Homework is considered to be an integral part of the school experience. Whether it enhances or detracts from that experience is a subject that is becoming more and more debated.
I have a rather unique perspective, here at Hummingbird Learning Centre, because I work with students in primary, secondary and third level education. They come from all over Munster and at times beyond it. Our hummingbirds live in cities, towns, villages and rural areas. Some go to Gaelscoilenna, others to Educate Together schools. Some schools are huge, others have two teachers.
This gives me insight to the disparities in homework policies in schools and in particular the effect of those policies on struggling students.
A recurring theme amongst our parents is the length of time it takes struggling students to complete their homework. Recently a parent told me of homework taking three hours a night for their child who is in third class. Remember that a child in third class is only eight or nine years of age.
If a child is struggling in school, then loading on the homework is not going to change that fact. We forget that children get stressed just as adults do, the only difference is that children have a lot less control over their lives and the choices that they can make. They spend approximately 6 /7 hours a day in school and then have homework after it. Add three hours homework to the 6 hours spent in school and that doesn’t leave an awful lot of down time for a nine year old!
Some struggling students, in addition to the set homework that everyone got, have to finish off work that they were doing in class but failed to finish in the time allowed. They feel that they are being penalised because they are struggling. Some get different homework to the rest of the class – reinforcing in their minds that they are ‘less’ than everyone else. Others get additional homework from their resource teachers.
All of this emphasis on homework instead of helping the child only serves to push them away from learning. They end up hating school. They will never read for pleasure because now reading has become a chore. Something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Kids are observant. They see how their struggle with homework, places stress on their parents. Parents have to find extra time to help their children. I know that in many home, homework time has become a huge source of tension for the entire household.
Parents have confided in me that they are loath to bring up homework issues with the school in case it impacts negatively on their child. One parent told me that their child’s teacher implied that they wanted a reduction in the levels of homework because they couldn’t be bothered helping their child and expected the teacher to do it.
Homework is supposed to be a barometer, a method of feedback to the teacher of how well they have taught the child. If the child is struggling, then homework should show that to the teacher. If a teacher sets a lot of homework very often the homework is not checked by the teacher, but the answers gone through in class and the child corrects it themselves. So what was the point of all the homework if the teacher doesn’t actually see it!
I find that struggling students who correct their own homework tend to focus more on what they didn’t get right rather than what they did get right. This creates a pattern of negative thinking and their self-confidence plummets. This goes undetected until the school does STEN and Drumcondra tests, results are not good and suddenly everyone is at panic stations.
When I ask parents to describe what homework their child has, they usually talk about the books and workbooks that have to be completed. If there is a lot of homework set, then there tends to be a lot of books used.
I often wonder if the teachers use so many books because they can’t find exactly what they need and so mix and match from different books. Then, because they have put the parents through the expense of buying so many books, the teacher feels obliged to finish each and every page. As this is impossible to do in class, the levels of homework go up to ensure the books are done.
If your child is struggling with homework, bring it to the attention of the teacher. Keep a log of the time it took. I recommend that you write this in your child’s homework diary. Ask the teacher to tell you how long the homework that they set should take. Break it down into each item of homework. Then match the time it took your child to do to the recommended time the teacher set. Look for patterns.
There is a way to make homework equal for all students – get rid of it. Radical I know, even revolutionary. Certainly it could be dispensed with in primary school and then gradually introduced in secondary. That would probably mean a complete change in the curriculum away from rote learning and learning for exams, but isn’t that something that we already want to achieve?
Think about it. Less stressed parents, happier students, teachers with more time to teach. Sounds good.