Monday, 6 May 2013

Parent power improving homework completion rates & quality

Having just read back though this it actually seems fairly obvious, but it's made a difference to us.

The problem
Too many students not completing their homework or coming up with some kind of feeble excuse. Responses to incomplete homework varied from class to class and we generally had too many students viewing homeworks as optional.

The solution
Firstly one of the department analysed pupil performance in tests vs homework completion and got a perfect correlation between those that did more homework getting better grades. Sharing this with their class on its own spurred some students into doing more homeworks, but we wanted to ensure there was a clear and rigorous approach taken across the department.

We decided to get parents involved. Firstly we tried it in one class and e-mailed PDF copies of the homework worksheets direct to parents each week, alongside giving printed copies to the students. We also asked for a parental signature on the bottom of the homeworks to indicate that the student had shown it to their parents. This substantially improved both completion rate and quality. It had such an effect on this one class that we decided to roll it out across the whole of year 11 (we would have done more year groups but for the admin related to e-mailing home)

In the first week of this new process we had 17% of students fail to hand in homework - they all received a detention in line with the school behaviour policy. In the second week we had just 4% fail to hand in, and the figure has hovered somewhere below 4% since then.

All of the homeworks are marked and assigned a grade within a week of being handed in, alongside appropriate formative feedback.

Noticeably the quality of homeworks increased dramatically when we were firm about parental signatures. We even had calls from a few parents to inform us that they had refused to sign in a particular week as they felt the homework was not done to a suitable standard, meaning we were forewarned when the sheets were presented by the students in question and could take appropriate action.

Having the PDF copies e-mailed home means that students have no excuse for not doing the work in the form of lost sheets or "wasn't here when it was set", and it is surprising how many end up handing in a sheet printed at home rather than the ones handed out to them.

While we could simply upload sheets to a shared drive or publish them on a VLE or google docs type platform that would require the students or their parents to go looking for the work. The act of e-mailing it direct to parents means that there is substantially increased visibility and does not require them to go out of their way to find the information.

Is it worth it?
I'm well aware of debates around homework effectiveness and questioning whether it is actually useful. All I can say is that this year we have been much tighter on homework as a department and have seen a substantial improvement in test/exam performances. Clearly we have changed a whole range of other things as well (some already mentioned in this blog) so it is impossible to infer a true causal relationship for this, but I do believe it has made a worthwhile contribution to our school record performance for GCSE results already this year.

We have also had very positive feedback from parents on this initiative, and the pupils appreciate the certainty that the process brings.

Where now?
We're looking at further developments - partly in broadening the ranges and types of homeworks set, while still keeping this direct parental link. We are also planning on extending this further across the year groups as we develop the admin systems to allow this more easily.

What are your thoughts?
Do you do something similar? Something different? Can you suggest anything even more effective? All thoughts and comments welcome.

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