Making Homework Work
Barry Corrigan is dealing with one of the biggest challenges students and their parents face each day: homework. He’s working to change the way relationships happen between schools and parents through the medium of homework, making the process more transparent and productive. Using the Northern Ireland Virtual Learning Environment (Learning NI), children become enthusiastic about their work and want to get involved in the discussion boards or news quizzes that are set as exercises. Parents can also access the tool to see the learning going on in the classroom, and they can then help their children using the same virtual learning environment. We asked Corrigan about his work and his thoughts on the role of educators.
What has changed at your school as a result of this project?
It has helped to change many children’s attitudes toward homework and learning, giving them a more positive feeling toward education and leading to a love of learning in later life. In addition, the children know that they can email me for support in their work and that I usually answer the same evening – giving them a real sense of partnership in learning and knowing that the support doesn’t stop at 3:00 p.m. with the ringing of a bell.
Why is education important to you?
There is no greater gift than to give a child the opportunity to do better in later life. Whether we’re providing a simple way of learning basic numeracy and literacy to enable them to become confident members of society, or challenging their preconceived ideas and enabling them to become leaders as they get older, surely a teacher’s job is one that carries a massive responsibility. I do whatever I can to let children know that education matters in every small way because it all adds up to big changes in their lives in the future.
Who has most influenced your career?
My biggest influence, and one of the main reasons why I am also a teacher, was Sean Hollywood. He was a great man in every way – knowing when to make you toe the line and live by the expected rules and also when to put his arm around your shoulder and give you the encouragement to do better. I found it very emotional when I called my parents from Cape Town to tell them of my award and thank them for their support t that my father also mentioned Sean Hollywood and his influence on me. For me, there can be no better form of respect than my father remembering something like that at such a special moment for the family.
Describe the most inspiring day you’ve experienced as an educator.
Many teachers live by their grades and how they are judged on success in this way. I am very similar, in that I am judged on the grades that our children get in post-primary school entrance tests. Most years, there are some exceptional results but none of them actually count in the grand scheme. My most inspiring day was seeing a young boy, David, complete his primary school education with me. He arrived in my class at the start of primary 6 having spent the previous five years in and out of trouble in various schools. So, he came with a reputation and a challenge. I feel that he had the most settled two years of his educational life in my class and totally changed his view of education and the education system. That’s not to say that it was perfect – but he tried to do his best and that was all I could ask for. It made me even prouder that in a final week Fancy Dress Day – both he and his mother arrived dressed as me! They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and I was truly flattered! David also went on to achieve sporting success by playing representative Basketball for Northern Ireland. Something like that makes the low days manageable.
How can other educators facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned?
I think that there needs to be a change in attitude from many teachers. That is not to be little the great work going on in many of our classrooms but we need to see that children today want a bit extra. By just giving that extra bit of time and effort, children can see that education matters. That the teacher is imparting something so important, the teacher will make that extra effort to improve the quality of the learning experience. If children see that teachers value and make more of an effort to support learning, then I feel that children will reciprocate. By embracing the available technology to improve the learning experience, teachers are providing a medium for learning that children are familiar with and are eager to use. I make my own contribution through my BLOG.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Necessity! We know that we are in the middle of severe pressure on finances in the education sector so people need to find new ways to deliver the same level of education to our young people with fewer resources. This is an almighty challenge. However, it is up to us as educators to find ways to do this.
Tablet computers offer a cost-effective way of delivering mobile technology to the hands of children and learners. However, it is important that we see the changes in technology as new pathways and look for the proper solutions. We all know that there have been certain products that are dominating this market, but that doesn’t automatically make them the best. Educators need to see how ‘mobile’ technology can best suit their students.
About Barry Corrigan
Barry Corrigan is a Belfast teacher and dad to two wonderful children, and he enjoys the challenge of every day. He has won Innovative Teacher of the Year for Northern Ireland, European Innovative Teacher of the Year (Community) in Berlin and eventually placed 1st Runner-Up in at the Worldwide awards held in Cape Town.
Birthplace: Lurgan, Northern Ireland
Current residence: Kinallen, Dromara, Co. Down
Education: St. Colman’s College, Newry. Then St. Mary’s University College, Belfast (Teacher Training)
Website I check every day: Twitter
Person who inspires me most: Lance Armstrong
Favorite childhood memory: Setting eyes on the Spectrum 48K that my father bought!
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Would love to return to Egypt where I have visited four times already!
Favorite book: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger