This must be one of the most contentious subjects between schools, parents & children. I can remember when I was approaching the end of my own primary education that one of the things that made secondary school so different was that you would get homework EVERY NIGHT and not only in preparation for the Eleven Plus!
As a teacher, I was part of the great debate that took place in my school on a regular cycle – usually about every 3-4 years. As a head teacher, I had the subject mentioned even more regularly by Governors and those parents considered to be keen. There was then the discussion with staff about how they felt about it and on occasions by the children when we asked them their views. This last category of ‘stakeholder’ was only asked in the latter years of my career. After all, what did children know about the benefits of homework? Better not to ask them in case they choose not to do it!
That last comment is quite a pertinent one. In an article called ‘Homework? More like NOwork!’ John Pearson talks about those children who just do not get homework completed. No matter what threats are used there is always a group who will not complete any sort of tasks. In some cases, parents have been enlisted to help with no effect.
If this topic causes such angst, should we not think carefully about the benefit of the whole exercise? Why is homework set? What are the benefits of extending children working at home? You’ll notice that I said working rather than learning. Obviously they will be learning at home – how to do a variety of tasks around the house as well as watching TV, playing on the internet, out socially with their friends and many others.
My reason for putting ‘work’ was really to stress the fine line that exists with homework and school learning. A day at school is tiring. Children are on the go the whole time whether it is thinking or in physical activity. Certainly for primary children, the holidays provide a welcome break from the focused daily routine. Staff spend a great deal of time creating learning environments to aid thinking and interacting. Do these same environments exist at home? That is not to say they may not be stimulating and creative but they will be different.
So, to continue work at home will require the ability to change that mind set of ‘this is home where I sleep, eat and play’ to one of ‘this is where I do my school work’. Now I’m not saying it is not possible. Of course thousands of children go through the exercise every week day and complete the work but for what purpose? Is it because they just ran out of time in school? If it is so vital that it is finished, maybe it should be given some time the next day rather than relying on all the class getting it finished in the same circumstances.
Of course, teachers will say that there is no time for ‘finishing off’ the next day. The curriculum is already squashed into a packed timetable with very little time for slippage. Which brings us to what happens to homework that is completed? Obviously it is marked (not always I can hear some shout!) but that can be a wasted exercise too. Some homework may just get a tick or a cross. I suggest that both the pupil and the teacher would have had a good idea of the level of understanding without having to do additional work at home.
If the homework needs more than a clerical mark, it needs an understanding from the pupil of what the comments mean and what their next steps should be. This for me is leaving a great deal to chance, with the possibility of a lot of time being wasted on both sides. Far better to have some time for pupil and teacher to talk about the work and then we are back to that word ‘time’. The setting and marking of homework takes a surprising number of hours of teachers time over a year. I know it is mostly done
with a willing heart but I’m still not sure if that time would not be better served on other activities.
Class blogs have given the opportunity of a different form of homework. I have commented on posts entitled ‘My Homework’ but I’m not always sure what the task was. Perhaps the mere fact that it has been done, posted and shared with the world means that it was valuable at least to the writer. The recent ‘100 Word Challenge’ has been given as a piece of work to be done at home if the pupil wants to. The response has been great and that leads me to think that it is the choice that makes the difference.
So, should homework be a regular occurrence? Who is it really aimed at – parents? Do they feel that their child is making progress if they are doing work at home or is a way to share in that learning? Leave me your views so we can talk about it!Click photographs for details of origin