For the past three years at HFS we have removed what traditionally has been known as homework and replaced it with a term by term ‘Homework Challenge’ and, even though we still face some of the same issues that we faced before and it is not a perfect model, it is an improvement on what we knew as homework.
Our old model of homework was not working, was not user-friendly for the parent, teacher or student and in reality we saw very little improvement in class as a relation from it. Reading at home, practising of spelling words and basic facts seemed to help, but the rest was often contrived tasks that had little benefit and were parent driven (and on many occasions parent completed). We live in a very busy community where after school activities are part of life; it was common place for students to have 4-5 activities a week and more during sports seasons. Children would get home tired and late then be required to ‘Do their homework’, which would relate in fights, tantrums, late nights, having to get up extra early to finish or the homework not getting completed leaving a sense of failure.
Once the homework was handed in on a Friday it was up to the teacher to collect the books in and make the choice to either ignore or berate the child that had not completed their work. Then the teacher needed to take the homework books home over the weekend to spend much-needed planning or relaxing time marking books and creating new tasks for next weeks homework.
We knew it was not working and so did our parents. Half of the parents wanted more homework and the rest wanted none, so we went looking through research and the internet. It is actually quite hard to find research out there that is pro-homework, yet there are many educationalists who write about its null effect. Alfie Kohn, the writer of ‘The Homework Myth‘ writes…
The positive effects of homework are largely mythical. In preparation for a book on the topic, I’ve spent a lot of time sifting through the research. The results are nothing short of stunning. For starters, there is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement.
So we decided to revamp our homework and try to make it more enjoyable, more relevant, optional and yet keep the spelling, basic facts and reading components from what worked in the previous model. We aligned it to our school’s Pillars of learning (Learning to be, Learning to know, Learning to do & Learning to live together), made it seasonal, related it to events happening in the school and community and tied it into each terms inquiry.
Then at the beginning of 2010 each child received a scrap-book to record their homework journey and stuck in their first sheet – the journey had begun. some families embraced it, some did not, but it gathered momentum. Now going to Cubs on a Wednesday night did not mean that you had to get up early on a Thursday to complete you homework, it meant that you earned 5 points for belonging to a community group. As the school Triathlon or Cross Country is approaching you can practice your running and earn some points. Read a book three times a week to a younger sibling or neighbour and gain 3 points. Go for a bush walk and picnic and earn 3 points. Learn to bake or cook dinner for your family or do the dishes every night or… and all you need to do is sign off on a task, get your parents to sign off and then provide some proof, like a photo or recipe in your scrap-book and Mr Dyer will sign off. Depending on how many points you collect you will receive a certificate and at HFS we do not hand out certificates, so this one is special.
This is the journey that has happened over the past 3 1/2 years it is my challenge to really look at it this year and ask those hard questions that we must ask as educators like…
- Is it working?
- Is it just the old homework, but in a new guise (SAMR model)
- Does it meet the needs of the parents, students and community and if so why or why not.
- And finally I think back to Edward DeBono who introduced me to his new word Ebne (Excellent But Not Enough). If it is excellent then how can we make it better?
I would really appreciate any tricky questions that you can throw at me on this one as I would love to see it improve and really have an impact on the students and community.