Secret agent cracks hard case

24th February 2006 at 00:00
Tired of excuses about missing homework? Giles Hughes has devised the perfect solution to motivate 'non-participants' in his Year 6 class

It's Friday afternoon and audible groans of disappointment filter from each classroom as homework assignments are given out. On Sunday evenings tensions rise in homes throughout the country as parents and their children begin negotiations, threats, sulks and bribery over uncompleted homework.

Back at school the following day, teachers begin to chase up the late and missing homework. Once again the nation's dogs have developed a taste for paper and thousands of homework sheets have been left on the back seats of cars and buses.

Last year, I decided to try to change this pattern of behaviour in a challenging Year 6 class where it was becoming a battle to get homework regularly from certain pupils. I split the class into three categories: regular, infrequent and non-participants, with roughly a third of the class in each.

My next undertaking was to look at our homework scheme. All the tasks were presented on single A4 photocopied sheets, and the vast majority were numeracy and literacy-based. The sheets tended to look similar, generally being formal and lacking pictures, diagrams or illustrations.

It was obvious that these tasks were completely inappropriate for the group of non-participants - 80 per cent boys and 70 per cent on the special needs register. I invited this group to carry out a "preferred learning style"

questionnaire. The results indicated that 55 per cent of the group were kinaesthetic learners and 30 per cent visual learners.

I also asked them to list things that they were interested in outside school and their favourite lessons. Football, art, science fiction, dinosaurs, sport, computer games and cars figured.

The first task I set was one where they had to invent their own James Bond-style watch. The design had to incorporate three gadgets. They then had to write a short story where their hero uses all three gadgets on their watch to defeat or escape from their enemy.

Children love secrets and an element of mystery so, in order to attract their interest, I staged this first task.

On Monday morning, I sat at my desk with my back to the class, apparently engrossed in what I was doing, before calling the register. Within moments I was surrounded by a group of inquisitive children eager to see what I was up to. Quickly I covered my work, giving just enough time for them to see I had been busy drawing something.

Despite constant pestering I refused to tell them what my sketch was of. I continued this charade during the day, making sure that news of my Design a James Bond Watch homework sheet slowly filtered around the class. The design of the sheet was highly visual, keeping text down to a minimum.

On Friday, I introduced the task to the children, proudly showing my watch design and explaining its functions. To my amazement, two of the boys called out, "We've done ours already. We sneaked in one playtime and saw it on your desk."

These two individuals, who hadn't managed a single piece of homework all year, now produced finished watch designs and stories from their bags. That week, every child in the class completed their homework on time and I realised I was onto a winner.

Over the next few weeks the number of children completing their homework remained high, as they designed and made their own 3D cars, pieced together fossils to generate a new dinosaur species, designed a new school football kit, and sketched everyday objects from unusual angles.

Feedback from parents was also highly positive. Many had noticed an upbeat change in their children's attitude towards homework. Indeed, one boy's homework had improved beyond recognition; his handwriting, spelling, grammar, design skills and drawing were a revelation. Alas, it was too good to be true - the new tasks had proved to be a temptation for his father who had completed them himself! The boy ended up taking two copies home so they could work together. Even then his father insisted on handing in his homework, as well!

Devising tasks that got the children to think creatively or giving traditional tasks a creative twist was the key. For instance, children loved the quirky illustrations provided for Duster Slippers for Cats and for a Personal Rain Catcher. They were soon inventing, describing and illustrating their own useless inventions.

Chasing missing homework has become a thing of the past. These innovative homework tasks have now been incorporated into whole-school planning across all year groups as we strive to develop a more stimulating and creative curriculum.

* A pack featuring these activities, 30 Creative Homework Tasks for KS2 Email:

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