The Homework Myth
By the time I read Alfie Kohn’s amazing book The Homework Myth, I was already in serious doubt about the necessity of homework or the value of it. Let’s face it, we validate our own beliefs and philosophies when we become acquainted with others who share the same opinions, and then we go ahead to speak loudly about their beliefs. Suffice it to say, I did not rejoice over Mr. Kohn’s research and assertions, but I was validated by it.
As an elementary teacher of several years I battled the homework element annually using all sorts of evil behaviorist tricks to manage and assure that homework was assigned and collected as efficiently as possible. In the end though, I hated it.
Why should I hate anything related to what I do in education? More often than not I found myself digging through books for homework, photocopying resource books, assigning reading that I could never prove really got done (even with parent signatures), and convincing parents that Johnny didn’t pass the test because he didn’t study. When, in reality, why does Johnny have to study something he doesn’t care about and will forget about once the test is over anyway?
These questions left me with the realization that as a teacher, I was assigning homework to appease parents and administrators and not because I felt as an educator that homework had any value. Clearly, it doesn’t.
Not only that, but homework brings anguish to the household in many instances. It serves to reinforce trivial skills and concepts that comprise the majority of what classrooms serve to teach, and doesn’t, much to the belief of many, help children become more responsible or better managers of time.
Even those in mathematics, where many believe skills need to be practiced, are skipping by the larger idea that perhaps mathematics taught as procedural skill and drill drivel is, in and of itself, a pedagogical mistake (Catherine Fosnot who started the Mathematics in the City program has the needed reform in math education down to the letter).
When Is Homework Appropriate?
That’s not to say we don’t always have to scoff at the notion of home assignments. If the pupils help decide what homework is to be done, and the home assignments connect to something exciting and ongoing in the class, then it’s perfectly fine, and in these cases the children will be enthusastic participants in these assignments.
Enthusiastic participation would be a great assessment if homework is truly worthwhile. We so often ignore the children’s thoughts about homework and their feelings about doing it, that we miss the bigger picture about the essence of intrinsic motivation and what extrinsic motivators do to hamper a child’s love of learning.
What could hamper a child’s intrinsic motivation more than having to sit down after a day at school and write essays, complete worksheets, and research something he doesn’t give a hoot about? I always find it humorous to think of how every teacher wants to create students who have a lifelong love of reading or math, yet goes on to perpetuate a practice that has the total opposite effect, i.e. silly homework assignments.
What’s Right For You?
I think every teacher needs to have a voice in what they want for his or her students. I felt so freed when I stopped ritual homework assignments for my fifth graders. It freed me to do more research, prepare materials better, and to tailor better lessons for the classroom. Now when I’m rehearsing a readers theater, or conducting a math congress with children to discuss their investigations, I laugh thinking of the teacher who is correcting papers or calling a parent because a child forgot his homework two weeks straight.
Think about what the No Homework Policy could do for you, and then bring your own education to new heights.
Disagree? Agree? Comment and let other teachers know if you are for or against a no homework policy.
- Photo by peopodsqudmom under CC by 2.0