As a teacher I’m not a fan of homework (if they work hard during class time) and as a parent I’m even less of a fan. I think after spending six hours contained at desks, they should be out climbing trees, kicking balls, making cubbies, playing dress-ups – generally having fun (or even reading books… I’m an English teacher after all).
From what I’ve read, the jury is out on the benefits of homework. Recent studies reveal a large amount of homework doesn’t equate with academic and tertiary success. Too often it is ‘busy work’ – repetitive activities, without much educational value, purely designed to occupy many long hours and rarely fostering critical or imaginative thinking. Too often it is generated by parental expectations – a pressure on teachers and parents that becomes a dreaded weekly or nightly chore.
Public and private schools alike dish it out. Beginning in infants’ school with a sheet or two to be completed by Friday, it expands to an hour or so in upper primary and by high school – students are expected to do an hour for each subject nightly. Uni and TAFE have assignments, work has overtime but in the real world there are no pointless tasks involving hours of work, purely for the sake of it.
Of course, homework is a necessity in senior high school, and I don’t resent marking students’ essays in their endless quest for excellence – that’s a given. But I am quite scarred by my own children’s homework experiences in infants and primary school. Year 5 was a strain for my son and traumatising for me. His projects were so frequent and difficult (more like Year 10 standard) parents rang around weekly, comparing notes and discussing the best approach to the assignment. Whenever I didn’t help him (and I was a very busy woman) he failed the project! I was a total wreck.
And my daughter’s Year 1 homework is branded indelibly on my mind. Her teacher was a kind and experienced woman who spoke convincingly at the Parent-Teacher Talk about her belief that reading aside, one sheet was adequate for this age – they were barely six. We all nodded, all except one parent – an enthusiastic mother, a zealot – who expressed a strong and vocal desire for more homework.
“My daughter finishes that sheet on Monday night!” she shouted across the room, while we other naughty parents flinched on our tiny chairs. “And she is sooo bored for the rest of the week…can we have a second sheet, for those motivated students who want extra work?”
Not usually a violent person, I wanted to throw a paperclip at her. The teacher demurred, waiting for other parents to intervene. No one spoke, myself included, it was late – the dinner hour – I was tired, I’d been at school teaching all day myself. I wanted to be out of there, I wanted food, wine and chocolate. Yet I didn’t want to be that lax parent who can’t be bothered with homework, whose daughter wasn’t remotely motivated about one homework sheet, let alone two.
The crazy homework-loving-mother insisted, the nice teacher conceded and what started out as optional extension homework for a few enthusiastic, diligent students, somehow became the expected norm. It was a big struggle doing those sheets every week, especially since my daughter only enjoyed colouring them in!
What are your thoughts on homework? Do you have motivated children who embrace their homework, or is it a nightly battle, a delicate combination of cajoling and threats to get it done by Friday?