Tuesday 15 May 2012

The Great Homework Debate: How Much is TOO Much?

Well, I think we can all agree that going home from school to do nothing more than just lie on the couch and eat chips is a Bad Thing, and not just for teachers. Students, especially, have a lot of learning to fit into their lives. But how much of that learning should take the form of homework from school?

Personally, I LOVED homework. How I loved a clean page, the crisp white, the razor thin slices of horizontal blue, the delicious stern, and yet, flamboyant, red margin line.  I loved my pencil case, my sharpened pencils, my felt pens!  I loved my desk, my study lamp (yes, anglepoise). I loved illustrating my homework and ruling straight lines, I loved looking things up, and I loved getting my homework back with a star, or a stamp! And it got me out of doing the dishes.

I loved homework UNTIL… I became the parent of a primary school aged child. That was twenty two years ago. I still have a child at primary school (not the same child) and over twenty two years and four children my relationship with homework has had its ups and downs.

Sometimes, homework seemed to be more of a compliance thing than any learning experience;  badly photocopied (and shrunk almost to illegibility to save photocopy paper) homework sheets with, God forbid, spelling mistakes and other errors! But there was Trouble if it wasn’t completed! This type of homework experience doesn’t strengthen the bond between home and school, or between the student and learning. Or parent and child for that matter…

Reading through the feedback of last term’s Home Learning review, my extensive experience of homework enabled me to empathise with almost every view expressed.

When homework is good, it’s a great opportunity for parents to know what topics are current at school and to gauge their  child’s interest and understanding. It can be an opportunity for some very positive time  together, reading and talking, praising your child’s efforts. It can boost a child’s time management, independent learning and research skills.

At worst, it’s a struggle to do, hard to understand what is required, there’s too much of it, and it doesn’t seem relevant.

The homework that has worked  best for my family is the flexible sort:

  • It acknowledges that other “home learning” the child is involved in is learning, and cuts down on time available for completing school set home learning. Many children are involved personally in sports, dance, scouts, karate, cooking, looking after animals, music lessons, etc, and/or the process of dropping off/picking up/watching their siblings at these activities.
  • It allows the child to approach homework tasks in the way that interests them. For example, a unit on the Olympic Games might involve writing a story about winning an event, or pretending to be a reporter, or building a scale replica of the main stadium out of matchsticks, or personally going for a run or trying discus, or drawing a picture, designing a stadium, inventing a mascot, producing a business plan, inventing a new event, calculating the trajectory and velocity of a shotput, writing the music and/or lyrics for the Olympic song, singing or playing such a song, choreographing an opening display involving 6000 schoolchildren and 2000 small white dogs, calculating how many buses will be required to transport that many schoolchildren and dogs if one bus can hold 40 children and ten dogs and travels at an average speed of 30 kilometres per hour and, oh dear I’m getting silly.

What homework has worked well for you, as a parent, as a family, as a teacher, as a school?
How much IS too much?

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