See, it only took me a sentence to summarize the state of the research and that's all it should have taken Alfie, so I suspect Alfie has used the homework meme as a springboard to fill his book with his typical crackpot theories on education. No doubt our gullible educrats will eat this stuff up as they normally do.
Let's begin at the beginning with Alfie being asked about what he's found out about homework.
Well, I began with the premise that, as parents know, homework is often responsible for stress and family conflict, that it gets in the way of other things kids would like to do after they finish six or seven hours of school, and that homework is viewed so negatively by children that it may diminish their interest in learning.Right off the bat, Alfie has has given us a false premise. Homework is not responsible for stress etc. It is the student's inability to do homework, no doubt because they weren't properly taught the underlying subject matter, which leads to frustration and stress. When students are not able to do school assignments, they quickly become disengaged from school work, both in school and outside of school.
Then there's the problem of homework that is tedious make-work. Kids aren't stupid; they know when they're wasting their time that could be better spent on other more kid friendly endeavors.
There is a kernel of truth in Alfie's statement that "homework is viewed so negatively by children that it may diminish their interest in learning" but the solution is to improve homework, not necessarily get rid of it, as Alfie is endorsing.
But teachers continue to assign homework (in ever greater amounts, in fact, at least in the elementary grades) and parents continue to put up with it – presumably because they assume that the benefits outweigh the costs. Specifically, it's assumed that homework helps kids to learn better, or at least raises achievement levels as measured in conventional ways. So that's where I began. And, amazingly, it turns out that the evidence simply doesn't support this belief.Nor does the evidence support the belief that homework doesn't help kids learn better. We simply do not know at this time because the research sucks. Just because the research doesn't prove x (homework is beneficial) doesn't mean that you can assume that -x is true (homework is not beneficial). No, that proposition hasn't been proven either, but that's never stopped our boy Alfie from prattling on like he's proven his point for a few more paragraphs.
By this point though Alfie has hooked his gullible readers who don't know how the scientific method works. Alfie has proven that homework is bad. Once again Alfie is right. Now Alfie has a license to say whatever he wants like it's true. He wastes no time:
I see homework as a case study, really – one of many possible examples where our practices are strikingly inconsistent with the data. I propose half a dozen answers. One has to do with widespread misconceptions about learning, including a naïve belief that more "time on task” produces greater success, and a residual acceptance of behaviorist orthodoxy that leads us to talk about “reinforcing" learning through drill and practice.Too bad Alfie didn't delve into the merits of this research, because he would have gotten bitch-slapped as the know-nothing poser that he is. Of course, practice and time on task are important for learning any human endeavor, including academic learning. Here's a good article by cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham discussing the research and explaining why practice is important. Willingham points out that to become skillful at something, such as at reading or math, you must acquire automaticity in many related skills. And guess how you build automaticity? Lots of practice.
Automaticity is vital in education because it allows us to become more skillful in mental tasks. An effective writer knows the rules of grammar and usage to the point of automaticity--and knows automatically to begin a paragraph with a topic sentence, include relevant detail, etc. The effective mathematician invokes important math facts and procedures automatically. Readers who are able to visualize a map of the world will find various books and assignments easier to read (and learn more from them). In each field, certain procedures are used again and again.
Those procedures must be learned to the point of automaticity so that they no longer consume working memory space. Only then will the student be able to bypass the bottleneck imposed by working memory and move on to higher levels of competence. The development of automaticity for generalized skills depends on high levels of practice (e.g., Shiffrin & Schneider, 1984). There is no substitute. Ensuring consistent, sustained practice is the most reliable way to ensure that a student will become an effective reader, writer, or scientist. Following a complex written argument, writing a convincing essay, or engaging in scientific reasoning are all skills that are enabled by the automatization of each discipline’s basics.
I also like this graph:
Even experts do a whole lot of practicing to increase their skills. Yet Alfie Kohn doesn't want your child to practice. Learning is magical, like riding a unicorn over a rainbow to a pot of gold at the end. According to Alfie, that pot of gold is knowledge. Jackass.
It's not about learning after all, says Alfie, it's about chanting:
Then there's the whole Tougher Standards mindset that still has education in its grip, with an emphasis on intensification, test scores, and competitiveness. It's not about helping kids to understand ideas; it's about being able to chant “We're number one!”It's also about selling books and giving paid speeches around the country to criticize standards and the like, apparently. I guess Alfie forgot to mention that point.
Interestingly, schools that have eliminated traditional homework tend to find that their students are freed up to pursue challenging and deeply gratifying learning activities in the afternoons and evenings. And that's to say nothing of organized extracurricular activities.I wonder if there's any practice going on when these kids "pursue" these "learning activities" and "organized extracuricular activities." I guess not; practice is a waste of time. No one practices when they pursue organized sports, learn how to play a musical instrument, or learn to draw, sculpt or paint, or play games, such as chess, to name but a few of the more popular extracurricular activites. In fact, even playing video games takes quite a bit of practice to beome good.
The case for letting kids play ball or surf the Internet is strengthened, I think, by the failure to find any research showing that homework is necessary for intellectual growth, to say nothing of its effects on social or emotional development.Er, actually it's not. It's just a common misuse of the null hypothesis. One of Alfie's favorite tools in his bag of dangerous tricks.
Actually, Alfie likes some homework:
An in-depth project that helps students understand ideas from the inside-out is a hell of a lot better than a packet of worksheets or a requirement to read another chapter of a dull, committee-written textbook and answer the questions at the end. An experiment that needs to be conducted in a kitchen makes more sense than something that could just as easily be done at school. An assignment that the kids together have decided, during a class meeting, ought to spill over to the evening is probably going to have more beneficial effects than an assignment that the teacher unilaterally comes up with and imposes on them. (Or worse, an assignment that the teacher didn't even come up with but just photocopied.)The usual bromides: Project based learning. Constructicism. Discovery learning.
Un-proven quackery the whole lot of it.
Luckily, we're coming to the end of the interview so the pain will soon stop.
What drives me crazy is the absence of discussion, the reluctance to challenge the status quo, the tendency to fall back on folk wisdom ("practice makes perfect") rather than examining the dataHe has absolutely no shame.