My children regularly come home with homework and it terrifies me. The endless worksheets! And my children are often unsure what they are supposed to be doing with them – or learning from them.
The screams, the tantrums! Sitting down with your child and supporting them should be easy, especially if you are a headteacher with lots of classroom experience like me, but unfortunately it really is not as easy as it seems.
Project-based homework, however, holds no such fears. It is engaging and develops both skills and knowledge – and it brings us together as a family.
And that is why, at our school, we often set it.
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You have to consider the parents with whom you are working when setting homework. Some may have little English language, some may have left education early, and some may simply not be around as often as they would like. A combination of these factors can lead to a fear of supporting their child and barriers to engagement.
And engaging is tough, we have to remember that. A parent needs countless skills these days to support learning at home: patience, knowledge and, often, being able to use the most current strategies being taught in the school.
Is it any wonder that sometimes parents cannot make head nor tail of what their child is meant to be doing on the worksheet that has been sent home, or what exactly they are supposed to be doing in their topic book?
This is why project-based homework can be so valuable.
1. It helps find common ground where parents can support and connect with their children, no matter their skills and knowledge. They can contribute on their level by bringing their ideas to it.
2. It is usually open-ended, so is non-threatening – parents often question "what can I bring to this?" when a worksheet comes home. It's a fear many parents who left education carry and that can prevent engagement.
3. It encourages parents to spend time with their children – it is a fun task they tend to do voluntarily. Having introduced it over the past few years, I have seen parents get more involved with their children, spending quality time with them and learning something new themselves. The depth of learning and outcomes have been very positive, too. The creative results are displayed around the school and we have found the quality to be very high.
But what about the learning, you ask? Well, just facilitating time between a parent and their child is valuable in itself. But there have been knock-on effects on learning: expectations have certainly been raised and this has led to better outcomes for pupils overall.
But project-based homework is easy to get wrong. Here’s what we have learned makes project-based homework most effective:
- Choose open questions that allow children to decide how they want to represent their findings.
- Choose topics that are of interest to the children.
- Encourage independence, critical thinking and problem solving in school so they have the skills to use these at home.
- Ensure that children are clear on your expectations for the outcomes they produce.
- Give them time to do their project so it is not rushed.
- Show them half a term in advance the projects that they will be asked to work on.
Alison Jacob is headteacher at Edgeware Primary School