The homework assignments that are taking LOtC to the next level

Date Posted: 20/08/2015

Rachel Bailey takes a closer look at two teachers whose innovative summer assignments for pupils recently went viral on the internet, leading to the question: shouldn’t all lessons be like this?

‘The classroom is just a room at the end of the day. You don’t have to have the lesson there.’
         - Ofsted report, 2008

For many of us who are no longer young enough to be of school-attending age, the word homework conjures up dreary mid-week afternoons staring out of a rain-splattered window, idly chewing a pencil and wishing fractions weren’t something that we had to contend with, ever.

But recent news suggests that homework isn’t the dull toil it once was. In fact, it seems that the mention of homework has converted from a teacher’s desperate plea for obedience to a vocal calling for a happy splurge of creativity that even the sourest of youthful faces will light up at.

‘An evocative love letter of an assignment’

Cesare Cata, who teaches at a secondary school in the central Le Marche region of Italy, apportioned his students an unconventional assignment for the 2015 summer break. Instead of consisting of a long-term History project, or a seemingly infinite list of dusty novels to read over six weeks, Cata gave his pupils a list of pleasantly surprising tasks to complete.

The list included directions such as ‘finding the strength to pursue dreams’, ‘spending time with friends who understand and appreciate you for who you are’, and to ‘watch the sun rise’.

A source of inspiration

After posting a picture of the list on his Facebook page, Cata’s endearing assignment went viral, quickly inspiring other teachers to want to do the same. One British art teacher from Northampton, Tom Christy, was so affected by the simple ethos behind the idea that he also went ahead this summer and set 180 Year Seven students a list of his own creation.

Christy’s summer homework included tasks such as ‘handwriting a letter to someone special and posting it’ and ‘trying a new food you can’t pronounce’. In a show of support, one of the parent’s posted the list of 30 instructions on Facebook, which was shared almost 10,000 times.

Why? Because the assignment idea is smart and it’s charming, that’s why.

And now every teacher in the world is probably wishing they were the genius who had come up with such an effective and creative way to encourage students to learn outside of the classroom without guidance.

Placing importance on LOtC experiences

While these fun lists might not directly link to any sort of curriculum agenda, it seems the idea is being championed immensely by many. Mr Christy explained in the aftermath of his task-setting that he hoped his assignment would be “an antidote to the excesses of what it means to grow up in the 21st century”.

The simplicity of falling back on tasks which are slowly but surely being ignored in favour of more technologically advanced methods of communication is refreshing, and a fantastic way to engage pupils with humble means of interaction for self-growth.

A 2011 case study showed that groups that practiced kindness and engaged in novel acts over a period of ten days experienced a significant increase in levels of happiness. Likewise, research over the last two years into various approaches into teaching indicates that social-emotional learning (SEL) is every bit as critical to a student’s success as their ‘mastery of purely academic content and skills’ (National Association of State Boards of Education).

While the inventive assignments are a mere two examples of a new approach to homework, the tasks involved link directly to a young person’s social and emotional growth; perhaps in the future these original assignment ideas might become a solid trend in innovative education, linking directly to how successful learning outside of the classroom can be. Especially if Cameron gets his way in turning every UK school into an academy.

Will students embrace the tasks?

It seems we’re all going to have to patiently wait out the last few days of the summer before we know whether the lucky students have embraced the tasks as passionately as we hope they will.

In the meantime, why not try coming up with a few of your own inventive homework tasks? With the new term only a few days away, take a leaf out of these creative teacher’s books and create a few new inventive homework assignments - much like our one below.

School Travel Organiser’s new term assignment list:

1. Run through a sprinkler on a sunny day
2. Build a bird box in your garden
3. Make something sweet to eat (like an ice-cream, or a fruit lolly)
4. Sleep in a tent with friends in the outdoors over night
5. Go fruit picking with family
6. Offer to wash a neighbour’s car
7. Learn how to say ‘hello’ in five different languages
8. Write a letter to your 18 year old self about what you have achieved in life so far
9. Be able to identify ten different types of plant in your local park
10. Join a library and aim to take out and read one book a week
11. Give a homeless person something to eat or drink
12. Keep a diary for a fortnight
13. Write all your wishes on bits of paper and put them in a jar
14. Put up a lemonade stand for an afternoon
15. Make a CD for a friend with all your favourite songs on
 

School Travel Organiser's Guide