Ben comes out swinging: homework, and some generalisations 

Well, Ben Slavic never pulls his punches (which is what I love about him) as you can see below.  Ben does implicitly raise a question, however: is it worth tarring all one’s colleagues with the same brush?  See Ben’s post, and my comments.

Well, my dear Mr Slavic, I would respectfully suggest that there is waaaaay more to the homework question than this.  So, Ben, what about these points?

What about teachers who have to give homework? Required in some places.  Are all these teachers mean, afraid, in need of approval, boring, or incompetent?  Generalise much?  It is a much better idea to look at a specific practice than something like “homework” which is so vague it could mean almost anything.

What about good homework? Things that I send home with kids– making simplified cartoons from asked stories, or Textivate sequences, or translations of short passages from L2 into L1– all deliver good C.I., are easy, and do not take much time.  I tell my kids, budget 15 min/week for Spanish homework.  Hey Ben, do you think my homework mean, or coming from fear, boring or pointless?

What about finishing up class work? My policy– in all classes except English, where there is simply not enough time to read novels in class– is, if you don’t get it done in class, it’s homework.  Would you recommend something else, Ben?

Your kids “don’t do it anyway.” Why?  Was the homework pointless, too much, too hard, infantile, or what?  Does what works (or not) with your kids apply to me and mine? 90% of my kids will do my homework if it’s not unreasonable.

Homework “seems insulting.” I’ve never heard or felt this from kids.  I have heard, it’s too much/hard/boring though. The reality in schools, with languages, is that most students  do not get enough exposure to the language (comprehensibly) in class, even with great teachers, to get anywhere near mastery in 2-4 years.  A bit of enjoyable and not too difficult reading or listening outside of  class is going to do what all comprehensible input does: boost acquisition.  How we mark hwk etc will vary across contexts, but the “insulting” tag seems, well, pointless and unclear.

Homework “is a national sickness.”  It would be much more accurate to say, stupid homework is a national sickness.  And by stupid homework, I mean more or less what Alfie Kohn means: things that do any of “building work habits,” or which unnecessarily repeat what was done in class, or which don’t work (in our world, grammar stuff etc), or which cut into family/leisure or personal interest or sports time, etc.

I don’t make decisions for my kids based on other people’s dumb ideas…I make them based on what’s going to help my kids pick up Spanish.

Anyway, my dear sh*t-disturbing Ben, you havn’t offended me.  But then, I don’t speak for everyone.


One comment

  1. Chris, I am not Ben, and I am not here to defend him. I am here to say that in responding to him, I think you’ve swung to a few extremes of your own that don’t allow for a completely clear picture. (Is a completely clear picture possible–likely not.)

    Teachers who “have to give homework.” Yes, they are afraid. They are in a system that coerces them into practices that they might not choose if they were free to practice their craft. But, they are not. They HAVE to give homework. That means they will be punished if they don’t. Just like students who don’t do homework. It’s a multi-layered sickness. Which is my response to your last objection. STill a sickness.

    What makes homework good? That it doesn’t take long? That it’s fun? If it doesn’t take long, and it’s fun, why not save it for class tomorrow? Let the kid have some down time or time for something else.

    Kids who don’t finish classwiork? If it’s because they blew off class time, then, sure. But that’s not homework. That’s finishing classwork. If its because you planned too much then it’s your job to take it up tomorrow. Not assign your work to them at home.

    Kids who don’t do homework are often those slipping through the cracks. And what if it’s just 10%? Is it okay to let them slip through?

    I think the “insulting” claim is likely an adult observation. Isn’t schooling for 8 hours a day enough? Should kids have some of their own time, families their own time, high schoolers who have to work to help keep the home together that opportunity? Is there really work that I can assign after hours that trumps any of those things? I think (my opinion to which you clearly can disagree) that anything I might assign up against those things would be pretty insulting to the student’s dignity.

    My take. Not because I am clear and right, but because I think this deserves more than two reactionary positions, and it deserves long, measured conversations.

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