I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.
— Lily Tomlin
Oh boy, do I hate homework! I hate it as a parent. I hate it as a teacher. (As a student, I didn’t mind it, but we won’t go there. I also hated holidays.)
As you read the rest of this post, remember I am a teacher as well as a parent, I wear two hats, but both of my hats are singing the same tune with regards to this topic.
My intense dislike of homework has been simmering for years, but the event that stimulated this post was an email from my son’s teacher yesterday afternoon. It read:
… homework will be postponed until next Wednesday so that the year six students can study for an upcoming History exam (which will take place on Tuesday). Tomorrow, the students will be taking home a revision sheet along with their integrated unit workbooks and will be asked to use some of their time over the long weekend to study said books.Side note – this exam is not one that typically needs to be studied for, however, as the year six team is preparing our students for HS, we feel it is important to get them into effective study routines as quickly as possible.
I will say now, I have the greatest respect for my son’s teacher. He is brilliant with him. But this email … I had to shut down the computer before I accidentally responded to it and said something I would regret.
I suspect it was a ‘team email’ rather than an individual one, but that is beside the point. There are issues on a number of levels with the request in this email.
Firstly, this weekend is a long weekend. Many families, including ours, are going away. Who wants to be doing homework or study for a test on a long weekend when you could be at the beach or camping at the river? Do teachers want to do a whole load of marking or preparation on a long weekend? I can assure you they don’t, so why would you assign homework to the students? I would go as far as to say it shows a distinct lack of respect and compassion for your students and their families.
Secondly, ignoring the use of the word exam which suggests a long and arduous test (and I feel may be a Queenslander thing, though I may be doing Queenslanders a disservice by suggesting that) … I have never, in over 20 years of teaching, asked my primary school students to study for a test at home. Any revision we do happens in class. Some students have asked to take home their books so they can revise, but I have never insisted on it. Why would I? As far as I’m concerned, if the teaching has been good enough, and the revision activities hit their mark, there should be no need for extra study.
And thirdly, the Year 6 team feel they are preparing their students for high school by asking them to do this. LOL! (I had to write that as swearing is not appropriate in this forum.)
I will admit, I have taught Year 6 in the past, for quite a long stint actually. I, too, was guilty of feeling that I was preparing my students for high school. Nope!
Very little we do in Primary School actually prepares our students for high school. We can’t. We cannot replicate the timetable structure. Nor do we have access to multiple rooms and multiple teachers for each subject. We could try to copy the style of homework, but do that we would need to pretend we are a number of different teachers, each without the knowledge of what the others are doing.
When my daughter was in Year 6 two years ago she was also told she was being prepared for high school. No, no, no! She admits herself that while she had a fantastic year in Year 6 and loved every minute of it, nothing she did that year helped her out with navigating the high school world. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, she has only wrapped her head around it this year — after being there for 12 months.
The best we can do is teach our students to be independent thinkers and learners and to be resilient. That’s it!
Telling students to take their books home and study for an exam is ridiculous. How many of them will even know how to do this?
Rant over (on that particular topic anyway) — back to homework.
Without doing any statistical analysis on the topic, I would be confident to say the vast majority of homework sent home is busy work. Activities may be loosely related to topics being covered at school; there will be a list of spelling words, some maths, a reading journal and possibly an assignment. But, very little of it is meaty, meaningful stuff. For the most part, it does little else than create stress for the parent and child. If homework was revision based, I may be slightly happier, but generally it isn’t.
Sometimes I have seen homework with the warning: this activity will contribute to the students’ (health) grade at the end of semester. Wrong! We can’t actually do that, because there is the chance the student’s older sibling or parent will do the homework. For my part — instant loss of respect for the teacher who does this … surely you can manage your timetable sufficiently so as to do all assessable work at school where you can monitor the student’s independent output?
And then, there is the marking of homework. I have one thing to say on this topic — if my child has spent time doing the homework, then I expect the teacher to spend time actually reading it and marking it. By marking I don’t mean a tick and a stamp at the bottom of the page. I want to see evidence the teacher has read the homework. I want to see a comment somewhere on the page (more than Well done!) which shows the teacher has taken the time to read it and give some constructive feedback. If the teacher does not do that, please expect me to be on your case at some point during the year. Do not expect students to do homework if you are not going to mark it properly — or at all!
I will put it out there that, as a teacher, I am not all pure and shiny when it comes to homework. I have been guilty, on multiple occasions, of all of the above (except asking students to study for a test and telling students that their homework counts toward their grade). However, I will say that I have never been happy with myself when these things happen; I have never relished the delivery of homework.
So why do we give it?
The answer to that is simple — school policy. All schools I am aware of have a homework policy. Within this policy are the guidelines for homework — how much, how often, which year levels etc. — and teachers are bound to follow this. However, the policy does not dictate the format of the homework, this comes down to the individual teacher or team. No policy I have ever seen has specified busy work or long, irrelevant assignments. Sadly, no policy I have ever read has suggested that homework needs to be marked.
Happily, I have found one school, a high school no less, with a no homework policy. Yes, you read that correctly, NO HOMEWORK. In a meeting I had recently with the Deputy Principal, I questioned this, not because I wanted homework but because I didn’t actually believe it. She assured me it was true. All homework is done at school. The only homework ever given is if the student has not finished something in class, or if they need to revise for a test (extra to the time they are given at school.) This is the school my son will most likely be attending — not only because of the ‘no homework’ aspect, the school has other great things going for it, but that was the kicker.
NO HOMEWORK! I cannot get enough of saying that. NO HOMEWORK!
Why can’t other schools take a leaf from this book?