When you were younger did you take milk out of the refrigerator and shake it before pouring? These days we don’t shake milk because of homogenisation (fat droplets are emulsified so that the cream does not separate, don’t you know). However, do you still catch yourself shaking milk cartons today even though you don’t need to?
Do you also remember when you had homework? Now that you have children in school, you believe homework does them good. Not necessarily, in fact homework is the bane of everyone’s existence. Homework in primary schools is akin to shaking the modern milk carton: we still do it, even though there is no need and we have better ways of doing things now.
College doesn’t begin in Kindergarten. Kindergarten begins in Kindergarten… a three year old is not half a six-year-old.”
My son started nursery a few years ago. It was a nervous time for us as parents. Will he fit in? Will he throw a tantrum every day? Will he use that bad word his mother said last week when she spilt tea on herself? The usual concerns… Luckily, very few of those fears materialised and he enjoyed going to school, until he brought home something one day. It was monstrous, huge and terrifying! There, waiting to take over our lives, was a thick, bound tome. As a three year old, he could barely carry it.
It was his homework.
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I had a particular problem with this, however: as a teacher, I despise homework. How dare homework enter my home!
Let me take another tentative step: most teachers despise homework. The type of homework I’m addressing comes in the form of extra work, traditionally academic in nature: worksheets, long written pages, repetitive written tasks that MUST. BE. IN. FULL. SENTENCES!
Some schools have excellent ways of modernising homework: one example is assigning ‘talk homework’ to involve parents. Such homework tools are to be commended and supported. My gripe is with ‘busy work’: the monotonous box ticking, the mind-numbing question answering, time-wasting, energy-sapping, motivation-mangling written regurgitation of previously printed material.
Previously, I wrote about ‘mullet schools’: old-fashioned schools that carry on delivering the same old curriculum in the same old ways. It was almost as if Einstein was talking about them when he said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Homework is one of the insanities of mullet schooling and there are many reasons why we should question its validity in modern primary education.
Students suffer in many familiar ways. After a long day at school, they are expected to sit down and complete their daily ration of homework: hasn’t the day been long enough day already? We complain about the sedentary habits of our children and their lack of social skills. Then, we require them to sit, alone, for extended sessions completing work nobody wants to do and few teachers need to see. Homework is genuinely bad for fitness levels. In research by John Ratey, author of Spark, students who completed 20 minutes of daily exercise increased academic progress. Students who did 40 minutes of physical activity daily, doubled their progress compared to the 20 minute focus group. The message is simple: double exercise time and potentially double academic achievement.
Parents suffer too
Parents suffer because they have to help out with homework. ‘I don’t know what practical use Pascal’s Triangle is! Why didn’t you listen in class!?’ is a frequent refrain heard all over the UAE and beyond. Worse still, homework is a chance for some parents to do it all themselves and let their little cherub take all the credit! Competitive Parents take note: us teachers know it’s you, we know what your child is capable of. As all good teachers explicate: you are only fooling yourselves!
Finally, the teachers suffer too. We have to assign homework, explain it in class and take up valuable teaching time. We have to assess and mark it. Unfortunately, it tells us nothing new about our students. Then we have to give feedback and the whole distasteful machinations of homework are rebooted: set homework, explain homework, mark homework, feedback homework. While your children are working in class, some over-worked, yet excellent, teachers are busy marking homework when they really should be supporting your children in lessons. It’s not their fault, they are genuinely trying their best.
The effect of this homework cycle on teachers is to, effectively, steal time from us which would be better spent on planning outstanding lessons, assessing what work your children are doing and helping children to succeed in class: essentially, high level teaching. Simply put, homework gets in the way of teaching and learning.
If it is a hindrance, then why do we have homework (according to the mullet educators)?
1.It’s to provide extra practice of skills learned in class. This point ignores the fact that good teaching and learning involves repetition and reinforcement in successive lessons. The extra practice should be happening in school. One exception to this is reading. Daily reading at home is untouchable: it must be done.
2.Homework is often sold to us as a wonderful communication tool between school and home. This is a lofty ideal executed in an outdated way. Email is an excellent communication tool, and I believe they have it on computers now too. Another top tip: talk to your child about what’s happening in school: be involved. By frequently talking to your child about their learning, you can grasp what we call ‘teachable moments’: times when interest is piqued and they are really interested in a particular subject. Often they are moments of difficulty for parents as we struggle to answer why whales don’t sink or what is electricity? However, these are the chances to really provide your child with a love of learning, far warmer and more rewarding than ‘busy work’
3.Research by Harris Cooper suggests to us that homework in primary school produces academic progress of approximately, 6%. Not bad, it could be the difference between an A and a B. However, at this point I urge you to look at the real world: the personal, emotional and health benefits of not doing homework. Is all that extra work, all that marking for teachers, all those hours doing that ‘busy work’ worth a mere 6%? Wouldn’t that time be better spent with other children, playing a sport or having valuable ‘teachable moments’ with parents? Thankfully, the statistics are available on the benefits of such things. The US Department of Education conducted a study which concluded that children who had involved fathers were 43% more likely to achieve A grade. Many would suggest having homework and involved parents to generate combined statistical benefits. Life, and statistics, just aren’t that simple unfortunately. As mentioned already, much homework hinders good parenting opportunities, limits social interaction and affects fitness. How, for example, does the 6% gain above compare to the percentage increase of diabetes in recent times? Or compare to Ratey’s research? We must use some common sense on the homework issue.
4.The final reason from the pro-homework lobby is a wonderful example of misguided logic in which everyone when they hear it, nods approvingly at such an ‘obvious’ benefit: it builds study habits which are needed in secondary school and university. Rubbish! The accomplished educator and author, Ken Robinson, puts it more eloquently, “College doesn’t begin in Kindergarten. Kindergarten begins in Kindergarten… a three year old is not half a six year old.” There is plenty of time for our children to learn these habits at an older age. Scientists frequently tell us that it takes approximately three weeks to make or break a habit. If you want embedded study habits, let’s aim for the first month of secondary school!
In many ways, schools are afraid to incorporate a no-homework policy because of the demands of parents. Many fee-paying schools are terrified of mullet-schooled parents who would descend into a disgusted mob if homework were abolished. Fee-paying schools are afraid that they would lose students, and therefore lose revenue. It sounds inconceivable that homework could be linked to the financial success or failure of a school, but bold decisions on removing traditional teaching tools can have disastrous effects on enrolment.
Unless you start asking, dear parents.
You now know that homework is not a necessary evil that does us all good, so what are you going to do about it?
The mullet schools will tell you I’m over-simplifying the issue. Of course I am, I’ve only this small space to pique your interest. Consequently, I must contradict myself and assign some homework. So, dear parents, your homework assignment this week is to question homework. Do some reading of reputable sources and become even more informed. Look at the human effects of homework on health, fitness and social skills.
Finally, read daily with your child. Talk daily with your child and capture ‘teachable moments’: teach them new things, relate it to those wonderful communications from schools that inform you of what your child is learning now. That’s far more beneficial than any mere 6% gain in academic achievement attributed to homework.
-WALT (We are learning to): Say goodbye to homework in the primary school system. It does not help any of us! Naughty, naughty homework! (Secondary school students, you are stuck with it I’m afraid.)
From : Gulf News