• Jul 232014

Unhomework — a review

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There was an advert several years ago which was slightly tongue-in-cheek if memory serves us right and featured the slogan:

Min Eff Max Res

Minimum Effort Maximum Results is an attractive idea if you’re buying a car or cooking a meal — fantastic results for as little effort as possible. Efficiency.

The world of education, as is so often the case, runs according to different rules. Maximum results, yes — but teachers don’t mind working as hard as is necessary (or working their students as hard as is necessary) to get there. Min Eff just isn’t how conscientious educators do things.

Nec Eff Max Res

is perhaps more like it.

And then there’s homework.

Is the amount of time preparing it, stress getting students to do it and catching up with those that don’t and hours spent marking it worth the benefits that come from it? In our experience parents are divided on the subject. Many a parents’ evening was spent bouncing between “Why do you set so much homework? She just doesn’t have the time after Gym Club, trombone lessons and walking the dog…” to “Why can’t you set more homework? She doesn’t have half as much as her sister had…” Students are more predictable. If it’s interesting, it’s a good thing and will capture their imaginations. If it’s not, it isn’t and it probably won’t.

And so, the design and setting of homework is a balancing act. Balancing the differing views of parents, the need to steer clear of death by worksheet and come up with something to fire imaginations/interest/learning; and to limit the time taken in preparation and marking for teachers. We want to get maximum results, but with as little time wasted as possible.

Here is where Mark Creasy comes in. His new book UnHomework carries the sub-title: “How To Get The Most Out Of Homework Without Really Setting It”. In it he describes the “hackneyed game” of homework being played out in classrooms across the country. It’s worth quoting this in full…

Recognise it?

Mark Creasy’s book comes from his belief that homework doesn’t have to be this way. It can be stimulating, meaningful, interesting, motivational and worthwhile (incidentally, all words that can be used to describe his book on the subject). Unhomework, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is the author’s word to describe student-centred, student-devised work/mini-projects/activities that fulfil the same learning objectives as traditional homework with ten times the efficacy.

The beauty of Unhomework is the fact that it’s not a collection of ideas that are just dumped on the reader. “There you go — try that lot out…” Instead, Mark Creasy writes from experience, giving examples of the sorts of unhomework activities that have worked successfully in the past and how students have taken an idea and made it their own. Surely this is the sort of “homework” we long for as teachers? Where a theme can be set and then students return with over and above what was required. Instead of a class worth of tatty worksheets about WWII propaganda, how much more satisfying to have one student design their own propaganda video, another interview their Great-Gran about wartime posters and someone else create a Powerpoint presentation on WWII leaflets. How much more satisfying for you as teacher and how much more satisfying for them as learners.

Students are absolutely central to Unhomework. From loveable rogue Dale who, in a GCSE English class, lit the lightbulb above Mark Creasy’s head (“Surely there’s a better way than all this, isn’t there?”) to each student’s homework ideas themselves. The author has been teaching for around ten years at both secondary and primary levels and his experiences are crucial to backing-up the Unhomework concept and showing us how it can be done. This experience is particularly noticeable in the book in two areas… Firstly, he gives us several conversations (in script form!) between himself and students. Secondly, he spends time discussing how to introduce Unhomework without offending colleagues’ sensibilities and, eventually, how to get them on board too. A lesser book wouldn’t contain these. Why? Because a lesser book would be just written by a writer, not a teacher. Unhomework isn’t a fad that has been invented to sell books. It has been initiated, shaped and implemented by students and, thankfully, Mark Creasy is one of those teachers who sees this as important. His students’ fingerprints are all over this book.

In recent months, you can’t have failed to have noticed the popularity of ‘Take Away Homework’ ideas being shared by teachers. These give students a choice of activities from a given “menu”. Reading Unhomework, you can’t help but feel like shouting “But this guy’s been doing it for years! This is just Unhomework by another name!!” Perhaps the current keenness to provide learners with a range of open-ended homework ideas will work in Mark Creasy’s favour. If you’re intrigued by Take Away Homework or use it and want to consider how to get the best from it, Unhomework is the book for you.

In many ways, this is a great book to include as a summer read. If you’re stuck in a rut, setting homework that generally consists of researching something (inevitably from the first page of Google) or filling in questions on a worksheet, there is a better way. If you’re a headteacher or leader of a department who realises this, get copies for your colleagues and start implementing something special. Get Unhomework and start your new year by doing something different. Your students will be motivated and inspired. Their parents will appreciate it. And you will be pleasantly surprised at the results you can get by leaving students to it. Far better learning opportunities. Far more facts learned. Far deeper understanding. Far greater chances to push topics into new areas. In fact, maximum results with very little fuss. Or, as we like to think of Unhomework:

Min Faff Max Res

OTHERS IN THESPARKY SUMMER READS 2014′ SERIES:



FURTHER LINKS:

You can follow Mark Creasy on Twitter here

Unhomework is available on Amazon here or via Independent Thinking Press here.

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