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January 10, 2011

The Symbolic Virtue of Homework

A few days ago, I wrote that I would be posting a few messages about homework and grading. Part of my inspiration for doing this (besides my own questions about the merits of both practices) comes from interest in the work of Alfie Kohn, notably his 2007 book, "The Homework Myth."

So, for today, I bring attention to what Kohn entitles, "The 'Symbolic' Virtue of Homework." That is, despite the evidence that the practice of assigning homework doesn't ultimately lead to improved learning, teachers and parents have generally embraced its value based on the "virtue" of giving it. Or in other words, Kohn says, "The fact that kids are made to work harder, is in itself a sign of higher standards..."

In both my K-12 memories as a student, and as a current K-12 educator, I feel like the practice of homework has been, and is, excepted as a given - like its usefulness can, or won't, be questioned. Like questioning it might cause befuddled looks from fellow teachers and/or parents.

So, a proponent of homework might ask, "Aren't there some instances in which homework IS necessary? Don't kids need to do homework to reinforce academic skills like doing addition?" Or, "We should give homework because it teaches character and responsibility." Kohn addresses such statements in his book, and highlights a lot of research along the way, critically examining these beliefs for the practice of giving homework.

Next time I'll (attempt to) highlight some of the specific studies that Kohn uses to support his idea that homework really amounts to "too much of a bad thing."

January 6, 2011

Grades and Homework

So, Christmas break is officially over. We're back to school at Crossroads. I thought the students were in generally good spirits about being back at school.

Welcome back to everyone else returning to schools out there. Now we move forward on the journey towards June. Of course, as Jim Knight would say, the learning doesn't stop there. As the rest of the school year comes and goes, what to teach, how to teach it, and when to teach it, are questions we'll have in our heads.

One particular idea has been in my mind over break. I watched a DVD by Alfie Kohn in which he strongly criticized the practice of giving homework and grades. The DVD is titled, "No Grades + No Homework = Better Learning."

Kohn raises some interesting points about homework and grades, some of which I'll attempt to cover in the next few posts. Basically, he makes the case that homework results in a "2nd shift" for students, and doesn't really encourage deeper understanding of knowledge. According to Kohn, the practice of homework might help students do better on memorization-dependent tests (which he is also critical of), but doesn't help them foster lasting understanding and connections.

Grades, he believes, do not increase meaningful (intrinsic) motivation to learn. They lead to shallower learning and unnecessary classification. Indeed, some interesting ideas. Probably quite in contrast to what goes on in many K-12 schools.