When I read some chapters of the book, Fires in the Mind by Kathleen Cushman, which were shared on the Internet, I decided to write this post on the homework issue. I use the word issue, as giving homework has been a controversial issue recently. Some people are totally against it while some think that it is absolutely necessary.

Fires in the Mind is a very interesting book as it tries to answer the question: What does it take for young people to be really good at something? through the voices of students from diverse backgrounds. To put these students’ ideas into practice, the book also includes practical tips for educators. It is part of the How Youth Learn project that seeks better schooling and better outcomes for all youth. They are trying to prove how well young people can accomplish when given the opportunities and support they need and what they can contribute when their voices and ideas are taken seriously. You can watch the video, 8 Conditions for Learning on how a teenager learns with your students and have a class discussion on it. I am sure it will inspire them to reflect on how they learn best.


In another video, students talk about their expectations to do better at school.


In chapter 8, which is about homework, the students list their expectations for homework as follows:

  • Make sure we know what purpose the homework serves. Write it at the top of the assignment, so we remember it!
  • Use our homework! Look at it, answer our questions, and show us why it matters.
  • Don’t take off points for wrong answers on homework. It’s practice!
  • Cooperate with other teachers so our total homework load is reasonable.
  • Give us time to start our homework in class, so you can help if we have trouble.
  • When appropriate, assign different tasks to match what each of us needs.
  • Match homework to the time we have available. Let us know how long you expect us to spend on it, and don’t penalize us if we can’t finish.
  • Don’t give us homework every day. Having several days to do it helps us learn to manage our time.
  • Create places in school for sustained academic support: tutoring time, study halls, hours when you are always available for help. (Source: Fires in the Mind)


 After listening to the students, Cushman designs “four R’s of deliberate homework”:

  • Readying themselves for new learning
  • Repetition and application of knowledge and skills
  • Reviewing material learned earlier, and
  • Revising their work. (Source: Fires in the Mind)

I think the best part in this chapter is the alternative homework the students suggested:

Source: Fires in the Mind

I personally think that students should be given reasonable amount of homework to consolidate learning and master skills. This is especially important in foreign language learning as the more students are exposed to the target language, the better they will master it. On the other hand, homework should be personally relevant to the needs of the learner. Students should be given choices according to their needs, interests and ability levels, which is much easier to do nowadays; thanks to technology.


As schools are about to start in a short time, I decided to add this post on effective learning strategies. I personally think all teachers need to reflect on these before starting planning the year to enhance learning.

With the developments in technology, the changing profiles of the learners and the demands of the global community we live in, teaching has become more complicated than ever. Educators who aren’t aware of this situation or who choose to disregard these facts are bound to end up with students who have no interest in what they are doing in the classroom and are falling behind the expectations. Med Kharbach’s blog post on The 21st Century Pedagogy is a must-read resource for all 21st Century teachers.

Effective teaching is not only about mastering the subject one teaches but it goes beyond that to being fully aware of how students learn. You may be an expert on the subject matter you are teaching but if you can’t transform that content to your learners effectively, learning will never take place. We all know that dedication, enthusiasm, and effective instructional design are the keys for classroom success. Some elements of effective learning strategies are as follows:

SETTING OBJECTIVES: Make sure to share your learning goals, objectives, outcomes and evaluation criteria with your students at the beginning of each lesson/unit using student-friendly wording:

– Some teachers phrase objectives with What Are We Learning Today (W.A.L.T),

– They phrase learning outcomes / success criteria with: What I am looking for is … (W.I.L.F). You may have to do several different versions of WILF according to the variations in ability levels in your groups.

-Why Are We Learning This / This is Because… (T.I.B).

If students understand why they are doing something then they will put more effort into their work.

Success criteria /’What I’m Looking For’/W.I.L.F can be created with the students so that they will know when they have achieved the learning intentions. Inviting the children to create W.I.L.F. involves them in their own learning and is more challenging than being given the information.

Displaying these learning intentions visually in the classroom and reminding them to the students during the several stages of the learning process is of vital importance to make learning meaningful. If students understand the main purposes of their learning and what they are aiming for, they are likely to perform better and set goals for their future learning activities. Moreover, in the classrooms where learning intentions are shared, student learning, motivation and achievement can be significantly improved.


STUDENT MOTIVATION AND ENGAGEMENT: When they are working in positive, encouraging, and stimulating environments and when they are actively involved in their own learning, students are more likely to be learning effectively. Teachers should focus on learning by doing instead of lecturing because students learn better when learning is part of doing something they find interesting.

Triggering curiosity, reinforcing effort and providing recognition are important factors to increase student motivation. Students’ self-esteem should be raised via the language the teachers use and the ways they celebrate achievement. It is also important to build relationships and know students as individuals.

Try to use authentic project-oriented and experiential learning activities that students can relate to their personal experience or prior knowledge. Accessing students’ prior knowledge of a topic enhances their learning about new content. Have them make connections to real-world issues and personal experiences to make learning relevant. We cannot make sense of new ideas if we don’t connect them with what we already know by comparing and contrasting, analyzing, associating, evaluating, etc. Encourage exploration and problem solving through thought-provoking questions. The questions in this reading response worksheet have been prepared to reinforce these strategies. You can use it for any short story or novel your students have read.

Source: Teachthought (Reflective Questions to Help Students Respond to Texts)

 Use effective questioning techniques, reinforce creativity and higher order thinking skills. Make sure that the learning experience is fun but challenging. The word challenging doesn’t imply impossible to achieve but hard enough to challenge the students.

Another important factor to enhance motivation and engagement is to integrate technology into learning activities, utilizing social media, blogging, web quests, games, etc. When properly applied in a student-centered classroom, technology will improve learning, especially for students who need better motivation in school. Working collaboratively with global partners, sharing their ideas and their work with the world, publishing to and being evaluated by a global audience will surely motivate the students to perform better as well as providing real life opportunities for them.

One of the core concepts behind effective instruction is differentiation.We should all be able and ready to adapt our teaching methods to our students’ emerging learning needs, challenging each student according to his or her level and maximizing and personalizing learning for all. After diagnosing the difference in readiness, interests and learning styles of our students, we can modify content, processes or the product for each group or student. The essential learning goals may be the same for all students but the complexity of the content, learning activities and/or products may vary so that all students are challenged and no student is frustrated. Using choice boards, flexible grouping, learning centers are effective ways to differentiate learning.

Teachers who need more information on differentiated instruction may check Carol Tomlison’s website. The information and videos that ASCD offers may also be helpful.

If we want our students to be thinkers and creators, we should make the learning environments and instructional processes safe. Create a classroom environment that allows for mutual respect and appreciation and where it is safe to make mistakes and to take academic risks.Making mistakes should be considered as part of the learning process and instead of fearing them, students should be made aware of the fact that the only way to get it right, is to look carefully at what happened when it went wrong. Therefore teachers should help their students develop the confidence to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them. Encourage risk-taking behaviors when you want your students to come up with original answers or products.


CREATING AND SUSTAINING LEARNER GROUPS: Learning is a social activity that involves listening, discussing, questioning, analyzing, defending, evaluating and creating ideas. Therefore, we should create classroom environments where students can work collaboratively, which is an essential 21st Century skill. Competition at individual levels often kills originality and creativity. Turning our classrooms into learning communities via cooperative and collaborative groups helps us to minimize this as competition at group levels is much less threatening.

Students who work in groups learn:

–       to help each other and praise each other’s success and effort.

–       to work together towards a common goal, which they find much more engaging than individual learning activities.

–       communication, leadership, decision-making, time-management and conflict resolution.

–       to reflect on how well the team functioned and how it could have functioned better.

Collaborative learning groups should be small between 3 to 5 learners. Changing the way in which teachers assign groups will give different students the opportunity to work together. With careful planning, teachers should decide when to use learning groups. Students should also be given opportunities to work in a range of situations e.g. on their own, with a partner, in small groups and in whole class teaching situations, when necessary.


PROVIDING EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK: Giving oral and written feedback is one of the most powerful tools to enhance learning. Students receive feedback from teachers about how to improve as well as praise for their positive efforts. Teachers should give specific praise with reasons. While giving feedback, the focus should be on what students do right so that they can feel motivated and continue experimenting with the language. The feedback given to students should help them realize where they are in the learning process and what they should do to improve.

Rubrics, checklists, peer and self evaluation forms and progress reports are given to students to help them reflect, review and evaluate their own and their peers’ performance on a completed learning task in order to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and take steps to improve. This will enable them to take the responsibility for their own learning and set personal goals for future learning.

Many students have a misconception about learning and they think that the only way to learn is by being taught. Giving effective feedback is one of the key factors that will enable them to internalize learning to learn. Since what they are learning today may not be valid information 5-10 years later, students must be provided with the skills, understanding and desire needed for lifelong learning.

An important factor teachers should consider is the fact that assessment is an ongoing process, so feedback should be given and reflection should be practiced not only at the end but throughout each stage of the learning process to develop effective learners.

Sharing the learning intentions with students and providing effective feedback are practices included in Assessment for Learning (not of learning), which reflect certain aspects of current effective pedagogy. Teachthought designed a new taxonomy as an alternative to Bloom’s considering these aspects:

Source: Teachthought


Source: Teachthought

 The awesome infographic, Events in Instruction by Mia Mac Meekin summarizes all the strategies listed above. Click on each section to see the details.

University of Alberta has a great resource on effective instructional strategies for second language teachers. Please click on every part of the Learning Tree for information about each topic.

Please share what other effective strategies you are using to enhance learning.