Wishing on a wall…

Homework is a contentious topic among teachers. SLT at our school set very firm guidelines on how much, and how often, homework should be set. Parents love it and are not happy if homework is not set in a regular fashion. Teachers…they are undecided.

As a History teacher, and therefore non-core, I can see why homework is valuable. We have less teaching hours than the core subjects thus homework can be necessary to ensure that topics are covered in enough breadth before the ever present assessments and data collections. However, receiving a motley collection of hastily scribbled notes on Julius Caesar or, more offensively, a copied and pasted page from Wikipedia is thoroughly disheartening and leads me to wonder why I bother. Can homework done in this way be productive? Or is it a waste of time that leads to disengagement?

In an effort to change this cycle (and try to save my desk from the rapidly growing landslide of scraps of paper) I decided to try something new. Our school has begun to dabble in using ICT to meaningfully enhance pupil learning. The Maths department regularly uses MyMaths and IAmLearning to set homework which students respond to well. However, the subjects on IAmLearning are tailored to the national curriculum which our school, as an Academy, is not bound to following. Moreover, I feel that the tasks can be overgeneralised and don’t necessarily link to my teaching in a meaningful way.

Still flummoxed, I turned to Twitter for ideas and heard about WallWisher. WallWisher is an online blackboard that, crucially, can be moderated by the owner. Posters do not need a password or account and their posts cannot be seen publicly until the moderator has accepted them. I could see real potential in this resource as it is intuitive to use and can be adapted for a variety of uses. Intrigued, I built a wall, set tasks, posted learning objectives and hyperlinks to resources and booked out a computer room for a year 7 class the following day. The lesson was quite frenetic with thirty kids updating their posts. As they could not see other people’s posts, theirs landed on top of each other which took some sorting out and will need a system to be put in place. Despite this, the students really enjoyed the lesson and the format of the website.

Much more successful was the use of the website for homework. I have used it for five classes now and it has made keeping track of who and who has not done the homework simple and fuss free. Being able to view who has not done homework before the lesson means that dealing with it in lessons is fuss free and of course there can be no ‘dog/baby brother/ sister ate my homework’ excuses: if a student has not fulfilled their responsibility there is no hiding which is a valuable lesson in itself. More significantly, the quality of responses has improved as more able students tend to post homework first that can then be used as a model by others in the class who are less sure.

The experiment is still in its early days yet and might go spectacularly wrong. We are rolling it out across the Humanities department as of next week so I will post some updates in the future…