Prep at Oakham School: Some of what the pupils think…

At my daughter’s primary school recently they carried out a survey into homework and perceptions of it by staff, teachers and students. The results were revealing and policies and practice have been adapted as a result. Inspired by this I ran a very informal (and admittedly unscientific) investigation of my own with upper school classes I am currently teaching. Nevertheless the insights gained have given me food for thought.

As an informal group chat I asked pupils: what they thought about prep, whether they find it useful and what they liked/disliked being asked to do. The pupils were VERY keen to share their views and I typed as they talked. Here is a brief summary of the key points they made:

7 IB said:

– They think that prep is sometimes set because teachers ‘can’t be bothered’ to teach something.
– They don’t see the point in ‘repetitive’ preps where they are given 10 or 20 questions on the same thing.
– They think prep is more necessary in some subjects than in others. They mentioned learning vocab in MFL as an example of something they need to do.
– They think it is important to have prep in the Middle School in order to develop good habits.
– They felt that US would be a massive shock if prep wasn’t a big part of MS life.
– They don’t like it when prep isn’t marked… just as we don’t like it if they don’t do it!
– They also told me very frankly that they think teachers underestimate how much pupils rely on the internet for essays and answers. Google translate makes some Languages prep very quick and easy.

6 IB said:

– They would rather have more guidance with prep
– Sometimes they feel prep is too hard
– They often find themselves unsure about what it is they have to do
– A comment from several pupils was ‘I do prep just to get it done’
– ‘Teachers give prep just for the sake of it because they have to’
– They dislike noting prep and don’t see the point of it. Sometimes they’d like to be able to represent their learning in their own way (for example, using mind maps)
– Prep is often not specific enough: they feel that the objective of prep is not always clearly explained
– Exercises from books are repetitious and boring
– Setting a revision prep is something they dislike as it is unstructured and they don’t always know how to approach it.
– They would like to use prep time for coursework and lesson time for more teaching/guidance.
– They said that they get 16 hours prep per week, 10 hours prep time and 4 frees. One of these frees is a languages speaking lesson. This constantly puts them under pressure so they find it unfair when prep takes too long or feels pointless.

Although some of the pupils obviously saw our conversation as an opportunity to have a moan about prep, their comments do make me want to probe further into the issue. In my next blog I will share some of the ideas I have and conclusions I have reached about making prep meaningful. I look forward to reading and sharing some of the wealth of educational literature on the subject too.

JAS

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