Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Homework Myth - Chapter 1

As I get older, my memory isn't what it used to be (or what I think it used to be) so I am finding myself reading things and not taking away all that I should. Inspired by Mr Dwyer, I am trying to use my blog as a reflection not only on my pedagogy, but also on what I read. 

Chapter 1 - Five Common Complaints About Homework

1. A burden on parents
What Kohn says in my words -
Parents come home from work and are often tired and have to help out their kids. Often times parents are unable to help because they do not understand the directions.

What I think -
I don't have kids, but I can understand coming home tired. I do feel for the parents of my own students because we are an English-peaking-school in Japan and many of my parents cannot speak English. The ones that can I sympathize with because reading directions in a foreign language to an assignment in a style of teaching that you were not raised in must be tough.

This year I have been trying to figure out how to flip my classroom. I think it would be beneficial for both the parents and the students to have a video of what it is I want them to accomplish at home. I know a video of something in Japanese showing me what to do is often easier than reading something like this

2. Stress for children
What Kohn says in my words -
"If parents feel pressure from school authorities to make sure their children are buckling down and keeping up, then that pressure is passed along to the kids."

For students, school is like going to work. So imagine going to work for seven hours, coming home, and doing overtime. That is what it is like for kids. In addition to that, kids whose parents are pressuring them into doing well, sometimes do not do as well on tests. (p. 10)

What I think -
I vividly remember being in junior high and becoming very frustrated with my math homework. It was an immense amount of stress because of one or two problems. I don't remember what kind of math it was exactly, probably some sort of pre-algebra, but I remember this one time when I could see that the answer I was getting was wrong. (Maybe it was one of those odd-numbered problems where the answers are in the back of the book.)

I see children attending juku, or after school school (that's not a typo), in Japan from kindergarten. The parents' hope is that they will become successful or intelligent through it. Who can disagree with that hope? But one thing I wonder, and it is probably cultural, is where is their childhood? How can kids learn what to do with themselves when they have nothing to do? Do these kids, many of whom have juku or a sport almost every night have friends outside of them?

I don't know the answer, but while I think it is good for kids to be active after school, I am not sure about after school school. A question I think will be raised here is: why is the need for homework so great? Why aren't these being done in school?

I do think that getting into the habit of doing something "educational" when kids get home is a good thing, but I want it to be from them. I want my students to learn something while in school, especially if it is something new interest for them, a new passion, and start doing it outside of school.

3. Family Conflict

What Kohn says in my words -
Parents playing the role of enforcer adds stress to an already stressful relationship. Parents often greet their children with, "Do you have any homework?" He also states, "On those rare occasions when it was the child who raised the topic first, ... he or she invariably did so either to announce the relief that there was no homework ... (p. 14)."

The way Kohn finishes the third critique is powerful. (p. 15)
As a rule the point of homework generally isn't to learn, much less to derive real pleasure from learning. It's something to be finished.

What I think -
The last quote hits home. I have a student whose mother works at school in the office. Almost every day I hear them talking about homework. I would rather hear her daughter tell her mom about the exciting things we did at school. I want the girl to tell her mom what she learned and how it connects to her life.

One thing I do get on my students about is reading at home. I don't think that will change. I want to say that reading is a habit they should become interested in, but I know that shoving something down someone's throat won't necessarily make them interested. However, as these are non-native English speakers, the more reading they do now, the more it will help improve their English.

They should also be reading in their native languages as well!

Can you imagine what a kid who does not like reading is doing while trying to sludge through books in different languages?

I still think it is necessary, but ...

4. Less time for other activities

What Kohn says in my words -
The time doing homework is less time for doing other just-as-important activities.

What I think -

This is what my question meant in #2 - "How can kids learn what to do with themselves when they have nothing to do?" When I was a kid (I can hear my grandfather in that line) I did things outside that children who are spending time indoors are not able to do. How many children who go to juku in Japan have made a fort out of sticks and trees in a forest? How many have a chance to play outside in the sand? How many are spending their time after school being kids?

I don't know what these kids do. I do know that I do have control over what happens in my own classroom though.

5. Less interest in learning

What Kohn says in my words -
Homework is something kids hate, and is a learning extinguisher.

Quote - A passion for learning "isn't something you have to inspire [kids to have]; it's something you have to keep from extinguishing". (p. 17)

What I think -
Who in the homework cycle likes it? I know the kids don't. The parents must not. I don't like it when I am checking things off to make sure they did something - especially when I have a hard time feeling is necessary.

The times the stakeholders in the child's learning have enjoyed the homework was when it was fun, challenging, or something of interest to the kids.

At the end of the chapter, Kohn talks about attitudes different stakeholder have about homework. One that he talks about is how the parents feel it is important for their children to have something to do. I've heard this one, and I felt good because I was giving the students "something to do". But, really, the two parents who told me this have two great kids. One is an avid reader. Isn't me just giving her something to do getting in the way of her reading? I have a hard time believing - from what I see at school - that she wouldn't pick up a book on her own. That's what I want her to do!

The other is in dire need of improving his fine motor skills. I am sure he would much prefer to play with Legos to doing whatever homework I had assigned. I would actually have him work on his fine motor skills as well.

I am not sure if I will be able to become a teacher who walks away from homework because of this book, but this will definitely have me think more deeply about what I am doing.

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