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Things I wish I'd known

Sue Cowley explains how to get full marks on homework-setting

With homework, what we should do in theory often bears little resemblance to what we do in reality. While training, you'll have been taught to set homework that is an extension of what has been done in class: relevant, meaningful and properly differentiated work for every child. But homework is often the last thing on the hard-pressed teacher's mind.

There's a great temptation to hand out lots of tough stuff at the start of term, when you're on top of your game. This makes life difficult for students, especially new Year 7s, who will not be used to getting large quantities of homework from lots of teachers. Remember they have enough to cope with in their move to the "big school", so try to break them in gently if you can.

Not all homework has to be in a written format; every time you set a written task you are condemning yourself to a large pile of marking.

Consider using non-written activities such as doing research, memorising poems, tape-recording interviews, creating posters. You can also use long-term projects to good effect, typing a list of activities, then asking the children to complete one task per homework.

One of the most stressful aspects is getting the students to hand in their work on time (or at all). You will probably have met children who claim they were absent when the work was set. To overcome this, leave a column for ticking off homework alongside the register column in your mark book.

This allows you to see who was in the lesson, and who owes you work. And you need to decide what you're going to do if homework is missing. One approach is to give an instant detention, to be served that day, during which the work can be completed.

Over the years I've heard some wonderfully creative excuses from my students. Most place the blame firmly on others, with the classic culprits being "my dog" and "my mum". Remember, though, that not all homework avoidance is down to laziness. Consider the child whose home life is noisy, cramped and chaotic; who has nowhere to study quietly. If you teach children who have difficult home lives, then consider setting up a homework club where they can work in relative peace.

Finally, as you're sifting through a pile of scrappy, poorly completed homework, wondering why you bother, take a moment to enjoy and reward the occasional gem that stands out from the rest.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book, Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact: sue@suecowley.co.uk

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