Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Innovative Ideas for Using Cell Phones for Homework and Practice

Editor's note: This is part four in series of posts focused on the nine instructional strategies that are most likely to improve student achievement across all content areas from the book Classroom Instruction That Works by Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock.


Homework and practice are instructional techniques that give students the opportunity to deepen their understanding and skills relative to content that has already been presented to them. Research cited in Classroom Instruction that Works, indicates some interesting findings including that the purpose of homework should be identified and articulated and if homework is assigned, it should be commented on. Of interest to parents is that there is research showing minimal or even negative effects of their involvement in homework. Further studies suggest findings about parental involvement could be a result of the type of involvement and that there are indeed conditions under which parental involvement enhances homework (Epstein, 2001; Epstein & Becker, 1982; Van Voorhis, 2003). They recommended interactive homework in which 1) Parents receive clear guidelines spelling out their role, 2) Teachers do not expect parents to act as experts regarding content or to attempt to teach the content, and 3) Parents ask questions that help students clarify and summarize what they have learned. Good and Brophy (2003) recommend that homework that for parent-child relations purposes assignments calling for students to show or explain their work to get their reactions are useful (Epstein, 2001; Epstein, Simon, & Salinas, 1997) and that it is effective to have students interview their parents to develop information about parental experiences or opinions relating to topics studied in social studies (Alleman & Brophy, 1998). Assignments like these result in students and their parents or other family members becoming more engaged in conversations that relate to the academic curriculum and thus extend the students' learning. Furthermore, because these are likely to be genuine conversations rather than more formally structured teaching/learning tasks, both parents and children are likely to experience them as enjoyable rather than threatening. (p. 395).


Here are some specific ways that homework and practice can be enriched with the use of cell phones.

  • Classroom Practice in Assigning Homework
    Research on homework indicates that it is useful if parents help students ensure they are on track and on task with doing their work. Additionally, assignments that clearly articulate the purpose and outcome of homework result in greater student achievement.
    • Subject: Any subject
    • Topic: Any topic
    • Cell Phone Tool: Swaggle
    • Lesson Overview: Parents and teachers can partner to ensure that students are doing homework more effectively using a group texting service such as Swaggle. Teachers can group text their students and parents daily or weekly with assignments including due date, assignment purpose, parental role and questions for students and clarifying and summarizing questions for parents to discuss with students. Parents can then set a daily alarm to alert them to check in with their child using a text. If the parent knows the purpose of the assignment and due date, if time allows, they can support the teacher in being an additional person to comment on the homework as well. This also serves the purpose of providing recognition for the students in doing their work.
    • How technology enriches the lesson:
      • Using a group texting feature like Swaggle enables a teacher to write one message and instantly connect with students or parents.
      • A group text, not only helps to strengthen the home/school connection, but unlike a note in the backpack, the message won't get lost. It is also a great way in general to keep parents in the loop, in the know, and to keep lines of communication open.
      • Having a parent set a daily reminder time to check in with their child provides students with a consistent check in to help ensure they are on track. Additionally, if the parent is still at work, doing this is less disruptive then making an actual call, but still holds the student accountable.


  • Classroom Practice in Practicing Skills - Charting Accuracy and Speed
    Research shows that skills should be learned to the level that students can perform them quickly and accurately and to facilitate skill development, students should be encouraged to keep track of their speed and accuracy.
    • Subject: Math
    • Topic: Multiplication tables
    • Cell Phone Tool: Poll Everywhere - Polling question
    • Lesson Overview: A fun way to use cell phones to chart the speed an accuracy of a class of students is to use Poll Everywhere. A school that promotes the use of personally owned technology might encourage a grade-wide competition of student speed and accuracy in multiplication tables. The way this would work is that at the beginning of the unit each teacher would encourage students to respond to a Poll Everywhere question about the speed and accuracy of completing their multiplication tables. Students would be asked to text in their speed and accuracy using a Poll Everywhere polling question. The caveat being that their parent/guardian would need to sign off on the students response. This serves the added benefit of the home/school connection and keeping families in the loop on their child's progress. At predetermined intervals classes would chart their speed and accuracy which could be shared on a school web page with privacy predetermined (i.e. just for school members, students, and families, or open to the public). The class that had the biggest overall gain (by percentage) could win an award such as a certificate, free time, pizza party or something of their choosing.
    • How technology enriches the lesson:
      • The use of Poll Everywhere to chart speed and accuracy of a class provides a quick, simple, easy, and visible (to selected audiences) way to instantly see progress.
      • Using Poll Everywhere to chart speed and accuracy provides motivation for a class as a whole to improve on their work. If they don't try hard to achieve, they'll let down their class. If they do try hard, they help their class.
      • The use of Poll Everywhere has the additional benefit of providing recognition for a classes hard work and growth over time.
Cell phones can provide great assistance with homework. Simply encouraging students to use their phones in conjunction with their homework will act as a motivator. Many of the age old frustrations with homework like getting stuck, not having any help (text the teacher, friend, expert-perhaps on ChaCha), forgetting to do it (put in your own reminder or get one from a parent or teacher), or not being home long enough to do it (do it anywhere you have your phone) are all remedied through the use of cell phone technologies. Students, parents, and educators all get frustrated when students get "stuck" on a problem in their homework and do not complete the assignment. With text messaging, help is few thumb strokes away. Setting up peer tutoring through text messaging is a great way to support all levels of students. Even teacher teams can divide up certain days and times and be available to answer homework questions through text messaging without a lot of extra time or effort. Some innovative educators even set up panels of experts in the community to be available to students during certain projects or for certain assignments. Partnering with local colleges or libraries can also provide additional text help available for students.

Cell phones provide an effective way to support students in doing their homework and tracking the speed and accuracy of the skills they are practicing. Stay tuned for future posts featuring other research-based strategies to engage students and increase student achievement.
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