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I knit, I sew, I run, I look after children and hamsters, I take truly terrible pictures, I cook, I complain.  Sometimes all at the same time.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

In praise of homework

Because I am rapidly approaching 35, and no longer consider myself to be in the Top Shop demographic, I have started reading a blog dedicated to growing older in a witty and stylish way.  I am, actually, about 10 years too young for the blog, but enjoy it very much; similar to the way I enjoy talking to my parents' friends.  Of course, my parents and their friends are far, far older than either of the writers.  Have I covered myself?

Anyway, I like reading their stuff, and sometimes feel a bit scared by their descriptions of living with teenagers.  Recently, they have been writing about homework.  I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I am a primary school teacher, and spent three long and happy years in Year One, teaching writing, reading, Maths and, well everything really.  As part of my remit, I had to set homework.  Now, I believe in homework.  I believe that, while education in school is incredibly important, most education happens at home, and a child's chances in life are enhanced by the way that education is regarded in the family.  This is not a snide class thing - after all, that awful Toby Young is on record as saying that he didn't enjoy education until his parents took an interest in it at secondary level, and his father is a peer - this is a teacher thing.  Education happens at home and at school, and the two have to work together in order to provide the best for the child.

I gave homework to my children that involved the parents.  I expected the children to be read with every night, and gave out two reading books a week.  I handed out spellings that related back to the sound that their group was learning - some weeks it would be "igh", some weeks "o", depending on the progress of the children in the group.  Obviously, with my incredible professionalism, I knew where all the children were all of the time, and made sure that all the children moved at roughly the same quite rapid pace.  (This is true by the way - it is not comic hyperbole, for a change).  Each week, the children had a maths worksheet to complete that involved, and this is very important, cutting, sticking and colouring.  It irritated the parents who believed that darling Raveena should be doing her fifty times table, and it irritated the parents who didn't like darling Reece using glue outside school as it is too messy, but that was OK by me. 

My personal favourite homework was about "Toys in the Olden Days" where I got the children to talk to their parents and grandparents about the toys they had played with when they were children.  Most of my parents at that time were the same age, or considerably younger, than me, and the grandparents weren't much past 50.  I had quite a few complaints about that, fortunately all of them light-hearted. 

Homework is a window for both parents and teachers.  I could see what was happening at home as I encouraged parents to write in the diary and would respond to their comments frequently and often at great, inappropriate length.  Parents could see what I was expecting from their children - as my maths homeworks were solidly aimed at the middle, the parents of the top group would boot their children off to do it on their own, the parents of the middle group would encourage independence, and the parents of the bottom group would, well, ignore it frankly, and sometimes do the work for them.  Ever wondered why your child isn't achieving?

I wouldn't dream of setting homework every night.  I would be upset to think that the children were unable to do their homework; I expected the parents to sit with the children for 15 mins and complete the work.  However busy your life is, you have 15 minutes out of an entire weekend for your child's formal education.  Don't you?

I expect that other schools, other teachers have different views, obviously.  I know several of my colleagues disagree with homework in the Infants, and dislike it in the Juniors, and I know that secondary school is different, although perhaps it shouldn't be.  Perhaps there should be more emphasis on the whole child, rather than individual subjects?  Who can say?  At primary school, we deal with everything, we wipe noses, zip up coats, put on plasters and give out cuddles, we teach every subject and are expected to have excellent general knowledge, and detailed specific knowledge.  We generally get good results.  My first class, the first lot to have the Miss Harries (as was) homework regime forced upon them have just surpassed other Year 6 classes nationally, across the board, but especially in English.  Maybe something stuck.  Good foundations are crucial to any successful building.

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