Homework!

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.

SiSter PhotograPher

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

Nancy Dowd

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!

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10 comments

  • As a parent I’m not a fan of homework, especially for primary school children, except possibly for learning spellings and times tables. I think children have a long day at school and not much is served by doing boring homework (which in our school are almost always worksheets) when they are tired. I am a fan of learning at home by other means, including using internet-based maths games and blogs, and perhaps this is a route for schools to pursue, providing they give children who may not have support and/or the internet at home to do the same work at school if they want to, perhaps during lunch breaks or after-school clubs. I think the challenge for schools (and possibly parents too) is to find interesting ways to encourage learning at home so that children will enjoy and want to do their homework or – if we could do away with homework competely – to encourage them to learn more about things they are interested in. I’m sure using technology has a role to play there, both my bigger school boys (neither of whom are keen on homework) will readily do something learning-related on the computer.

      

    • Anonymous

      Great to have your views Ella. I do think it is about getting children to see a purpose in it. Nowadays, a tick on a pge may not be enough motivation!

        

  • Sean McMullen

    We give a series of Homework Tasks to complete over a term, each task carries a number of points and the children have a target of 20 to achieve by the end of the term. Still have a core of ‘non-completers’ no matter how creative I make the tasks!
    I would prefer to regularly post tasks, discussions, etc on the VLE to develop a regular dialogue from home rather than homework for the sake of it!
    Sean

      

    • Anonymous

      From some of the class blogs I visit I think that is one way that blogs are being used. It is to engage parents as well as children. Great to see you here Sean!

        

  • Siobhán

    As a parent of a 6 year old, I object to vague homeworks clearly aimed at stimulating parents rather than children. However, as a teacher of History from 11-18, I truly value the opportunity to give homework as both a chance to consolidate learning outside of the lesson and a chance to develop an independent enquiry.
    I do believe that students intent on further study need schools to formalise their out of lesson learning and therefore help them to develop skills and habits necessary to be successful lifelong learmers.

      

    • Anonymous

      I so agree with your point about lifelong learning Sioban. We need to really encourage the love of learning and discovery for it’s own value rather than passing tests at a particular moment in time. Thank you for joining the discussion!

        

  • Anonymous

    If I couldn’t set HW I would not be able to differentiate my lessons very well. 40 minutes a week in ICT (practical subject) means things are always hasty/fast paced. I try to give the tools to the pupils and provide voluntary extension activities to help capture enthusiasm. It is loyal to your optional/choice ethic. But some of it is compulsory. I also want the pupils to face the technology in their own environment where they have to make it work for themselves to a certain extent.

      

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for sharing your situation Dai. It must be really hard when you are so limited with teaching time. I totally understand and applaude the focus on getting the pupils comfortable outside school. That’s what it should be all about!

        

  • Let’s not forget that they are children. Adults may work 8 hour days but most don’t then come home for another couple of hours work (teachers excluded). But if a child is spending 5-6 hours learning at school and then there is a need to do more at home for the curriculum and exams why not change the curriculum. I am sure that we could ‘teach’ them less and make them better learners.
    My god children are Y2 and Y4 and have homework every night – it’s dark when they finish in the winter so they play indoors. That feels wrong to me.

      

    • Anonymous

      Like you Mark I do worry that if the children are working hard during the day homework may actuallyput themoff the lifelong learning mentioned by Siobhan below. As you say, they are children! Many thanks for stopping by!

        

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