Monday, September 17, 2012

Whose homework is it anyway? Part 1

The children are back at school, school run mum gets into full swing, and the towns and villages have once more accepted the change in routine as they notice the traffic increase at salient times.
The teachers have re-grouped over the summer too and they are full of the good intentions a new year brings; Ofsted is always yapping at their heels, so ‘value added’, ‘targets’, and ‘target setting ‘are high on the agenda. New registers to fill in, grades forms to establish, new names, new faces, new children, new teachers. Will Ofsted come this year? This term? What hoops will I have to jump through this year to be satisfactory or above? Homework, I must set that each week, when is it due? When do I set it? Is there a homework plan for this term?
The children sit in potentially new classrooms with teachers they may not know; will the teacher like me? Will I make new friends quickly? Do I know anyone in my class? They have new pencil cases and new pens, they get new books to work in and write their names on the front cover. They have lockers, maybe, or places to put coats, or they may have to carry everything around with them all day. They get diaries and in them, they write their class, their name, their teacher, and their homework timetable. Oh, dear, so much to do and when will I fit in athletics, cricket, or time to do my judo, swimming? I want to see my friends and watch television; I can’t miss my favourite programmes.
Don’t worry it all fits in, and surprisingly easily after a while, it just needs adjusting to after the complete freedom of the summer. Maybe that is the problem and the summer schools of the USA are a good idea. They create a routine, which although has nothing to do with school, maintains a balance in their lives so returning to lessons isn’t quite such a shock... but I digress.
Mums and dads listen to all the happenings of the day as the children fall out through the school gates and into the school taxi (mum’s car) and rapidly tell of everything that has happened which they consider of relevance and importance. To us some of it is trivial, but in a child’s mind, these small things are monumental and need to be told loudly and forcefully. Everything is emotionally extreme, the food is too gross, the lessons too boring, the people too nice, everything over the top, and then homework, there’s too much, it can’t be done, there’s no time.
The mistake? As parents, we want to make everything as ‘nice and wonderful’ for our children as we can, we want them to relax and have fun, after all they’ve been in school all day. We want them to do what they want; for some parents its easier than arguing, for others they feel it’s their child’s right, and others, well they fret if they see their child ‘suffering’. We want the very best for our children so... we take the burden from them to some extent:
Χ      Give me five minutes and I’ll come and do it with you.
Χ      In a minute, and we’ll do it together
Χ      Do you want some help with that?
Χ      Are you stuck, let me help you
Χ      You don’t like maths, no, neither do I, ask your dad when he gets in
Χ      I didn’t like doing homework either, leave it we’ll do it tomorrow
Χ      Oh, don’t worry I know it’s too hard for you, I’ll talk to your teacher in the morning.
The list goes on and I have heard all of them, but do any of them help the child? I don’t want to be nit-picky here, but there are a few cherries I would like to bring into focus.

If you tell your child you were bad at a subject when you where at school you are giving them permission to be bad at it also.

Are you absolutely sure that’s what you are wanting to convey to your child? I have met few children who have overcome the phrase, “I was lousy at maths” and become good at it themselves. In fact, I would say only one child ever rose above his dad’s comment and that was because he was determined to prove he was better than him (a parenting issue which resulted in the child performing out of his socks in all areas). The rest used it as an excuse to not worry and eventually, stop trying to understand and then give up. It was sad for me to watch potentially bright and able children switch out of learning because their parents had given them permission to fail. The irony was, they would look to me as if I had committed the cardinal sin and yet I was up against a stronger enemy, them themselves.
OK, I feel better, that’s one cherry focused upon and hopefully digested, now to another, and it’s this one; if homework is set, who is it set for? Do you know why it is set, and what function it serves?
OK, I doubt many have really thought about it, but what function does homework serve? It certainly isn’t for the teacher’s benefit, it doubles the work load creating marking and grading which most can do without (and before you say, no, they usually end up marking this sort of work after school before they go home, or take it home and do it once they have attended to their own families). If teachers had their way and were able to take a vote, I suspect many would like to see the extreme reduction in any homework, but they also know the benefits of it so are placed in a quandary; do they want it stopped because it’s easier for them, or keep it, because it can be beneficial for the children? Mm, nasty choice; on the one hand parents would have less to moan about (they hate that) but on the other, does Sally really have the hang of punctuation on her own, and has Brian managed to sort out the order of decimals for himself?

Homework is a way of re-enforcing work learned during the day.

It checks up on whether the new concepts have gone into the medium term memory or have been lost by the time they get home. It re-ignites thoughts the class had and pushes ideas into a different part of the brain ready for retrieval next lesson.
Now if we do this work, does the teacher have any idea? Was the exercise a success? Does Brian or Sally really have the ideas and concepts, or do her parents? How will they cope, because now it is presumed they can do it (after all the evidence is there in their books), and are given the next steps ON THEIR OWN. And we wonder why children find it hard to build on early knowledge that appears not to be there...
BUT I WANT TO HELP MY CHILD!! Yes, and you should, but how is for the next blog entry, speak again soon.

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