Not all good researchers are teachers, but all good teachers are researchers. We simply can’t help it. We hypothesize. We look for trends. We make connections. We develop questions and we seek solutions. We test the research of researchers who may or may not know what we know after years of practice. We reflect. We revise. We begin again. It’s what we do.
The research on homework in elementary school is mixed. Alfie Kohn makes a compelling case against homework. Kohn questions whether or not there is any benefit to it at all. He argues that homework interferes with family life, and that family activities are more beneficial that homework. He discounts researchers like Harris Cooper who promote homework as a way to build a disciplined mind and boost academic performance.
Robert Marzano, one of the leading researchers on effective instruction, takes the research of both Cooper and Kohn seriously. His research indicates that homework can be an effective strategy to increase learning and raise the level of instruction. It. Can. Be. His research shows that appropriate and well-designed homework can increase student learning.
Campbell (that’s me) has done extensive research on her own and finds that all three of these guys are right. But this is a lot of gravitas about a simple task that should and could be done with “alacritas” (cheerful readiness.) The simple secret to getting homework done is getting started. When getting started is a problem, Kohn is right: homework interferes with family life. Homework drama can hold a family hostage. Life comes to a standstill in a homework stand off. The would-be effectiveness fades as tears or pouting or sulking or tantrums take center stage in a massive power play. Parents tend to think that this only happens at their house. Not so. It happens at a lot of houses. On the other side of the coin are children who love doing their homework, produce beautiful work, but don’t end up “owning” the material. There is no transfer of knowledge. This makes me wonder… is homework all it is cracked up to be?
The reality is this: the 21st century third grader is responsible for an unprecedented number of complex, precise, academic words. Children need multiple exposures to “own” this challenging vocabulary. Success on high-stakes tests depends on these high-stakes words. I design differentiated homework built around these words.
This week we will do all our homework in class. Through classroom discussion, we’ll check the value of the values promoted by homework promoters. What will take the place of homework at home? Will less homework lead to time outside? Dancing in the living room? Making art? Getting more sleep? Playing cards with a sibling or a board game with a parent? I hope so.
We know that too much homework is a bad idea. But if “no homework” increases screen time, then “no homework” is a bad idea, too. Maybe this is an old topic that just needs a fresh look.
This week, I will introduce “opinion writing.” All we need is a topic to research that matters to kids, — and it looks like we’ve found one.