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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Measuring Educational Impacts

BBC Radio 4 – The Educators – John Hattie
(Click on the link above to listen to the discussion)

Here’s a very interesting audio recording of an interview done for the BBC Radio 4 series – ‘The Educators’. The interviewee was Dr John Hattie of Melbourne University, Australia. He’s particularly talking about the large meta-analysis he’d carried out in to educational impacts of various things. In other words – research that pulls together the results of a large body of research studies from across the world.

Whilst it’s interesting, especially from an academic perspective, to hear him talk about the relative impacts of different things, such as homework, class sizes, streaming or parental choice of schools the burning question that came in to my mind was – “what are we measuring to define IMPACT/ EFFECT and are they the things we should be measuring?”

It is inevitable that during the discussion the PISA tests came up for discussion. To many educators, and especially those who want to believe that data and statistics are all that’s needed to enable them to drive change/ improvement in the whole education system it is a very simple piece of logic to say that PISA tests what children need to be learning in school and that, therefore, comparisons of relative performance on PISA are the right way to assess the quality of an education system.

How comfortably does this sit with ideas related to the need, in the Twenty First Century to develop lifelong learners, to develop high levels of EQ, empathy, communication skills and other softer attributes when its very clear that these aren’t figuring at all in the analysis of PISA or any other effects/ impact/ outcomes?

A school, District or even an individual teacher can decide to do certain things that will have a higher chance of producing higher PISA scores or scores on other standardised testing systems. However, does that mean that we must say that that automatically represents good education, the ideal? Well, arguably, when Shanghai scored top on PISA it was acknowledged by education authorities in China that their methods were very good at drilling the children in what they needed to know to do well in the exams, BUT were probably very bad at inculcating and developing the skills those young people would need to be effective in the 21st century. As a result, the Chinese have been looking outside their own education systems for ways to change so as to have an education system that prepares young people for the reality of the future they will face.

Here’s the problem – the future of children and their contribution to society doesn’t lend itself to being tested, picked apart for analytical debate half as easily as standardised test results. And this is why we can so easily fall in to the trap of being so comfortable with the kinds of debates here in this interview. All through, the discussion is about the relative merits of different actions that can take place in education, all based on a criteria of judgement about worthwhile outcomes that may not stand up to scrutiny.

Being able to climb a ladder better or faster is meaningless if we’re leaning the ladder against the wrong wall.

Educators Waking Up to research Findings

Part of me is happy to read this article from the Mindshift website, the other part frustrated that educators are so slowly and begrudgingly waking up to what these research findings are telling them about how the learning experience in our schools should be shaped:

Mindshift Article – Research

These are things that I’ve been writing about for some time; the growth mindset, focus on the learning process as well as the content to be learned, questioning the value of homework (especially simplistically created), the role of ICT etc.

Better late than never, I guess ……

The Multi-Tasking Myth

So, I wonder right now, how many of our students have told their parents they’re doing their homework whilst they’re also engaging in some rapid fire texting, watching the TV and checking out the latest wall comments on Facebook.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but here is some pretty compelling evidence that a lot of people have been kidding themselves about this whole ‘multi-tasking’ myth. Sadly, the unfashionable but logical conclusion here is that the old-fashioned ideas about doing homework in peaceful, focused circumstances without distractions. If you’re going to do something effectively, there’s still no substitute for concentrated effort.

BBC Article on Multi-Tasking

This reminded me of some earlier research that i had read about related to learning. This suggested that learning is situational specific – in other words – for the best recall of material learned the situations of learning and recall should be similar. The research consisted of teaching certain things to divers whilst they were under water. Then, they were tested on said material both under water and in a classroom setting. recall under water was better.

One conclusion that can be drawn from this is that until schools start to offer facilities for examinations to be taken prone on a bed or the floor in front of a television set to MTV, that’s probably not the most effective place to learn school related material.

Boring and very sad, I know, but you can’t fight the workings of the human mind!!

Homework & Class – Reversed !!

When i read this blog post from an American Maths teacher I was blown away with a massive WOW! factor.

His starting point is simplicity itself, but the implications and ideas that can spin off from it are, I believe, enormous.

Please read Karl Fisch’s blogpost in full:

KF Blogpost

Imagine the implications – class time in school used totally for exploring concepts an issues together, seeking to find the underlying principles. Then the ‘lecture’ part delivered as a video (which, ofcourse, the student can watch as many times as they want/ need to).

The more I watch this, the more the potential uses I can see. The other reason you have to like it is that it’s so much less harrowing for children than the old-fashioned approach to sending ‘problems’ home for Maths particularly. We all have memories lurking in the back of our minds of the torture that we underwent when we discovered that the homework was beyond our current level of comprehension and understand. Caught between obligation, expectation and a feeling of overwhelm caused by ‘impossibility.’ This could transform all of that.

Who Needs Homework?

I’m sure this is going to arouse lots of interest both amongst parents and students.

A Canadian couple won a case against kids being given homework. Their argument: Homework makes kids tired!!

Ban homework

Now, on reading that i can imagine some will go in to shock, questioning why those Canadian parents would choose to do such a thing. Because, surely, everyone knows children have to do homework – and the more they do, the more they learn. Isn’t that the case?

Well, It’s not as simple as common perceptions might suggest. I’ve attached below a couple of fascinating and thought provoking articles from an American educator named Alfie Kohn. His writings are renowned for being somewhat controversial, mainly because they challenge a lot of things about education systems that people have tended to take for granted and to apply without ever testing their assumptions.

Please read through the articles and then share your thoughts – who knows, if people feel strongly enough on the issue we could see new school policy on homework:

Alfie Kohn on homework

Rethinking Homework

Alfie Kohn Study of Homework

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