Thoughts on Homework

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking quite a lot about homework – not mine (that’s always there), but students’! There are many fascinating things for an educator to think about homework.

First off, there are simple, literal kinds of questions that many think about, different opinions exist and the ‘accepted view’ tends to fluctuate backwards and forwards like a metronome – what is the appropriate amount of homework for a child?

Well, if you check out this article from the US, the answer appears to be that there’s a backlash happening in the premier schools in the US against what is perceived to be excessive, excruciating volumes of homework.

New York Times Article – Homework

However, there are some even deeper questions that educators can ask about homework that, I believe are far more significant and may in time take us to new places in terms of enhancing the education process and its ability to facilitate learning.

The first is to consider deeply a simple question that a child might ask in respect of an individual piece of homework set – “Why do I have to do this?”

There’s no question in my mind that if the issue of student motivation is neglected it has a fundamental effect on how a child approaches homework. There is an innate factor in human self-respect and dignity that rebels from the idea of being asked/ made to do something that appears worthless, or at least where the purpose has not been made overtly transparent to the learner. However, I wonder how often educators do that – stop and make transparently clear to learners WHY they are being asked to do a particular piece of work as homework. In the work of Prof Robert Marzano who writes for ASCD in the US there is clear documented evidence that if students receive direct, open communication about the purpose of homework this leads to positive learning gains. The key underlying this is – there had better be a purpose to explain or the teacher should be thinking twice about whether to set it – certainly there can never be justification for homework as simple ‘busy work’ or ‘to keep them off the streets’. It should have a purpose and that purpose should be overtly linked directly to their learning. Many years ago the American educator, John Taylor Gatto was questioning the true, real value of so much of the homework that was being set in classrooms across America (and our own scenario isn’t any different).

The final deep introspective thought I want to pose regarding homework is based upon some of the experiences coming out of the US during the last few months and concerns what has come to be known as ‘the flipped model’. What if, at least in some subjects, we flipped the existing model and approach. Instead, children would learn new topics, at home, on the internet from a combination of publicly available materials (such as www.khanacademy.com ) and school and teacher designed and pre-prepared materials, observing the material as often as was necessary for them individually. Then, classroom time would be dedicated to practicing and applying the learning, testing understanding and clarifying when necessary. For one thing, I can see this model making far better use of the skills and knowledge a teacher has to offer, far less stress and a far greater likelihood of students making key knowledge truly their own.

Homework promises to be a key area of innovation and new opportunities for learners in the months ahead.

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2 Responses

  1. Dont buy it.

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