Concerned: Paula Wilson with her daughters Apryl and Madyson. Mrs Wilson banned homework for Madyson for a year. Photo: Peter GleesonParents are applauding efforts by primary schools to drop stressful, time-consuming homework, even as experts say it is often parents who push for teachers to set homework in the first place.
Parents at St Charles’ Primary School at Waverley have responded enthusiastically to the school’s decision to swap much of its traditional homework for tasks at home that emphasise family life and active pursuits. ”We weren’t happy with the current homework that was happening because children weren’t being engaged with it,” said acting principal Hilary Cameron.
The school – which changed strategy two years ago – is one of an increasing number in NSW that use the ”homework grid” based on a concept by Ian Lillico, which recognises activities such as reading, going shopping with parents, teaching their parents something they learnt, physical activity and even housework as ”homework”.
Ms Cameron said that a survey conducted 12 months after the program began showed that 90 per cent of teachers and 80 per cent of parents were in favour of the new grid.
”The activities gifted families with family time, which is the way it should be,” she said.
Despite homework being a ”hotly contested area”, Professor John Hattie said research conducted over the past 20 years had found traditional homework offered limited benefits to primary school students. Too much homework combined with a lack of appropriate supervision of that work was not an effective way to teach children, he said.
”For too many students, homework reinforces that they cannot learn by themselves, and that they cannot do the school work,” he said.
”For these students, homework can undermine motivation, internalise incorrect routines and strategies, and reinforce less effective study habits.”
The renowned education expert said it was often parents who pushed for teachers to assign homework.
This view is supported by Gary Zadkovich, deputy president of the NSW Teachers Federation. ”You’ll often have issues arise where teachers will lighten [the homework load] and not overburden students and in so doing, the parents will be concerned,” he said.
Rachael Sowden, spokeswoman for the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, said she was grateful her son’s primary school, Uralla Central School, had adopted the homework grid this year.
”For a busy family it does make it easier,” she said, adding many parents objected to homework because it intruded into scarce family time.
Kerry Smith has two children at Bourke Street Public School in Surry Hills. The five-year-old has reader books and a weekly spelling list and the six-year-old a reader, spelling words and short comprehension and maths work sheets.
”It really isn’t a lot,” she said. ”But it’s just another thing you’ve got to do. When we get home from school it’s just me in the house and the two-year-old is running around.
”I don’t think I’m a helicopter parent but sometimes I feel like I’m standing over them saying ‘come on, come on, let’s just get this done so I can make the dinner’. And then I think ‘for god’s sake they’re five and six, they should be out playing’.”
Associate professor of educational psychology at Sydney University and co-author of Reforming Homework, Richard Walker said it was quality, not quantity that mattered.
”[Quality homework] should be challenging and interesting while low-quality homework tasks are repetitive and boring,” he said.
Stepping in to stop too much studying
Paula Wilson banned homework in her house for a year.
In 2011, sick of the negative impact the extra work was having on eight-year-old daughter Madyson and the rest of the family, Mrs Wilson asked her daughter’s year 3 teacher not to send work home.
”She was coming home each week with a sheet of homework, a home reader, plus speaking projects, plus other projects,” she said.
The Port Macquarie mother of three said the burden meant her daughter, now 10, spent much of the three hours between arriving home and bedtime studying, often with the help of her husband, leaving Madyson without any down time.
”There is more to life than primary school homework,” Mrs Wilson said.
Now her daughter is in year 5, homework has reappeared in the house, but the debate over how much is acceptable divided the Wilson household.
”My husband wants her to develop a homework ethic because she’ll have to do it when she gets to high school,” Mrs Wilson said.
”He wants to see [homework] in schools from the beginning to end [of schooling].”
Mrs Wilson, on the other hand, wants homework banned in primary schools altogether.
She said primary school children did not have the maturity to cope with the pressure of completing so much work.
”They don’t know how to cope with deadlines or prioritise their work.”
Mrs Wilson said Madyson’s negative experience with homework over the years had affected her attitude towards education.
”Now she’s got into this mentality that she’s stupid, but she’s quite a capable kid.”
The large volume of weekly homework, which often demanded a lot of input from both parents, also hit family life, she said.
”There’s always this feeling of doom knowing that it’s coming and [not knowing] where are we going to find the time, or get the resources to find the information,” she said.
Although her eldest daughter had a bad experience with homework, Mrs Wilson said her middle child Apryl was breezing through it.
”The system is failing my oldest daughter, where it could be working for my youngest daughter,” she said.
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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.