Homework and E-Learning is taking over the world; causing incredible anxiety and childhood sadness. Let’s drop it, and focus on reading and playing.
Homework is a fiasco. Teachers perpetuate the myth that …”practice makes perfect! If you practice what has been taught you will remember it.” The truth is that the brain learns by repetition of new concepts and skills using different contexts, but always under the watchful eye of a master coach. Parents are masters at parenting (well some are) – they are certainly not masters of teaching. It takes a four year degree and years of experience to lay neural pathways to long-term memory banks. These are situated all over the brain and remain longer than the short-term memory required by schools for regurgitation during testing.
The 21st century has seen the introduction of longer school days as bureaucrats try to improve test scores in a competitive performance market. The long school day means that children are pressurised to fit everything in to 24 hour days and the area most affected is sleep time. School going children should sleep for 9 hours a day. School is currently 7 hours. That leaves only 8 hours for travel, exercise, connecting with friends and family, play, time in prayer, meditation and other mindful activities and time out (just doing nothing). As a result, our children are battling high levels of anxiety leading to unnecessary levels of childhood sadness and depression which is dramatically affecting the drop-out rate during the teenage years.
This forced lockdown is, in my mind, nature’s way of healing a broken planet. The VIRUS is forcing the GERM (Government Education Reform Movement) to disrupt the endless testing cycle that produces high levels of anxiety in the youth and replace it with time-out at home. In fact, the VIRUS is giving young people forced time-out – out of class. While governments are racing to provide personal protective equipment (PPE’s) to the medical profession, the GERM was left free to penetrate the very heart of every home, parent and teacher. The GERM convinced us in a very short period of time that intense Homework assignments that often required grading was a necessary evil if we wanted to improve education. Despite clear evidence from countries like Finland, Canada, Estonia and others, the GERM was free to be spread by desperate politicians seeking re-election on the education ticket in the USA, UK and Australia.
Fighting many odds, I bartered reading for homework with my staff and students. I left the parents out of the decision, because they were so deeply infected by the GERM that most were on ventilators gasping for extra lessons for their children in order to achieve the right grade to get into the right university.
Teachers agreed to give up Homework if students committed to reading. We made a formal deal. 20 minutes of reading per day and No Homework. We pledge allegiance to the deal. It was sealed. My school became a reading paradise – committed to spending time in our iRead Centre while the local public library ordered additional suitable books. What could be better for the brain than to work hard during the school day, spend the afternoon playing organised sport and/or unstructured games and returning home in the evening after going for a surf or visiting friends, having supper and retreating to read before enjoying a anxiety free night of sleep.
But what do teachers have to say?
Grade Two Teacher
As a Grade 2 teacher, I have thoroughly enjoyed the “No Homework Policy”. It has been a pleasure not to chase and nag after the children for their homework. It has been a bonus not to have +/- 64 parents wondering how to do the Maths, or confusing their children with their “old school” methods. I’ve noticed that the students are far more relaxed, and eager to learn during the school day. They aren’t stressed in the mornings anymore, because their “dog didn’t have any homework to eat the previous evening!”
Our focus being “Reading” at home has been especially fruitful. My class is so enthusiastic about reading. For them, reading is now an adventure, instead of one of many things to get through before bedtime.
Grade One Teacher
As a teacher at the school, the ‘no-homework’ policy has had a profound effect on my class. I am the teacher of a Grade One girl’s class and although girls love to draw and work in their books, to send it for homework too, was just too much for them.
Since the policy has been implemented I have seen a huge change in my class as well as in their academic work. Previously, my six/seven year olds had to go home and complete homework tasks after a long school day. Where was the time for them to enjoy sport? To spend time with their busy parents without it involving work? Suddenly, when reading became the only “homework”, my girls began to thrive. Not only were they more relaxed; learning and reading became enjoyable for them – not just a task they had to get through!
In terms of classroom management, I get to design more in depth thinking activities with my girls as they learn to read. Pressurising them to complete tasks is a thing of the past. They approach tasks with confidence and with the knowledge they have gathered through revision. My job is to instil a love for school and a desire to learn, and the no homework policy has totally supported that. The girls look forward to going home and reading, spending quality time with their parents. The work is done at school – that is my job. Home is a place of relaxation and fun knowledge-building. Not a place of conflict. A child that feels safe, loved and relaxed, is a child that is in the right mindset for the learning environment.
To witness the reading improvement has been amazing. It really influences all of their lives as well as other school subjects. I know my colleagues feel the same. Our classes are more relaxed, confident in their abilities and are developing a love for reading which is exciting to experience with them.
Grade 7 Teacher
I was not in favour of the policy. We were given an opportunity to verbalise our opinions, but I could not find sufficient evidence to support the Homework programme at a Grade 7 level apart from the fact that the High Schools did it. I sat with my Grade and re-designed our long-term planning. We merged subjects into categories, looked for relationships between content, followed patterns and identified the essential skills that needed to be mastered for long-term application.
An overwhelming national curriculum soon became a manageable task with careful and detailed planning. In fact there was a lot of time to now obtain multiple grades from one project completed in class collaboratively. We peer assessed to ensure a standardised assessment structure in the grade and we looked at grade averages. We used this small data to profile our students and identify where the interventions were necessary. It was amazing. The more our students read, the better their language construction. The more they engaged with the texts, the better their use of low frequency words became.
We started the day by each group reading the daily news from different sources and compared data to determine the role of fake and fact checked information. One parent objected to their daughter reading the news. She felt that 13 year olds shouldn’t be exposed to the realities of the world. Perhaps that mum’s ventilator was malfunctioning. Needless to say we engaged with the parent and tried to explain our policy. But our clients were our students and the success was undeniable.
We are in lock down. It a new season for many students. It is a season where our students are not being overwhelmed by grading strategies like the common test. It is a time where the GERM and the VIRUS can’t reach us because we are in lock down with well washed hands and sanitised homes.
Use this safe place to ignite a love of reading. Read to your child if they find it hard. Pair read with the younger ones or the resistant readers so that they read a few lines and then you take over before nudging them to try a line or two. Give them the freedom to nudge you whenever they want you to read for them. Remember, reading is one of the vehicles for learning. Words are just a collection of symbols in patterns that are categorised and used in relation to others. Let them look (see) the picture – point to the collection of symbols we call words so that they can connect the visual images of a graphic with a symbol called a word. They will hear (listen) and then they will slowly learn to attack the word and decode the symbols.
All the while, an engaging story is being enjoyed as the brain is hard at work. Include lots of graphic novels (comics), audiobooks for those who prefer to listen to a story while building lego. Alternatively, read aloud to them.
This is such a wonderful opportunity to model reading and develop a great love for something that far exceeds the importance of day-to-day schooling.