Homework Made Clear

Recently, there was a discussion here on homework and Alfie Kohn. As I do with comments that we don’t want to lose access to, I am making Robert Harrell’s comment in that discussion into a blog post below [underlining mine], so that when we click on “homework” in the categories list, this will come up (along with Nathan Black’s great approach to homework), and thank you Robert for making a complicated thing simple for us, as you have done so often in the past:
Robert:
“What I took away from The Homework Myth were the following:
1. No homework should be the default setting.
2. Whenever homework is given, it needs to be justified, i.e. it accomplishes something that cannot be done in class.
3. “Homework” should be things that students are able to do on their own and can enjoy.
“Here are some things I do as a result:
1. Rarely give homework.
2. Assign culture projects as “homework” – students can do them in English, they have a choice of projects, they are doable alone, and they are things we can’t get done in class. (The cultural projects include making target culture food, going to museums to look at target culture exhibits, going to concerts of music from the target culture, and much more.)
3. Each year we inevitably get to likes, dislikes and favorite things in level 1 or 2. When we do, I assign a “worksheet” that asks in German for favorite music, favorite actor/actress, favorite class, favorite book, favorite film etc. The next day I read them in class  in German (correcting and editing – and sometimes translating – as necessary), and the class tries to guess who it is. I always have a turn-in rate of nearly 100% on the due date, and those who didn’t get it in then quickly do so. We are, after all, talking about them. What I need to work on is using the answers more effectively as springboards to conversation. I don’t mind taking several days to go through these.
“(We also learn the Uwe Kind song “Was ist denn dein Lieblingsfach?” (What’s your favorite subject?)”
[One more thing on this from Ben: Robert, what you have written here in terms of your reaction to Kohn is very validating to me personally, because this is pretty much the stance I have had on homework for over three decades. Before these heady days of breaking, smashing, destroying, and ripping apart chains in what we do as teachers, I had always felt like I was doing something wrong with homework because I wasn’t playing the role of the “sergeant” John Piazza talks about at https://benslavic.com/blog/2011/07/07/alfie-kohn-vs-fred-jones/comment-page-1/#comment-20329]

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2 thoughts on “Homework Made Clear”

  1. Robert I made the fixes. I underlined for strength, as this is a pretty important text for me since the school I am moving to in the fall* is big on homework. Let me know if you want me to jettison the underlining. Sorry about the glitch on editing – Word Press is overall a great program – and of course you can send anything to me and I will get it through, like David did a few weeks ago and like Skip did today.
    *Transferring schools is a slow process in our district, but last week I received official notice that I will be .5 FLT with three afternoon classes at DPS’ Abraham Lincoln High School, a 95% Latino high school much closer to my home than East and George Washington. There is a first year very pro-TCI principal there, a blessing from heaven. The department chair also wants to sail full on into CI with the entire department. Why are they both so pro-TCI? Because one of the very best of us in our TCI group in Denver Public Schools has been there for some time. Her name is Annick Chen and many readers of this blog know her as a gifted and dedicated and experienced teacher with the method, kind of Diana Noonan’s right hand in all the work we are doing at the district level. Annick teaches Mandarin and I can’t say enough good things about her. Plus, she and the department chair and her principal are kind. There is no “agenda” there, and there are no phony smiles with, if you thin slice it, judgment of CI behind them, which is so different from the school I was in last year, bless it’s heart. Where we work is everything!

  2. Great take-aways Robert! That is exactly what I got from the book when I read it last summer. For me, as a newer teacher, it helped me really find out how I felt about homework. It was transformative for my students, in that I didn’t give much homework (busywork) last year. But as my schools’ administration is big on homework every night, I sometimes succumbed to the nag that I needed to give homework just for the sake of having it (kind of like teaching ser vs. estar in year one because you have to). But I LOVED your assignment of likes/dislikes/favorites and the idea of culture projects since the new CO standards really emphasize culture. I’ll definitely be using these next year. Thanks for sharing!

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