HMWK: Less Value or Valueless?
February 19, 2010 by tomwhitby
If I had to name one educational author who sets educators off, it would be Alfie Kohn. The Educator’s PLN. http://edupln.ning.com. was fortunate enough to convince Alfie Kohn to talk with well over 250 educators about his views in a live Chat. Alfie is outspoken on a number of educational topics not the least of which is his stance on homework. No matter how Kohn positions it, and irrespective of the research used to support his position, all that some educators ever hear is that teachers should not give homework because it doesn’t improve or in any way positively affect learning. This flies in the face of a traditional tenet of education, “Thou shalt Give Homework”.
If you teach long enough then there will always be shifts in your stance on things like homework. As a high school literature teacher I felt compelled to assign reading. That did not stop a number of academically successful students confiding to me on graduation that they never read the books. Yes there were lessons learned there. Over the years I have noticed that the pressure for homework has come from parents and colleagues; students rarely ask for it. I teach grade four-five now and homework intrudes from time to time.
What would be my current homework policy? Never send something home that cannot be done independently. Homework is application of attained knowledge and skills. With a parent’s agreement, I might set up a preview, review and practice plan. This would be something sustained and not an incidental extension of the day’s student learning outcome. If the learning has application outside the classroom, then a homework activity inviting that application is desirable. I invite students to extend what we have learned in class into their lives and to bring it back to the group. Homework is not the basis of assessment. Homework demands feedback of some sort.
I have students book off with their families for extended vacations. Give us work to do while we are gone, they ask. These days I tell them to keep a reflective journal on their journey and read some good books. I have asked them to Skype the class or check the class web site if technology is at hand. The last three did not take me up on that. I am hoping that will change. I think my vacation advice holds true for school nights.
“Always learn, learn all ways,” the milk commercial advocates. That guides after school activities. They have quick minds these young people. Their free time and I think it is their free time, is an opportunity to apply what they know to their own world. Help shop and cook a dinner using numeracy skills, read for pleasure or the pleasure of others. Mine the web or watch the news. Watch a movie or TV show and reflect on it critically. Play a sport or just stretch your body because you like it and you learned it is good for you. If what we do in school is disconnected with their lives, then we do them a disservice stealing more time from them.