Saturday 3 January 2015

Homework: What's the point?

Having read some comments and discussion around the piece in The Telegraph quoting Tom Bennet's article about most homework being pointless, I thought I would write about my thoughts on the subject.

When I was an NQT our school had an OFSTED inspection. Some parents duly filled in the parent questionnaire. One thing many of them asked for apparently was more homework. In response to this,  my very experienced year group partner promptly printed off masses of homework sheets to send home the following week. This pile of work would have taken most adults a week to complete never mind 8 year olds! Did it have any positive impact on the children's learning? No, not one jot. Parents also began to complain that their children were getting too much homework!

Therein lies the crux of the matter. Homework is in many ways a no-win situation. Set too much and parents, teachers, children buckle under the strain. Set too little and parents, OFSTED think you aren't doing your job properly. So what to do?

I recently read Harry Webb 's (@webofsubstance) blog post about preparing the children we teach for the future. He argues, quite correctly in my opinion, that we should teach that children "that which endures" rather than trying to second guess the knowledge that children may need in the distant future. I think this approach could be applied to homework. In primary this could be just asking the children to work on reading, spelling and times tables when at home. These are key skills that are the foundations for learning. This is the approach taken at the school of Angela Bell (@bell111_a) as she was determined to look for a way to reduce teacher workload without having a negative effect on learning.

Then I started to consider something that Rob Smith (@redgierob) of Literacy Shed fame said about homework. He suggested that any activities that get children and parents discussing learning in some way must be beneficial. I have to agree with this. The problem comes when 'project' homework becomes a competition between the parents.  One way round this is maybe not to mark the project homework but instead give children equal credit for handing it in. Another alternative, which is used at my wife's school is to give the children a range of suggested activities that they can choose from. Therefore, cutting out the competition over one project.

The danger with setting times tables and spellings for homework is that teachers will rely on this as the children's main method of learning these things. For it to be effective, the homework needs to be practise of skills taught in class. After all, it is our job as teachers to teach this stuff. That is what we are paid for.

In conclusion, I don't think there is an easy answer to the homework conundrum. Avoiding pointless tasks is certainly a must. Also avoiding making homework an onerous task for parents, teachers and most importantly, children is also a must.

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