Back at the start of the academic year I set my Key Stage 4 classes an easy little homework: number the pages in your exercise books.
Why on earth would anyone set that kind of old fashioned pointless homework? Well…
- It meant that any pages torn out of books would be more obvious
- It gave me a ‘heads up’ on who may have issues with homework in the coming year
- It allows me to reference specific work in feedback
- It allows students to take responsibility for their learning
Not convinced? Here’s more proof:
1. Anorexic books
Over the course of two terms I’ve handed out fewer new exercise books, saving a little bit of money for the Department. Their books are full size and full of work – no super skinny books. The side-effect was students who forgot their books had to see me for paper, rather than tearing a page out of a friend’s book and hoping I wouldn’t notice. This means everyone has been more organised – an unexpected and pleasant surprise!
It’s amazing how accurate that little task was at predicting work ethic. Those who numbered the whole book have been great at meeting deadlines, those who partially completed it have been a touch unreliable and those who didn’t do it have been regular homework sinners!
3. Focussed Feedback
I have been giving specific feedback more effectively. For example: ‘On page 34 you forgot to expand the second part of the bracket’ or ‘Now we’ve reviewed this work, go back and have another go at Q2 on page 18’ or ‘Excellent method on page 8, make sure you keep doing this technique!’.
4. Indexed Learning
At the start of the year, students were told to write their learning objectives and page number at the back of their books to create a personal index. I didn’t nag them to do this after the first month. Some carried on writing objectives, some abbreviated, some fell into disuse. Even then I didn’t nag them. Fast forward to the end of the second term (we start our new timetable in May, so February is the end of two terms): students are on their second/third books. Most of them numbered their subsequent books without being told to. The indexes continue to be added to in the majority of books too – even the least engaged student has a perfect index.
Then the ‘Eureka’ moment happened! We were using a Corbett Maths 5-a-day starter and a student asked whether a particular question was on Pythagoras. This student doesn’t immediately engage with work: there can be minor issues with socialising too much and also too little confidence. I agreed that it was and before I could offer to help, the student had flicked to the back of the book, looked up which page the Pythagoras notes were on and refreshed their understanding. As I moved on to the next person, this student was already half way through a correct method. I was so impressed by the maturity and organisation of this student – characteristics which had been missing at the start of the course. After this I looked more carefully at how my class were progressing with these starters – students were regularly looking back at their own notes and had become more willing to look up information in textbooks too.
A simple idea at the start of the course has snowballed into a tool for enabling independent learning and I can’t recommend it enough!