What’s the Point of Homework?

Before I begin, I feel I should point out that I agree with homework. I quite often set homework at the end of a tutoring session: sometimes it’s because I can see they understand what we have been working on but I feel that they need more practice for the method to become embedded. Sometimes it’s because I want to see whether they have the confidence to work through a problem without me sitting next to them saying, “Yes” every time they ask, “Is this what I do next?” And sometimes it’s because I want to see how they do with a particular topic before I decide how, or if, I need to teach it.

Regardless of the reason, we’ll go through the homework together afterwards. If it’s maths, we’ll address any areas where they went wrong; if it’s English, we’ll look at what was good about what they wrote, and identify any areas where they could improve. But their independent work is always used as a basis for “where next?”

When I go to a child’s house to tutor, they or their parents will often ask me to help with homework. I’m happy to do that – helping children to understand what they do in school is my job. Obviously I never do the homework for them, but I make sure they understand how to approach it. Increasingly however the homework in question is some sort of puzzle such as sudoku or a wordsearch, which leaves me wondering, “What is the point?” What are the children going to learn from Sudoku? How is it embedding or improving their maths skills?

And wordsearches? So many times I have had children tell me they are stuck with their homework and saying they can’t find some of the words. I do give wordsearches sometimes –  I use them to help children focus on vocabulary or spellings, but I tell them why they have a wordsearch and what to do if they can’t find the words. Where is the learning in not being able to find the words in a wordsearch?

As I said at the beginning – I do believe homework is a useful idea….as long as it is meaningful. I can’t help but feel sometimes that children are given homework for the sake of homework.

What do you think? Do you agree with giving homework and how do you decide what to set?

J is also for…Joker in the classroom

J is for...If you clown around in class, or you refuse to try, of course you will find it harder to learn.

Sometimes children think the work is going to be too hard and so they decide not to mess around and not to try because if they don’t try they can’t fail.

When I was a child, if I got upset because I’d made a mistake my dad would tell me it was better to do things wrong because then you learn twice as much: you learn how not to do it as well as how to do it! He is a very wise man, my dad!

So next time you feel as if you don’t want to try in lesson time, just stop and take a deep breath, and then pick up your pencil and do your best., Doing your best is all anybody can ever ask of you.

Related posts:  I is also for….   K is also for…..

How I Started Out

It took me a long time to start out in teaching. When I first graduated with my joint honours degree in French and Spanish, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I knew with any certainty was that I did not want to be a teacher! I worked as an editor for a financial institution in London for a while, and then spent 11 years as a project manager in the translation industry.

In my spare time I was learning ballroom and Latin American dancing, and my teacher suggested that I train to be a dance teacher myself. I wasn’t sure, but decided I had nothing to lose by trying so I gave it a go. I loved it! I qualified as a ballroom dance teacher in 1998 and as a Latin dance teacher in 2001. I never thought I would enjoy teaching so much, and I started to wonder whether I should go back to university to do a PGCE. I decided not to because I was still happy in the translation industry, and I was good at what I did.  As I got promoted to more senior roles within the industry, I took on more responsibility for training and mentoring new staff, and I enjoyed that too. We had new software installed company-wide. I was the first person to figure out how to use it,and  I ended up running a telephone helpdesk for other employees because they said my explanations were easier to understand than either the user guide or the tech guys. While I was writing a user-guide with screenshots and easy to understand English, I started to wonder again about teaching, and this time I got as far as researching courses at local universities. But still the time didn’t seem right. I was good at my job, which by now also involved travelling abroad, giving presentations and running workshops for some of the company’s most important clients. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be any good at teaching and so yet again I pushed the idea to the back of my mind.

Then something happened that made me realise life is too short to delay important decisions, and a few weeks after that I stumbled across an advert for a new PGCE where I could train in primary AND secondary education. That seemed like an interesting option, and so although I had missed the application deadline for that year I went along to the open day just to see what it was all about. Unbelievably they still had places left and so I applied, was accepted and started a year earlier than I thought I could. Training in both primary and secondary gave me a really good grounding across a whole range of ages, which has been useful since deciding to work as a supply teacher. I now love the fact that I can be having a tea-party in the sandpit in Nursery one day, and teaching languages at university the next. I love everything about my job, but the best part is helping children who are not reaching their full potential to succeed. These days I specialise not just in languages, but in maths and English tuition, and in multi-sensory teaching methods for tutoring children with dyslexia. Becoming a teacher and a private tutor is the best decision I have made.

Do we still need grammar schools? (Part 3)

Not everyone is the same, so I don’t believe an education system should force them into being so – I believe there should be different opportunities for children who are academically gifted. Please note that I say “different” and not “better”.

I feel grateful for the opportunities that learning in a grammar school gave me, and for the doors it opened up for me. Yes, it saddens me that there are children out there who would love those same opportunities, who don’t have them, but I don’t feel that denying them to others is the solution. I really wish that there were more grammar schools, so that more of the children who would like those opportunities could take them, but I am not naive enough to believe that every child in every school would want them.  Despite what some people seem to believe, we don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world.

Grammar schools tend to be smaller, so there is a chance for all children to be fostered and for the quieter ones to shine. There is less disruption in the classes, so more learning can take place. I have taught in a grammar school and it was a joy to teach in a school where the whole class was thirsty for knowledge. There was no time wasted dealing with even low-level disruption, so the children were learning from the moment they sat at their desks to the moment the bell rang at the end of the lesson.

In schools there is always plenty of help available for lower-achieving children, but the higher achievers are often left to their own devices. It’s not the teacher’s fault – if they have a group of children they know they can just leave to get on with it, and another group they know won’t be able to do anything without help then they have no choice but to help the children who are struggling. In a grammar school, all of the children can just get on with it, so the teacher is able to spread his or her time more fairly and everyone gets stretched.

There are still special schools (and rightly so in my opinion) for those children whose learning difficulties are so great that they cannot access the curriculum in a mainstream school. Where then is the problem in having special schools for children at the other end of the spectrum?

I am proud to be from a city that still has grammar schools. Far from closing the ones still in existence in this country, I think we should be opening more.

Read parts 1 and 2 here: Do we still need grammar schools? (part 1), Do we still need grammar schools (part 2)

Do we still need grammar schools? (Part 2)

What other arguments do people have for getting rid of them? I have heard people say that grammar schools are elitist, and that only wealthy people can go because they are the only ones who can afford private tutors.

Rubbish! I went to one. So did my brother. We came from a family where there was always too much month left at the end of the money. My parents often had to choose between paying the bills or putting food on the table. There certainly wasn’t anything to spare for luxuries such as an 11+ tutor. We still earned ourselves a place, and we weren’t the only ones who passed without a tutor – there were children in our class from all walks of life.

It’s still the same now – I know children of single parent families, and parents on benefits who have passed the test in recent years. I have also taught in a grammar school and it certainly wasn’t all rich kids in my classes.

It’s true that many children do have coaching for the 11+ tests, but then they also have coaching for GCSEs and A’ levels too. Should we therefore abolish all exams for all children just because some families can afford to pay for extra help for them? Or close all the schools in more affluent areas? Of course not. So why single out grammar schools?

To be honest it’s not only rich families who pay for tutors. I know families who scrimp and save to pay for a tutor and who go without holidays, or don’t own a car, or don’t drink or smoke so that they can afford tuition fees. It’s called choosing priorities. And at the end of the day, tutored or not, the children still need to pass the exam, and having a tutor is no guarantee.

The final argument against grammar schools? Bright children can do just as well in a comprehensive. I’m sure that the confident ones can, but those who are shy are probably going to get lost. Those who know the answers but who are too timid to put their hand up, and who just quietly get on with their work are probably going to get forgotten.

Enough about why other people are against them. Why am I for them? Find out in Do we still need Grammar Schools (Part 3).

Missed Do we still need grammar schools (part 1)? Read it here.