A posting of an article I wrote for my current school.
“Children are at school for a significant portion of the day – isn’t that enough?” This is a sentiment I’ve heard a ‘few’ times, and to be absolutely honest, I’ve thought it myself. There is some truth to the statement, however, we still set homework and we still expect our students to complete it. Why?
My school, like many others, has a homework policy, and we think it’s important. It’s so important that the policy is the first one after our Child Protection Policy in the Secondary Student Diary! Homework is important for three main reasons: for revision, for preparation and for homework. Before I delve into those three reasons, firstly I need to deal with what homework is not about.
Homework is not about ‘make-work’
No teacher wants to waste time by checking work that is simply designed to fill in time. The idea that homework is simply to keep our students busy should be the furthest thing from our minds. When a teacher sets homework, it is because it’s important that it gets done, not to simply do more.
Homework is not about ‘finishing what we didn’t get done in class’
Sometimes, teachers will set homework for the completion of work that should have been completed in class, however, this is usually because it was important work and the students who received it were not working efficiently in class (ie. there was a bit of mucking around going on). This should never be the reason for a whole class homework task – if it is, the teacher will be reassessing their timing and planning.
So why do we set homework?
This is the most significant reason for homework. It is important that students go over what they have learned in class that day in order to practice the skills and set the knowledge deep into their minds. In Queensland, Australia, at the end of Year 12 (Unit 4), every Year 12 student will sit an external exam for every subject they study, competing against every other student in that subject in the state. For Science and Maths subjects, this exam will cover the skills and knowledge of both Units 3 and 4 – an entire calendar year of each. There is no way to cram that in right at the end. Essentially, if there is no homework written in their diary, the expectation is that there is revision. This is the basic reason for homework.
Sometimes it is useful to have students come to class with a background knowledge of what is going to be covered. For example, if I was about to introduce the topic of ‘improving liveability’ in my 7 Geography class, I may ask students to read a couple of pages in the text that cover the topic and answer 1 or 2 questions to provide a baseline of knowledge. In class, we will then be able to go deeper into the concepts in activities etc, rather than using precious class time simply doing content acquisition from the textbook. This kind of ‘pseudo-flipped’ class can be very powerful and leads to a deep, rather than surface, level of learning.
In Secondary, we like assessment to go home. The tasks increase in size and complexity and require work both in class and at home. We also like parents to be aware of what students are learning and to be able to provide some help as well. It is important, though, that parents simply help with, not do, their child’s assignment. It is a bit embarrassing when a parent doesn’t get the ‘A’ they expected.
We like parents to be aware of how assessment is progressing as well. To this end, on my school’s Assessment Hub we have provided assessment calendars for the term, ready to be printed off and stuck on the fridge, on the wall where work is done or where-ever it is most likely to be seen. We have also included our policies, procedures and fact sheets relating to assessment. Assessment is such an important part of education that you will be contacted if a student misses a draft or evidence check date, or if it is not up to a minimum standard by that point.
As you can see, homework is a vital tool in your child’s education toolbox. It will help prepare them for exams, for future learning and ensure that they are developing the skills, abilities and knowledge that will set them up to achieve success on their pathway to a purposeful future.