I have just finished a round of parent-teacher interviews and overwhelmingly they were positive. I was genuinely able to tell the majority of my parents how happy I was with the progress of their child and the parent was able to tell me how happy their child is in my class. We all agreed that student blogging is a fabulous way of connecting, collaborating and sharing their work for an authentic audience and that the students are engaged and active in the process. We also agreed that the ten year old child is for the most part a delight to live with and to teach.
The only real complaints I got are the ones I often receive. “it is a struggle to get her to do her homework” ” If I could just cut the homework battles, my life would be simpler”. Or alternatively ” I really think you should set more homework” ” My child needs more homework to help her succeed more”. I really cannot win!
It is part of my school’s requirements that I set homework to my year 5 class. Most of my parents expect homework to be set and some believe that I should set more than I do. A small percentage of my class are already being sent to coaching colleges, in the hope or expectation that they will then be successful in the selective school exams for year 7. Many students also have lives full of ballet, jazz dancing, football, netball, athletics, music lessons, gymnastics and more. Some have activities after school everyday. One of my students is an elite gymnast already training eight hours a week. This year my co-teacher and I are setting homework fortnightly in the hope that those students who have such busy lives will still find the time to fit it in.
So what do we have in our homework? Well to start with we never, ever set projects. I banned projects in my classroom long ago. When I was still a casual teacher I once spent my Sunday helping my then ten year build a model of an Antarctic ice-breaker from cereal boxes, for which I am pleased to say, I received an A grade. It wasn’t that I wanted to help him but as a task it was too difficult for him to complete age ten by himself. The really sad part is I still have that ice-breaker, it took so many hours to make that I cannot bring myself to part with it!
Joe Bower has several interesting posts about the problems and validity of homework. he writes “The next time you are thinking of assigning homework so the students can practice, ask yourself how likely is it that your students will mindfully engage in what you are asking them to do? Or how likely is it that they will do the homework in a way that just goes through the motions?”
I am mindful of trying to strike a balance, of the need for my students to learn how to spell and to reinforce the maths they have done in class. or fulfilling parental and school expectations on homework and yet making it meaningful. So we do not have projects but we do have spelling words, which are tested weekly using Spelling city. We also use a math’s problem solving book called ‘Let’s Solve it’ and we set Mathletics tasks. Each week we ask the students to record acts of kindness and responsibility, together with physical fitness and play. We also expect them to read for 20 to 30 minutes a night and occasionally to complete research tasks at home ready for class project work at school. We may also set them blogging tasks, to read and comment on a post either on our class blog or at another site.
I believe our homework is about as interesting and fair as it can be. I really cannot work out how to satisfy the child who wants less and the parent who wants more. When a parent talks of homework being a battle I always say, whatever you do just make sure they read. I know that good readers become good writers. I also know that poor readers will do anything to avoid reading and that in itself can be a battle.
What do you think? How do you handle your homework battles? How much homework do you set?