Home learning & home practice

/ November 18, 2016

I brought my banjo to last week’s puja. As well as attempting to be entertaining, I was modelling the visible and (hopefully) audible benefits of practising the banjo. I took up banjo about four years ago and am reasonable at it now. I began playing the (classical) guitar around the age of seven and still enjoy playing it more than 40 years later. (I’m a bit better at the guitar!)

clare-banjoThe long term benefits of playing and practising an instrument are documented and tangible and this could well have been a piece about taking up a musical instrument. However, my focus for this blog is homework – or ‘home learning and home practice’. For me, the learning habits that I have acquired from practising and ‘being made to practise’ the guitar resonate with my attitudes to home learning.

There have been many studies on whether or not it is a good idea to give primary age children (which, in itself, is a wide age range) some sort of homework or none. Various ideas and articles have been circulating throughout the media, often in quite a cyclical way.

With our Buddhist ethos, mindfulness and Building Learning Power as foundational principles, where does the school stand in terms of home learning? What might ‘good homework’ (or Home Learning) look like?

Some homework is ineffective in improving attainment because it does not, to my mind, drive learning forward sufficiently. To do this, amongst other things, you need to engage parents as well as children. Parents need to help in the process of developing the more sophisticated skills of meta-cognition (‘thinking about thinking’, higher-order thinking) and self-regulation. Recent research judged that increasing these skills increases attainment four times as much as standard primary homework does (Education Endowment Foundation, formerly The Sutton Trust). So, how do we do that?

With self-regulation, for instance, it appears that the way in which adults try to direct children’s behaviour and emotions affects how quickly and how well self-regulatory skills develop. For example, children are more likely to change their behaviour if they agree with a given request. When children comply because they agree with the request, there is a greater chance that they will view the request as being their own idea, or at least regard it as sensible, and not view it as interfering with their attempts to be independent (Kochannska et al., 2001). This is the only type of model that predicts compliance when children are left on their own – which is the goal of developing self-regulation or, in respect of this, independent learning at home.

For instance, if you as parents agree with the regular learning of spellings and times tables, then, if you can engage your children with these activities as positive and useful, the energy and motivation comes to learn these things at home and, eventually, independently.

An argument for learning times tables, for instance, is that it is an important foundation for learning different aspects of maths such as division, algebra, long multiplication, and even fractions. For children that don’t have a solid grasp of the times tables, they may find these other areas hard to understand. This, in turn, may make it more difficult for a child to keep up with others in the class. On the other hand, learning them may make many aspects of maths easier than anticipated, leading to more self-confidence.

As a child, being able to see that through a regular habit of home practice they have tangibly improved, is a goal that goes hand-in-hand with getting better at spellings, reading and times tables. This awareness is meta-cognitive.

In terms of developing lifelong learning muscles, I will leave you with a few ideas which promote good home learning for children. Parents can help by:

  • Talking about the future (i.e. creating a shopping list) with their children, helping them to think ahead (Planning).
  • Talking positively about how they have changed their view about something; enabling their children to do likewise (Refining).
  • Listening carefully to what their child is saying, thus modelling behaviour that encourages the child to listen attentively too (Listening).
  • Not assuming that everything they hear on TV must be true – encouraging children to develop a healthy scepticism (Questioning).
  • Talking about how things are similar and how they are different – helping their children to spot connections (Making Links).
  • Trying different ways of doing things when faced with difficulty, helping their children to adopt a similar ‘can-do’ attitude (Perseverance).

(Thanks to Steve Watson from TLO for this list – I am going to try it out!)

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