Homework and Practice

Learning a new language as well as new information requires practice. English learners will probably not learn a new skill with just one exposure. It takes time and repeated exposure for new learning to occur.  According to Annie Murphy Paul, there are a number of “Mind, Brain and Education methods” we can use to give students quality homework for practice. She suggests a few techniques that researchers have found to impact learning in a positive way.

One idea is called spaced repetition in which learners encounter the same information in shorter sessions spaced out over a longer time period. Students are exposed and re-exposed to new learning over the course of a semester rather than in a one-week period. Research supports that we remember information more permanently when we are exposed to it repeatedly over time.

Another technique is called retrieval practice. This is the concept of calling up information in our brain like we do when we study for a test. It is very different than just passively reading over information. Research supports that if students quiz themselves over new information, they will actually remember it more than if they just read over their notes.

Another concept, referred to as cognitive disfluency, promotes new learning. “When we work hard to understand information, we recall it better; the extra effort signals the brain that this knowledge is worth keeping”(Murphy, p.3). One way to create some difficulty for students is to use interleaving. This is when teachers might mix up different types of problems rather than grouping them by similarity. Students can’t assume the problems will be the same so their brains have to work harder to figure out the solutions. One study found that students who had to figure out the mixed up problems scored more than double those students who had practiced one type of problem at a time. English learners definitely need practice and these are just some suggestions to help make sure we provide quality not just quantity.


Murphy Paul, A. (2011, September 10). The trouble with homework. New York Times, pp. 1-4.

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