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Examining the role of homework

Teachers Mark and Kristen Bishop say homework should compliment classroom activities

How to complete our homework with a smile
Image Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Does homework put added pressure on children and put them off learning?

Mark: Why don’t we allow children to develop through extra-curricular activities and child’s play? If I have been at work all day, the last thing I want to do is work at home. Sometimes our children come home from school exhausted and quickly become frustrated when completing homework. Is this putting them off learning? If children come home from school with work to do is that simply enough? My biggest bug bear regarding homework is the word search. You can give my eight-year-old the hardest word search in the world and zero learning will take place. It is simply a task of recognising letters. Homework needs to be meaningful and an extension of classroom learning.

Kristen: The issue is that children do not learn or retain taught information in the same way. The child who can remember information taught two weeks previously is unlikely to benefit from homework that recaps or supports this knowledge. On the other hand, a child who struggles to retain information would benefit from having this reinforced once or twice a week. For secondary school children, homework becomes more important as many areas of the curriculum simply do not have enough time in school to complete all of the required work. This is when homework is essential as a continuation of the classroom. It should support prior learning and allow students to extend their knowledge. This is not homework for homework’s sake.

If homework is meaningful and relevant, how much time should be spent each night doing homework?

Mark: That depends on the age of the child. Some schools work on the ideal that children should spend 10 minutes per night per grade level. Other schools work on a subject specific timetable where each subject is given priority on different nights of the week.

Kristen: If a family is encouraging about the homework set and can positively promote the value of homework, children can quickly develop vital study skills and good habits that will encourage life-long learning. As a parent, I do not want to have to learn the information myself before being able to support my children. Many parents complain that they have to spend so much time with their children helping them to complete homework because the child does not understand the task. A parent’s role is to support their child’s learning and not to complete the task for them.

Mark: Here in Dubai, children often leave home early in the morning to catch a school bus and return well after school has finished once the bus has completed its round. This causes children to spend longer away from home in a school environment, which means less time spent relaxing or participating in out of school activities. From our own experience we know juggling their homework and the hobbies our children choose to participate in is difficult. Often, we leave school with our children at around 4.30pm, they have already had to wait at school for two hours for us to finish our responsibilities and that is before we then take them to football practice or ice skating lessons.

As we are in Dubai, this means travelling from one end of Dubai to the other several times a week only arriving home at 7pm or later. This is when we struggle to balance the activities our children chose to do with their homework. With the best will in the world, an eight-year-old boy does not want to read to us or complete some mathematics homework after a full day at school and an after-school activity. His thoughts are with some chilled time in front of the television before falling into bed, not with homework waiting to be completed.

Kristen: As full-time teachers, we deal with other people’s children and their work output all day, for five days a week and we often do not want to come home and be in teacher mode here as well. It is not an ideal picture for a relaxing evening trying to persuade your children to complete their homework well and in time for their usual weekday bedtime before being up early to get to school by 7am the next day. This is when we choose our battles, homework will be completed but on days when our children have time to do this well, with full concentration and effort.

For us, weekends are the ideal time to do this, as we tend to keep these free from activities and the children have not had to spend a full day at school. As teachers, we see both sides to the arguments for and against homework.

While our children are given homework, it is our job as parents to ensure they complete it to the best of their ability and to support them when they find it difficult or are not motivated to attempt it. Praising children when they complete a task they did not want to begin is essential to encourage positive work ethic in young children. If we can instil a longing for knowledge in our children the battle is almost won, as they will be more eager to learn both at home and at school. The skill is finding the balance to allow harmony in your household and achievement at school.