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Atomi Brainwaves Podcast S1 E2: Su Temlett on Homework

By Thomas O'Donahoo on 6 February 2020Atomi Brainwaves PodcastNSWstaffroomUKstaffroom

Su Temlett guides us through the highly contested debate on the value of homework and explores how a blended classroom can add new value to a student’s work beyond the classroom walls.



Atomi Brainwaves Podcast S1 E2: Su Temlett on Homework
Atomi Brainwaves Podcast S1 E2: Su Temlett on Homework

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Simon Hennessy

Hello and welcome to Atomi  Brainwaves. I'm your host, Simon and I'm joined today by Su. Hello, Su.

Su Temlett


Hi, Simon. Happy to have you back. Thank you. Happy to be back.

Simon Hennessy

We are recording here in the studio at Atomi HQ. Atomi is an online resource for second-level education. A platform used by students and teachers alike to help make education awesome and engaging. We provide content for schools and students in Australia and the UK in the form of short, digestible syllabus, specific videos and classroom activities. Unsurprisingly then, this is a podcast about education for educators where we take a look at some key issues in the world of education.  

Simon Hennessy

Today we're doing that with the help of our resident teaching expert, former head of English, Digital Learning Leader for Curriculum and Pedagogy and Director of Curriculum, Su. On the menu for today is homework. Homework oh homework. I hate you, you stink. That's a poem. My favourite poem from primary school. It was always a joy to read. No, I don't quite hate homework. that much. But anyway, let's start off by unpacking what, exactly the purpose of homework is? I think it's sort of something that is accepted as part of the furniture in the education world, but I think it's worth right off the top, you know, looking at what the point of homework is.

Su Temlett

Well, several points. Helps you get better at your grammar. I think mainly it's to foster self-discipline within students, so they, you know obviously they do work when they're guided by the teacher in class. But there's not enough time in the day essentially to cover everything that we have to and so taking it outside of the classroom and having time at home gives him that discipline that they need, and they're going to need it when they finish school into their jobs and into the careers, into university. They go there. So it's helping to essentially set that skill early on in life. It's also, I think, a great asset to any individual to be able to have, like external study, be able to be prepared in that way. It's like a transferrable skill can be used in homework, it can be used when you got to practice the piano, practice sport anything. Most things require some time external to the actual class.

Simon Hennessy

Yeah I suppose it's kind of reinforcing what you did with whoever your teacher is, and you covered other different fields for its music. Whatever. But yes, so it's, I guess, at the value several points of value there is. You helpfully pointed out. Let's explore homework in its traditional format and by that I mean the homework that I guess you know, you and I would be used to maybe from our days in school of this idea of you know do questions 1 to 10 in your textbook and then it's corrected the next day in class. What are the intended outcomes of this style of homework and where does it fall in the value spectrum?

Su Temlett

I think that style of homework is mainly for consolidation. So you've done something in class you're learning. You're trying to extend that learning. Take it into not just surface learning, a bit more deep learning, so you're taking it outside the classroom and consolidating it at home. That type of homework, I think, lends itself to certain subjects over others and I think it's a homework that sort of, it's almost like roped homework if you know what I mean? I think that is getting less well used now. I think certain subjects like maths, perhaps, are still doing that quite regularly, But I know from the English classroom I wouldn't be setting here's chapter one, here's ten questions on it. Just do that at home tonight. So I think it's kind of falling away from that very traditional style of homework and other things are coming into the forefront. But that purpose is consolidation.

Simon Hennessy

On the subject of those other things coming into the mix, I wanted to see if we could explore a couple of, I guess, new or innovative homework techniques. The formats they take, their intended goes, the value they bring versus the more traditional style. So if you could, could you walk us through a couple of new techniques that you yourself come across maybe in the classroom that move away from the more traditional style?

Su Temlett

Yes, there are a couple, where you're taking homework into more of a flipped sort of pedagogy. Your homework isn't actually homework than your homework is preparation. So with flipped learning the homework that's done at home is before the lesson and you're preparing the content so either through a teacher setting a task or a teacher video or a content video, something like that, students are preparing at home, hence homework but it's not after the fact it's before the fact, and then they're coming into class and doing application in the lesson. Then that sort of follows on. You could I guess set homework from that to consolidate what you did in class. But often, if you've had the class time and you've covered everything that you need to the next homework becomes preparation for the next lesson. So homework is very much flipped, and that's the idea of the flipped pedagogy.  

Su Temlett

But other homework that isn't just what you talked about, you know, read questions 1 to 10, other homework that I've seen really well experiences where it's more project-based. So it's not. It's sort of an ongoing thing that a student is working on at home, and their actual time at home is to continue with you know so it's sort of very self-disciplined, continue with whatever it is that you are doing over that time over that time period at home and then that's brought back into the classroom. So it's not necessarily day in, day out. It's more of a longer directed project. I think that's a nice way of bringing some different kind of activities into home. I saw a nice one, my mum tutors and one of the kids that she tutored had a lovely homework, working out the distances between five capital cities, something quite nice and different, but still using geography using maths and a range of skills. Google maps possibly here. Yeah, but I mean, that's a great tool. Brings it to life and something like that, it's still, I guess, looking at probably the skills of answers question 1 to 10 but in a much more inquiry, curiosity kind of way. So they're the sort of homeworks that I think are great.

Simon Hennessy

One, sort of just something that comes to mind for me. That, I guess, is a sort of a tangential debate with regards to this idea of flipped learning where it's more project-based, I guess, is this idea of student agency and the question of the benefits of this project style homework come with the cost or the risk that giving a student too much agency, you know, the potential problem of a student, you know, just throwing up their hands and saying I can't do this or I haven't been told how to do this and you know, you're putting too much on me.  

Simon Hennessy

So I guess from that kind of benefit-cost perspective, how much of a risk do you think that is of putting this kind of project-based learning on the student and saying you do this? Is that too risky in a lot of cases? Is it an age thing? Maybe where older students, it suits better. Where do you fall?

Su Temlett

I think it's in some ways, an age thing, but that doesn't mean that the younger you are, you shouldn't do it. It just means that the younger you are the scaffolded things usually taken, so if you are in primary school and you've got something that you're working on at home, I would have done those things. I remember making like a book on Austria that I just kept working on at home and so that I remember it was in like an old sort of scrapbook and I printed off images. Actually no, I think I cut them out of travel brochures then that I got from the travel agents because I don't think we had Internet and printers. 

Simon Hennessy

It's okay, we don't need to say the exact year.

Su Temlett

But I remember working on that quite a lot, and then we all handed them in and you know, that sort of stuff.  But it was very scaffolded, you know it was like, you're going to do this this week and explore this. When you're more into that sort of rhythm and you've got those skills there like you can grow agency on so I think that some of these things are more important to start at a younger age, and that's why a lot of schools are going down the inquiry learning in primary because if you can foster skills and inquiry, learning when kids are young, then they don't get into the high school and just expect to be told everything they're curious and it keeps the curiosity going. That's just the same with homework you know, so if you foster it younger, you know in the younger years and then bring that into the senior years but increase the level of agency as you go, you should hopefully get to sort of, by the time they do major works in year 12 which is a major work is generally worked on outside of class time, you touch base in class time, but there's so much of a major work you have to do externally that you need to have a great sense of agency and a lot of ability to structure your own time when you're doing a major work.

Simon Hennessy

Yeah, and it really makes sense this idea of almost feeding the rope of agency to a student as they go I mean, obviously a five year old is only going to be able to do so much. But if you start that process then of giving them as much freedom as they can manage at that point you can build as you go so that by the time they do get to the end of the road, year 12, you know not only have they developed their content skills and their knowledge base, but also their ability to go out and work on things themself has been growing all the while.

Su Temlett

Yeah, and their ability to have faith in themselves, I guess that level of agency knowing that this might be tough or this might be hard. But I can, I can plumb my way through it. I've done it before. This might be harder than last time, but I can do it. And that's what a sense of resilience and self-worth, I guess.

Simon Hennessy

So I guess we've talked about the benefits and the style that flipped learning homework model might take outside of the classroom, but obviously that's going to have a lot of knock on implications for the classroom dynamic: what's happening in the classroom. And I wondered if you could kind of following on from those techniques, talk us through what a classroom looks like once you've moved away from that homework model and it's more you know, the content is being done outside of the classroom: what does that mean for what's happening in the classroom, then?

Su Temlett

Yes, so that is quite difficult to get to because you've got to get some real rules and regulations, I guess about doing the work externally. So when you do homework in the traditional sense where you've done the work in class, content has been delivered in class, maybe a little bit of time for application, and then you take most of the application outside of the classroom and they do it at home. One of the problems in that is that they can get quite stuck when they're doing the application and obviously, you're not on hand to help and explore that with them. So when you're trying to flip you take the content delivery, which is in some ways, I guess, the easiest part of the lesson because they're receiving knowledge essentially, so you take that external, you do that at home but then you need to know you need to trust your class that all of them have done it or else they're going to have huge gaps in their content knowledge. So to set that up, you've got to have, like I said, very sort of strict rules and regulations and come down hard the initial onset of a flipped learning module that if they don't do that, there are are some serious consequences, or else you're going to have students who are moving forward in excel in and students who've never, ever covered the content. And obviously we know we've all got syllabuses, you've got to cover the content. So if you can set up things like bringing in entrance cards to class, making them do notes, Cornell notes so that you can see what they have learned at home. And then you've got that physical evidence that they've done it. Or setting a sort of online, self marked quiz that they could do before they come into class. And again, it doesn't mean they have to pass everything. It just means that you need to know that they were tempted. Yeah, they're engaging with it so they have sort of received the content and then in class you're there to help the different groups and if you've done something like an online quiz, that's really powerful, because you can get that kind of formative assessment. So you can see which kids are really excelling in the content, and you can give them something else, harder application questions, for example, like so you've got take the typical questions 1 to 10, you might start that group of kids at question four you know because 1, 2, 3 they've covered. They're fine with the content. It's very simple. It's just recall questions or something, and that's been done on the online quiz. So in the lesson, they might be doing something which is much harder application. Put them together as a group, self-learning and learning from each other is very powerful. You might then work with the students who got two out of five in the formative quiz and then make a small group of those, you're really helping them to do the application, the things that they would get stuck on at home. They can ask you questions about the content, but you're there for them. So you're there for essentially that old traditional homework time in the classroom.

Simon Hennessy

Just on that. Is there any risk, this is touching on a different debate all together about how you determine classes and levels and all the rest and I do appreciate that in a classroom where content is just being delivered, that obviously has all of its own problems as well, forcing everybody to the mean in a way and holding students back and also students getting left behind – but is there a risk under what you're talking about, where you say, you know, the students who are excelling,  going faster, starting in question four, and then other students who aren't having to go back to question on one is there a risk of overtime, a bit of a gap opening up there and you almost find yourself with a few different classes within the classroom, and is that even necessarily a bad thing? I suppose it's difficult, it's a two-parter. First of all, is that a risk? And second of all, if it does happen, would you say that's necessarily a bad thing or not?

Su Temlett

I think you've got that whether you identify it or not, so you've always got that with every single class. I think the difference with a flipped model is that that's more obvious. If you're at the front just delivering content, you have got no idea if somebody's like if you don't do a pre-test, you're just delivering content, you've got no idea of five kids are just like, yeah, I know this. I remember this from last year. Like teaching a metaphor, for example, you wouldn't believe how many times I've taught what a metaphor is to every grade going and you'd think that by year 11 advanced English, a kid would know what a metaphor is.  

Simon Hennessy

Yes, well you know it's not the easiest concept. 

Su Temlett

They start learning what similes and metaphors are in primary school in year three, I think it is. I've actually told my son what metaphors are already so he's going to be fine. But when you get to your 11 advanced you are always going to have to revise literary terms and metaphor is one of those ones that always comes up. Now, if you do a lesson on literary terms and you're doing a segment on similes and metaphors, etc, you're going to have some people in that class who do remember it, some who don't remember it at all, and some who just need a little reminder, yeah? Now, if you've done, say a  flipped video and they have done a revision on literary terms before you get into the lesson, then most of those just quickly work through that. They don't have to sort of sit through your 20 minute explanation of those terms, for example. If you do that, then they can just get on with whatever it is at the level that they need to or maybe set them to come up with a more complex metaphor or maybe look at this passage where there is extended metaphors. Can you write me 500 words of an extended metaphor? You know, that kind of thing. You are growing those because they're more obvious to you, but you're going to have them in your class anyway whether you've made it obvious, you're going to have those kids who know what you're on about, those in the middle and those who were struggling. With flipped, it just means that those groups, I guess are more easily identifiable. And so I don't think that's a bad thing, because they're there anyway. It's just that you can actually plug the gaps where you need it.

Simon Hennessy

Yeah, I suppose that's it. Really. Those gaps are going to be there but in the flip model, the teacher is actually able to make more of a difference, right? They're able to go up to the group's, they're able to see exactly where those divides are, whereas if it's just the sage on the stage idea when the teacher's just talking it's so much harder, isn't it, to see who's - sometimes it might be obvious if somebody is asleep at the back of class for instance -

Su Temlett

but also how do you address the kid who is asleep in the back of the class. Is it at the expense almost of the other kids who were trying to listen so if you've got that sort of method where they've, obviously we're talking about perfect world here where everybody, you know, you've got a class of 28, every single kid watched the video at home, they've all come in with their notes, entrance card, whatever, so perfect world, but that kid who has struggled, who has switched off early on, you can then work with them. You know that is not at the expense of all the other groups, but it does mean that you touch base with them on and I think that more individual attention should then bring them closer to it next time and then closer to it next time rather than just losing them all the time with kind of like oh she's off again, you know, it's much more engaging for them, I guess,

Simon Hennessy

I guess that kind of ties into my next question a little bit because you've touched a little bit on the idea that resources can play here in a flipped homework model, but I wanted to explore that a little more and talk about because obviously it involves a new set of resources, well, potentially involves a new set of resources to get this content delivery outside of the classroom. So I wanted to explore a little bit what the ideal resource might look like that is being used in a flipped homework model.

Su Temlett

Yeah, okay, so, like it's very base level. It's telling. So with English telling a child to read Chapter three before they come into class, you know that's still flipped because they're still going to do the work externally. Ready for in class. More sophisticated would be to make sort of teacher videos. So often a lot of LMS's now have got a sort of internal recording function so you can take your content delivery and sort of record yourself doing it. Huge onus on the teacher there to do that and that, in of itself is kind of a huge time-consuming thing. One of the other aspects is to buy in content, so like using a company like Atomi to bring content in for you. Specifically, obviously our content is written to syllabus dot points for years 11 and 12. So that's great for your year 11 and 12 courses and then you know that that's covering exactly what it needs to for the syllabus. Somebody else has spent the time and the effort and the energy making a very engaging video. And then you are building from that in the classroom, and then that way, you're not there slowly slugging through all the content yourself, that sort of thing. Other aspects: using YouTube, you know, there's a say, for example, I wanted to annotate one of John Donne's poems. I bet you I could find that on YouTube and set someone that to do.

Simon Hennessy

For sure, you can find everything on youTube. 

Su Temlett

You can find me annotating John Donne's poetry on YouTube. Yep. But you know you put that in so I would spend, before I flipped my John Donne poetry module, I would spend maybe 30 minutes of a lesson going through a poem which was great in some ways because it's interactive, there would be able to ask me questions, but really they're listening and copy it. So if I put that into before preparation and they come with the poem annotated, which is a great way to see whether they've done the homework, if you haven't got an annotated poem, you haven't done your homework. Then you come into class and then we deconstruct it and brainstorm all the questions and everything they didn't understand. That's what we do. But they're not spending those 30 minutes copying down, they've already done it. So YouTube's good. Khan Academy for science and maths, I guess lower down the year grades so there's different ways that you can, I guess, curate your lessons into the flipped model. But then it does leave some teachers a bit scared of what to do during the class. You're not delivering the content and then just think, 'what would I have sent them for homework?' That's what you're doing in the class.

Simon Hennessy

Makes sense and what's kind of quite refreshing to hear there is that there's such a broad range of resources that can be used. Sometimes people will hear something like a flipped homework or whatever and think, what do I use for that? But like even the idea of telling someone to read a chapter that's been done since time you know what I mean. So it's something that's already underway in so many ways, and you know, you do have this whole range of resources that can be used depending on what's being asked. You mentioned there a little bit about teachers balking at the idea of what they do in the class, and I guess that brings me to the last idea I want to cover, which is zooming out of the classroom. Such a big part whenever you talk about anything slightly new in education is the idea of the sell and trying to get, I guess, first of all schools and teachers onboard and then second of all the other major player, well obviously students, but the other major player being the parents. I just wanted to ask if what do you think the right way to go about selling this to teachers is if you wanted to sell teachers on a flipped model of homework and then parents. How do you think is the best way to do that? To ensure that they'll get on board and support through the kind of initial phases of getting to grips?

Su Temlett

Yeah, when I'm sort of rolling out any sort of change in schools which i've done in a couple of places. It's, I think it's always really good to do baby steps. So I think some changes don't work because they're schoolwide, they're almost too big to grapple with. So I would probably start with year seven and explain, if the school has decided, or even a department, because it doesn't need to be at the school level it could be a department has decided for one term, we've got loads of resources on trash, for example, a year seven novel, we've got loads of resources on that – we're going to do a different way of learning for that particular term with this grade. So, you build the programme, you inform the parents of such explain what that means and then you start small. You sort of see how that impacts that that group of children. See what the teachers thought of it. Then you might take that into science for term two, so it gradually kind of gets a bit of momentum or if it is school-wide again, I would probably start with a grade or a stage. So seven and eight or just seven kind of lower stakes, I guess if you start with that, you haven't you got, obviously NAPLAN, but you haven't got building up to HSC or school leaving or anything and then essentially go for a launch. Lots of education around why we're doing this model, what we are hoping  to develop in your students by this and explain to parents what this will now look like. They've got to be ready for class and I guess one of the things that within a school to be wary of is that if everybody's trying to prepare for class, I don't think you can really set a video per subject per night. That's not really fair, you know, you still have to perhaps structure homework days that are for these departments etc. You're not going to literally flip the content every single night because that would be impossible for a kid to keep up with. So, some internal structures and then external structures. See how that goes. You've got to review that, review the year, work out what you're going to do next time? Bring it into your 8, 9, 10 – gradually roll it up, that sort of thing and then you've rolled it out. But you've been in a very carefully considered way. Preparation is key. Yeah, and I think don't run before you can walk, you know, so you don't want it to fail. So in order to not let it fail, do it on a small scale first.

Simon Hennessy

Awesome, makes a lot of sense. So that is everything for us in terms of homework. Before we go, we're gonna get Su's hot tip for the week. So every week we ask Sue for just a little piece of advice for teachers. Or maybe a little story, doesn't have to be that serious. Doesn't even necessarily have to be about teaching at all. Su, what is this week's hot tip?

Su Temlett

I think I'm going to do on the content in terms of flipping. I just encourage you to actually flip a lesson. You know, it doesn't need to be a whole year or a whole term or a whole unit or anything, but maybe look at a week and think, okay, I've got loads of things I could use for this. I'm going to try something a bit different. Establish the rules with your class, of course, but just have a go. It's not actually that frightening and just see what you think of it and then you might in time, start doing more modules. Test it out, have a go. 

Simon Hennessy

Flip it. Flip it. What do you do? Go off and flip it, right now. Until you do, we're going to say thanks for tuning in everybody and hoping to have you back for wherever we land in the world of education next. In the meantime, check us out on our main site at getatomi.com. It's goodbye from Su, and goodbye from me.

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