Pitching homework at the right level

It is important to us that our products are effective for learning. So when we make changes we do so methodically, gathering feedback and analysing data to ensure that we achieve the desired effect.

With that in mind, we’ve recently reviewed some of the changes that we made last year to better pitch the difficulty of homework. This blog summarises the changes and shares our key findings.

Making better decisions about whether to scaffold or interleave

Scaffolding and interleaving are proven learning strategies that have been embedded within Sparx Maths Homework from the beginning. With this change we have improved how we decide when to scaffold and when to interleave, making these decisions on a topic-by-topic basis depending on each student’s performance on that topic.

Where students need extra support, we scaffold by delivering sequences of our introduce questions. Introduce tasks are created by our Content Design Team to slowly build in difficulty, giving students the best chance at success and building their confidence.

As students become more proficient we start to deliver strengthen and then deepen questions, which explore concepts in unfamiliar ways, link to other areas of mathematics and require reasoning and problem solving. These are interleaved with other topics to get students thinking more deeply and practising method selection.

For more information about our content design see this recent blog.

More strengthen and deepen questions for high-attaining students

We want homework to hit the sweet spot for learners: not too easy and not too hard. Teachers told us that homework wasn’t pushing some high-attaining students enough and this matched what we saw from usage data: a proportion of students were finding it too easy, achieving a high success rate and not being stretched enough. So we’ve worked on changes that target this group of students and increase their exposure to strengthen and deepen questions. Two changes we have introduced are:

  • If students do well on a topic, we now move them more quickly onto strengthen and deepen questions in future homework.
  • If the student is doing really well more generally in homework and we are confident that they will be successful on a new topic, we will skip some of the introduce questions and start them straight away on harder material.

This shows how the proportion of strengthen and deepen questions changed for a typical school. After the change, there is greater differentiation between the ability groups with high-attaining students seeing much more strengthen and deepen questions. We see a small decrease for the lower-attainers, where students who have struggled on a topic in a previous homework now see sequences of introduce questions to build their confidence.

Crucially, since making the changes we have been looking for any adverse effects and were pleased to see no increase in students struggling to complete homework or taking longer than the expected time. Of course, we understand that homework completion and learning have been impacted by Covid and we’ll be continuing to monitor these changes as school life returns to normal. 

Needless to say, the data only ever tells part of the story. If you have feedback on these changes or suggestions for how we can improve homework, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch by emailing [email protected].