At Comberton Sixth Form this term, we’ve been using Imvoto with some of our students as a part of the learning they do outside of lessons. I’m hesitating to call this activity homework since I believe that, used correctly, the time we ask students to work on activities outside of lessons has the potential to be used much more effective than the end-of-topic assignments I myself remember completing as a teenager.
Our expectation is that students spend the same amount of time on their independent learning as they spend in lessons. For maths, this means around four hours per week. Even if it were possible for a full-time teacher to mark all of the work generated by students in this time, it certainly isn’t possible to get it returned to students in a timely manner. The A level course moves so quickly that by the time that students have completed work, handed it in, had it marked and returned, it is likely that the class will already be working on the next topic.
Yet, we still think that it is essential that students receive written feedback from their teachers: we need to ensure that their written work is well structured and that they are showing the necessary steps to make their argument coherent and complete (and therefore worthy of full marks on an exam!).
We have been investigating how Imvoto can help. Currently we are using a combination model:
- written assignments at the end of topics, marked formatively by the teacher
- Imvoto tasks to check understanding between lessons.
In the rest of this post, I will explain what we’ve done and why we’ve done it.
We have called the Imvoto tasks micro-homeworks since:
- they are completed electronically (Wikipedia makes me feel old by noting that micro is a mostly-obsolete term for a computer)
- they are designed to be completed in a short (“micro”) amount of time if students understand the concepts
Mostly routine problems
We write micro-homeworks in advance of teaching a topic. We create one micro-homework per topic, where most of our topics are typically two weeks in length. However, the questions are not designed to be completed all in one go: more on this later.
The questions are generally routine with few quirks. We want students to be clear about what they understand and what they need to do further practice on. It is powerful that Imvoto tells students whether they are right or wrong on each question. However, for some students (who can get obsessive about completing every single question successfully) it can cause them to spend a disproportionate amount of time on one question. I would rather they take a more balanced approach.
So, our aim has been to write questions of a standard where, should a student get a question wrong, they are clear that they must revise the topic and then have another go. We save the problem-solving questions for the weekly written homeworks.
Following every lesson
We assign micro-homeworks following each lesson. These must be completed before the next lesson. In some cases this would be the following day.
Because individual questions can be turned on or off in Imvoto, we only assign questions that have already been covered in class. This means that over a sequence of homeworks, all questions within the micro-homework will be answered.
The assessment data provides a useful beginning to the lesson: we review difficulties that students had. Since teachers can check this in advance of the lesson, we can have confidence going into the lesson what our students have understood and what needs reviewing.
Independent learning needs to be monitored
Our students are well-motivated and keen to do well. Early in Year 12 they quickly come to the realisation that they will need to work harder than they did in the past! However, there are many activities competing for their time and attention. Some of these are pressures from other subjects; others from factors such as driving lessons, socialising and sleep. It is surely a good sign that our students can prioritise accordingly, but this does mean that if work is not monitored that it will often not get done.
We have been very successful at ensuring students complete these micro-homeworks. All it took was showing pupils the students tab that highlighted that one student hadn’t completed the task and so had arrived to the lesson unprepared. Pour encourager les autres, so to say.
We will continue with micro-homeworks in the Spring term of 2015. They will follow the principles described above, but we will continue to look at ways of making them better. In particular we are going to experiment with:
- Multiple-choice extension questions. As extensions to each topic, we think we can write some harder questions but with the ‘safety net’ of multiple-choice responses. Bostock and Chandler wrote some excellent questions in this style that we hope to emulate.
- Prerequisite knowledge. Before new topics we will ask students to complete questions that assess their understanding of ‘assumed knowledge’ for that topic. For example, before working on differentiation we will ask students to answer questions about gradients of straight lines, working with negative indices and expanding brackets.
Use them yourself and get involved?
You can find the current micro-homeworks on Imvoto. Currently we are writing these for C1, C2, D1 and FP1. Next term, we’ll expand these to our M2 class.
If you use them with your students, let us know how you get on. If you fancy collaborating with us by writing some questions for topics we’ve not yet covered, we’d love to hear from you.