Getting some pupils to put pen(cil) to paper can sometimes seem an impossible, unreasonable, and time consuming venture. One problem, certainly within recent times, is that young children are less exposed to the model of writing with antiquated tools, such as pencils, pens or paper. Arguably, in our technologically reliant world, there is much more of a need to teach keyboard skills, even if those keyboards are the tiny ones found on your smartphone.
Yet, I am of the belief that the fine-motor skills involved in handwriting are a fundamental part of being human – There’s no reliance on a wifi connection, no worrying about battery life and, more importantly, allows for a more considered way of thinking creatively, before committing words onto the paper. You only need to look at how our ancestors created stories through cave drawings, historical and religious texts to see the thinking and creativity that went into committing the scribbles onto the medium being used.
So, there’s the context behind why I believe we should retain teaching the art form of handwriting to our students, and believe adults should always be exploring opportunities for students to write. Skills and tools helping writing via technology can be taught in parallel, as I also believe that getting some students to produce meaningful work is also critical, as technology also gives individuals a voice where previously they may not have done.
Together with homework, handwriting tasks can prove unpopular with students and parents alike as such tasks can be easily lead to conflict when deadlines are due. So, how can teachers encourage homework and writing in a manner that should be fun, meaningful and motivating for the child and the family?
Some of the best homework tasks I have seen completed are those where a member of the family has positively collaborated with the child to ensure the work is done. In a primary setting in particular, the amount of homework set should always be reasonable, and encourage collaboration between the pupil and someone who can support them. Take reading, for example. Where part of the daily routine within a family includes one-on-one time sharing a story, no matter who is doing the reading, then the child is more likely to grow up enjoying, being inspired by, and reading more books. The chances are less so in situations where reading is less than a priority. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy! Teachers are well placed to recognise how busy family lives are (just look at all that planning, marking and assessments that took away your family weekend recently!), so setting mounds of homework should be questioned at the best of times. I often ask myself: Is the homework worthwhile? Will it add value to the child’s learning? Are there opportunities for other adults to support the child in completing the homework? Of course, the answer to all these questions should be ‘yes’, but if your school policy prompts any ‘no’ answers, then all staff really should get together to revisit any homework policy that everyone is working towards.
In terms of primary-aged pupils, some of the most positive homework tasks I have experienced include absorption from the students and parents. Combining homework and writing proved to always be disastrous until I came across providing tasks where there was no right or wrong answer, along with a significant element of discussion encouraged. I started sending home questions that drew from a students own experience, or fired up their imaginations in a creative and fun way. Yes, the emphasis was on ‘fun’, as it has always been my belief that we learn best when we are enjoying the activity, becoming engaged in the process (Thank you to Mr Marshall for proving that to me as a Year-9 teenager as we sat through a slideshow in Geography showing the different breeds of cows! Living in an urban area, this was irrelevant, un-engaging and certainly not invoking much interest to the 30 students who were quickly losing the will to live – yes, it still sticks in my mind, but couldn’t tell you the difference between cow breeds – it’s simply not relevant to my life!).
Philosophical Homework Questions to provoke family discussions
The accompanying resource is designed to encourage dialogue at home, creating imaginative ideas, and a fun aspect to inspire.
Using the acronym IDEA, where you are encouraging pupils to Imagine, Discuss, Explain and Author. Explanation of this task to complete with families is critical to help support the process, and really shouldn’t take long.
- Imagine: Share the question posed with your child/family, and ask child to think about their first reactions. Parent also stop and think about the question.
- Discuss: Now parent and child should discuss their initial answers to start the process of providing a definitive answer.
- Explain: Now the answer to the philosophical question should be explored by the child, with clarification and scaffolding by the family member supporting.
- Author: Now for the writing. Clearly, you are not wanting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, but hopefully the child should have explained the answer to the initial question with depth, flow and clarity.
Fundamentally, the child should also be aware that their answers will be shared within the class, allowing you to track who is completing the questions, and how their writing and thinking are improving.
Some of the responses I have witnessed were truly imaginative, creative and showed how engaged the pupils were with the writing tasks. The questions work well with a range of primary ages, with great results coming from 6-year-old pupils as much as 11-year-olds. The key is collaboration and communication.