Revolutionizing homework in the 21st century: Do your homework assignments encourage a love of learning?
January 4, 2012 2 Comments
I have finally finished (after a few months – I’ve been reading a few books at the same time!!) reading Alfie Kohn’s (@alfiekohn) enthralling book ‘The Homework Myth’ which has had, after reflection, a huge impact on how I now view homework in schools. I am just going to share with you some Kohn’s thoughts & recommendations on the transformation of homework policies. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these.
He states that currently school policies tend to ‘decide ahead of time that children will have to do something every night. Later on we’ll figure out what to make them do’.
He argues this type of policy has numerous impacts on students and their families:
1. It is a burden on parents
2. Leads to stress for children
3. Leads to family conflict
4. Means less time for other activities where kids can discover their passions & interests
5. Students will have less interest in learning – they see homework as a chore & something to ‘get out of the way’ quickly
Kohn suggests we must rethink homework and his major recommendation on policy is ‘that the default state should be no homework. Educators should have to opt in.’
By asking teachers to be sure that any homework being assigned is beneficial is a way of encouraging mindful decision making at classroom level. So the question we should be asking ourselves is, ‘will each piece of homework encourage students to think deeply about relevant questions that matter?‘ Teachers should be able to exercise their professional judgement in how they want to deal with homework, taking into account the specific individual needs and capabilities of the students in their classrooms, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ policy.
I think this idea sits neatly with Ken Robinson’s call for an agricultural and organic approach to education compared to an industrialized and ‘batching’ model. This is where teachers, working within broad guidelines, can be architects of their own school’s curriculum which would create personal ownership which would only have positive outcomes for both teachers and students alike. After all, shouldn’t we know our students well enough to design pathways that will inspire?
In light of the above, Kohn suggests various ways to facilitate changes in current homework policies:
Give the students CHOICE – if you allow students to choose what they would like to learn it may have the reverse effect of many assignments. Given freedom and autonomy to choose how to extend their learning they may not view these efforts as homework at all.
Design what you assign – rather than completing boring worksheets from text books, if teachers took the time to devise creative, well thought out tasks students would end up geting better quality homewok and less of it.
One size doesn’t fit all – individualise and customise homework to the specific needs of each student to foster curiosity and deep learning
Stop grading – basically homework is not checked or graded, but shared. Students can speak about what they have learnt, liked & struggled with. The function of the homework should be to ensure ‘high quality learning and the desire to keep learning’
Address inequities – this may help close the gap between privileged and struggling families. Kohn suggest 2 ways of doing this; lengthen the school day slightly (older students mainly) so everyone has the chance to complete work before they go home and have the resources to do it (PCs, internet, teachers to ask). Secondly, set up after school clubs in communities ‘that offer help as well as cultural exoeriences’.
From my own personal experience as a student and a teacher, two homeworks stick out in my memory. The first one is from 14 years ago when I was studying GCSE PE. We were learning about skill related fitness & coordination in particular. Our teacher, Mr Hewitt, asked us all to go away and learn how to juggle, whether it be with just 1 hand, 2 hands,2, 3 or 4 tennis balls or even incorporating tricks. No further instructions were given – we had to research and discover the technique ourselves. This is the only homework I can ever remember spending hours and hours on for the sheer love of learning and trying to master a skill. After a week I manged to juggle, consistently well, with 3 tennis balls and even managed to pick up a few basic tricks. It was definitely a rewarding and benificial homework that made me enjoy those PE lessons even more.
The second homework I assigned to my A2 PE students just before Christmas. I teach Hisorical Studies in A Level PE but this challenge had nothing to do with my subject. I always try and start the lesson with something different so I showed the students the below video:
We then had a friendly competition in ‘Free hand circle drawing’ the next lesson. The kids could come up to the whiteboard at any point and have a go, or not if they didn’t want to. Everyone enjoyed it & it sparked a lively atmosphere and discussion about the best technique – which was just what I hoped for – as the lesson was predominately a discussion lesson with students sharing information & teaching each other about the development of tennis from the 18th century onwards.
That’s about it from me. Hopefully this post may make you think about your school’s or your own personal homework policy. You may agree or disagree with some or all of the suggestions. However, if it sparks some thought and reflection on your practice then that’s what matters most of all.