Tag Archive | Richard Walker

Homework an Exercise in Futility

How much homework goes on in your house? Are you a fan of the after-school revision, assignments and projects? Or do you resent the impact homework is having on your family life?

At the risk of launching into a full-blown rant I have to state my view of homework, it is simply an exercise in futility.

It’s been ten years since we first experienced the joys of homework. Since we began with the nightly readers and spelling sheets of the early primary years. The first rule of homework was learnt early when we arrived at school with our “car” that we had made out of some of our old packing boxes. Our car was great, made by Princess Child with some helpful advice from Dad. It quickly became obvious that the child wasn’t supposed to have made the vehicle – as shiny, well put together, expertly painted models made their way into the classroom I thought I had mistakenly wandered into a Mercedes dealership. I’m sure the Mums and Dads were proud of the “A’s” they scored. Did the kids actually learn anything? I doubt it.

Last night on Today Tonight, psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg stated that 22 per cent of kids tell him their parents have done their homework for them – and that’s just the ones honest enough to admit it. Carr-Gregg is a strong opponent of homework saying it’s the modern day equivalent of cod-liver oil, everyone thinks it was good for you but in reality it does nothing.

Speaking from personal experience homework has caused our family a large degree of angst. It has impacted on family activities, created arguments and led to disappointment and a sense of failure (for all of us).

While there are guidelines to the time that should be spent on homework the reality is that many children won’t fit into those guidelines. They struggle to work independently or without direction, they fail to grasp the task, they are overwhelmed by the information. While parents aren’t teachers, they get frustrated at being unable to explain the concepts in terms children understand. The guidelines are a false recommendation while in practice even a simple worksheet can take double the time you would expect in a classroom.

There is no doubt in our home homework has at times made stressful situations worse. When my husband was undergoing a double heart-bypass my mother was looking after the children (both then still in primary school) she soon became aware that Hippie Child was not just worried about her father but frantic about homework and assignments she had due. Nana Shambles headed into the school and explained “I can get these kids fed and dressed and to school on time every morning but when it comes to homework I’m useless. As far as I’m concerned a powerpoint is where you plug in the kettle I have no concept of how to turn one into a presentation”. While the school said they would give extra help,  busy teachers and a child reluctant to speak up meant that help didn’t arrive. We also had the incidence of Mr Shambles flat on his back just days out of the surgery trying to explain maths concepts over the phone to get that week’s homework sheet finished.

Later in the first term of high school we were living with my Aunt while desperately trying to owner build our house.  The wireless internet connection was pretty much unusable most of the time. The maths teacher required homework to be submitted via the on-line Moodle system. At the parent/teacher interview in term one I explained our predicament, only to be told in no uncertain terms that my child was responsible for getting her homework done regardless of personal circumstance and she would need to spend lunchtime in the library to complete it if necessary. I may be odd but I actually wanted my daughter out in the playground developing social skills and growing a friendship group at the start of high school, guess I’m radical that way.

Homework is one of the most socially unjust features of our education system. When educated parents with access to resources are struggling to help their children succeed what chance does the child from a lower socio-economic background have? When parents are unable or unwilling to participate in the nightly homework routine, when books and computers are absent from the home how do those children manage with the tasks allocated? Knowing each morning they would have to face the ire of the teacher for not completing the given assignment is there any wonder they are giving up?

Carr-Gregg said last night that homework has more than doubled over the last ten years. Are we seeing increased benefit from all this extra work? Well according to the recently released Gonski Review of Funding for Schools

“over the last decade the performance of Australian students has declined at all levels of achievement, notably at the top end. This decline has contributed to the fall in Australia’s international position.In 2000, only one country outperformed Australia in reading and scientific literacy and only two outperformed Australia in mathematical literacy. By 2009, six countries outperformed Australia in reading and scientific literacy and 12 outperformed Australia in mathematical literacy.

In addition to declining performance across the board, Australia has a significant gap between its highest and lowest performing students. This performance gap is far greater in Australia than in many Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, particularly those with high-performing schooling systems. A concerning proportion of Australia’s lowest performing students are not meeting minimum standards of achievement. There is also an unacceptable link between low levels of achievement and educational disadvantage, particularly among students from low socioeconomic and Indigenous backgrounds.”

Richard Walker, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney, said in an article that the research shows homework doesn’t improve the achievement of children in the early years of primary school,  has negligible benefits in the higher grades of primary school and very limited benefits in junior high school. While at the senior high school level, homework benefits the achievement of about 45 per cent of students.

Over at Mojito Mother Caz Makepeace wrote a brilliant blog on this topic yesterday and I loved her version of what homework should be.

“You have a new project for homework tonight and every night. It’s called ‘Play, Follow your Dreams and Let yourself Breathe’

From now on,  you must spend every night talking with Mum and Dad about anything you like, playing with your toys, taking one step towards that dream of yours, and then sit in a quiet space on your own, close your eyes and breathe.

I’m not going to check in on you that you have done it, because I believe you will. ”

In a world where children are being increasingly asked to follow an adult timetable, not getting home until 5.30pm or later then being expected to sit down and start work again it’s time to reassess the whole homework debacle. Our children need time to switch off, not be bogged down in responsibilities beyond their ability to manage.

What are your thoughts on homework? Has it been a good thing for your child? Or do you find it a stressful add-on to an already jampacked day?