Homework for our times

Vishal Varia

There is a lot of hype about education in the 21st century. We have many articles, seminars, sessions, trainings depicting the qualities of the 21st century learner and teacher. In this scenario, is homework (HW) really relevant in the 21st century? Are we as teachers giving the right HW to digital natives? Is HW just a tool for practice? Does HW induce students to do laborious work? Do your students complete their HW?

In an era where flipped classrooms are gaining ground, what kind of HW can we give or rather should we give these 21st century learners? This question may look simple but it is a complex one. The answer to the question contains the following elements:

Why should there be HW?
HW is the work allotted by teachers to students to finish at home. It generally includes the topics that have been covered in the class on that day or earlier. HW is essential keeping in mind that “If I do I will remember”. The purpose of HW is to keep the student constructively engaged at home and to give him a little practice in the topic.

What HW should be given?
This question arises as we face much non-compliance in the class. I am sure every teacher has had students who come to class without completing their HW. So, if every teacher has this issue then is it the fault of the students? Or is it an issue that has more to do with the teachers themselves? I am sure you will agree that times have changed; we don’t have students/parents who blindly comply with the teacher’s instructions. The role of the teacher is also changing to that of a facilitator and resource provider. In this scenario what HW should be given to the students and how much?

The answer to the latter is simple. As per the various education board guidelines, teachers collectively should not provide HW of more than two-three hours per day to the students. According to the CBSE/ACAD/AD(I&R)/2016 notification no. 13 dated 06/07/2016, CBSE has published resources for “Alternatives to HW”. As per these guidelines, schools have been asked to give more time to the students to explore their environment and develop creative thinking. “Alternatives to HW” comprise ideas in the form of activities that can keep the child interested and help in enhancing learning. This may include assignments like gathering information about relatives and the work they do for a living, preparing a family tree, taking pictures of different types of wristwatch dials, of traffic signals and their position on the road, etc.

To the question, “What HW should be given?”, there cannot be a standard answer as it varies for different subjects and age groups. Nevertheless, here is an attempt at answering that question.

HW for lower primary students
Basic literacy skills are taught in the lower primary sections. These include LSRW – Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. Thus, HW in the lower primary section must focus on these skills. A normal HW in this section may contain work like reading a poem aloud, writing a paragraph, speaking aloud what is understood, etc. A teacher giving HW should also focus on the fine motor skills of the child. Such HW will include copy writing, tracing letters/numbers, etc. Generally, to lower the stress level of the child and parents, education boards have suggested not giving HW in lower primary sections. However, they have suggested providing activities that will enhance learning, such as drawing kitchen utensils, counting stairs, making fruit/vegetable prints with help of cut fruits and vegetables, etc.

HW for upper primary students
Subjects in the upper primary classes focus on basic mental development, social development and individual responsibility. Referring to the board guidelines, we understand that HW here is important but is referred to as “practice work” or “self-work”. It is suggested that students be provided with at least two hours of practice work every day in order to keep them engaged with the work done at school. Such practice work or self-work is essential for the students so that they stay focused on the subject they are learning.

Teachers have complaints with regard to students not doing their HW regularly, but a smart teacher should try and give HW that is interesting. One can ask students to observe how a pressure cooker works, how a map should be referred to, to calculate the grocery bill, etc. Thus, HW for the upper primary section should be light, stress-free, creative and must include some physical activity. Care should be taken not to demand all work on a single date and time.

homework

HW for high school students
Children in high school are in their adolescence and generally between 15 and 17 years. During this age, they undergo physical and emotional changes due to hormonal development. The high school teacher may find a slightly higher degree of non-compliance as compared to the primary section teachers. Thus, the teacher in high school must take special care in imparting education, HW and instructions to the students. If one is not specific and clear then the instructions may be misunderstood. Suggestions for HW in this section consist of the following:

  • HW should be creative and interesting and not laborious. Avoid giving copywriting assignments.
  • Give work that involves some activity that requires them to research and find information from the Internet, market, shop, government office, etc.
  • For math and science, try to provide real life activities such as experiments that they can try in their kitchen and then jot down the observations, calculating the monthly household budget, measuring the heights of the walls, etc.
  • One can try providing “differential homework”, meaning giving different HW to students with different grasping and working capacities. One can provide creative work to some students and repetitive work to others. Differential homework may seem to increase the task of teachers for a while as one will have to remember what HW is assigned and to whom, but over a period of time this will ease out as students feel a special treatment and submit their HW without even being asked.

HW for higher secondary students
Here we have streams like arts, science and commerce and so there cannot be common suggestions for the same. The content and quantities will vary as per the stream. In higher secondary, care must be taken to issue work that will provoke the creative mind of the students. For example, for commerce, HW may consist of getting information from a bank, stock exchange, post office, etc. While for science students, it may consist of getting information from a laboratory, clinic, engineer’s office, etc. Whereas, for art students it can be completely different and experiential.

Essentially, education in higher secondary should be more practical than theoretical. This is the time one can try and rely on the flipped classroom concept, where students refer to the text or theory at home and then come to class and discuss the topic with the teacher.

There cannot be common formulae for assigning HW to students. Some would argue that there should be no HW at all. However, we all agree that students should have sufficient work to influence their mental development and enhance their interest in a subject.

Solving puzzles, writing letters, putting together household lists, cooking, reading newspapers and watching documentaries and natural history programmes: this is what the board wants upper primary students from classes 6 to 8 to do after school. The manual – posted on the CBSE website – has a set of guidelines detailing how ‘practice work’ can be made interesting and ways to incorporate different activities to enhance a child’s learning curve. The manual, which runs to 318 pages, says that schools can conduct discussions on the kind of after-school work students would like to do, and also design and structure the study load into easily manageable modules. It recommends that students make extensive use of newspapers and watch news channels. For social sciences, for instance, students can design a case study on a controversial law and discuss the solutions. (Refer to site: http://cbse.nic.in/ePub/webcbse/webcbse/ab-cbse-book-2.html for subject wise manual.)

We have tried to understand how to give HW in the present times. The thoughts expressed here are not conclusive but aim to question why, in the present times, when we are focusing on digital literacy and learning computer as a tool we still assign HW that is laborious in nature and generally prevents a student from learning. It’s high time we focus on what work we give to students rather than complain that the students of this generation are not working up to the mark.

Let’s contribute to the development of a smart generation and not just literate labourers.

References
http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/cbse-tells-schools-to-make-homework-fun/article8835945.ece
http://49.50.70.100/web_material/Notifications/2016/13_Notification-e-_support_materials.pdf
http://cbseacademic.in/web_material/doc/Alternative%20to%20Homework%20(English).pdf

The author is an eminent educationist. With his research based approach, he has made many developments at the school level that enable children to learn better and parents to cooperate in their child’s learning. He can be reached at drvishalvaria@yahoo.in.