Homework Shmomework

11 Oct

Another school holiday and another couple of homework assignments. During this two week break my daughter (S3) has been set an essay for English and a worksheet for Computing as well as revision for a test in French to be taken the second day back after the holidays. My reaction has been the same (but with lower blood pressure) as the one I had to summer holiday homework… “Don’t do it, you are on a break”.

I’m seriously considering that this becomes my stock response to ALL homework. I’ve never seen a single benefit to homework, either as a pupil or a parent. Every week for seven years of their primary schooling, my children were assigned the exact same homework, spelling and sentences. I reckon 14 years worth of sentences is enough and have no intention of suffering a further 7 year stretch with child three. I have decided I will not tolerate such lazy, unimaginative and boring tasks taking up my time with Paul.

Secondary school has seen this problem multiply 13-fold. We have even experienced 2 teachers sharing a class both set homework at the same time. Madness!

Up until now the only reason I have taken any interest in their homework has been to keep them out of trouble with their teachers. But I’ve had enough. Holiday homework is the final straw. What benefit to my children is there in repeating work they have completed and understood in the classroom? What benefit to them is there in attempting work they have NOT understood in the classroom without the teacher there to explain it again?  If they “got” it then homework is just a boring waste of their time . If they didn’t “get” it then homework is a horribly frustrating task they have to struggle with unsupported. I have a whole bunch of “O” Grades and Highers but they didn’t endow me with any tutoring skills. I can kind of remember most of it, enough to have some stonking good debates with them, but I can’t teach it . That’s why teaching is a profession, it’s NOT something we can all do (although I would argue our stonking good debates are teaching them something!).

Any way you look at it homework, as it is currently set for my children, is useless.

So who wants homework? My children would certainly rather be doing something else, and given that the something else’s that they do are worthwhile I fully support them. Do teacher’s want it? Do parents?

homework

At the end of September we were invited to the school to meet and greet the new rector, Andy Smith. Not wishing to pass up the opportunity at having a captive audience we parents were asked to fill in an anonymous questionnaire citing three things we considered strengths of the school and three things we’d like to see improved. Before leaving we were each given 4 votes and asked to mark what we considered the most important issues from the full list we had generated.

The top 5 were…

  1. Get rid of the vans selling food at the school gates
  2. Provision of lockers for the pupils
  3. Discipline (no details unfortuntately so not sure what people were “voting” for there!)
  4. Pupil motivation and stretching the more “able” pupils
  5. Improved communication with Guidance staff

I found this list quite funny and it got funnier the further down you went. Surreal even.  Four people were concerned about the issue of “infection control” (???!).

We’d just sat through a short talk from Mr Smith in which, amongst other things, he highlighted the school’s academic achievements. They are in fact bucking the national trend with boys getting great results at Higher level that not only outperform the girls, but place the school in the top 10% in the country. And that’s including private fee paying schools. Despite knowing this, over a third of those parents still used their votes to support the view that the school isn’t pushing and motivating pupils enough! How hard exactly do they want them pushed? How hard and how far is enough? Top 5% in the country or til they break perhaps? I laughed, but really, it’s not funny.

The van ban really got my goat too. If half a sample of polled parents don’t want their children eating from the vans then I respectfully request they tell them not to eat from the vans and refrain from imposing this decision on the other half who don’t particularly care either way. If their children won’t abide by their wishes I suggest they don’t provide them with cash to spend at the vans. They can either give them a packed lunch or pay funds into their school vending card account by cheque through the office. If they do give their child money and they spend it somewhere they have forbid them to then that’s a problem they have with their child. Not me and not mine.

Homework was 8th on the list with 15% of parents selecting it as a point for improvement. Now I’m not sure what “improvement” means in this sense. Banning it would be an improvement if you ask me but I’m guessing that’s not where they were coming from. 15% isn’t a lot really, but I suspect they are a vocal minority… the first to complain if little Josh or Chloe isn’t getting the right quantity or quality of homework. I don’t get this. If they are so concerned that their child spend great swathes of time out of school learning then shouldn’t they be actively involved in this themselves? I try and I’m pretty crap at it (no patience!). They way I see it teachers have enough time to influence and guide my child’s learning while they are at school, I’ll take over in the evenings, at weekends and during holidays if that’s OK?

Parents who push for harder and more homework probably consider themselves strong supporters of their child’s learning but I think they’re just a bunch of lazy sods who are unwilling to take any personal role in their child’s learning.  As soon as they get their child enrolled in school it’s up to the teachers to teach…all the time. They’ve done their bit by the time their child is 5. I once had a rather heated argument with the Mum of a 7 year old who was practically screaming at me in response to my moaning about the nightly reading homework… “So YOU don’t think you’re children should read out of school?” (and it wasn’t only the loud music in the pub that got her yelling). Well DUH. Of course I do, it’s why I buy them books and why they have had library cards since aged 3. The difference between me and her? I’m happy to, in fact I insist on, encouraging them myself. I enjoy trawling libraries and book shops with my kids searching out material that will engage them and encourage them to want to read. She, on the other hand, is quite content to have it handed to her by the school, no matter how dire or boring the material. She didn’t get it (and not just because of the loud music, my guess).

I think parents who demand homework really have to ask themselves why. I’m sure there are some who lack the confidence to complement school education with their own input, which is a shame if it results in them demanding the school do more rather than asking the school what more they could be doing themselves. I’m equally sure there are some parents who just don’t want to get so personally involved in their child’s education, who are quite happy to have homework that keeps them out of trouble and out of their hair.  I am under no illusion that there are parents and children who just don’t give a damn and see no value in school work of any kind. I’m not sure homework is the great leveller in those situations either and presumably generates more chasing of homework, punishment exercises, chasing of punishment exercises and detention than it’s worth.  Unsupported kids who are keen to learn will do homework… the repetitious boredom of work they understand and the struggle with work they don’t understand applies to children in supportive and non-supportive homes alike.

That’s not to say that all homework lacks value. It’s just that the homework my children are given clearly does. I can think of two types of out of school work I don’t have too many issues with. Firstly finishing off. Sadly the timetabling at their school doesn’t feature such a thing as a double-period. Remember them? A whole 80 minutes to play a decently long game of hockey, or write a decently long creative piece, or see the paint almost dry on a piece of art. No lesson my children attend is longer than 55 minutes. They can’t even cook anything bigger than a fairy cake in that time, let alone jump on a bus to the pool, change, swim, dry, change and get back in time for the next lesson. It’s nonsense.  Cooking, art, PE, English and sciences all warranted double-periods when I was at school, which meant way less taking home and finishing of work. I don’t have a huge issue with this type of homework simply because the teachers have no choice.

The other type of homework I could live with is home preparation. Rather than having them repeat stuff they’ve already done in school why not have them preparing ahead of a lesson? Even if it’s just reading a passage or a chapter of a text book they will arrive in the class either well prepared having understood the task or in need of help and (this is the good bit) in the classroom with a teacher there to help. It sure takes the pressure of failing to grasp homework if the point of it isn’t to get a mark for it. Who knows, they might even delve a bit further, they might even ask their parents. How refreshing would it be to have homework where a parent couldn’t simply say “show me the question” and tell them the answer. How much more would a teacher learn about their pupils if they arrived in their class with questions rather than leaving their class with questions.

Just some long rambling thoughts.

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19 Responses to “Homework Shmomework”

  1. Mr W October 11, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

    Just as a starting point, our daughter Kathryn would rather spend an extra hour in school than have homework to do… I tend to agree with her.

  2. Bobkat October 11, 2009 at 5:29 pm #

    Well on the subject of homework I would far prefer to spend an extra hour in school than have to do homework. I hate how when I finally get off the school bus and get home I have to start doing homework. All work and no play means all my friends will go away – since I dont have time to talk to them thanks to all my homework. In short I find homework is a waste of what short time I have to be a teenager. Instead of being with my friends and enjoying hobbies I am stuck at a desk watching my brain drip out my ears 😦

  3. dave t October 11, 2009 at 5:39 pm #

    I rarely set homework – if I do it is to back up or reinforce what we’re doing NOW not just filling in a hole in the kids’ free time. I do things such as ongoing research projects or folio redrafting for those kids who regularly fail to bring their pieces in on time. We use wikis and wallwisher to add comments to essays etc.

    I think there was a school who renamed it ‘home study’ and gave parents a list of things that their kids would benefit from knowing in addition to what they were getting at school. Might do some investigation on that actually…good piece as always Mrs W!

  4. Dorothy Coe October 11, 2009 at 5:57 pm #

    Your post echoes my own thoughts exactly. My own children, now joyously past the homework stage were usually far too busy with their own much more valuable projects to devote more than the minimum attention to the write-these-ten-words-in-sentences type of homework.

    I try to give the pupils in my class more imaginative home learning tasks of the sort I can’t easily do in school for example this term, we’ve been studying Egyptians and I asked parents to make Egyptian flatbread, with the children, talking about measuring, healthy eating, the properties of yeast, as well as the culture it might have come from. Out of a class of 25, how many have done it? 3. However, at parents night the other night, I had parents whose children have reading ages 3 years – 3 YEARS – above their chronological age asking me for more school reading homework. Sigh. Seriously, how do you get through to them?
    Dorothy

  5. Littlemummy October 11, 2009 at 6:52 pm #

    I agree, is it a lack of imagination on the teacher’s part, or are they just told what to do from higher up?

  6. mrsw October 11, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    @Bobkat Clean your desk up and get and do your homework! (just kidding)

    @dave t Project is a definite swear word in this house having spent two months in the space of two years forcing successive 7 year olds to go look at the moon every night – in October – when it’s CLOUDY.

    @Dorothy That’s so messed up! My kids are pretty high achievers and I remember in P2 asking for my son to be put DOWN a reading group so I could concentrate on finding him something he enjoyed reading rather than forcing him to work bloody hard (with associated tears) reading terrible material just to stay in the “top” group. I’m absolutely certain this had a positive effect on his relationship with reading. So in your class I’d be the Mum who didn’t bake the bread AND asked you to lay off the reading lol! (oh dear!)

  7. mrsw October 11, 2009 at 6:58 pm #

    @Little Mummy I think they are driven my parental demand for it. There’s far too much of the “well it never did ME any harm” attitude, as if how we learned at school is still relevant today (it’s most definitely not!)

  8. Mwa October 11, 2009 at 7:44 pm #

    I’m not too enthusiastic about the homework my son gets just now, in primary one. He doesn’t seem to need it.

    When I was teaching, I used to give homework when I thought it was necessary or added something to the learning tract. There was no way I could do everything in the learning plan in class, so I had to let the pupils practise some things at home. If we only did exercises in class, the pupils would not have reached the required level by the end of the year.

    I (like you) also get annoyed at parents who don’t value learning outside school. We’re always reading and discussing things – it’s just part of life and we love it.

    (Oh, and it’s nice to “meet” you, too, even if you don’t agree with me on Bono. 😉 )

  9. IaninSheffield October 11, 2009 at 7:50 pm #

    Having no young uns to drag screaming and kicking to their homework every night (and during the hols.!), I guess I’m not best placed to comment on your woes . . . but I do have some sympathy. I suspect much homework is set with less thought than it deserves – schools generally have a homework policy allied with which is a homework timetable, so something has to be set when the timetable says, whether it’s appropriate or not.

    I’d agree with you on the ‘prep’ homework – there’s potential here for a wide variety of meaningful tasks. But I can’t agree on the ‘finishing-off’ tasks, on two grounds at least. If it was a common feature of lessons to set finishing-off tasks for homework, then students would do all in their power to ensure things were completed before the end of the class. Not a bad thing on the face of it, but might their learning be affected in all that rush? And what of those students who flog their guts out every lesson, but are less academically capable? How fair is it for them to be faced with a mountain of work to take home, simply because they need that bit more time to achieve understanding in lessons?

    I think we also have to recognise that there are students for whom the strictures of the classroom might not provide the best conditions for their learning. They might prefer to learn in the evenings or the early morning (OK, now I can hear you thinking this guy definitely has no kids!) or just with their friends or with music playing . . . or whatever. Maybe, just maybe, quality home-work could be more valuable than some of the 55 minute segments they’re forced to endure in school? Maybe it’s the school environment or timetable that’s the problem, not the homework? Just a thought.

  10. Doogie October 11, 2009 at 7:55 pm #

    I heard a while ago about a prep school in Edinburgh who had banned homework. Good on them.

    Way back when I was at the sharp end of teaching I was given an S3 class from hell. People used to queue up at the door to gasp and say “who put all that lot in the same room at one time?” Anyway I ended up getting into trouble for not setting them enough homework. To be honest I didn’t set any homework – they did hee haw in class, why would I expect them to do any at home? “You are not following the school homework policy” I was told. All it resulted in was pile of extra referrals for failure to do homework for the AHT to deal with. I found that quite amusing.

    My P3 daughter gets a shed load of homework however her teacher tells me it is more for the parents than the pupils. Apparently what she means is that it’s to inform us of the type of stuff they are doing in class – don’t worry if they don’t do it all or miss a night. So why bother? She could put a note in the bag to tell us what they have done and I’ll happily get on with doing other interesting stuff with the girls.

    An extra hour is an interesting idea. I can hear the unions warming their ire at the very thought. Do secondary schools still do supported study?

  11. Dorothy Coe October 11, 2009 at 8:20 pm #

    Ha! Wish you were a parent in my school! Fancy a move to the Borders?
    Dorothy

  12. Potty Mummy October 11, 2009 at 8:36 pm #

    Great post. We’re already dealing with homework in Year 1 here. It’s fairly minimal in comparison with some of the hot-house schools around London, but still, it features most days. My main problem with it though is the fact that already – ALREADY – my son is being set maths exercises I don’t understand. What the hell’s going on with that?

  13. mrsw October 11, 2009 at 9:19 pm #

    @Mwa And that’s exactly the problem with targets 🙂

    @IanInSheffield Good points. Ultimately I’d rather see the timetable jiggled or made more flexible to negate the need to take work home – a 55 minute chunk just doesn’t always work. And I tend to agree about about daily learning zones… I’m sure mine would love to start and end their school day later than they do now. The worst thing that ever had happen to my daughter was when she was kept in at lunchtime and breaktime to finish work – in primary FOUR. I only found out this was happening when I was left standing at the school gates for 25 minutes waiting for her to come out for a home lunch – needless to say I took her back to school 25 minutes late and complained (I’m good at that bit).

    @Doogie There is voluntary supported study going on at the school so I guess yes, if teachers are willing to give freely of their time. I personally think an extra hour every night is probably a bit much. Edinburgh schools add on an extra 30 minutes Mon-Thu and finish at lunchtime on Fridays. I assume the children don’t all go home or wander the streets of our capital every Friday afternoon… maybe they do? Maybe this is the time for extra curricular activities and study groups? MrW told me about a school in Norway where they assign a whole day to a subject and are really free and easy about the kids taking breaks and lunch and stuff. Sounds like heaven! (he’s just told me it’s Stovner Upper Secondary).

  14. chris October 11, 2009 at 11:22 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more. But I think many teachers feel coerced by the system – just as I think teachers who (still) take home piles of scabby jotters to “mark” feel they’re not real teachers if they don’t. Homework is only sensible when both pupil and teacher see it as the natural extension of what they’ve been doing in school – when the pupil wants to build on something and have the peace to think about it and the time to sit with it, or when they are so enthused by what they’re doing that they can’t stay away from it. (I once had a Higher student who neglected his maths homework because he became obsessed with Graham Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter”, which he was studying for his RPR. His copy of the book was stuffed with postit notes, all with ideas he’d come up with and would be dying to discuss the next time we met. He did awfully well – tho’ I don’t know what happened with his Maths!)

  15. dave t October 11, 2009 at 11:57 pm #

    Dear Mrs W: We see the Moon and stars up here in the Far North quite regularly but I wouldn’t set them for homework! our latest S2 ‘project’ is to watch ‘where thehellismatt’ the dancing video star on youtube as a precursor to our Travel Writing Unit. One of my kids has found the lyrics in Bengali and English for the theme songs, and we also sorted an mp3 of the music which has started a lively discussion about the lyrics (stream of life etc) we are currently plotting our way around the world and having lots of good stuff being produced as a result. I even forked out $30 for his book which he kindly signed and the kids love reading (after I’d deleted the f-word though!) we’re thus mixing geog, history, maths, English, creative writing, information non fiction and music in our homework. Much better than filling in a worksheet on a poem (although I do have some of those for in class emergencies) 😎 Tell Mr W I’ll see him in Glasgow on Tuesday!

  16. tattooed_mummy May 18, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    (quote) “If they “got” it then homework is just a boring waste of their time . If they didn’t “get” it then homework is a horribly frustrating task they have to struggle with unsupported.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    that sums up everything I think about homework. When I rule the world all home work will be optional and will start ‘try to experience…………..’

    Great post!

  17. Chris May 18, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more! Very well put! I was more succinct with mine (largely because at this stage in my blogging career I’m not hugely confident people will read a long one!) but I absolutely agree with everything here! I would love a total ban on homework, I am fed up of it stealing my kids’ time, and mine!

  18. Michelle Twin Mum October 9, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Wow, what a lot ot read and take in. I suppose I am only really just starting on this homework journey but I am certainly with you on the fact that if they are set it, it needs to be worthwhile and stretching. Actually teaching them something, rather than reguritation.

    No idea what the answer is! Will keep pondering on this,

    Thanks for the persepctive. Mich x

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  1. Tweets that mention clinically fed up » Homework Shmomework -- Topsy.com - October 11, 2009

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kevin mc lauglin. kevin mc lauglin said: RT @nwinton: Mrs W doesn't think much of homework. Nor do the kids. http://bit.ly/KpFuX Fantastic read and I'm in complete agreement […]

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