Daring to Say “but” to Alfie Kohn about Homework

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

I use the word “dare” because I have the utmost respect for Alfie Kohn and his battle against children being made to do unneccessary busy work in the afternoon (aka homework) after having spent all those hours in school. I’m glad someone is highlighting the adverse effect this has on many parent/child relationships.

And the Washingtom Post article my friend Ruth Sheffer pointed out to me :“Homework: An Unnecessary Evil? Findings from New Research is a fascinating read. Shows you how carefully one should look at researches too. I totally agree with his stand regarding elementary school children.

But…

The article doesn’t mention English as a foreign language.

Nor does it mention struggling learners and students in Special Ed.

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

For starters, when teaching English as a foreign language, I need to expose the students to the English that exists beyond the physical walls and virtual walls (time constraints), of our classroom. I need them to see that they are able to use their English in some manner online, even when I’m not beside them.

I give my high-school students a short¬†online homework assignment ,once a week, every Monday, ¬†using the platform Edmodo. I often use short films or refer to foreign exercise sites. Sometimes the task calls for checking out links with color photos from distant places Things that are difficult to do in class. This exposure goes beyond the English language itself, it relates to culture and general world knowledge. Information. Some of my deaf and hard of hearing students ask about driving on the “wrong” side of the road after noticing that in a British made video. Or ask about phrases we didn’t learn in class that they encountered.

Even more important, online homework gives me a chance for personal attention and scaffolding, in a manner that simply cannot be done in class. Students do not compare online homework. Therefore no one is insulted. All the students watch the same video as part of their homework , but the task they must do with it varies. Some students get word banks, more explanations in mother tongue, less questions, etc. A few may even get an entirely different task. I also give practice on material that will appear on their tests.

All the students get tasks that they are able to do.

Success.

And success breeds success.

And this success is motivating because I check their homework. It doesn’t work if I use an automatic software to check it (well, once a while is o.k!). The students want my reaction. They feel “noticed” and that I care whether or not they have taken the time to do the task and what they think of it. Since it’s not busy-work, connections to what is being done in class are found .

This is not to say that all my students do their homework. Yet every year, as the school year progresses, the number of students who do their homework rises (after a dismally low number at the start of every school year. Sigh.).

I haven’t conducted a scientific research and I’m not objective. But it sure seems clear to me that those who do their weekly homework task benefit from it.

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