Does Homework Improve Learning?

Alfie Kohn takes on the social construct and perma-feature of schools we call homework, in his book, The Homework Myth. In the second chapter, afterwhich this blog post is named, looks at the educational research done on the benefits or drawbacks of homework. This is where you need to trust that Alfie Kohn has read all of what he says he has and given the plethora of footnotes and references I think we can assume that he has. He certainly does not hide his anti-homework bias. It is helpful as a teacher who has quietly not assigned much in the way of homework to see the evidence stacked against the process.

First, Kohn disects the arguements backing up homework. I am struck by how useful it might have been to have studied rhetoric. He very ably dispatches whole reams of evidence with the observation that most of the studies rely on correlation to prove causation. His simple analogy is – if you see many umbrellas at a work place and on that given day is rained it does not mean that having the umbrellas at work caused the rain. So to he states taht if students who do homework are seen to be better at school that does not mean that the homework is what caused the students to do well. He goes on to give samples of why this correlation may exist and not in fact be a causal pattern. This is a piece of logic that I want to remember. It reminds me of the reverse logical pattern used in defence of the tobacco companies. Tobacco companies rely on being able to say – it is a correlation not a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer. Most of the time common sense allows us to see otherwise. I wonder what common sense has to say about homework?

My son is in Kindergarten. There has been, thankfully, little homework but we have started a home reading/writing program. We are readers and writers anyway in our family but I was enthusiasic about his participation in this school-led program. I am wondering about my enthusiasm now that we have gotten started. The program involves him reading a short book and then responding with a sentence. At first, he was not very excited about it, particularly the writing. He still expresses some reluctance but he really likes the books. I guess we’ll play it by ear. I think he dislikes the writing because he has a strong will to write correctly and knows that he doesn’t know how to spell all the words. He deliberately pickes things that he knows he can write correctly. I worry about his creativity. Ach, it’s not hurting him, is it?

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