The Home Voyage
What does the research say?
Homework has, and probably always will, divide opinions among all stakeholders in education. Some believe wholeheartedly in the merits of strict timetables of homework rigidly set and monitored whereas others believe in the open-ended homeworks set over a longer period of time with others discrediting the idea of homework itself. To set or not to set? This seems to be the ultimate question. Having reviewed the research surrounding homework and the benefits it can have on children, why would you not? However, we do believe that it needs to be the right homework set for the right reasons in order to maximise the learning.
Cathy Vatterott (2010) identified five fundamental characteristics of good homework:
Purpose: all homework assignments are meaningful & students must also understand the purpose of the assignment and why it is important in the context of their academic experience (Xu, 2011).
Efficiency: homework should not take an inordinate amount of time and should require some hard thinking.
Ownership: students who feel connected to the content and assignment learn more and are more motivated. Providing students with choice in their assignments is one way to create ownership.
Competence: students should feel competent in completing homework. In order to achieve this, its beneficial to abandon the one-size-fits-all model. Homework that students can’t do without help is not good homework.
Inspiring: A well-considered & clearly designed resource and task impacts positively upon student motivation.
It is with these five fundamentals in mind, that we began to shape our own homework journey.
Why do we set our Home Voyage?
In our school, we believe that providing homework for children can be highly beneficial in stimulating a greater desire for learning and can aid and consolidate what is being taught or has been taught in class. In the case of our school, we place a good deal of emphasis on retrieval. Homework is a great source of practising those key skills reinforcing the messages that children have been in taught in class. Parents are able to have a greater understanding of what is being taught in school and are able to notice any difficulties or areas of challenge that their child may have. As a family, talking about school is common ground and homework provides the resource and opportunity to have those conversations around learning which can prove so valuable to children. Completing regular set tasks at home will also enable children to foster good habits of organisation and self-discipline paving the way for the transition to high school.
Although we firmly believe in the merits of homework, here at Barwell Academy, we are not a school that believes that homework should dominate both home and school life. We accept that not all children will enjoy all aspects of their work and that children have other commitments outside their school role. We also appreciate that our parents have busy lives and that the homework we set should be enjoyable and manageable for all concerned and not an onerous task as this negates what the homework sets out to achieve. We aim to try and make not all homework family-oriented but homework that the children can completely independently too! Whereas we obvious encourage children to complete the tasks, we also do not specify amounts of time that must be spent on them, preferring families to set their own routines to suit them. We are happy to help give advice if families find this difficult to do. We hope the children are motivated by positive incentives and by the tasks themselves; children are not punished if they fail to complete the work. However discreet homework registers are kept and if a child consistently fails to complete and return tasks, this is discussed with the child and their parents.
In designating the work, it will always have been explained and discussed in class before coming home; it should be an area that is familiar to your child. It is our intention, and good practice, not to send work home that the child cannot already do i.e. parents are not expected to teach new skills. There should be a clear explanation/reminder from the teacher of what is expected but if parents are unsure, we are just a phone call away.
Our Home Voyage Activities
In our school, our Home Voyage is work that is completed outside of lesson time, either on their own or with the support of family members. The homework we set in our school is split into several strands:
- Our Quests (one each half term)
- Our Home Voyage (fortnightly – given on a Monday and two weeks to complete)
- Reading (Recommended five times a week)
- Rockstars (As often as possible!)
- Spellings (Weekly)
To support the learning journeys that the children undertake in school, at the beginning of each half term, our children are asked to undertake a Quest at home. This is a creative piece of “homework” designed to bring together the family and talk about what is being taught in school. The task is very open-ended and allows the children and their families to be as creative as they wish in terms of what they produce. This work is then displayed for our whole school community to see as part of our Destination Display at the end of each half term. Although there is no expectation for children to be completing Quests during half terms/holidays, teachers will release the new Quest prior to this so if families do want to do the task over the holidays, they can.
The Two Week Work
The ‘Two Week Week’ is a branch of our homework that focuses largely on retrieval. This will be assigned as a link from Microsoft Teams as a sway page that will feature quizzes – either pre or post learning – and a section of the children’s current learning journey map which we would like the children practise learning. This activity can be as large or small a task as families wish and on the sway page we detail several fun ways to practise learning rather than simply sitting at a screen! The quizzes on this page will determine how well children are retaining the information in school or may just be to check whether children have the prior knowledge needed for next week’s learning.
Here, at school, we believe that reading lies at the heart of our curriculum. Reading is such a fundamental skill that drives so many other curriculum areas that we would be remiss not to ask children to read at home. We believe that children make the best progress through reading. Therefore we ask children to take their school books home (both library and accelerated reader) and read as frequently and widely as they can; our recommendation is at least five times a week!
Times Table Rockstars
Times table skills are a crucial part of everyday life and such a huge part of our maths curriculum. To know your tables and know your tables well, is a huge barrier to overcoming a lot of mathematical calculations and problems. At our school, each child is encouraged to take part in Rockstars as often as they can, both in and out of school. Each child has their own username and password and this is accessible on all devices. We complete Rockstars paper-based tables in school each day and ask children to work on their times tables outside of school. In the Spring Term, our Rockstars battles commence and this is where we accumulate points for your class/team. This is where being on Rockstars as often as possible really pays off!
In order to develop our spelling skills, children in all year groups are asked to learn spellings each week pertaining to the year 3/4 and year 5/6 statutory spelling list taken from the National Curriculum. These spellings are released on Teams each week and children are asked to learn these ready for a spelling test the following week. How children learn these spellings at home is completely up to them. Teachers also go over these spellings in class and teach ways in which the children can learn them at home.
All our homework activities reflect and consolidate the work that the children are undertaking in the classroom. We ensure that all tasks are set at the appropriate ability of the child, including those with Special Educational Needs who may have different spellings/reading levels pertaining to their needs.
To facilitate our homework we have several platforms available on all devices for ease of access. For our Home Voyage, we have Microsoft Teams, for reading we have Accelerated Reader/MyOn and for our times table work we have ‘Times Table Rockstars!’
Prior to the SATS and when nearing transition to high school, Year 6 teachers may also choose to send home additional tasks such as practice SATS papers and transition tasks set by our feeder high schools. Teachers will talk to the children about this and notify parents through our usual means of communication as to when this is happening and when the hand in date will be.
How can families help with homework?
You can show you value your child’s homework by:
- providing a suitable place in which your child can do their homework,
- making it clear to your child that you value homework and support the school in explaining how it can help learning;
- encouraging your child and praising them when they have completed work set;
- ensuring work is complete and returned to school on time;
- checking your child spends a suitable amount of time on homework.
Additionally, you can support your child’s development by:
- visits to libraries, museums etc.;
- cooking with them;
- taking your child swimming;
- playing games, e.g. board games, cards, ball games;
- watching informative TV programmes together;
- providing opportunities for craft activities, e.g. cutting, sticking, sewing, painting etc.;
- gardening and growing plants;
- using the internet to research something with your child (following guidelines for safe internet use);
- Attending any school workshops that may be on offer designed to enable families to support their child’s learning at home;
- Talking to your child about their schoolwork, their day, what they have been learning about and how they have been learning.