That ‘No Homework’ Letter

During the last month, an education issue that has long caused debate sprang to the attention of the world when a simple short memo from an American teacher to the parents of her class went viral across social networks. Here’s some reporting on what she wrote, and how the story unfolded;

Cristian Science Monitor – Should Second Graders Get Homework?

Understandably reactions varied widely and some were pretty extreme. Many educators quoted educator Alfie Kohn in support of the teacher’s perspective. His writings and analysis of many research studies concluded that there was little or no evidence to prove the usefulness of homework except when pupils were in a year when they were due to take competitive standardised examinations. This suggests that it doesn’t really do anything much for learning, but helps in memorising to pass exams. In fact, some commentators have even gone as far as to suggest that it has negative effects because it undermines motivation to learn – thereby becoming a negative influence on learning.

The final line of the teacher’s letter reminded me of the admonition to parents – “Make your home a place of learning, not a schoolroom.”

There is something a little naive and childlike at times about the internet when such things go viral. It’s not as though this teacher is the first person to advocate (or even to act on feelings against homework) elimination of homework. Even when working with Indian parents in both India and Sharjah, I’ve been able to support teachers who wanted to minimise the relevance and significance of homework. These, after all, are considered to be very traditionally minded parents with a penchant for hard work and a belief that academic outcomes must be striven for in the extreme.

It was no surprise to me that when the teacher in question, Brandy Young, chose to explain herself and provide more context she chose to emphasise school-home partnership and collaboration in the best interests of the child and their learning. I find it slightly disturbing that both these articles and some others I’ve read appear to see this teacher as an individual working in isolation.

I would very much hope that the project-based, collaborative approaches she espouses are schoolwide policy and not merely an issue of chance for parents as to whether their child is in her class or another teacher’s. Also, if the consistency isn’t there children are the first to recognise that they appear to be the victims of fuzzy thinking and inconsistent treatment. They then have to adjust to the different ideological bases of the different teachers. Teaching leaves ample scope for individual creativity, flair and style within the context of key standard expectations and approaches that should be school wide policy.

Huffington Post – Why I Did It – The No Homework Letter

In her explanation the teacher highlights her use of Classdojo as an alternative to homework. Whilst I believe she’s completely right to stress that homework as a means for parents to check on children’s learning is a weak justification, I’m not wholly convinced that Classdojo is the answer. Whilst some of the features, such as instant sharing of pictures etc, can be beneficial in building home-classroom connection, Where I’ve seen Classdojo used, I’ve been concerned that it became a distraction in the classroom, that the carrots and sticks approach of praise and negative feedback that will all be visible to the parent every day does not build self-regulating children with a growth mindset.

I’m very interested to hear what educators and parents think on the issues of homework and home-classroom collaboration and partnership. Please share thoughts in the comments box below.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for all your blog postings Mark. This homework issue has been going on for some years now. Educators & parents have been debating this subject with no definite answers till now. I feel there should be a limit (load) to homework. It really affects family life both for the kids and parents. I am rather fortunate that I have one child and am a full time parent. What about parents with 4 kids of different ages, single parents, parents who are away from their kids due to work committments, etc.
    The irony is that even at tender age of 4 my child had homework. I remember at a toddler school PTA meet, parents were questioning ‘why no homework”! I am not very optitmistic that homework brings the best out of every child as I believe every child is different in their thoughts, mind sets and other factors with regards to their development. It is rather draconian to impose unrealistic workload on an already strained young mind. I support the no homework.

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