely set. There is clear evidence that it is helpful at secondary level, but there is much less evidence of benefit at primary level.’

So why is it set? How many hours per year of teacher time are spent marking homework? Primary homework is often defended because it ‘fosters independent learning skills’ or ‘it prepares for what is being / backs up what’s been taught in class’. My experience of primary homework at home is that it is a singular cause of family argument.

In some schools, homework is a competitive sport for a few parents and the work done at home bears absolutely no resemblance to that done in the classroom.

At the same time, homework can also be particularly dispiriting for those that come from a very disadvantaged background. Parents may be working long shifts at difficult times of the day.  There may be little space, and there may be very little quiet space. If something is important, it should be taught at school – includingbuilding resilience and independent learning skills.

Schools are fantastic places when parents engage with their children’s learning. This is one of the golden keys to success in schools where there are many children from disadvantaged backgrounds – where parent value-added takes more time to craft. But sometimes what we as parents believe to be intuitively true needs to be put right by professionals.

A significant proportion of parents would, I suspect, believe that ability grouping, small class sizes and homework are highly effective in raising attainment. The evidence suggests otherwise. Teachers battling away to ensure children complete homework – and then getting it marked – might not be the best use of their time. The time might be better spent planning for and evaluating the impact of their teaching each day.

That said, many things may work well in individual cases. Ability grouping and homework in particular are present in many successful primary schools. That may or may not help raise attainment in those schools – but I certainly think it is work a closer look.

So what could be done? I don’t think primary homework is going to go away. But more could be done to find out about best practice.

As the EEF report suggests, homework that is set in short, sharp and focussed bursts, with clear success criteria based on learning that has taken place in the classroom, might be a start: to provide an assessment of whether what’s been learned in school has been learned in depth.  And this could be backed up by pupil premium funded homework clubs where high quality support is in place for those that need it – replicating the opportunities other children get at home. Best practice for parental support for children with SEND provides lots of intelligent approaches too.

Schools could carry out a test and learn approach, with classes doing no homework, the more structured ‘short burst approach’, or just continue as they are. I think a best practice trial would be a brilliant thing for the EEF to lead on, a rich resource to plan future approaches.

A school leader said to me recently, ‘we do homework, but I don’t insist teachers mark it because we really don’t know who’s done the work’. Parents would be better off reading to their children, bouncing with them on a trampoline, or simply lying down with their eight year old and watching the clouds go by.

Marc Rowland is Deputy Director, National Education Trust

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Using technology to support SEN

10 tips for helping students with SEN

By Jules Daulby on Thursday, 21 May 2015 10:00 | Special Educational Need

When a pupil or student has special education needs, it can be easy for teachers to stick to the tried-and-tested methods. SEND teacher and assistive tech specialist Jules Daulby gives her top 10 tips for ensuring that learners with additional needs thrive in the classroom.

What is excellence and how do we achieve it? How can we take the secretarial out of excellence? You may have heard of Ron Berger and Austin’s Butterflies, showing the stages a boy goes through to create an excellent drawing of a butterfly. It’s an uplifting clip, reminding us how we need to teach our students the drafting process in the pursuit of excellence.

It is difficult to see how the task could have been changed for a child with SEN; in fact, the carefully staggered stages to reach the final goal, is best practice. I’m interested, however, whether more complex tasks requiring secretarial skills could make life easier for students with Specific Learning Difficulties while still asking for excellence.

Here are some ideas:

1. Concept Mapping Software

When a student is asked to plan work it might seem like too much to be asked to write it again. This may affect students differently:

  • It may seem pointless to a student with autistic spectrum condition (ASC) – they’ve already done it why would they want to do it again?
  • It can seem overwhelming for a student with dyslexia – they have spent a long time and a lot of effort writing the plan concentrating on the spellings and neatness and can’t bear the idea of rewriting.
  • Too many elements of planning and organising into a coherent structure has sent a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) into a panic; they have lost their temper and refuse to write anymore. If a teacher then asks the student to create a presentation; this might the final straw.

Software such as Inspiration can make planning and editing work easier. The student can plan in a spider diagram then click a button which turns it into a linear essay. Not only does this remove the task of having to rewrite, it also does the structure for you. For students, this can be feel liberating and leaves them to concentrate on the content. Inspiration can even turn the essay into an impressive slideshow in minutes; not only preventing having to rewrite the words, it also gives the outline of each slide – it looks impressive very quickly allowing the student to make changes to a frame provided for them rather than starting from scratch.

2. Typing

This is such a simple adjustment but for some can change everything. Is their handwriting messy? Is it painful for them? Are there a lot of scribbles, asterisk and arrows? Word processing takes the secretarial away. The student can cut and paste and also, importantly, read what they have previously written during the drafting stages. While some students find handwriting helps with their thought process, others prefer to dump ideas down first and then structure.

If this does became the student’s usual way of working, it’s really useful if they are encouraged to learn to touch type, this will speed the process up. Some schools have touch typing clubs, which are great to encourage these skills.

3. Spellchecker

If spelling is the problem, ask the student to write without worrying about their spelling, and just let them word process with the spellchecker on.

A student with dyslexia will often use a very narrow range of vocabulary when writing, as they stick to the words they can spell. If you have an articulate student whose writing does not reflect their ability, compare work using a spell checker – it may be that the content becomes more sophisticated just by allowing them access to words they cannot spell. There is software from Crick where teachers can create word banks of key words, allowing the student to toggle between a normal keyboard and the word grid taking away even more of the secretarial.

4. Google Forms

Do you have some students who have just finished drawing the table and plotting results by the end of the lesson?

For a science experiment why not try Google Forms – students input the data into the given cells, the results create bar charts or line graphs leaving the students able to concentrate on the analysis. Drawing the table live with the charts updating also makes the process accessible to all students rather than leaving some still drawing their chart by the end of the lesson. FormMule and Autrocrat are other options (idea from @ictevangelist).

5. Text-to-Speech

If a student is not a fluent reader, then they will be missing much of the content; by allowing a student to have text read to them will aid comprehension. This merely decodes words for the student; it doesn’t read with expression so it levels the playing field rather than giving an advantage to a student; it does however remove that particular barrier. Some schools have found reading pens useful for those students who struggle with the occasional word.

6. Predictive text

This can really help students with ease of writing as it speeds the process up. Using an app which will also read it back to them is great for proof reading. Text prediction is on most computers or a slightly more advanced option would be software like Read&Write Gold or Clicker which also have text-to-speech built in.

7. Translating or Reading tool

For an EAL student, the language may inhibit the ability to achieve their best work. Not only are they concentrating on excellence, they are grappling with understanding a second language and all its nuances and grammar.

8. Speech recognition

If a student has good verbal ability but poor writing skills, then this can allow them to show knowledge without being disabled by their difficulties. Speech recognition is when a student can talk into a microphone and the software will type for them. I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for some of my students, and the longer they use it, the easier it becomes. It does take practice, however, and while excellent for students with very poor writing ability, they do need to be trained how to use it properly. Speech recognition also engenders independence; this is far better than using a scribe for students who are verbally able but have poor writing skills.

9. Less is more approach

I’m a big fan of allowing a student to storyboard or use images to plan work – once the structure is in place then get them to write one really good quality paragraph. The plan shows how the student understands and the paragraph is an achievable target to show some excellent writing in more depth. Popplet is a great app to create very simple spider diagrams which could be used for the planning stage.

10. Video or Audio alternative assessments

Is it possible to allow a student to record their answers on video or with audio? Apps such as Explain Everything, Book Creator or Adobe Voice could be a way to engage some students who struggle to record their answers. Because the standard looks so high with relatively little effort, the presentation skills are removed, leaving them to concentrate on the content. When showing work to the class on the whiteboard, it is something they are proud of, rather than being embarrassed about poor handwriting and messy work.

If students struggle with the secretarial part – the handwriting, the spelling, the planning – then we need to find ways around this so they can concentrate on the excellence. There is nothing more frustrating than low expectations for students with specific learning difficulties, but the targets need to be realistic, and by taking the secretarial away, the excellence part can prevail.

On top of this, another idea from @ictevangelist: Use Google Docs and Flubaroo to create a quiz which is automatically marked, giving instant results leaving you free to prepare lessons.


Why your reading, as a teacher, makes a difference to your pupils

A large part of the school experience is reading a metric tonne of books (or a terabyte, for modern pupils). But how do our reading habits reflect upon a child’s? Jane Jackson of BookSpace examines further.

Most staff rooms will be home to a widely-diverse range of reading habits and tastes; as adult readers, we all know there’s no such thing as good or bad readers – or in fact good or bad books. We know it’s not about measuring people by their reading skills, or the number of prizewinning books they read. It’s simply about what we each, as individuals, like to read and how it makes us feel. We can have the most dismal reading experience from a book that has been praised to the roof tops – and equally we can have the best experience from something that others might consider to be ‘trashy’, ‘lightweight’ or ‘inferior’. In the end, the best book is the world is the one we, ourselves, like best – and that can change by day, by week or by year.

Yet, even though we know this, we as adults still sometimes find it difficult to share our reading preferences with colleagues for fear of prejudice, sneers and put-downs. From readers who confess that they can’t be friends with anyone who doesn’t love Captain Corelli’s Mandolin to the disdain expressed in certain quarters for Mills & Boon romances or SAS-type action books. Getting beyond this, and learning to celebrate individual reading choices, is vital if we are to encourage the children we work with to explore reading and books in an open way. If, as adult readers, we feel guilty occasionally about our reading choices, just imagine how kids will react to this pressure. How does a child feel if all the influential people in their life – friends and peers, parents, extended family, teachers – pull a face at a book they love?

Remembering this, when talking to children about their reading preferences is essential in encouraging young readers. Children, like adults, can easily be swayed by trends or the opinions of friends. It’s important to find a way through this and to encourage pupils’ individual reading tastes.

Looking back at our own reading habits as a child can help us to make an important link with the reading habits and choices of the children we work with. By remembering how we felt as young readers, it enables us to connect with our children and to understand what they are looking for with each new read.

One idea is to revisit some of the books we read when we were younger. No doubt it’ll inspire a range of emotions from the positive – enjoyment, fond memories, and delight in favourites – to the not so good – regrets, embarrassment, reminders of tough times. Yet, all these experiences will have helped shape the readers we are today. Taking the time to reflect and question how a specific book made us feel, remembering a particular book that had a big impact on us, where our favourite place to read was, who might have read to us and how that made us feel can help us to connect with our pupils. Remembering a book that all our friends were reading or a book that an adult wanted us to read which we didn’t enjoy will help us to understand children’s reading needs today.

We also need to remember that children, just like adults, need and want to read different books at different times. Just as we have different clothes for different occasions, it’s the same with books. Not everybody wants a constant diet of challenging, smart books (just as we don’t always want to be dressed to the nines) but equally we sometimes choose to wind down with a book which delivers a familiar plotline and characters who are old friends (just as we sometimes want comfy clothes to relax in).

There is a clear message here which we should all champion: books play different roles in people’s lives – and a good read is all about the right book reaching the right person at the right time. Reading really comes alive when the needs and choices of every reader (however young or old) are truly celebrated and valued. Recognising this and remembering this whilst will help us encourage our pupils to lay down foundations for reading for life.

By Jane Jackson on Thursday, 03 July 2014 14:19


Further evidence of why TAs should not always work with children with SEN

Schools should rethink their use of teaching assistants and stop placing “students who need the most expertise” with “the adults with the least expertise”, one of education’s most influential professors has said.

In an interview with TES, Professor John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute and one of the world’s most widely quoted education academics, said teaching assistants should not be used to support pupils who were struggling with their work.

“It’s ironic that the students who need the most expertise get the adults with the least expertise,” he said.

Asked whether schools should stop using teaching assistants, he said this was not necessarily the right approach.

Instead, he said, schools should ensure that teaching assistants “work in ways that can make a difference, but not, as they typically do, with students who need the most help.”

In a report published last week, Professor Hattie said the use of teaching assistants tended to “separate the teacher from the students,” becoming “an alternative rather than an addition to the teacher.”

This could have a damaging effect on pupils because teaching assistants’ explanations of topics were “sometimes inaccurate or confusing” and they were more likely than teachers to “prompt pupils and provide them with answers”.

In the report Professor Hattie cited a study by Peter Blatchford, professor of psychology and education at the Institute of Education, which said the number of teaching assistants in England had tripled in a decade, representing one in four staff members in the English school workforce.

Professor Hattie wrote: “Teachers love them [teaching assistants] and claim they reduce their stress and increase job satisfaction, reduce workloads, improve student outcomes and allow them to improve the quality of their teaching.

“Blatchford, however, could find no effect on students’ confidence, motivation, attention, independence, relationships with peers, work-completion rates or in following instructions.”

Five steps to building a culture of learning… for teachers

These days, as often seen on Twitter, there seems to be examples of great CPD going on all over the place. Inset is delivered by teachers expressly for teachers, TeachMeets are organised and carried out by colleagues all over the country for other like-minded staff keen who go to learn from each other and take home great ideas.

It seems easy, thus, to believe and accept that there is a healthy culture of learning in our schools amongst educators. Is this really the case, though? It cannot be denied that there are pockets of excited teachers who attend TeachMeets, take part in #ukedchat and perhaps deliver inset. Indeed, the number of participants in these events is growing and with each event a few more participants join the party. However, this culture has not yet permeated fully across entire staff rooms. There are colleagues who are happy with their status quo and who do not see the need to keep growing and learning as educators. After all, if it has worked up to this point, why make any changes? Why is there any need to consider other approaches?

If you are reading this then I imagine that you are one of those growth mindset teachers who understands the need to keep developing as a teacher. What follows, then, is a five point plan to effect a change of culture in those staff who may not be so willing to learn.

1. TeachMeets

Embed a short, weekly in-house TeachMeet expressly for your staff. Focus on areas that you know are of interest to your colleagues and canvass them for ideas for future meetings. Get a few keen colleagues on side to contribute their ideas to the meeting too so that eventually all you need to do is organise the meeting while your colleagues bring the ideas to share. It is vital to keep the meetings short. Many colleagues cite lack of time as a reason for non-attendance at such events, so knowing that the meeting will not take more than 20 minutes is a bonus. Even better if you can provide a mug of tea/coffee/hot chocolate and a biscuit as a sweetener…

2. Blogs

Create a staff teaching and learning blog. This links in perfectly with #1 on our list. Once your brief internal TeachMeet is over, blog the shared ideas. The benefits of this are two-fold. Firstly, colleagues can learn about the great ideas discussed and see just how much can be covered in such a short time. Secondly, colleagues can begin to recognise that there is no monopoly to great ideas; we can all have them and we can certainly all learn from each other and value each other’s ideas. This is not about inset being delivered to an audience, but great practical ideas being shared amongst teachers. The blog is merely a journal of the event and there is nothing to stop you developing this as appetites for learning grow. A page on a series of lessons by a particular department, for example, a guest blog page or teaching and learning sharing wall.

3. Try out Tuesday

This idea is simple, and aims to avoid that annoying situation when colleagues hear a good idea and then fail to implement it in class. Designate a day when colleagues attempt something new. It may be that colleagues implement an idea over a period of a few weeks or that they quickly recognise after one trial that the idea is not for them. Either way, they have trialled a new method or teaching technique and perhaps added to their repertoire. Of importance in this process is feeding back both successes and failures to others in the staff room. The blog could really come into its own here, as colleagues write a short note for the blog explaining the idea, what went well and even better if. If a blog is too time consuming then prepare some postcards with the same headings for colleagues to fill in and pin up on a shared notice board. The postcard might look like this:

Teacher:                               Date:                                                  
The Idea
What Went Well
Even Better If

4. Book group

This might sound time consuming, but if well planned this idea can really help colleagues develop their desire to learn and develop still further. Start small and choose some chapters from books that tackle similar issues such as coaching or classroom control. Meet up to discuss the different approaches outlined in the readings. Do not forget there is a wealth of pedagogical information out there which is not limited to books – there are YouTube videos, blogs, and research articles to name but a few. Once the idea of book club takes off and becomes more popular, then it will be possible to build still further with small groups tackling a different book (yes, a whole one!), implementing some ideas and then feeding back to each other. Perhaps thoughts on readings and ideas shared can be posted on the staff teaching and learning blog in number two?.

5. Whole School Mutual Observation

Set up a programme where colleagues are paired off with another member of the staff room. They work together in a supportive manner as co-partners. These pairs can be organised by you or you can let colleagues select their own partners. Whichever route you go down, ensure that you provide a framework on which to build some good learning. This will be a clear formula to follow whereby colleagues discuss a point of focus, observe each other and provide feedback in a non-threatening manner. This is not about what went wrong and is not a formal observation; it is a conversation that will inspire growth and development in teachers and a desire to build on what is already happening in the classroom. Again, time will be an issue, so the observations do not have to be for the full lesson – it can simply be a ten minute slot at an appropriate point in the lesson. The feedback can take place over coffee and once an ethos of sharing is truly embedded in your school why not consider sharing the feedback in this way:

Teacher: (optional – preserve anonymity) Date: Year Group observed:
What I saw:
What I liked:
What I would add/change:

Great teachers do want to do all that they can to become even greater teachers. Sometimes they are so bogged down in the job that they cannot find the time to keep on learning. I hope this five step programme might help re-ignite that passion in a way that is not too time consuming and is totally manageable. Let me know how you get on.

By Jane Basnett on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 11:00

What impact does EQ have on academic progress?

This is the third of three posts examining social context, interpersonal relationships, and emotional well-being and the extent to which they are important to learning. This is #15 in the series on the Top 20 Principles From Psychology for Teaching and Learning: “Emotional well-being influences educational performance, learning, and development.”

What’s more important, well-being or academic outcomes? For most people the answer is a no-brainer: almost everyone values happiness mostly highly. This leads, inexorably to a second question, should schools teach well-being as well academic subjects? Intuitively we might think the answer’s obvious, but maybe it isn’t. What if happiness can’t be taught? What if time spent on SEAL (Social & Emotional Aspects of Learning) turned out to be a waste of everyone’s time? Well, we don’t really have to wonder about that: most schools have shuffled, whistling nervously, away from this failed attempt to bolster students’ self-esteem. But did we just get it wrong? Are there programmes out that genuinely make kids happier? And if so, shouldn’t we prioritise them because there would seem to be fairly clear correlation between happiness and success. In Happiness by Design, Paul Dolan tells us that happiness isn’t just about feeling good, it’s also about having a sense of purpose. Bucking down to demanding tasks which seem important may be more important than the feeling of enjoyment. He calls this the ‘pleasure-purpose principle’.

Unfortunately, a lot of the research on this issue is marred by assumptions. Seligman et al (2009) introduce their paper thusly:

First, a quiz: In two words or less, what do you most want for your children? If you are like the hundreds of parents I’ve asked, you responded, ‘Happiness’, ‘Confidence’, ‘Contentment’, ‘Balance’, ‘Good Stuff’, ‘Kindness’, ‘Health’, ‘Satisfaction’, and the like. In short, you most want well-being for your children. In two words or less, what do schools teach? If you are like other parents, you responded, ‘Achievement’, ‘Thinking Skills’, ‘Success’, ‘Conformity’, ‘Literacy’, ‘Mathematics’, ‘Discipline’ and the like. In short schools teach the tools of accomplishment. Notice that there is almost no overlap between the two lists. The schooling of children has, for more than a century, been about accomplishment, the boulevard into the world of adult work. I am all for accomplishment, success, literacy, and discipline; but imagine if schools could, without compromising either, teach both the skills of well-being and the skills of achievement. Imagine Positive Education.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But what if they’ve got it back to front? What if accomplishment, success, literacy and discipline were what made people happier?

References cited by the report

from @learning spy


Are they learning or just engaged in their learning?

MARCH 22, 2015

Engagement: Just because they’re busy, doesn’t mean they’re learning anything.

I’ve long thought that one of the weakest proxy indicators of effective learning is engagement, and yet it’s a term persistently used by school leaders (and some researchers) as one of the most important measures of quality. In fact many of the things we’ve traditionally associated with effective teachers may not be indicative of students actually learning anything at all.

At the #ascl2015 conference last Friday, the always engaging Professor Rob Coe gave a talk entitled ‘From Evidence to Great Teaching’ and reiterated this claim. Take the following slide – How many ‘outstanding’ lessons have been awarded so based on this checklist?

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 21.15.21

Now these all seem like key elements of a successful classroom, so what’s the problem? and more specifically, why is engagement is such a poor proxy indicator – surely the busier they are, the more they are learning?

This paradox is explored by Graham Nuthall in his book ‘The Hidden Lives of Learners,’ (2007) in which he writes:

“Our research shows that students can be busiest and most involved with material they already know. In most of the classrooms we have studied, each student already knows about 40-50% of what the teacher is teaching.” p.24

Nuthall’s work shows that students are far more likely to get stuck into tasks they’re comfortable with and already know how to do as opposed to the more uncomfortable enterprise of grappling with uncertainty and indeterminate tasks. A good example of this as Alex Quigley has pointed out is that engagement in the form of the seemingly visible activity of highlighting is often “little more than colouring in.” Furthermore, teachers are more than happy to sanction that kind of stuff in the name of fulfilling that all important ‘engagement’ proxy indicator so prevalent in lesson observation forms.

The other difficulty is the now constant exhortation for students to be ‘motivated’ (often at the expense of subject knowledge and depth) but motivation in itself is not enough. Nuthall writes that:

“Learning requires motivation, but motivation does not necessarily lead to learning.”p.35

Motivation and engagement and vital elements in learning but it seems to be what they are used in conjunction with that determines impact. It is right to be motivating students but motivated to do what? If they are being motivated to do the types of tasks they already know how to do or focus on the mere performing of superficial tasks at the expense of the assimilation of complex knowledge then the whole enterprise may be a waste of time.

Learning is in many cases invisible as outlined many times by David Didau and is certainly not linear but rather more nebulous in actuality. As Prof. Coe reminds us, ‘learning happens when people have to think hard’ but unfortunately there is no easy way of measuring this, so what does he suggest is effective in terms of evidencing quality?

Ultimately he argues that it comes down to a more nuanced set of practitioner/student skills, habits and conditions that are very difficult to observe, never mind measure. Things like “selecting, integrating, orchestrating, adapting, monitoring, responding” and which are contingent on context, history, personalities, relationships” and which all work together to create impact and initiate effective learning. So while engagement and motivation are important elements in learning they should be seen as part of a far more complex conglomerate of factors that traditional lesson observations have little hope of finding in a 20 min drive-by.

This is where a more robust climate of research and reflective practice can inform judgements. It’s true that more time for teachers to be critically reflective will improve judgements but we also need to be more explicit in precisely what it is we are looking for and accept that often the most apparent classroom element may also be the most misleading.

Slides: Prof. Rob Coe:  From Evidence to Great Teaching ASCL 20 Mar 2015

Nuthall, Graham (2007). The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research Press