I’ve set some pretty appalling homework in my time, from nebulous research tasks to sculpture-making (I’m an English teacher).
I once gave an entire Year 9 class the optional homework of baking a visual representation of a book they were reading.
The students loved it (who doesn’t love an excuse to eat cake?), but what was the learning value?
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What did it achieve (other than upsetting the entire food technology department, who spent the day shooing kids away from their fridge space)?
I was trapped in an apparent paradox: I could either set homework that was worthwhile or I could set homework that I didn’t have to mark. The holy grail of homework that was both valuable and didn’t require marking eluded me for years.
So does win-win English homework exist? Yes. I haven’t marked a piece of homework in years, yet I know that what I’ve been setting is the most worthwhile homework of my career.
We have a three-strand approach to homework in my department. Students are expected to read, learn ambitious vocabulary and self-quiz on key knowledge from their set texts. That’s it: high value, workload-friendly homework.
Our key stage 3 students are expected to read for 20 minutes every day. This is tracked using a Google Doc form that they complete once a week; this enables us to have discussions with them about their reading and to identify students who need support.
There’s no marking, just a quick glance over the automated feedback sheets that show when and what students have been reading.
For key stage 4, we set a reading challenge every week. We’ve read brilliant short stories like The Stormchasers by Adam Marek, an article about manspreading by Radhika Sanghani and the opening of classic novels such as Pride and Prejudice.
Students sample a wide variety of literature and models of excellent writing. There’s no marking, just a follow-up 5-a-Day starter that students mark themselves and then we spend a few minutes discussing the reading.
We want all of our students to have a vocabulary that enables them to understand and express sophisticated ideas. Every year, students are given a list of 45 words to learn, which we encourage them to do with a few minutes here and there using Quizlet.
There’s no marking, just a weekly vocabulary test that students score themselves. The glorious thing has been seeing our students transferring this vocabulary to other subjects – understanding a word in a history extract, for example, because they learned it for homework in English.
One of the best things we’ve introduced is self-quizzing homework, an idea taken from Joe Kirby’s "Homework as Revision" chapter in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: the Michaela way. The idea is deceptively simple: students recall what they can from a section of their knowledge organiser by writing out everything they can remember.
Once they’ve finished, they check to see where there are gaps or errors and make corrections in a different coloured pen. We expect all of our students to self-quiz for 30 minutes every week.
There’s no marking – once a week, students are asked to lay out their self-quizzing books for the teacher to quickly check.
Rebecca Foster is head of English and associate senior leader at Wyvern St Edmund’s Learning Campus