Can we use homework as a force for good?
The research surrounding whether homework is beneficial and actually improves attainment is not clear cut. A whole host of factors interact with each other and the picture isn’t clear.
In a recent article published by the Huffington Post, author Michele Kambolis outlines different ways of approaching homework, not just in terms of its completion but also how it sits within the whole framework of education and home life.
As teachers, however, we have unique insight into the homework conundrum – we set it, we mark it, we deal with the fallout from parents or pupils when it isn’t completed.
Not setting homework
I am guilty, as a teacher, of not setting homework frequently enough (according to the school policy), Sometimes…
- it’s just not appropriate and doesn’t fit with where we are in the sequence of lessons
- I don’t have the energy to chase up work not handed in
- there are so many extra-curricular activities going on that pupils will not be able to complete it in the set time
- I still haven’t managed to find the time to mark the two previous pieces of work, and to set another would just add to my already excessive workload, so I decide to give myself a break.
Homework does have its place but we don’t need to set it every week.
The article by Kambolis outlines how to address work that had already been set and ways to avoid or diffuse stress and resentment.
When does homework work?
However, before reaching the stages of anger and hatred, it would be interesting to examine the alternative benefits. What could it do for our learners if we modified it?
1. Prioritising their time
Homework gives a unique opportunity for learners to develop the skills of working to a deadline and effective time management. It should therefore be set with reasonable deadlines and be manageable in the time set.
2. Stimulating discussions at home
Homework doesn’t have to be an isolated activity. Yes, parents should refrain from making the corrections themselves especially without the children knowing – I’ve seen that happen! But why shouldn’t a child share their work with their family and receive feedback?
Perhaps a session at the start of each year to help support parents with homework would also be beneficial. Parents need to know that it is OK for their child’s work to contain mistakes – it’s how they learn, through feedback from the highly trained professionals who deliver their school-based education.
3. Project-based and cross-curricular homework
When learners engage in a project (especially with their peers) they develop a whole range of new skills.
The first attempt will definitely need some hefty support. However, over time learners will develop the necessary interpersonal, technological and time management skills to produce excellent pieces of work.
4. Consolidation or revision techniques
Setting revision as homework gives learners the time to consolidate the work they have covered in class and to practice different revision techniques.
Focusing on small chunks of information ensures that content is reviewed regularly.
5. Flipped learning
Using videos prior to class is very beneficial as it allows pupils to access material at their own speed. By using questions to accompany the video, you can ensure the pupils are accessing and recording the relevant information. This can then be peer assessed in class as a starter and then used in an enquiry-based setting to allow them to apply their knowledge.
Flipped learning allows learners to be flexible in their work. They can access the videos at any time especially if they are linked to a school learning platform or by using QR codes. They can use them as revision resources later in the year.
6. General school homework
Homework doesn’t have to be set by subjects. Maybe once a week the homework focuses on something that is relevant across the whole school. For example, focus on the environment and pick up litter, promote active lifestyles by completing some form of physical activity or set a mindfulness activity for a guided meditation.
Why not consider using “Get out of homework” passes as an initiative to promote self-regulation?
Parents have now become a driving force in homework completion. A colleague recently received an email from a parent who supported their child’s non-completion of a piece of homework. Why? The reason given was because she was concentrating on “more important” subjects.
The misunderstanding of the purpose of homework is something schools are increasingly having to deal with.
Homework can promote excellent collaboration between departments and can actually reduce teacher workload. It also allows pupils to develop skills that would stand them in good stead to become life-long learners.