The dreaded “h” word

Few other words put more dread in the hearts of students and parents alike, as the one that means more work for students after hours. Homework.

But, in some ways, it’s a necessary evil.

To start with, though, you’ll get a lot more engagement from students if you give homework a different name. And it only needs a very small bit of tweaking from the traditional title.

If you call it home learning, it removes the idea that it’s going to be hard. (And this is the selfsame reason I refer to worksheets as activity sheets too.)

The new title shifts the focus to where it should be- onto student learning. And home learning is as much about process as it is about product.

That is to say that the learning of good study habits- including having a space in the house where kids can go to to do some reading and writing for school, as well as the time they dedicate towards revising concepts they’ve encountered in the classroom- is equally as important as the actual content of the homework that is given.

Homework also gives parents a small glimpse into the classroom.

When caregivers can’t get into the classroom themselves; whether because they work full time or because there’s a global pandemic, few other avenues provide a brief look at what is being taught and learned in their child’s classroom.

But… teachers must be careful to put a limit on what they expect students to complete for homework, as well as to clearly give a priority order to the tasks that are assigned.

Nobody wants children to turn off learning because it’s no longer fun and engaging. Homework can be very dangerous in this regard. If students view homework as onerous and time-consuming and unachievable, then it’s doing more harm than good.

Homework should be regular (that is, a little bit each might rather than one big chunk one night a week), and it should be merely an extension and consolidation of what’s been taught at school.

If kids need significant parent support to get their homework done each week (ie more than encouragement and a brief explanation of the task) this should be reported to the classroom teacher.

If families simply cannot do anything more than to read to and with their children each night, because of sport and after school care and family time and life, a good teacher will fully understand and support that.

Early on in my career I made the mistake of punishing students who did not complete their weekly homework. On Friday afternoons, the class would be invited to join in on some much-deserved free time. But those kids who hadn’t done their homework used this time to do it instead.

I told myself that this was an effective way of motivating students to make sure they handed in their homework books each week. But really, I was removing the spontaneous and creative social interactions that come about through unstructured play from the kids who needed them most.

And why was it always the same kids who missed out on free time and had to do their homework with me each and every week?

Because they were the ones whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them the stationery they needed to record their answers in their workbooks, or who were too time poor to sit down with their child to explain what to do and where and how.

Effectively, I was widening the gap between the haves and the have nots.

As you can imagine, I don’t do that any more. I still set home learning, but beyond daily reading, everything else is optional.

Because the last thing I want is to provoke World War III in every dining room and bedroom of the families I work with just so that I can tick a box somewhere that says “homework”.


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