Guest Blogger–Homework Should be Relevant, Interesting, and Personal

Today’s guest blogger, Ben Kestner, is the Middle School Principal at the Berlin Brandenburg International School, where he initially started as curriculum coordinator for the IBO Middle Years Programme. He studied flute at the London College of Music and in Berlin with Andreas Blau and after spending time playing and teaching he pursued a career in education after completing his PGCE in the UK. He wrote to me several weeks ago to tell me he’s an “avid supporter” of Stop Homework. He has a blog that’s worth reading.

Homework Should be Relevant, Interesting, and Personal
by Ben Kestner

I am currently the Middle School Principal at an International School in Berlin, Germany.

Over the last two years, I set out to examine the whole idea of homework at our school. After reading relevant books and research I decided that we really needed to re-think the whole idea of homework and go back to the question of why we set it. Then, during the current academic year, I pulled together a task force in the Middle School to look at the issue of homework. Throughout the year we have discussed the issue in staff meetings, parent meetings, and student leadership groups and during the last two years student surveys were conducted. It has become clear that homework is certainly a topic which creates a range of opinions and emotions amongst staff, students and parents.

The student survey was interesting. To the question “Do you find your Homework interesting”, 61% said no, only 4% said yes, with the rest answering “don’t know”, suggesting that the last group had no particular feeling about their homework assignments. The survey also revealed that 83% of our students take part in extra curricular activities in or outside of school on an average of 3 times per week, which shows that they are using their time after school for relevant tasks, and that additional homework can overwhelm that benefit.

My overall conclusions from both surveys were:

• Most kids in our school don’t find homework interesting.
• Most kids agree with the idea of work at home, if they see a reason for it.
• Most kids don’t have enough time to do their homework

Some students interviewed members of our community about what they thought about homework, and it saddened me to see one response from a middle school student who said, “Home is for fun and school is for work,” implying that the learning he was experiencing at school wasn’t fun.

The Task Force which I started, made up of a small voluntary group of people from school, is close to finishing a document about a replacement to the old idea of homework, instead focusing on learning outside of school as an extension to classroom learning. We have decided to use the acronym R.I.P., which stands for Relevant, Interesting and Personal. We see this as describing the main point of our document, that some learning beyond the classroom is acceptable in middle school as long as it fulfills these requirements. In other words, work at home should be:

Relevant to the unit of learning or the topic being covered in class

Interesting to the individual student – something they actually want to continue learning outside the classroom, preferably where they have a choice of tasks

Personal to the student – the learning should be at the level of the student’s current understanding without the need for extra help from parents or tutors.

I am not an advocate for no work at home. Surely we are trying to create learning experiences for our students in school which they want to continue with outside. I am an advocate for middle school students having time at home to be with their families, relax and continue to have curiosity and passion for discovering new things.

2 Comments on “Guest Blogger–Homework Should be Relevant, Interesting, and Personal”

  1. FedUpMom says:

    Love the acronym, “R.I.P.”. Rest in peace, pointless homework!

    May 5th, 2009 at 8:09 am
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  2. Amanda Cockshutt says:

    I agree with so much in this entry, except for one aspect: the writer doesn’t seem to have the faith that his students will use their time to learn/work on their own in an unstructured way. I guess this is what is insinuated by the “personal” aspect of the homework, but I would go a step further and encourage students to explore their interests on their own time, and leave it at that!

    May 12th, 2009 at 8:06 am
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