Homework vs No Homework: A pedagogical argument

Homework has always been a debatable issue in the academe.  Of course, traditionalists would always go for it. On the other hand, contemporary educationists would rather scrap the idea of it.

Henceforth, this article will weigh the pros and cons of giving assigned tasks based on the article by Ramdass & Zimmerman (2011).

Homework and self-regulation

This collective study by Ramdass & Zimmerman (2011) looks at the correlation between homework and self-regulation.

Perhaps, there is no need to further define ‘homework’ as an extra task given to learners.  At this level, we may refer to this as a pedagogical tool assigned by teachers to students after school time. Simply, it’s like an extra school work to be done at home.

Next, self-regulation pertains to an individual’s predetermined process of organizing and utilizing knowledge and skills.  For example, self-regulatory acts may include goal setting, self-monitoring, and time management just to name a few.

Logically, these two have overlapping attributes.   In completing a task, students need to employ self-management skills.  But then, how can we justify this?

Empirical evidence on homework and self-regulation

An experiment by Stoeger and Ziegler (2008) looked into the ways elementary students performed in working on a homework.

In this scenario, 219 students participated and 17 teachers monitored them. In effect, the quality and quantity of the homework given to the students led to improvement in self-regulation.

With respect to middle and high school students, Zimmerman and Kitsantas (2005) reported several factors affecting self-regulation through homework.  Accordingly, middle school students could manage their distractions well.  Gender is also a factor as middle school girls show efficiency in completing their tasks.  Geographically, urban students show more motivation than those from the rural areas.

In college level, Kitsantas and Zimmerman (2009) revealed that longer periods of studying or doing such tasks have a significant effect on examinations in math.

To give or not to give a homework

When it comes to developing skills in self-regulation, teachers MUST be conscious enough to give relevant assigned tasks.  Definitely, the aforementioned studies establish the need for this. However, educators must be aware of the quality of tasks given to students.

In doing so, teachers should design an assigned task that:

  1. is appropriate for the student’s age and level;
  2. has clear goals and expectations communicated to students & parents; and,
  3. enhances not just skills but also positive attitudes towards learning.

Definitely, assigning tasks still depend on the nature of the student.  In the ideal setting, if a homework is designed to fit the needs and wants of the students, this could maximize learning opportunities.

Reference

Ramdass, D., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2011). Developing self-regulation skills: The important role of homework. Journal of advanced academics, 22(2), 194-218.

Zooming in educational leadership theories: Instructional leadership & distributed leadership perspectives

 

Educational leadership theories are broad and universal. Thus, there is a need for a context to scrutinize these theories. Oftentimes misconstrued with management, we have to clearly define leadership as a separate entity in the school context.

Hence, by zooming in educational leadership theories from instructional and distributed perspectives, we can look into the differences between management and leadership.

Management vs Leadership

To distinguish management from leadership, we have to put the latter in a distributed perspective. Whereas management is all about maintenance, leadership is about progress and development. This is one of the key dimensions of distributed leadership.

Generally speaking, leadership from a distributed perspective emphasizes that leadership is not just a function of an individual. It is more of a social interaction.

Distributed leadership perspectives

Two schools of thoughts lead to further elaboration of distributed leadership. First, Spillane (1999) defines distributed leadership as a cognitive activity engaged in by the interaction of leaders, followers, context, and tasks. This deviates from the centralization of power to social and situational distribution of leadership tasks and functions through schemes of interdependency (Spillane, 1999).

On the other hand, Harris (2012) brings the ideas of Spillane forward from a psychological activity to a social reality. The literature simplifies the cognitive concept of distributed leadership as a form of “leadership shared within and between schools.”

This study also notes that this is not a matter of spreading responsibilities or delegating. This needs to be planned purposefully to carry out the following:

  1. sharing of power and decision-making
  2. leadership as interaction
  3. a high degree of trust
  4. blending leadership practices and activities to school development
  5. system transformation

Critical thoughts on distributed leadership

Until now,  the practice of distributed leadership is still in question in school systems.  One contention is that this gets simmered down and confused with ‘delegation’, which is what’s happening in a lot of schools.

Worse, the idea of distribution of leadership seems to be more of distribution of titles/positions to those deemed more collaborative with the principal rather than the merit of ability and competence.

Despite having a lot of ‘leaders’, it might seem that this decentralization is more of assigning roles and responsibilities to fill in the gap. Does the distribution of leadership start from transactional leadership?

If it is, then won’t that be more of delegation of tasks by a transactional leader?

If not from a transactional leader, what if the distribution starts from an instructional-transformational leader?

Would that fit the ideal conception of distributed leadership?

Needless to say, distributed leadership is one of the highly idealized educational leadership theories. If practiced to the core, it could yield amazing results for the stakeholders of the school: teachers and students in particular.

If only all schools could ensure a purposefully and well-planned distribution of leadership, then there would be harmony in school system fostering better learning outcomes.

Instructional leadership perspectives

Other than distributed leadership, another educational leadership theory in practice is instructional leadership. From Hallinger & Murphy’s conception of the theory in the 1980’s, instructional leadership has gone a long way. To be more specific, instructional leadership has links with school improvement in the past decades.

Come to think of it, instructional leadership is a highly transferable idea since teachers are also instructional leaders in their own classrooms.

For an instance, teachers usually start their class by sharing with their students the specific learning goals for the session. To avoid exclusion and to be more flexible, they spend minutes looking into these goals. Also, they emphasize that these goals are not set in stone.  In this way, teachers practice the idea of framing goals.

From a small classroom setting, we can amplify the importance of framing and communicating goals in a larger school setting. A principal should not resort to draconian measures by imposing school goals as this impedes flexibility to change. Instead, the principal should invite stakeholders in formulating school goals based on mission-vision.  In effect, everyone can have a shared accountability for these goals.

Furthermore, the principal may have to set up a committee to look into these goals so that they can assess whether these are CLEAR and SMART goals.

Through this measures, the community could be able to frame a set of SCHOOL’s goals that truly reflect the SCHOOL as a learning community and not just that of the principal. The next step is how we could live up to the standards of these goals.

The next step is how the school could live up to the standards of these goals.

Instructional leadership  and principalship

Is it possible for an ‘outsider’ to be a school principal?

This ‘outsider’ refers to a person who is not from the field of education, and worse, who pretends to be knowledgeable in this field.

This might be highly contentious, but it is a NO.

For schools to be effective, there is a need for a principal who knows the ins-and-outs of the school system (the CONTENT and PROCESSES involved). How can you manage something that you are not even familiar with? Who could be the best candidates for

How can you manage something that you are not even familiar with? Who could be the best candidates for the principalship?

Those who have been in this system–the teachers.

Teachers know the curriculum, the instructional processes, and the students based on the assumption that this is part of their nature.

Hence, in managing the instructional program, the school system needs PRINCIPALS who ‘have been there and done that’ and not just because they are sons or daughters of some rich aristocrat basking in the glory of medieval feudalism.

The instructional leadership challenge

As one of the educational leadership theories, the most challenging dimension of instructional leadership is developing school climate. It involves people to achieve the ends of progress and sustainability.

In a way, this can also be the product of the first two dimensions. As leaders define goals and manage instructional programs, a school climate needs to be in place to support and enact the two dimensions.

For example, even though a school has clear goals and has well-crafted instructional programs, the whole system is still away from perfection. If the school principal tends to overlook instructional time, then a possible meaningful learning opportunity gets lost.

Based on the Pareto effect, it is this 20% (the simple things) that make up the whole. If we strive to clean up and be consistent in acting on these acts to develop a school climate anchored on clear goals, then we could have more progressive and sustainable schools.

Educational leadership theories and improving the system

To prepare for the future of this school system, we just need TWO BITES of REALITY. There is no single recipe in running a perfect school, but there are more than a hundred and one ways by which we can transform schools and sustain this development. This is the first reality we have to embrace.

To aim for perfection is to shoot for the stars. We are not shooting for stars; we are cultivating students. Neither are we propagating educational leadership theories.

The second reality is that school leaders must uphold the processes of TEACHING and LEARNING. The goals, actions, and plans of the leader should all go back to the ideals of teaching and learning.

If it’s not for teaching and learning, forget about it. We may name all the educational leadership theories and models of teaching and learning: distributed, transformational or instructional leadership. However, what matters most is the way leaders conduct themselves as a principal–bringing forth the essence of teaching and learning.

Empower teachers and prioritize students. Be patient for it may take more than 100 days before you get a full hang of it.

At the end of the day, if school leaders know where they and the school are heading to, they will eventually get there.

References

Hallinger, P. (2009). “Leadership for the 21st century schools: From instructional leadership to leadership for learning.”

 

Harris, A. (2011). “Distributed leadership: Implications for the role of the principal.” Journal of Management Development 31(1): 7-17.

 

Spillane, J. P., et al. (1999). Distributed leadership: Toward a theory of school leadership practice, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University Evanston, IL.

Myth busting educational practices for better teaching and learning

There is no single way of doing something, especially for learning’s sake.  As teachers dwell into the intensive practice of planning, certain conditions tend to be overlooked.

Likewise, some educational practices may seem acceptable for some but not for the rest.  They may be effective, but still quite questionable. Through time, these practices became ingrained in the system that they end up becoming mythical in nature.

Here are some of educational practices and principles teachers and school experts may find mythical:

Rote memorization is an ineffective way of learning.

Bloom’s taxonomy dictates that acquiring knowledge through remembering is the lowest form of learning.  From his classification, the most effective way to learn is to create and to synthesize ideas.  Hence, memorization seems to be ineffective in developing high order thinking skills.

However, in acquiring a new language, rote memorization can be effective.  Definitely, we can not discard the fact that learning through memorization can be helpful.

In a study on language acquisition by Wang et al. (1992), they found out that rote memorization can help students retain information for a longer period of time.

Again, memorization as a learning practice depends on the student’s ability and purpose.  There are certain tasks that require routine and jargons, which require memorization.

On the other hand, there are also tasks that require high-level order thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills are transferrable.

Is it possible to teach students how to be critical thinkers? Indeed, teachers could claim using several practices to train students to think critically.

They also believe that the subjects and topics lead to critical thinking development.  For example, teaching computer programming and reading comprehension may claim to develop high order thinking.

However, current research on developing critical thinking skills is still skeptic about this idea.  Critical thinking skills do not transfer according to studies by Hirsch (1996) and Mayer & Wittrock (1996).   In their studies, schools that taught critical thinking skills or used academic programs could not really produce critical students.

For example, students could not really apply mathematical concepts even when they go to the grocery or elsewhere.  What students applied were the things they could remember and feel would work instinctively.

Assertive discipline strategies are archaic educational practices that have no place in 21st-century schools.

Proponents of student-centered approaches would claim that assertive discipline damages children in the long run.  In addition, they would go as far as likening this to medieval educational practices.  For them, what schools should cultivate is an idea of students who could self-manage.  Self-management comes from self-worth and not strict adherence to rules and policies.

On the other hand, teachers and school leaders know for themselves that an assertive discipline is an effective tool.  Research may still be divided on this matter, and other teachers may still be in denial. However, responsible and mature teachers would know that assertive discipline is a must.

In a study among schools in Oregon in 1989, 78-90% of the teachers admitted that there was a positive change in student behavior after implementing strategies in assertive discipline.

Needless to say, assertive discipline does not refer to physical or verbal abuse.  It is all about helping students to be more responsible through the policies in place.  Moreover, it is also by helping students make proper choices and accept consequences of their actions.

Well, there are still loads of debatable educational practices out there.  Next time, we’ll talk about the value of tests and homework.

Reference

Hoy, Anita Woolfolk., and Wayne K. Hoy. Instructional Leadership: A Research-based Guide to Learning in Schools. Boston: Pearson, 2009. Print. pp. 1-20.

Receiving feedback to improve teaching and learning

Receiving feedback from students is one of the most effective and genuine ways for teachers to improve their practices.

As teachers, it should always be a personal mantra to never settle for what’s good but to continuously improve one’s craft.  In doing so, setting up an effective and efficient evaluation system could pave the way to improve teaching and learning.

receiving feedback from students

Receiving feedback from students

Students’ feedback serves as a valuable tool.   Due to the fact that they are the ones who are at the receiving end, students experience the full process of teaching and learning in every single session.

Thus, it’s always about looking at feedback constructively and filtering comments from students to maximize the best learning practices suitable for the students.

For an instance, if students feel that a writing activity gets tedious, a teacher may modify a writing reflection task.  In effect, instead of writing a 500-word essay individually, they just may write it collaboratively or in just 350 words.

Of course, good feedback is worth keeping and improving. Knowing what the students prefer would enable teachers to develop plans in such a way that it could hit the students’ interests and preferences.

Likewise, by knowing what they don’t like, teachers could modify the activity next time and compromise with them so that they could still develop certain skills without straining them that much.

Feedback instruments for students

Student evaluation may come in oral or written. Teachers may gather information from written reflection and some oral or casual comments from students.

For example,  value-guided reflection writing may be one form of acquiring feedback. In this exercise, students get to write a short, standard essay of at least 150 words to express what they learned and how to improve their learning experience.

In addition to reflection activities,  teachers could ask students to do the following:

  1. Think Logs. These are just short reflections and points for reflection students should write in a notebook.
  2. Exit Posts. On a board near the door, teachers may ask students to post whatever they think about the session before they leave the room. A simple code scheme like smileys or ticks could determine how they liked the class. If a student puts a sad face, the teacher may have to ask the student how to help him/her.
  3. Mind map/interactive reflections. Reflections may come in different forms like mind maps, video, PowerPoint, blogs, audio recording or even a sketch.

Other than that, teachers could also conduct formal self-evaluations and interviews to gauge student feedback. Students may fill in an evaluation sheet at the end of a particular unit. Perhaps, teachers could have a more holistic perspective on the students’ learning and perspectives from this exercise.

Turning the tales of turnaround schools to reality

The case of turnaround schools is like a fairy tale of schools.  However, in this Cinderella story, the miracle happens in the reality of schools all over the world.

Transforming a school from low to high performing is not an impossible feat. It is an undertaking of sheer will power and impressive organizational skills.

the case of turnaround schools

The case of low-performing schools

Describing the performance of a school requires certain standards. Obviously, these standards are set by certain boards.  On the other hand, these could be as simple as logical discretion.

To be more objective, student achievement usually quantifies a school’s performance.  Based on grades attained by students, these could be from internal or external examination.  Any school can simply claim high performance according to internally assessed work.  However, through standardized exams, schools get to establish themselves as high-performing schools due to impressive results.

For example, schools from Shanghai and Singapore have established themselves as top schools based on PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results in reading, maths, and science.

In the United States, proficiency tests enable assessors to determine the performance of a school and even a district.

Aside from grades, school performance based on student achievement also includes graduation rates and the ability of the students to go to colleges or universities.

On top of these quantitative factors, the quality of infrastructure and instructional practices come into play.

Logically, low performing schools usually score below the acceptable standards in all or most of these factors.

The case of turnaround schools

The study of Klugman et al. (2015) on turnaround schools in Illinois brings this ugly duckling tale into reality.  In 2013, the University of Chicago conducted a statewide survey involving school stakeholders.  The data from this research lead to findings on turning low to high performing schools.

learning in turnaround schools

Firstly, socio-economically disadvantaged communities and rural schools lack the support system they need.  In effect, these schools are at risk of lower student outcomes.

Now, what should be done to these schools?

Due to this inadequacy, providing the essential support system could provide a chance for these schools to transform.  More importantly, the following essential support factors should be considered:

  1. Effective leadership
  2. Collaborative teachers
  3. Involved families
  4. Supportive environment
  5. Ambitious instruction

If schools could look into these factors, then change may take place.  Perhaps, a strong support system could lead to better student outcomes.  Therefore, school leaders and district supervisors must meet these essential supports to improve the system.

Finally, current studies on school improvement and leadership establish the correlation between the two.  Hence, school transformation would require supportive leadership that fosters strong, effective instructional principles and practices.

References

Klugman, J., Gordon, M. F., Sebring, P. B., & Sporte, S. E. (2015). A first look at the 5Essentials in Illinois schools. RESEARCH SUMMARY.