Transform Distance Learning Homework With These 5 Smart Ideas

Focus on Teaching Edthena tips for teachers and coaches about professional development and professional learning

  • After returning to schools, teachers wonder if distance learning homework assignments offer student benefits.

  • Homework tasks may need to be lightened or modified to be more meaningful for distance learning students.

  • Virtual learning requires increased screen time for students while resulting in homework bans or limited homework policies in some schools.

 In her article on Edutopia titled, 5 Keys to Successful Homework Assignments During Remote Learning, Crystal Frommert discusses her experience as a middle school instructional coach. Daily, she collaborates with teachers who are engaging with students in both face-to-face and virtual settings.  

Teachers stress concern about the effectiveness of distance learning homework. Perhaps, rightfully so. With the variables in distance learning such as student home environments and the supplies they have access to, it can be difficult for teachers to choose assignments to support all learners in individual settings. But after hours of virtual learning, is assigning more screen time the answer?

As a result of virtual classrooms, some schools have adopted no-homework policies. Teachers that can assign homework are hesitant with the plethora of responsibilities they have this school year. With these two factors alone, teachers have found it hard to find a meaningful solution to meet students’ needs. 

Although factors such as distance learning, teacher responsibilities, and student home situations can be challenging, assigning useful homework is possible. Crystal provides some methods that can help. 


distance learning homework assignment

Assign structured reading time to replace in-class reading

Assigning students to read a book of their choice, assigned novel, or to listen to an audiobook is a great way to get a break from the screen. In a technology-driven world, this is typically a welcomed activity in most homes. The homework assignment can be further incorporated into virtual learning by holding class discussions or submitting written journal entries to help hold students accountable.  

Distill the assignment down into the crucial questions

Rather than assigning 30 questions for homework, Crystal suggests choosing five to ten rich, multiple-step items that allow students to showcase their mastery of a particular skill. Practice and application are necessary, but do students need to prove the same skill repeatedly in one sitting? Alternatively, letting students choose five out of ten questions to complete will also help promote student choice within their virtual space. 

Feed students’ ego by personalizing homework to be about themselves

Adults and children alike tend to gravitate toward things they can relate to. Which, in the case of homework, stands true. If students are able to personalize assignments to align with their lives and interests, they may be more motivated to complete it.

Crystal provides an example of a distance learning homework task of having her students compare the main character of an assigned reading with themselves in a Venn diagram. This ultimately will keep the context of the assignment personal. 

Find new ways to engage family in homework

Crystal warns educators to be familiar with students’ home situations before implementing this option. It is essential to avoid putting students at a disadvantage. If you can proceed with this method of involving the family in an assignment, it is helpful that the teacher makes the family aware before assigning the task. And don’t forget to give plenty of time to complete the assignment—parents and guardians are busy, too!.

Examples of involving family could be students asking family members to answer a riddle and recording the answers they hear. Another fun way to implement this could be adjusting a family recipe for fewer or more servings. 

Create short videos to spark student discussion

Although students may be tired of watching instructional videos, Crystal suggests assigning short, engaging videos for distance learning homework can help lay the foundation for the next day’s class discussion. Following the video with a short survey asking students to reflect on or record questions they may have can also be helpful. It is good to save this flipped-learning homework method for special assignments to help keep it unique and fun. 

Crystal also addresses grading these homework assignments. With older students, teaching them how to comment on a classmate’s assignment constructively can alleviate much of the burden on the teacher while encouraging peer discussion. Students can share their work with a partner via Google Docs. The teacher should continuously monitor this type of interaction. 

Distance learning stressors have forced educators to re-evaluate homework and assign it sparingly. Be sure to identify what the student will gain from the work to determine whether it is worth their time. Is it creating more home stress or genuinely supporting the learner? If educators can reimagine homework to support students in their virtual learning environments, distance learning homework has the potential to have meaningful impacts on students. 

Like what you’re reading? Check out a recent article in this series about building positive relationships with students in virtual classrooms.

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