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?

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  1. Henrietta, our school populations sound so similar! Homework is a constant debate here, too. For some there is the nightly battle and it is PAINFUL for those parents (and students). Others get their homework done lickity split and parents don’t think they are being adequately challenged to prepare them for the Ivy League University. Projects are hard for elementary students, when projects are assigned, the most beautiful results are paraded into the classroom (followed by stressed parents who have hot glue gun welts).
    I think in our situation, I would like to see homework that really makes a difference in student learning (we read in article after article how homework doesn’t increase student learning/achievement). Maybe we need to start offering suggestions for further learning that the student can choose from. Or maybe homework is a time where students can explore their passions and some how present that periodically throughout the year.

  2. I haven’t been a classroom teacher for a number of years, but when I last was, this was an ongoing issue. What I finally ended up doing was sending home optional packets for families who requested them, and preferred the skill/drill worksheet approach. In my weekly newsletters (this was long before blogs) I’d include ideas for hands-on learning activities for parents and children to do together as reinforcement/extension to classroom learning. The two approaches combined seemed to keep everyone happy.

  3. I think homework is often seen a magic pill by some parents, just like coaching or a private school. While sometimes those things make a difference, the difference will not always be a positive one.

  4. Just had this very same conversation with two colleagues last night. I think it will always be a controversial topic in primary school. Apart from regular word study, we may have maths consolidation (or completing unfinished work), some research for our inquiry, and we usually have a 2 week lifestyle homework contract based on Ian Lillico’s work, which recognises other things children do outside of school. I don’t think we’ll ever win the battle of homework, we just have to be able to justify our position and give what we believe works for our students.

  5. You will be entertained to know I had exactly the same conversation with two parents within 5 minutes of each other. “too much” … “not enough” … lol

  6. I teach a year 5/6 class of all boys and H.W completion is a struggle. I’ve adapted my layout and amount over the years, as I felt I was spending too much time creating and marking HW, but I hate meaningless spelling sheets and maths mentals (with no real connection to the class or students). I love your idea of recording their Random Acts of Kindness etc! I too use mathletics, but feel that my boys think that because it is on the internet that it is kind of optional, so less than 10% do it!

    Sigh… its an ongoing battle, and you are right there are parents who love it and want more, and parents who find it such an inconvenience!

  7. My class were having some discussion about this during the week. The numbers were stacked overwhelmingly against homework, but there’s no real surprise there. Check out two of my students’ arguments here: http://hccweb3.org/3s2010/?p=735

  8. YearSixTeacher

    You are absolutely right – when it comes to homework you can never keep everyone happy. Some parents want more, some want less, and quite often the parents’ views differ to their children’s.

    A school’s homework policy is really important.

    I’d love to know a perfect solution to ‘homework hassle’!

    A great post!