“Can every piece of homework you set be completed by the child independently?”
That’s the question Catherine recently put to educators on our Facebook Page, while encouraging them to think about the real aims of homework. The question prompted some interesting discussion about the benefits of homework and the expectations of parents.
At her recent Brisbane workshop, Dr Anita Archer pointed out the social inequity of setting homework that requires adult intervention for success. Catherine explained that “anything that causes student to ask their parents, “Can we got to Officeworks to get…” is likely to be inequitable. Surely we need to narrow rather than widen the educational gap?”
We encourage teachers to think about the students whose parents do not have the capacity, time, ability or resources to assist them. Education needs to be the great leveller, not another contributor to inequity.
It’s an issue Catherine admits she gets quite angry about, pointing out that a disproportionate amount of time can be spent on homework tasks of extremely limited educational worth.
“The result is time NOT spent reading, exercising, playing, talking or sleeping. I also resent any task where marks are allocated for anything beyond that specified in the subject's Achievement Standards,” she said.
“How can a history student, for example, be marked down for not including colour-printing in an assignment? How is the layout of a poster (and the quality of its images) a reasonable assessment of an English student's understanding of a Shakespearean play? Gggrrrr!”
Interestingly, one Facebook contributor highlighted the pressure she feels as a teacher to meet parent’s expectations of what homework should be.
“Sometimes we - as teachers… are held to ransom by parents who have some fanciful expectation of what homework ‘should’ be . I used to spend so much weekend time marking homework books for parents to see,” Melinda Simpson said.
“We’re caught in the middle… having to appease parents, higher up, the system, the standards, BOSTES and the department.”
In September, Catherine and I will be travelling to Finland as part of a Teacher Professional Development Study Tour. The purpose of the trip is to see how Finland has consistently maintained its position at the top of the PISA scale for education.