Homework – a necessary evil or something we can live without?

This month, regular Education Today contributor GRAHAM COOPER, head of education at Capita SIMS, looks at the often divisive issue of homework.

There has been a lot of debate recently around the subject of homework, with various commentators and high-profile individuals weighing into the conversation, particularly via Twitter. The main focus was on the stress it can cause pupils and their families

(especially those that spend their weekends making models of volcanoes or red blood cells!), in addition to the overall merit of the tasks being set and how much they benefit pupils in the long run. Despite the best efforts of teachers to devise creative and challenging

tasks, finding ways to engage pupils in homework can be a never-ending battle – and as both a parent and a teacher, I have extensive experience from all corners of this particular battlefield. One of the main reasons that homework continues to have a crucial place

in our schools is the increasing pressure on classroom time and the need to cover off all the required curriculum areas ahead of assessments or exams. And without there being a major shift in the way the school day is organised, this element of homework’s necessity is likely to remain. Beyond this, though, there are plenty of additional benefits for pupils that

confirm the value of homework tasks. Working to tight deadlines and under pressure are key skills. Homework tasks also provide a great opportunity for children to develop their ability to work without supervision. And with our increasingly digital world – led by the influence of social

media – squeezing out reading more and more, homework that supplements classroom-based studies by requiring additional reading is essential. This also applies to reading for pleasure, even if only for a short period of time each day. Despite the potential benefits and necessities, there are an increasing

number of schools that are experimenting with scrapping homework all together. While this may be a popular move with many pupils and some parents, only time will tell as to whether this will actually benefit those involved. While those families may discover that they have more time available for

spending time together and enjoying shared experiences, can there be any guarantees that the additional time will be used for anything beyond the normal routines of daily life – the elusive ‘quality time’? One approach is replacing homework with less academic, more fun-

focussed activities that still encourage learning and overcoming challenges, such as online games with their friends where their performance is not measured against standards or benchmarks. One thing that can be predicted is that the debate over the merits of

homework will probably continue in perpetuity – and love it or hate it, it’s unlikely to disappear completely any time soon. However, schools need to continue finding ways to stretch pupils with

challenging and engaging tasks. From my experience, schools that recognise the importance of finding the right balance between home and school life stand to reap the greatest benefits. Encouraging children to engage with schoolwork in their own time allows them to find the ways that work best for them, during both their academic and employment careers. We at Capita SIMS know that most schools will probably always want to

set homework, and today’s technology should support the management of the homework process, and the communication between school, student and parent better than it does today. We’ll have some news on that soon – but I’ll save that for another column!


Making homework creative and meaningful!

This month, regular Education Today contributor KIRSTY BERTENSHAWcontinues the theme of homework, offering advice on giving it meaning and creativity.

Not all parents or teachers agree that homework should be set, and it isn’t a statutory requirement, but most schools do have a homework policy. So how can homework be made fun but meaningful? Instead of pages of repetitive and boring tasks, can pupils be motivated by their homework? First, homework needs a specific and clear purpose – don’t set

creative homework for the sake of doing it. Also, consider the impact on parents. If it is a creative modelling homework, pupils or parents will need plenty of time to acquire the materials needed. Can the task be cross curricular? Consider if you can link the

homework across multiple subject area. For example, combine English and History by writing sonnets, haikus, or persuasive articles on a historical event.

• Model/creative representations One of the most creative homeworks I have seen involved a bake-off competition for history! A personal favourite is modelling an animal or plant cell. Pupils need clear guidelines on what they need to represent in the model. The models can then be marked or graded to establish the pupils’ understanding.

• Create a book for the library Writing newspaper articles or short stories are common homework tasks. But without an audience, there isn’t much incentive for pupils to put much thought into the task. Create incentive by assembling the finished stories and printing them as a short book in the library, or make them accessible on the school website. Pupils can then create something to be proud of and show their parents or carers.

• Real life uses of maths or science Research can be excellent homework. Researching famous mathematicians or scientists to find out how they made their discoveries is one option. Or, if you are always being asked why pupils need to know how to do fractions, they can find out!

• Summarise an article Communication skills are important in all subjects. Often comprehension is used as a learning tool with questions given after a short passage. Instead, pupils could be given a recent article relevant to their subject and produce a summary of the information given.

• Online revision quizzes If your pupils are less inclined to produce a written task, or revision is the main focus of lessons, online quizzes can be used. They can easily be produced for free, or trusted websites with readymade quizzes could also be used. As evidence, pupils can take screen shots of their results. As an alternative, pupils could create their own quizzes or puzzles, which can be collated into a revision bundle for their peers.

• Run a STEM fair Science fairs are common in other countries, but not in the UK. Set a long-term homework task to prepare for a STEM fair. The pupils could test a theory, experiment at home and write up their conclusions. Alternatively, prepare an interactive experiment for ‘visitors’ to the science fair. Perhaps they would like to demonstrate some useful or interesting maths phenomena. Pupils could even innovate, suggesting the future of science and technology. Add motivation by offering a prize to the winner, or for a less competitive version, invite parents and the local community to explore the fair.

Kirsty is the founder of STEMtastic, an education consultancy with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

November 2018

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