Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thoughts on Homework

I am sick today. I have laryngitis so there is no point being at work. If I can't talk, I can't teach. If I can't teach, the kids play up. If the kids play up, I can't tell them not to. If I can't tell them not to, I find myself yelling hoarsely. If I yell hoarsely, I can't talk. If I can't talk...
So, I'm having a day off talking - hoping that my voice will heal miraculously with juice, vegemite on toast, water, fruit and lozengers.

Whilst lying in bed this morning, I caught up on what has been going on in my computer world. Loonyhiker from Successful Teaching had 'tweeted' about a Conversations Show at EdTechTalk, so I lay and listened to the show. It was all about pros and cons of homework - why we do it, what we expect, what we could do instead. I was really happy as I listened because I feel that my school is actually doing pretty well with this.

When I was in New York, the curriculum I taught had set homework for students every night - usually two sheets of Math homework. On top of this, I sent home a book for the children to read to their parents. And this was in KINDERGARTEN! Here in Australia, that is unheard of.

Homework is generally more relaxed here. In my current year 1 class, students are encouraged to change their readers daily. And that's it. However, we provide other opportunities for children to explore their learning further at home.

As part of our Jackie French Author Study, we started sending home a stuffed wombat with a diary. Students take turns to take the wombat home and write about what he got up to. They see this as a reward - not homework.

During our units of work, we encourage kids to think more about the topic at home. For example, at the moment I have children who bring in artifacts from the past and interview their grandparents for our The Way We Were unit. It's not 'set' homework that parents sign off on - just motivated students taking it further at home.

This week my class has been learning about postcards, so one girl asked her dad to send a postcard from the place he is visiting with business. Another boy went away for a week's holiday, and may send us a postcard while there.

Our P&C raised enough money to provide membership to Mathletics for all the students. It is an online Maths program with questions the students answer, levels they progress through, and live mental arithmetic competitions against other kids. This is one way that students can practice relevant maths at home at their own pace and level of difficulty. Teachers can monitor student activity and set tasks for students to complete. I often use examples from Mathletics during maths lessons, so students are familiar with them and can practice them more at home.

I'm really enjoying doing homework this way, and see benefits for the children's learning. The kids are taking responsibility for their learning, and are really motivated by the whole process. For me, there is no marking to have to do, but I can still see what the children are doing and achieving.

What are your thoughts on homework? Leave a comment below.


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  2. Hi Penny

    I too like our school's approach to work at home. I haven't done any research on the subject, but my intuition tells me society expects too much of kids these days. Many kids are in institutional care for long hours each week, but we still expect them to spend what little time they have with their parents and siblings at night doing more academic work. And we wonder why childhood anxiety and obesity are on the increase.

    My son absolutely adores Mothball, the Wombat. As the mother of a boy, I fully endorse anything that encourages nurturing.

    What a brilliant idea it is. What a shame they can't have a real wombat to pour all that affection on. The wombat is one of my favourite animals. They're not only cute and cuddly; they also have a great attitude to life!

    The first time my son brought Mothball home, it stimulated a massive outpouring of creative writing. It was the first time I had seen him writing for pleasure!

    I've read a few of your posts. They're great: beautifully written and full of the respect you obviously feel for your young charges.

    Thanks for taking the trouble.

    Bronwyn Deane

  3. Thanks for mentioning my name and blog! I love the activities you do in your class and can see why your students are motivated. You use creativity and fun to teach students instead of making it a painful event. I love the thought of the wombat and the diary. What a great way to get students interested in writing and communicating. As they move on, they will have great memories from your class to help them get through the tough times. Keep up the great work!

  4. Hi Penny,
    We really are enjoying this form of communication, it is much easier than disturbing the class to talk to you. I often wonder how difficult it must be for parent's who work full time and have to fit everything in? I cannot imagine picking my child up from care then rushing home to do "formal homework", it would be awful. I'm sure they just want to relax and spend time with their children. I know I struggle just working part-time. I once had a Professor at Uni say about homework "Imagine working hard all day and feeling like you had finished your work for the day, and when you got home you are told your work isn't finished and you need to do more. Adults don't take to well to it, so why would children. Don't get me wrong I am not against homework, infact I think its a fine line, but I would rather have a game of monopoly/cluedo or go for a swim at the local pool with my children. Lots of similar learning values but nice for all of us. I often read with interest the studies coming out from Australian Institute of Family Studies, where they talk about families not spending enough time together and the long term affects of this. Who knows if this will have an affect on the next generation and their relationships but I do know I am going to enjoy what I have now. Keep up the good work...


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