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”.
Kohn’s positions bring out the best and the worst in some people. One great example of academic debate at its best has been on-going over a period of several days. Two members of The Educator’s PLN, George Haines and Tim Furman have continued the most scholarly, thoughtful, and respectful discussion on the subject of Alfie Kohn that one could hope for. The vocabulary is inspiring. You have to love all those big educational words. All kidding aside, I have great respect for both men and their positions. It is a refreshing change from some of the name calling and disagreeable discourse that I have witnessed in the recent past.
Now that the Alfie Kohn video has been placed on my class’s Ning site and my students have been assigned its viewing, I need to strategize what they should take away from the experience. I am not creating Minnie me’s. I do not want to impose my will and a homework policy on them to guide them through their careers without them understanding or buying into it. After all, I am not an administrator.
Many of my views on homework were not my views through much of my career. Having my own children in school gave me a perspective that I never had in the first half of my career. I have come to appreciate that a student’s day in school begins at about approximately 8 and ends at 3. Many, but not all, are often involved with extra-curricular events for an additional two hours. This puts kids home between 5:30 and 6PM. Work in a little downtime and dinner and it is 8 pm. Of course the student is now ready to work, because it’s homework time. Each teacher has only assigned about 20 to 30 minutes of work, so each teacher feels that the assignment is not too much. That would be okay if the kid did not have five teachers all thinking the same thing. That could be on a given day two to three hours of homework. It is now 11 PM. I understand that does not happen every night, but I must wonder how often does it happen? I do not know an adult who would work those hours for any number of days in a week for no pay. There are actually departments, schools, and districts that enforce homework policies requiring teachers to give homework each and every night.
I am an English teacher. I know that I sometimes have no choice about homework, if I am to get things read. However, if I assign anything more than 10 pages, it probably will not be read by the class. How successful will my lesson be the next day when only half the students read the assignment? If I were to do a formative assessment, I should not be surprised that half the class does not get it. So much for the homework strategy. Another consideration: If I put no value on the homework, kids will recognize it as worthless. I must check it and provide feedback to give it value. Homework without value is more than worthless. It is punishment. Students will view it as working for nothing. How often do we hear “Why should I do that work? He doesn’t check it anyway.”
Skills and drills are important to some teachers and rarely important to kids. Some students might benefit by doing them. What about those who do not need those drills because they have a thorough understanding? How do those students, who do not need the drills, view them? If they clearly understand and can do the work, why are they drilling? Might they feel as if it is punishment? Can we assign the drills to those who need them and not to those who need them not? Is that a question of fairness? How can we say that only some of the students will get homework because they need to drill their skills? Are we calling some of our students dumb (their perspective) ?
I would love for my Methods students to realize that, if homework is important for the teacher to give, it should be important for the students to do. It should be creative and reasonable, because we are requiring overtime without compensation. We would resent that as adults, so why do we expect kids to buy into that concept without pushback? I love the fact That Alfie Kohn, George Haines, Tim Furman and my Methods students all challenge me to think, and reflect in order to amend, or change many of the traditions of education I followed so stringently for so many years in teaching. I only regret that I did not have the ability to do this earlier. That is what motivates me to work with pre-service Teachers. I think I will assign the reading and responding to this post as a homework assignment.