Dana Huff: Agent Provocateur

Who knew, right? My argument against banning homework was, surprisingly, a lightning rod for controversy. However, it’s a useful and important conversation to have. You can read Alfie Kohn’s response to my argument. I really hope, in light of some allegations Kohn made, that some effort to include Robert Marzano in the conversation is made. I really hope good discussion about homework and why we assign it emerges. Frankly, I would be interested in knowing what your definition of homework is. My contention is that long-term projects, reading assignments, and some writing assignments all count as homework, but the most interesting thing I learned in the last few days is that many educators don’t consider those things homework. I admit I’m confused by this notion and would love to hear your own thoughts on what constitutes homework and what you consider “good” homework assignments to be.

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10 thoughts on “Dana Huff: Agent Provocateur

  1. Dana,

    We talked briefly about homework earlier and you mentioned that you have been skeptical of Kohn. When I read his response it seemed pretty moderate. The idea being that homework shouldn't be the default position (what homework should I give) but targeted (I need them to do interviews with community members and can't do that in the classroom).

    He also seemed awfully persuasive in his analysis of Marzano and Keith. I took a quick look and he seemed to be right. Now, just the fact that research can't measure something doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but at the very least some sort of humility as it pertains to homework seems to make sense.

  2. I can't understand, then, how we are in disagreement, because I feel my homework is targeted.

    If by humility, you mean "Dana, admit you're wrong," then I'm sorry, you're not going to hear that from me. A few dozen comments from people I don't know and whose teaching experience I know nothing about are not going to convince me that ten years of my own teaching experience and research are wrong. I didn't come to this position as a default notion because someone told me homework was good, and I never questioned it. I came to it through my own research and practice.

    I find his arguments about Marzano specious and will check them out on my own.

  3. Dana,

    Just sent you an email but I am encouraging you to share your check of Kohn's check of Marzano on Keith here. Would be very interested. :)

  4. I will, Dina, even if it "proves me wrong," but I will need some time. I will have to track the studies down, first. One thing that I find fishy is that both Kohn and Marzano each accuse the other of being somewhat, ah, shall we say selective about the studies they include and conclusions they draw. I am forced to conclude the only answer is to try to read the studies myself.

  5. Hm. I dunno… the homework I assign could typically be done in class. But I don't want them to; I want that 3-6 hour break in between class and the written reflection that ties either back to what we studied that day or ahead to what we'll be studying the next day. It helps create continuity. My (non-project) homeworks also don't take very long – 5-15 minutes should be plenty.

  6. Clix, one thing I have learned through the many comments I have received on my own post at The Faculty Lounge is that for some reason, a lot of people don't consider the kind of assignment you just described — a written reflection — like a journal or something — to be homework, which mystifies me. One commenter went on about not giving homework and then said he has students use a reflective journal. He called it an interactive journal. Well that's wonderful. I love the idea of having one of those. As a matter of fact, my students are doing one for The Catcher in the Rye. But why isn't that homework? I am really confused, really puzzled by the fact that so many folks don't consider reading homework, long-term projects, and journals to be homework. If they are not, then I don't give homework either! The exception would be my vocabulary cards and the odd grammar practice here and there. I would never describe myself as not giving homework. Homework = work for school, whether you mean a math ditto or a reflective journal – that is done at home.

  7. Here's an issue I'd like teachers to consider: Children whose parents work nights or who live in home environments that aren't conducive to homework. I worked with at-risk kids whose home lives were very disorganized and chaotic. Older siblings kept them up until late hours. Their parents worked nights.

    They complained that they had trouble concentrating on homework because their homes were loud and chaotic. Now, obviously, there are some issues in these homes that are going to impact school performance. But homework certainly didn't help. It just added to the pressure and sense of failure.

    Unfortunately, not every child has a home where parents can help with homework – or even a home where they can quietly read and study. In these cases, I suspect teachers and students would be more successful if learning didn't rely on homework.

    I just wanted to add that as food for thought.

  8. That's a good point. I haven't had to deal with that sort of issue much in my own teaching career because of where I have chosen to teach, but I could see it being an issue — something related to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs — in some places. And then we get into a whole different issue — the class and race divisions in our country and the fact that schools with a student population of a lower socioeconomic status do not have access to the kind of education that students in a higher SES do — and a bit of homework is going to do very little to level that playing field.

  9. Work y'do at home = home work. C'est assez facil! Or something. Anyway…

    One of the districts near ours has a late bus specifically for students who opt to stay for tutoring – or just a quiet, focused place to do homework. I'm gonna try to push for something like that in our school.

    Loraine, situations like you describe are one reason I accept homework late and don't count it for a whole lot. I have a LOT of students who live that way.

  10. Loraine,

    I agree that there are many different situations that we teach with (in), and each of these require a careful weighing of methods by the most qualified person – the teacher. However, why would teaching be more successful in those situations without homework? Homework can often give structure to lives that have little structure. At the worst, it remains undone – at the best it helps reinforce what takes place in the classroom.

    Does it create undo pressure? If the situation is dire it is not the homework creating the pressure – but other factors that need to somehow be addressed (by society, by families, etc.) Often, homework gives us (and our support staff) a much-needed window to what is happening (or not) in homes.

    Homework is not the problem – the problems are much bigger and more complex than that.

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