Engaging children and parents in Homework

By Claire Dunn

    Engaging children and parents in Homework

    About the Practitioner-Researcher

    Claire Dunn
    Primary Teacher
    Doncaster, ENG, GB
    Claire Dunn

    I have been teaching at Bawtry Mayflower for 8 years. Our head teacher is passionate about teachers completing action research so members of staff are encouraged to choose an area of interest in which to complete their practitioner research. Initially, when asked to do this, I did so because that was the expectation. However, after completing my first research project, I realised the impact that it had on the children in my class and the personal impact for me in terms of professional development. This led me to continue this approach to my classroom practise and I now realise how vital research is to this profession. Action research throughout school has shaped a team of teachers who are motivated to develop classroom practise and seek continual improvement. I was lucky enough to be asked to share this research project at a Closing the Gap conference, Bishop Grosseteste University, June 2016.

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    Project Summary

    The goal of this project was to re-write a whole-school approach to homework to fully engage children and parents in this aspect of learning. Surveys completed by children and parents as part of this research project indicated dissatisfaction on both parts with the previous approach to homework. In school, we work hard to develop confident, independent learners who are able to reflect on their learning to become lifelong learners. I felt like we were missing opportunities to further develop this through the learning that happens at home. I worked with children, parents and school staff to create some key aims for homework to achieve – these formed the basis of the whole project. After the aims were established, I worked with a panel of parents who were happy to try out new approaches to homework before commenting on the effectiveness in meeting the key aims. After trialling different approaches and speaking to children and parents, I wrote a whole-school home learning policy to meet the key aims that we set out to achieve. Surveys completed at the end showed that the vast majority of children and parents felt that the new approach to homework was successful.

    Project Context

    Bawtry Mayflower is a primary school in the small market town of Bawtry. This town is a popular place to live and it sits on the border of South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. The local amenities include churches, a small theatre, a community library, many small shops, restaurants and bars. This area has strong links with the Pilgrim Fathers and the school is named after William Bradford’s Mayflower ship. Bawtry Mayflower was formed in 1981 and most of the children currently attending live in Bawtry or the village of Austerfield close by. There are currently around 284 children from the ages of 3 to 11 attending. We are fortunate enough to have supportive parents who are interested in their child’s education. When some parents and care-givers completed surveys about school, they were satisfied with most areas and the area that some parents felt could be improved was homework. We decided that amendments needed to be made to improve the provision in this area and to enable parents to better support their children at home.

    Project Goals, Methods and Outcome

    BACKGROUND AND RESEARCH GOAL

    Parental surveys completed annually showed that parents were dissatisfied with the homework that took place in school. With this in mind, I decided to look further into the issue of homework in primary schools. The Education Endowment Fund (EEF 2015) states that in primary schools, “There is some evidence that when homework is used as a short and focused intervention it can be effective in improving students’ attainment” (p. 1). The study concluded that although there is less evidence that homework is effective in primary school settings, as opposed to secondary schools, the studies do show that homework is beneficial. The EEF suggest that this may be related to greater parental involvement and engagement. The study also concluded that, “Short focused tasks or activities which relate directly to what is being taught, and which are built upon in school, are likely to be more effective than regular daily homework” (p. 1). Further reading in this area was summarised by the following quote:  “More serious consideration should be given to the nature and frequency of homework setting in primary schools” (Steve Farrow et al. 2006, p. 1). This gave me a starting point for the aims of what we, as a school, wanted to achieve from a homework policy. These were the agreed key aims:

    • To give children increased responsibility for their own learning.
    • To foster good habits of organisation and self-discipline in children.
    • To build resilience.
    • To aim for improvement and development of key skills and knowledge.
    • To set children interesting, engaging home learning tasks that they want to complete.
    • To further stimulate enthusiasm for leaning.
    • To provide parents with information about the learning that takes place in school.
    • To help parents to understand how to support their children with their learning.

    This led me to reflect on the current procedure for setting homework and surveys were completed by children, parents and staff to evaluate it against the key aims set out.

    METHOD     

    Pre-intervention surveys and Participants

         Pupil survey. A pupil survey was written and completed by all the children (n = 190) in the school from the ages of 4 to 11 to gain their views on the homework that they were being given at that time. The collation of the results showed several areas for consideration: (a) 48% of children completed homework activities less than once or twice per half term; (b) 42% of children thought that they did not receive enough homework; (c) 36% of children said that they did not enjoy homework; (d) 41% of children said that when given homework activities, they knew what they had to do; and (e) 28% of children said that they received some sort of feedback for homework completed.

         Parental survey. In order to further understand the views of parents and care-givers, parent surveys were written and completed. The collation of the results from 97 parents/care-givers showed several areas for consideration: (a) 26% of parents disagreed that their child received a range of different homework over the half term; (b) 36% of parents disagreed that their child wanted to complete homework tasks set; (c) 25% of parents disagreed that homework tasks were interesting and engaging; and (d) 54% of parents disagreed that their child received some feedback on homework completed.

    Actions and Research Results

         Trialling a new approach: Cycle 1 action

         It was evident from the surveys completed by children and parents that the homework practises in place did not meet the aims that we decided as keys in order to be successful and to have a positive impact on learners. With this in mind, I recruited a panel of volunteer parents from my Year 2 class who were willing to try some new approaches to homework and then provide feedback against the key aims. The first approach was a flipped learning approach where children were asked to view an online video to prepare them for their work in class. The idea of this was that the children would view a video giving them information linked to their topic work and that once back in class, the children would use this knowledge to help them to answer questions. Another approach was a practical application of a skill that children had learnt in class. For this, the children in Year 2 had been learning about length in maths and their homework task was to apply this knowledge to measure items at home. The final approach was a chilli challenge homework task set linked to topic where children could choose from a range of mild, hot and spicy challenges. This meant that children were responsible for their own learning and could develop their independence.

         Results: Cycle 1

         Parent feedback. The feedback provided by parents on the key aims was positive. For the flipped learning approach, 100% of parents felt that this home learning task fully met the key aims set out. For the practical application and the chilli challenge activities, 83% of parents (n = 6 parents) felt that these activities fully met the aims of homework.

         Writing and implementing policy. After analysing the views of children and parents and trialling several new approaches to homework, a whole-school home learning policy was written. This policy highlights the rationale and puts the key aims at the centre so that all members of staff fully understand why a change in practise was necessary and what, as a school, we aim to achieve with any home learning work set. The policy reflects the views of all parties and the school’s ethos is at the heart of it: to encourage our children to enjoy their learning by providing them with interesting and challenging tasks and activities in school and at home that help them to become confident, happy and successful individuals. Our policy outlines the different types of homework activities that may be set and explains that homework should not be strictly set at given times but should instead be given when necessary or beneficial to support children with their learning. It is written into the policy that children will receive some feedback for completed tasks but that this may take on a range of different forms. This policy has been written with our children, parents and school in mind, and for us is a fit for the purpose. We decided that we would refer to homework as home learning so that children can see it as a continuation of the learning that takes places in school and not something separate. This has been a shift in mind-sets in school and has meant that the learning that happens in school and at home are more synchronised.     

         Implementation: Cycle 2 Action

         After the new home learning policy was communicated with all members of staff during an INSET (In service training) day, it was implemented into all classes. One term later, the initial pupil and parental surveys were repeated so that the effect of the changes could be evaluated and the impact of the new policy measured.

         Results: Cycle 2

         Pupil survey. The pupil surveys (n = 122) showed significant changes in attitudes towards homework after the implementation of the new policy including: (a) 69% of children felt they received an appropriate amount of homework whilst 21% of children felt they did not receive enough; (b) 72% of children said that they now enjoyed doing their homework tasks (compared to 64% previously); (c) 73% said that when set homework, they knew what they had to do; and (d) 87% of children said that they received feedback on homework set.

         Parental survey. The parental survey (n = 72) showed the most significant changes in attitudes towards home learning after the implementation of the new policy. One term after the introduction of the new approach, parental views were as follows: (a) 97% of parents agreed that their child received a range of different homework over a half term; (b) 91% of parents agreed that their child wanted to complete homework tasks set; (c) 92% of parents agreed that homework tasks were interesting and engaging; and (d) 85% of parents agreed that their child received some feedback on homework completed.

    CONCLUSIONS

    The conclusions that I draw from this research project are that a school must have clear aims for any home learning policy written. It is important to ensure that these aims are routed in the ethos and values of the school and that they match the vision. It is important to consider the view of all parties involved; in this case, children, parents and members of staff. I conclude that attitudes to home learning are positive when the tasks set:

    • Promote increased responsibility, independence, organisation and self-discipline.
    • Aim for improvement and development of key skills/knowledge.
    • Are interesting and engaging so that children want to complete them.
    • Provide parents and care-givers with information about the learning that takes place in school.
    • Help parents to understand how to support their children with their learning.

    REFERENCES

    Education Endowment Foundation. (2015). Homework (Primary) | Toolkit Strand. [online] Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/resources/teaching-learning-toolkit/homework-primary/ [Accessed 14 December. 2016].

    Farrow, S., Tymms, P., & Henderson, B. (2006). Homework and Attainment in Primary Schools. British Educational Research Journal, Vol 25, No 3. [online] Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0141192990250304 [Accessed 14 December. 2016].

    To cite this work, please use the following reference:

    Dunn, C. (2017). Engaging children and parents in Homework. https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge-base/engaging-children-and-parents-in-homework/

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