Faced recently with an intimidating pile of marking, I began asking myself why set prep/homework and questioning its benefits to learning. The cynic inside me thinks we do it to keep pupils busy during prep time, although the teacher inside me knows that there is much more to it than that. For a start, prep is an excellent way of getting pupils to consolidate their learning and become more independent, and for us as teachers to have evidence of their understanding and plan to help them progress.
However, Oakham pupils often complain about the amount of prep they are set and we as teachers are often pushed to find time to do our marking. So, what is the impact of homework on learning at Oakham, and how can we make sure it is useful to both pupils and teachers?
I wonder how many of us actually spend long thinking about the prep we set and how much of it is properly planned? I, like many teachers have on occasion used a prep opportunity to get pupils to finish off work there wasn’t time to complete in class. I have also set preps I haven’t necessarily thought through or have rushed to explain, often being disappointed with the work handed in as a result. It can be difficult to plan a meaningful homework task ahead of the lesson when we don’t know how much progress pupils will make and what stage they will get to. Although I try to remain flexible by adapting homework tasks to fit the learning that has taken place in the lesson, this means the work set is often spontaneous rather than carefully thought through.
I am going to focus on the issue of prep as part of my teaching this term, starting by considering these questions:
• Am I setting something just to keep them busy?
• Are they really thinking whilst doing it?
• What is the purpose of homework/prep?
• What if we didn’t have homework/prep?
• What would happen if homework/prep was optional?
• What is the pupil perspective on homework/prep?
• How important is homework/prep in monitoring and measuring pupil progress?
• Should we be thinking less but more meaningful homework/prep at Oakham?
• Could we insist upon quality over quantity?
• Should we try to encourage flipped learning as a meaningful prep strategy?
• To what extent does ‘prep’ mean preparation for future learning?
I welcome comments and ideas from teaching staff and indeed boarding staff who supervise prep time in houses. If anyone has read any academic literature on the value of homework I’d be interested too. I also intend to carry out some informal research with my current classes to collect their views and experiences of prep at Oakham School, which I will report back on.