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Student Review: The Homework Myth, by Alfie Kohn (reviewed by Sheila T.)

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad ThingThe Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Have you ever thought “is homework beneficial?” The ongoing debate on the benefits of homework has lingered for several years. In The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn, the myth of homework being beneficial is proven wrong. Kohn states several valid points about how homework is doing more harm than good and how the American school system is falling behind with the rest of the world. Although Kohn states several valid facts about how homework isn’t beneficial; he provided very little analysis to back up the facts. Mostly this book consisted of studies on studies on studies. In Kohn’s study he misses a very important group to base his study on, students. Kohn uses parents and teachers for his study. Although these people play an important role in students’ lives, they aren’t doing the homework. Kohn centered his study around elementary and middle school students and briefly touched upon high school students. By the time students are in high school they find homework as mostly busy work and get it done just to get it done. While elementary students need homework because it repeats or gives review for what happened in class. The only time where homework isn’t beneficial is after 8th grade. Most of the homework that students get in high school is mostly busy work or it is a repeat of what they did in class. Overall, the book had some great points about how homework does more harm than good and how the American school system is failing yet there were too many statistics which made this book tedious. ~ Student: Sheila T.

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Student Review: The Homework Myth, by Alfie Kohn (reviewed by Sasha B.)

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad ThingThe Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If you were to ask me my thoughts on homework, I’d say it was one of the most unproductive concepts of our time. In The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn provides evidence as to why this idea of doing work at home is not beneficial to our society. Within the book, he includes how it doesn’t help us learn, that it makes us miss out on our childhoods, why studies that support it are wrong, etc. In his writing, he voices his clear opinions and uses tons of evidence to support his claims. Generally, I concur with his notions throughout the book; however, he tends to be very repetitive and has the absence of stimulating language to engage the reader, and therefore I did not particularly enjoy this book.

Although I agree with his main points and overall opinion about the negativities of homework, Kohn writes a 200-page book that could have easily been cut in half and avoided constant repetitiveness. For example, Kohn remarks more than enough how many studies that have been done in the past show no correlation between amount of homework and success in and out of the classroom. Chapter 2 describes this idea, explaining that “at best, most homework studies show only an association, not a casual relationship,” to achievement in and out of school (28). Then, there is whole chapter following this dedicated to, wait for it, more research proving that homework is not the cause of accomplishments. While one section would have been acceptable on its own, these separate two provide endless information on the same idea that causes the reader to quickly lose interest. I’m not denying that the information is good and actually verifies a point, but was it really necessary to go on and on about it for a fourth of the book?

In addition to this, the book itself lacked intriguing writing and thoughts to draw the reader in, leaving the need to finish as a chore rather than a pleasure. Personally, when I read a novel, I enjoy being sucked in by the exceptional language and storyline, and love that feeling of not wanting to put it down until it’s finished. Unfortunately, while reading The Homework Myth, I found myself disinterested and easily distracted. In fact, I ended up making excuses of why not to read the book, so that I could put it off as long as possible. Needless to say, when I finally did finish, I was relieved. The overall concept of the book was a fine idea, but there was nothing in it to provoke attention and therefore it was a cringe-worthy read.

Lastly, the way the book was written made each part one of two things: extremely boring or utterly complicated. Most of Kohn’s sentences were either short with no substance or long and tedious to read. While the repetitiveness of basic, simple lines caused the reading to be dull, the complex ones such as “imposing competition or standardized tests or homework on children just because other people will do the same to them when they’re older is about as sensible as saying that, because there are lots of carcinogens in the environment, we should feed kids as many cancer-causing agents as possible while they’re small in order to get them ready,” made a lot of the book confusing (146). Though a sentence like this may seem easy, you’ll probably find yourself needing to reread it several times before actually comprehending it, especially if it happens to follow a similar one. ~ Student: Sasha B.

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The Homework Myth, by Alfie Kohn (reviewed by Edward F.)

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad ThingThe Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“A study published in 2002 found a direct relationship between how much time high school students spent on homework and the levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and other mood disturbances they experienced.” The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn is an analysis of homework that challenges the age-old belief that homework is a productive practice and essential to learning. Packed with facts, observations, and suggestions, Kohn debunks common assumptions and states that teachers, parents and school districts owe it to students to create a homework policy based on “what’s true and what makes sense.” On the very first page of his book, Kohn finds it a curious fact that the homework habit is taken for granted, even while many educators and parents “are troubled by its impact on children.” Kohn states that because of homework, kids are “missing out on their childhoods” because of the upward trend in the amount assigned, and that it has a “negative impact” on the family, essentially “giving the parent a new role as teacher or enforcer.” Kohn challenges the widespread belief that homework enhances learning by examining research and studies that go as far back as 1897, and that are as current as within the last decade. He includes the topic of competition in his review of the evidence by looking at the assertions that U.S. students get less homework than students in other parts of the world, and that foreign countries far excel the U.S. on test scores. He finds that “ . . . research was too sparse or poorly conducted to allow trustworthy conclusions.” Kohn’s in-depth investigation into the topic of homework explores the possibility of nonacademic advantages as well as reasons why homework is a tenacious practice. Time and again Kohn argues that claims about homework turn out to be “dubious and unsubstantiated”; he highlights stories about parents and educators who have pushed back, and he offers examples of schools that demonstrated academic distinction is possible in the absence of homework. While it can be tedious and boring to get through some of the points, the overall message in Kohn’s book is intriguing and thought-provoking, forcing the reader to look at the concept of homework with an eye of scrutiny. ~ Student: Edward F.

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The Homework Myth, by Alfie Kohn (reviewed by Thomas D.)

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad ThingThe Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When you start The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn, it is easy to get in the mindset that his only intention is to completely discredit the value of homework. If only that were the case! While Kohn is not a big fan of homework, he does not consider all homework to be as evil or destructive as you might think. Kohn advocates for constructive homework that is more than just “busy work” – homework that pushes students to expand their understanding and further explore their interests. What a novel concept – to value students’ time so that they are motivated rather than resentful of having to put in the effort of completing a take-home assignment!

Kohn’s question is not, what is so bad about homework? His main question is: are there any benefits of homework that make it worth keeping as the norm for schools across the country? Kohn claims that the way homework is currently used in most classrooms is based on mistrust and fear that we “need to fill up what would otherwise be (students’) free time lest those hours be wasted – or devoted to who knows what kind of mischief.” (155) Using homework as a time killer so as to keep students occupied with worthwhile tasks, and out of trouble really does nothing but detract from students’ love of learning. Just because a teacher makes a student practice a concept over and over again does not mean that the student will understand the concept any better. How right he is! For Kohn, homework tends “not to nourish children’s excitement about learning but to get them acclimated to doing mind-numbing, if not downright unpleasant, chores.” (64) In effect, homework actively suppresses the desire to learn which seems to be the exact opposite of what schools are trying to achieve. So by drowning young children with after-school work we are essentially undoing whatever good the schools and teachers have done that day. Unfortunately, even with all the evidence that shows how homework has little to no effect on younger children, this is still how the elementary/ primary schools in the USA work. And so from a very young age we all discover that the absolute worst part about school is not the school day itself. It is without a doubt the workload is piled on you and how little freedom you have from school and for yourself.

As opposed to “busy work” as much as he is, Kohn does not totally write off homework completely. “If there’s going to be homework, in other words, everything about the experience – not only who decides and what’s assigned, but also what happens the next morning – should be designed to promote two things: high quality learning and the desire to keep learning.” (186) Although this seems like something so completely different than what we are used to I have always believed that learning is far more effective when it is interactive. And what better way than to turn the worst part of school into something fun and relatable? He argues that there is such a thing as a good homework assignment but they are hardly ever implemented into the curriculum, in large part because it would require such a drastic shift in thinking. ~ Student: Thomas D.

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The Homework Myth, by Alfie Kohn (reviewed by Julianna H.)

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad ThingThe Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Its about 12am on the day that this paper is due and I am struck by the irony of the situation. There is no doubt that I have procrastinated. This is undeniable. It is a inextricable part of every teenage life. However, it is not to say that there were not circumstances that prevented me from perhaps starting this earlier. As the end of term draws near, I am aware of the many grades that teachers are frantically cramming in: end of term projects, chapter assessments, missing quizzes, and homework. After studying for 2 tests, finishing 2 projects, I sit down to finally start my last assignment of the night. In The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn, he explores the idea of homework and the pros and cons to inundating children with it. Rather than a novel, The Homework Myth is a compilation of studies, statistics and the analysis of both. It is clear and well written, and offers an interesting spin to homework itself.

In contrast to what the title might suggest, Kohn does not ever imply that homework is all around a bad thing. He simply suggests that homework is not serving its primary function. That is, homework is meant to bolster in class learning, and solidify concepts so that when it comes time for the students to be tested on material, all of these things would be cemented in the child’s brain. However, in a study that Harrison Cooper conducted, “homework accounted for less than 4% of the difference between students scores” (Kohn 27). That is to say, between children who did their homework and those who did not, there was no significant increase in the test scores of those students who did their homework. Kohn is not disputing the existence of homework, but rather the practicality of it.

The book is very carefully divided into three parts: the truth about homework, the reason it still persists, and the solution. In each part, it is further subdivided into chapters that names a specific portion that contributes to the “part.” Often times, these chapters are even further divided up into different studies and the analysis of each to prove a point. It is very well organized, and lends itself to present the book as a compilation of evidence, rather than just a simple argument. I thought that the tone in this book paralleled a little to the tone that Malcolm Gladwell took in his book Outliers. It was very dry and factual. He simply heaps and piles the facts that point to homework being detrimental to kids.

There is a very clear bias in this book. Kohn is adamant about restructuring the way that homework is in this country, and while his suggestions for improvement make sense, I believe that they are very idealistic. For example, he proposes that the teachers stop grading homework. He explains that “to grade homework is especially destructive because this tells the students that the point of the exercise is not to help them learn; it’s to evaluate them on whether they’ve already succeeded” (186). While I agree with this statement, then I ask, what should be done to enforce that school is a learning environment? In addition, Kohn also mentions earlier that the parents “have accepted what they’ve been told- that homework is useful and kids ought to be made to do it”(14). Then combined with the previous point, even if the teachers are not grading the homework and enforcing it upon their students, there is nothing that stops the parent from doing it. I agree with Kohn’s reasoning, but I do not believe that the execution will work. ~ Student: Julianna H.

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Student Review: Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs, by Cathy Vatterott (reviewed by Nicolas B.)

Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse NeedsRethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs by Cathy Vatterott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One thing students across all cities, districts, states and countries can all agree on is that homework is a pain in the neck—finally someone has decided to do something about it. In Cathy Vatterott’s book Rethinking Homework, Vatterott explains two sides of a long debated argument, and offers thoughtful solutions to satisfy both. In the early stages of the book, Vatterott goes on to define five common misconstrued beliefs about children and learning, such as the belief that “Good teachers give homework; good students do their homework.” (13) After describing how in society children who complete homework are “compliant and hardworking,” (13) whereas students who do not are “[attributed] the vices of laziness and noncompliance,” (13) she asks the important question “…is a lack of virtue the reason many children don’t do work?” (13) She answers her own question by stating that “Students without supportive parents…, with inadequate home environments for completing work, or with parents intellectually unable to help them are less likely to complete work.” (13) . By the end of her book, Vatterott explains that homework reform can be a catalyst for total school reform, as well as drive future reform of assessment, curriculum, and instructional practices, but that it faces serious roadblocks from parents, teachers, or administrators clinging to outdated beliefs or habits. Stating that thousands of schools around the world have changed their homework practices and that “[We] are not alone in [our] quest for change… So stay the course and keep the faith. [We] are undoing 100 years of traditional attitudes and beliefs to provide more meaningful learning experiences for [our] students.”(160) She said it herself, rethinking homework would undo 100 years of tradition and the same learning experience. While her optimism is necessary for her to make her point and to spur action among students and parents, the list of things that must be done to change homework in this country is far too long to be achieved in the short term, but like Vatterott exclaims throughout her book, “It is valuable and important work.” (160) Overall the book provides a multitude of solutions and alternatives and is a thought-provoking and optimistic read for the country’s future generation. ~ Student: Nicolas B.

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