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Creativity for control freaks

Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Bringing home the homework I have long been on a quest for family-friendly homework - something more likely to pull parents into learning than drive them away. My early successes came with setting tasks to complete. For example, pupils were asked to measure and compare their family's little fingers instead of completing tatty "measuring" sheets. Instead of "build a myth" sheets, I charged them with collecting signatures from three people to whom they told myths they had first heard during literacy.

A real "eureka" moment came when Lee handed in homework with not a single letter in his own handwriting. "Who did this for you?" I asked. "My sister," he said. "I was so tired". My heartstrings tugged for a moment. I asked him to sit down while I composed a snotty comment. Lee was one of my most able pupils; there was no excuse for not getting homework done. As I read it through, however, it was clear that Lee had done his homework more thoroughly than ever before. Sure, he hadn't written it, but given the open-ended nature of the task, his sister could not have written a word without having my teaching, his learning and his reflections on it first explained to her. Without the pressure of scribing his own thoughts, they had flowed more freely and more fully. I called Lee over, apologised for being grumpy and gave him a sticker to give his sister.

Since then I have made sure pupils understand that they are welcome to find someone to put their ideas on paper for them or type them. Rather than encouraging pupils to be secretive and evasive with their families about homework, it makes children seek partners who tease learning from them as they find out what they need to write, draw or talk about. If they don't understand, the parents come and ask, providing an extra level of feedback and communication. This partnership also opens these tasks to less able and younger children.

As in many schools, these tasks have evolved into a weekly "learning log", doing away with assignment-setting altogether. Instead, reminders of the week's lessons are given in familiar form and then it's over to the pupil and their family to prove what they have learned in the way that suits them best. Some write, some draw, some do a mixture of both. Others use Mind Maps, make collages or use the computer. Last week, Esme reflected on "real-life money problems" by setting up her own shop at home. Her homework comprised a single photo that spoke a thousand words. It's fun to mark. The "take home, bring back done" ratio has never been so good and neither has the goodwill from the families that comes with it.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email:

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