... Continuing from my previous post about university interviews, here are the 2 short talks that I prepared and gave.
The first talk was regarding homework in primary schools:
"Homework has been the topic of controversy for many years; not only within the UK but around the world with some teachers and groups such as the Parents Outloud charity calling for schools to abolish it all together; following in the footsteps of some areas of Europe such as Denmark which has piloted homework-free schools.
John Hattie (Professor of Education at the University of Melbourne) described homework as “low hanging fruit” in a recent BBC interview, continuing with the surprising finding that homework in primary schools in fact has no impact on children's achievement. Despite this, he does not call for homework to be abolished, but rather for teachers and schools to rethink the value of the tasks and work that they are setting.
I am involved in many discussion groups on the social network 'twitter', where professionals from the early years, primary and secondary sectors can share ideas and discuss relevant issues. During these talks I have found that many Primary Teachers share the feelings of Professor Hattie that homework can be beneficial to children if it is used to reinforce the learning that takes place in the classroom, however it is vital that homework is planned with the same rigour as lessons and involves stimulating activities, rather than just tedious or 'boring' tasks.
On reading many of the Homework Policies for (my town's) Schools, I found that homework is promoted as a valuable link between home and at school, allowing parents to become involved in the learning and development of their children. Many parents wish to be helpful and engage with their child's education and well planned homework can allow them to do this. Unfortunately it can also be said that homework is a major cause of friction and stress within many households, which raises the concern of children being discouraged from learning as they begin to associate work with being source of conflict with parents rather than a positive learning experience.
Completing homework can provide children with many valuable skills such as time management and responsibility and abolishing homework would be damaging as it prepares them for high school and later life where increasing amounts of self led learning is essential.
Despite this it is also important to remember that children need appropriate amounts of 'downtime' and that there must be a degree of separation between home life and school. Especially for children with difficult home lives or for those who find school particularly challenging.
When setting homework, teachers should take into consideration that extra curricular activities such as sport or drama clubs allow children to continue their learning in different ways. If vast amounts of homework is set then children who engage in these extra activities are left with less and less time to relax and recharge before beginning the next day. Professor Hattie pointed out in his study that 10 – 20 minutes of homework is just as valuable as 1 – 2 hours. This again comes back to the quality of the homework being set.
In conclusion, In the hands of passionate, skilled teachers; I feel that homework can be a valuable tool to extend learning and to enrich knowledge that is learned in the classroom. However it is vital that homework is planned and only given when it will benefit the children's learning rather than being set simply because a policy says so."
My second talk was about outdoor learning:
"As the interest in learning and playing outdoors continues to grow both in the UK and internationally, I have decided to speak to you today about some of the benefits of outdoor education and learning through nature.
Outdoor education defines any learning that takes place outside of the school walls, whether it be in a playground or further afield in a forest or on a beach. In Scotland we are lucky enough to have access to a huge variety of natural environments and it is essential that children are provided with opportunities to explore the wonder and magic of their natural surroundings throughout their education.
The curriculum for excellence states that in order for children to develop into Confident Individuals, they must be provided with opportunities to be active. There is a frightening prediction in The Foresight Report (2007) which concluded that half of the UK population could be obese by 2050 and with the temptations of technology such as television, ipads and video games, it is easy to see this becoming a reality.
By taking children out of the classroom and engaging them in outdoor learning, teachers are able to promote the benefits of an active lifestyle and the enjoyment that goes alongside exercise.
Outdoor education allows for many different learning styles, from visual to kinaesthetic and provides children with relevance and depth to the curriculum as they are able to apply their learning within real life contexts. Learning in this way promotes self esteem and confidence, it can also be used to teach team work and problem solving as well as improving attitudes towards the environment.
From my own first hand experience working within a pre school which promotes outdoor education and forest school experiences, I have witnessed the positive impact of outdoor education, including increased motivation and enthusiasm for learning, that continues even on returning into the classroom environment.
Of course, there are many factors which must be given careful consideration when taking learning outside. Risk assessments must be rigorously completed and accessibility for all students, including those with additional special needs must be taken into account. However, with careful planning and preparation, teachers are able to overcome these challenges in order to provide valuable experiences for the children.
I believe that taking education out of the classroom gives them access to a wealth of benefits and by allowing children to explore and investigate of our natural world, together we can ensure that learning is powerful, exciting and rewarding."