Did Satan invent homework?

Teachers are usually expected to set homework. But for many teachers it’s a pain in the backside. But why is that?

Parents mostly love homework. Do they love it out of spite, knowing how much teachers (and kids) hate it?

I guess parents think homework is good for their children (if only they knew) and I strongly believe that kids hate it because they unconsciously know deep down that it isn’t. At least it isn’t in the majority of cases.

“Most homework teachers set is crap”. Dylan William, 2014

Well said sir!

My six-year old comes home with a mixture of homework each week. He learns spellings for ten words, learns a multiplication table and then ‘does a worksheet’.

He quite likes learning his spellings and times-tables. He sits quietly and Self-Quizzes happily for several minutes modt ddays. But he hates the worksheets.

So why is that? Surely it can’t just be that he dislikes worksheets?

You see, it’s not the worksheets per se but more the style of questions that they contain.

This is what I think is going on. When he’s learning the spellings and multiplications – and by learning I mean memorising using Self-Quiz – he’s working predominantly with long-term memory. The load on his working memory is quite low. Accessing long-term memory doesn’t tire you out in the same way that using working memory does. Committing facts to long-term memory is not exhausting. It’s generally quite a pleasant experience and I believe that’s partly down to the way that you feel yourself getting more intelligent as you learn.

But these worksheets are written like a damn test.The questions often draw on knowledge that my son doesn’t know or hasn’t learned deeply enough yet. Because of this he is always ‘working it out’ the hard way, which is taxing on working memory and leads to meltdown.

Add this to the fact that homework is done after a long day at school where it’s likely that a good deal of time has already spent in working memory anyway, you can see why I feel sympathetic toward my little boy’s plight.

So what needs to change?

We need to save the ‘tests’ for when we actually want to test the child. A good secondary school example of this is GCSE questions. These questions don’t build knowledge, they test it. They sample a small part of the domain of knowledge and force children into problem solving using a combination of working and long-term memories. They make rubbish homework.

And that’s why my eldest loves learning his spellings and why he hates his ‘worksheets’. It’s because committing knowledge to memory is not taxing. It’s actually enjoyable. And you can feel yourself getting more clever as you don’t.

Unlike tests. Tests are testing. And I completely understand why a child wouldn’t want to sit one just before or after his tea.

So don’t set tests for homework.

In fact, don’t set homework at all. Set Home LEARNING. And when you do, make sure the children are actually learning and not just sitting another test.





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