Is homework in secondary a good idea?
Homework is a very contentious issue in education. There are debates surrounding how much and how often it should be given, if any at all as well as what the purpose of homework is.
It is my belief that in secondary school homework does have its place and it can have multiple purposes including consolidation of learning, revision, reflection and the chance to take the students beyond what is increasingly becoming a narrow curriculum.
In my school we use homework timetables to ensure that there is equity amongst the subjects on how much homework they give and to ensure that not all homework is given on the same day. In year 7 and 8 it should be around a hour an night, in year 9 -11 it increases to 90 minutes and in sixth form they are recommended to do an hour of self-study / homework for each hour of contact time they have. This system seems to work but it does have some issues with it. For example, what I might think will take 30 minutes to complete may take one student 10 minute and another an hour. Additionally, the lesson where you are told to set homework may not be the best place in the scheme of learning for homework to be set so you end up setting something just for the sake of it rather than something that is meaningful.
Why do we set homework?
I personally believe that homework should be a chance for students to practice skills such as time management and task prioritisation as well as a chance to investigate related areas of the topic that may not be covered in depth during lesson time. It was with this in mind that I began to rethink how I was setting my classes homework tasks. There was also a selfish element to this rethink as well; I teach from year 7 to year 13 across 2 subject areas, so I also wanted a homework system that meant I could manage my own workload and marking as well.
I started by looking at Key stage 3 PSHE. Here I wanted to use homework as a chance for the students to explore their own interests and practice research and study skills.
These are projects which the students have complete control over, they choose the topic, the outcome and if they are going to work in a group or on their own. They are given about a term to work on them in their own time and then we have a fair where they present their project for judging by a panel and can be awarded prizes. More information on this can be found on the Hectic Teacher blog
“I’ll have one homework to takeaway please”
In the other subjects that I teach, I also wanted to give the students choice on their homework tasks to reflect their own interests. Here I took inspiration from Ross Morrison McGill and his idea of “Takeaway Homework” where students are given a ‘menu’ of tasks and they have to choose a starter, main and dessert task to complete.
“Using Homework to Enable Self-Differentiation”
I really liked this idea but wanted to develop it for my own classes. Initially I used the idea of “pick and mix” homework sheets where students have a certain amount of ‘points’ to spend over the half term on their homework tasks and the more complicated the task the more points it cost. This allowed for self-differentiation as well as differentiation by me as I could change the amount of points for a student if they were lower ability or more able. The issue with this was when students would ask why certain students had more or less points then they did.
So, I then developed this idea into a simple task grid. Each term the students would be issued with a task grid which contained 15 tasks and the students were told they had to complete 1 task per week. I also decided that I would only take in the whole class set of books at half term and end of term. They are told that I will check their books once a cycle and on the deadline day I will take in a random number of the books depending on my workload at that time. They are not told in advance which books I am taking in, so all must meet the deadline as I will date stamp those that I am not taking in.
Introducing Exam Practice as Homework
At Key Stage 4, I see the purpose of homework as consolidating what we are learning in class and practicing exam techniques in a low stakes way. At the start of the year I give the students a booklet of example examination style questions. They can choose the order of in which they approach the questions but at each fortnightly ‘hand-in’ they must have accumulated a minimum set marks. This allows them to focus on the questions which they struggle with, whilst revising content as we go. It also means that I am not marking 15 of the same set of questions which keeps me a little more interested. They are also told the time each style of question should take and are recommended to change colour pen when the time runs out, so they can see how much they can get done in the time allowed.
Using Homework to Prepare for University
At A Level I have been using a system which uses a lecture/seminar style of teaching which requires the student to be more independent in their studies.
Lecture lessons are content driven, and students are required to do some pre-reading and note taking before the lesson, however I do not check this or mark this as their note are their own.
Seminar lessons focus on skills of application and evaluation or they are exam technique depending on the type of seminar that week and are more activity based. For these lessons the students are given a task to complete before the lesson which will then be used as part of the lesson. This means that I don’t have to mark it as any misconceptions will be apparent in the seminar.
Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
At the start of each term students are issued with an outline which tells them what topic will be covered each week, so they can do the pre-reading and notes, which prep task they need to complete ready for the seminar lessons and when the graded assessments are. All of the prep tasks are available on our class website meaning that the students can access them at any time to complete the tasks and therefore manage their own workloads.
Students are also issued with an independent exam practice book. This book is for them to practice exam style questions of their choice. I do not put a deadline on when I will look at this, meaning the students can hand it in at any time and I will mark the questions (it is recommended they do 60 marks per cycle), however they are made aware that if I do not see it they will receive a “requires improvement” for independent learning in their progress reviews.
I have been using these systems for 2 years now and it really has made a difference to my workload, but also, I have seen many of the students become much more independent in terms of their learning and more aware of their own wellbeing which has reduced some of their school related stress levels.
Written by the Hectic Teacher