Whether you’re already teaching in the UK or you currently teach abroad, you’ll know how important home learning is as part of a child’s education. However much you can teach during the six hours you have with your students, it’s worth so much more when it’s supported by additional home learning. Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges to children willingly undertaking homework or subject-related study at home doesn't always come down to the attitude of the child, it comes down to the attitude of their parents. So how can you overcome these barriers and encourage a cross-class culture of home learning?
Why is home learning so important?
Many studies have found that home learning can greatly increase the academic achievement of students. It can help preschool and primary children in terms of readiness for their next school journey and can also help children get a deeper understanding of their topics. Home learning ranges from simply encouraging parents to read with their child every day (both listening to and reading to) to general writing, incorporating small maths tasks into their everyday life and most importantly doing the homework tasks that you as a teacher have set.
Homework culture in the UK
Depending on which country you previously worked in, you will notice that the culture and attitude towards homework may well be different in the UK, although in reality, it differs from school to school. According to statistics from around the world, the UK is about halfway down the table, with children being set significantly more than most of Europe, but significantly less than students in Russia, China and Singapore. Research has also found that there is a very wide gap in the UK, with middle-class students doing many hours of homework, but disadvantaged children doing far less. So how do you, as the teacher, bridge that gap to ensure all your students have a fair chance in life?
There’s no ‘I’ in team
Parents rarely respond well to being treated like pupils, instructed in what they should and shouldn’t do. Always try to put forward a sense of teamwork, the team being yourself, the student and the parents or carers. Emphasise that you all want the same thing; for the child to get the best from the education system and to develop and learn in line with their classmates. Use language during parents’ evenings such as “I’m sure we agree that…”, rather than “I think you should do this at home because…”
Have a ‘Home Learning Champion’ each week
Rather than single out children who haven’t done any home learning, give a Home Learning Champion trophy out each week to a child who brings in evidence of home learning that is related to the curriculum, or to one of your core subjects. This may be a piece of writing or maybe a craft project inspired by your current theme. This trophy may encourage children and parents alike to get into the habit of home learning and to understand the value of it.
Celebrate home learning in the classroom
Put up a pin board where students can provide examples of learning that they have done at home, educational family days out, or even just a photo of them reading in their favourite spot. Make home learning as much a part of your classroom as school learning is a part of their home life.
Don’t blame the child
It’s not your students’ fault if parents refuse to commit any time for home learning, so don’t blame them, especially if they are younger and unable to be proactive in this department or simply don’t have the home resources to do it alone. Talk to your Head about supplying certain children with a pen and some stationery so they can do some home learning off their own back and celebrate anything they manage to do. Subtly show this to their parents at parents’ evening to celebrate that their children have seized the concept of home learning. This will hopefully have the positive effect of parents seeing the importance of such learning for themselves.
Many primary schools in the UK give all pupils a Reading Journal. In this, parents are expected to write down any reading (either by the child or by the parent to the child) and sign it each week. It’s also a platform for communication between you and the parent or carer and often has a space for a Reading Journal task; a lightweight, easy bit of homework related to the week’s learning. Many parents fail to understand the significance or importance of such a journal, so send a letter home on the first day of term to help them understand why it’s important.
Getting parents to be excited about learning is often harder than getting the children excited. This may be because parents are too busy or were simply let down by education themselves and fail to see the value. Make sure you encourage a teamwork approach that puts the child at the centre and doesn’t put shy parents in the spotlight. Celebrate any home learning, however small, and reward children that have a go.