The “thinking and talking” approach to homework

Sue Dixon

Sue Dixon is a practitioner of philosophy for children (P4C) and primary trained with a specialism in literacy. Everyone who is associated with Thinking Child wants the same thing: to support children and families to face the enormous challenges of the 21st and 22nd centuries by becoming critical thinkers and life-long learners.

In 2012 she launched Thinking Child - an organisation that provides resources and training for schools and parents - literacy, numeracy philosophy with thinking skills running all the way through.Honest, pragmatic, inspirational - yet grounded in reality is how she would like to be known.

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Homework is often an emotive and divisive issue in primary schools. How much is appropriate for a certain year group? What forms should it take? How much parent involvement is required? To what extent should it be tailored to individual children? And so on.

It is important that the time and effort spent answering these questions and devising and marking homework results in the greatest benefits for pupils. Homework should build on classroom lessons but not be repetitive or dull. The most valuable homework challenges pupils: it makes them think for themselves and, ideally, encourages discussion between them and their parents.

“Thinking and talking” homework assignments can be an excellent way to achieve those goals. These simple exercises involve pupils and their families discussing and investigating things that don’t have a single right answer.

For example: a teacher might ask pupils to get their parents’ help in making a list of ten games that can be played outside. The games should be arranged in order of how risky they are. Pupils would be expected to think more deeply about the game they consider to be the most risky, by discussing their reason for choosing it with their parents, and by drawing a picture or describing a scene that shows the worst thing that could happen when someone plays this game.

Other simple “thinking and talking” homework exercises could require pupils to put a collection of household gadgets in order of usefulness, or to rank news stories from a paper or the internet in order of the most captivating headlines or stories (a diamond ranking template can help with this). Again, the important thing is to get pupils to think about why they chose the order they did, and to analyse and justify their decisions though there’s no clear right answer.

Pupils can further develop an analytical mindset by discussing various topics or themes with their families. Teachers might encourage them to consider, with their parents, questions such as:

  • Is fiction always made up or does it contain elements of truth? 
  • Is it harder to tell the truth than a lie? 
  • Is it ever okay to tell a lie? 
  • What if everyone had to tell the truth?

Other themes could concern money, beliefs, beauty or happiness. By requiring pupils to consider questions that have no clear answer, “thinking and talking” homeworks can introduce them to philosophy and improve their ability to reason, construct arguments and think independently. This approach to homework is really worth thinking about!

As published in the March 2013 edition of our magazine.

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