‘The dog ate my homework!” – strategies to improve the setting and completion of homework

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Nicola Osman (English)

“The dog ate my homework!”  How inventive are your pupils when it comes to giving you a reason why they are not handing in or did not complete their homework?

The story goes that John Steinbeck went for a walk after he had finished writing the draft of his book ‘Of Mice and Men’.  When he returned he found that his dog had indeed chewed the hand-written manuscript to pieces and the story had to be written out again!

The challenge of setting meaningful homework that pupils are going to complete and which, if we are honest as teachers, we have remembered to set and resource on the correct day, according to our homework timetable, is one that many teachers face.  Also, if we can take the sting out of the need to chase and discipline children when it comes to late or uncompleted homework we are doing ourselves a service too.

It was time to revisit our approach to homework.

With these ideas in mind, our English faculty have set about addressing this problem for every teacher in the team and for every pupil, in every class.

The four principles that guided our plan were:

  1. To set a meaningful homework for every pupil, every week
  2. To use our online homework setting resource ‘Show My Homework’, effectively
  3. To ensure that homework had a genuine impact on pupils’ learning
  4. To set work which helps to prepare pupils for the demands of the new GCSE English syllabus

To do this we are adopting a two step strategy.

Step One: Adopt a Faculty Approach to Homework

We have adopted a common programme of homework for all pupils in each year group (Which can then be differentiated as necessary for particular pupils/groups)

Spelling HW

Figure 1: A Year 7 Spelling homework

As Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) have been given a much greater profile in GCSE English it was decided to set homework in a cycle that directly addressed these areas across Years 7-9.  The cycle runs as follows: Week 1 – Spelling, Week 2 – Punctuation, Week 3 – Grammar.   Systematically building up these skills with pupils will lay the foundation for later GCSE study.

Grammar HW

Figure 2: A Year 8 Grammar homework

Punctuation HW

Figure 3: A Year 8 Grammar test used to assess a learning homework (see figure 2)

In Years and 10 and 11, where greater retention of information and memorising of quotations are demanded by the new GCSE syllabus, a two year programme of planned and structured revision made the most sense as the basis for homework across the GCSE course.

Revision HW

Figure 4: A section of a Year 10/11 Revision homework plan

With a clear structure established, all of the homework tasks  for the coming year could be planned and prepared in advance.  This involved a lot of work but by sharing the load across the faculty team and by setting homework in a common format that could be used across all classes, we reduced the scale of the job.  So, guided by our four principles above, each member of the team has prepared a share of the homework materials for the faculty.

By working in this way we also achieved a consistency of format and style in the tasks which meant greater consistency for pupils.  This work demanded an investment of time and energy, which was taken from lessons gained after exam classes had left in the summer term but the benefit for us all is that next year’s homework has been fully planned and resourced across the faculty and this will save planning time next year.

Step Two: Streamline Communication

Having planned a year’s homework in advance, ensuring that the pupils get and complete the homework becomes the next priority and a clear ‘no excuses’ communication system is the key.  No more,  ‘I didn’t get the homework!, or more embarrassingly, ‘I forget to set the homework!’.

One teacher in the Faculty now takes responsibility for setting all of the homework for the Faculty for a term.

All of the homework for a term can be set in advance and scheduled using the Show My Homework system.  You can either make all the homework available to pupils in advance for the weeks ahead or it can be scheduled to be automatically released to pupils on a weekly basis.  Show My Homework also allows you to attach the resource sheet electronically so there is no need to photocopy multiple sheets which could then get ‘lost’.  Show My Homework also ensures that parents as well as pupils know what homework has been set and when it is due in.

This is backed up by our second line of communication, the English faculty homework board.  The board in the corridor of the English faculty is a ‘one-stop-shop’, where the teacher responsible for setting homework in a particular term, posts the five homework tasks, one per week for each year group.  Pupils can then physically check their homework in school and are encouraged to take a picture of it on their phones if that is helpful to them.  With the same location and routine for ‘publishing’ each homework pupils have no excuse for not being able to check their own homework.

HW noticeboard

Figure 5: The English faculty homework board

With many of the tasks being  self and peer-assessed, initially through tests or checks in class, this allows each teacher to focus their marking time towards the piece(s) of work that is of the highest priority for more detailed assessment.

Non-completion becomes apparent through poor test scores and by setting a pass mark and consequent re-test for those who have not made the effort, the incentive to ‘get it right first time’ is established.

Some final thoughts…

  • The scheme requires an investment of time and effort at the beginning but once established should save teacher time
  • All teachers  have an equal responsibility to contribute thus ensuring fairness within the team
  • Communication of homework and expectations regarding homework are simplified for teachers, pupils and parents
  • This scheme highlights the importance of Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar to pupils

Going forward…

  • We intend to extend the options for differentiation within the tasks

So, come the start of the new school year the dog may need to find something else to chew on!

Featured image: ‘Learn, school, help’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

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