Making homework child friendly

Shailendra Gupta

These days there is a lot written about the ill effects of homework. In recent years, many agencies that can do your homework for you have mushroomed. These agencies proudly claim that they do the projects and homework according to the calibre of the children who are using their services. It is very disheartening to note that even parents encourage these practices without stopping to think of the damage they are doing to their children by outsourcing homework and projects.

Homework is an integral part of education and is necessary because according to a research by Fraser, Walberg, Welch, and Hattie, (1987) “Schooling occupies only about 13 percent of the waking hours of the first 18 years of life,” which is less than the amount of time students spend watching television. Research further proves that the more homework students do, the better their achievement. Homework has become a misunderstood tool as teachers and parents are not aware of its importance. Therefore, let us understand the importance of homework, how much homework should be given, and how to make homework child friendly.

Importance of homework
According to a well-researched publication of International Bureau of Education (IBE), Geneva: Parents & Learning by Sam Redding (2000), “Students learn best when homework is assigned regularly, graded, returned promptly, and used primarily to rehearse material first presented by the teacher at school.

Homework, properly utilized by teachers, produces an effect on learning three times as large as family socio-economic status. Homework is effective in student mastery of facts and concepts as well as critical thinking and formation of productive attitudes and habits. Homework has compensatory effects in that students of lower ability can achieve marks equal to those of higher ability students through increased study at home. Homework is also a significant factor in differences in achievement test scores.”

The publication further enumerates, “In addition to its positive effect on academic achievement, homework establishes the habit of studying in the home; prepares the student for independent learning; can be a focal point of constructive family interaction; allows the parents to see what the student is learning in school; competes with televiewing rather than with constructive activities in most homes; extends formal learning beyond the school day; enables the student to reflect on material and become more intimately familiar with it than is often allowed in a busy, sometimes distracting school setting; and provides the teacher with a frequent check on student’s progress.”

If we analyze all the possible researches done in the domain of homework, a majority of them agree that homework is important and has positive effect on academic achievement and promoting good study habits among children. According to Gill and Schlossman (1996), “Leading educational spokespersons have celebrated homework as essential to raise educational standards, foster high academic achievement, upgrade the quality of the labor force, and link family and school in a common teaching mission.” Further researches claim that homework helps students develop responsibility and life skills and the ability to manage tasks and that it provides experiential learning, increased motivation, opportunities to learn to cope with difficulties and distractions, and academic benefits (Corno and Xu 2004; Coutts 2004; Xu and Corno 1998).

How much homework is right homework
According to Bombay Primary Education Act (1949), class one and two students should not be given homework, class three to five and class six and seven students should be given daily homework not exceeding 30 minutes and 60 minutes respectively.

homework

In some countries teachers practice an informal rule of giving 10 minutes of daily homework to class one students, 20 minutes of homework to class two students and so on elevating an additional 10 minutes for each year of school. Most of the researches agree to this policy and recommend giving purposeful homework.

According to the IBE publication, “The effect of homework does not increase proportionately with the amount assigned, but rather with the frequency (or regularity) of its assignment, the nature of the assignment, and the teacher’s attention to the student’s work. Homework is most effective when it is frequent, directly related to in-class work, used to master rather than introduce new material, graded and included as a significant part of the report card grade and returned to the student soon after it is collected, and marked with comments particular to the student.”

Research tells a teacher how effective homework can be and what to expect from the practice of giving homework. A study of the effectiveness of homework in mathematics, for example, concludes the following:

  • Required homework is more effective than voluntary homework.
  • Homework is more effective when it involves higher order thinking.
  • Having no homework assigned at one grade level adversely affects performance at subsequent grade levels.
  • Homework is most effective when returned promptly by the teacher with comments and a grade.

Making homework child friendly
Usually, when we give homework we ask children to answer the questions given at the back of the chapter, or give them some routine questions and sums as homework. Children get bored with routine questions and lose interest. For young children homework should be simple, interesting, challenging and not time consuming. Young children love doing homework that is fun and simple as it gives them a sense of accomplishment.

Make questions: We can ask students to make questions after a chapter or part of a chapter is over. This gives them a chance to probe and think. We can ask them to make closed or open-ended questions depending on the nature of the content taught. These questions can then be distributed in the class and answers displayed on soft boards.

Draw a situation, poem, or story: After teaching a poem, a story, or an essay, we can ask the students to draw/paint the poem, story, or essay. This will promote imagination as well as motivate students who are inclined towards arts and craft to read other subjects.

Different title, end: After teaching a chapter in language, history, etc., we can ask students to think of different titles and/or endings.

Open-ended questions: Open-ended questions are fascinating and promote critical thinking as well as problem solving. We can give open-ended question as homework. For instance, instead of asking 3+4=__, we can ask __+__=7. We can prepare open-ended questions in any subject.

Write in a poem or song form: This technique can be used successfully in any subject. We can ask students to write poems on shapes like triangle, sphere, cone in maths; in history we can ask them to write a poem or song on the Mughal period, for instance.

Futuristic approach to education: Usually we restrict ourselves either to the past or the present while teaching. We can design future related assignments/projects as homework, which will be challenging and research-oriented. Imagine students doing homework on the “sixth state of matter”, “body parts which are likely to be extinct in the next 500 years”, “homes of the future”, etc.

There are many more techniques like mind maps, role plays, projects, case studies, model making, concept webs, etc., which can be different means of assigning homework. While planning homework we should work out different techniques for different chapters depending on the purpose of the homework, so that students do not suffer from similar technique fatigue.

Last but not the least no technique will work unless parents learn to assume the role of facilitators at home instead of outsourcing or doing the homework given to children at the school. Schools should take the responsibility of training parents to act as facilitators instead of doers. In this context, I am reminded of a beautiful story, Once in a gurukul the guru confronted his sishya who was always in prayer in front of his parents’ photograph. The guru asked, “When will you stop leaning on your parents and stand on your own two feet?” The sishya was astonished and asked, “But you are the one who taught us to look up to our parents as god!” To this the guru replied, “When will you learn that parents are not someone you can lean on but someone who will rid you of your tendency to lean?”

One of the primary objectives of homework is to make children independent learners. Instead of taking homework as chores, parents should view it as an opportunity to help their children grow and learn. Let us join hands to make homework interesting and challenging so that it is not a burden for children.

The auhor is Registrar and Principal at Calorx Teachers’ University, Ahmedabad”. He can be reached at gdrshailendra@gmail.com.