Learner Engagement, Intrinsic Motivation & the Brightworks Homework Policy

Lets talk about homework, or in the case of Brightworks, lack of homework. img_0802

The case against homework first flared up in 1900, led by the Ladies Home Journal. Back then the magazine described homework as “A National Crime at the Feet of American Parents” and claimed that children were “permanently crippled” by the pressure of schooling and homework. It urged that children under the age of 15 should not be in school more than four hours per day and should not be assigned any “home study”.

Since then there have been many debates about the value of homework, as our schools became increasingly focused on standardized tests as measures of achievement. For instance, some studies indicate that homework in high school improves achievement on standardized tests.

Recently, a public school teacher in Texas sent a note home to families stating that she would not be assigning any homework this year. http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/23/health/no-homework-letter-trnd/ Instead, she urges them to do the things that are proven to correlate with student success. “Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get to bed early.”

Which leads one to wonder – what is the measure of success if the outcomes are not quantifiable? img_0666

At Brightworks, we measure success by levels of engagement and interest. We measure success by improvement in critical thinking skills, ability to identify a problem and endeavor to solve it. We approach skills development as necessary to engage in our interests and higher order cognitive learning.

At Brightworks, what that teacher in Texas has just discovered is what we have known all along, that homework often keeps kids away from the things they need most to learn and grow: social engagement, trusting relationships, exercise, communing with nature, playing music, reading for pleasure and having down time.

One of our gurus on the topic of homework is Alfie Kohn http://www.alfiekohn.org/homework-myth/ , who writes extensively about intrinsic motivation and its role in learning. Kohn sums up the Brightworks homework philosophy best when he states, “The more one understands about learning, the less inclined one is to support homework. ” and “Homework persists in part because of adults’ distrust of children and how they’ll spend their time if given a choice.”img_1501.jpg

So, if we at Brightworks have a no homework policy, why do you so often see your children intellectually engaged and task oriented at home? They are reading the class novel assignment, on google hang outs with their classmates preparing a presentation or skypeing with an expert. They are calculating the distance to Mars, figuring out how to recreate a human skeleton out of recycled materials, writing a persuasive essay about why they want more field trips.

In short, the students at Brightworks are intellectually engaged in what interests them long past the six hours they spend on Bryant Street. No need for memorizing spelling words. Kids want to spell the words needed for that blog post or essay correctly, to get their point across. No rudimentary and rote math practice because they are practicing their math skills as a means to an end(how many straws are needed to get that tetrahedral kite to fly?) not as an end unto itself.

img_0599Since Brightworks families never have to ask , “Do you have homework?” or “Did you finish your homework?” I’ll close with a few replacement questions to find out what is engaging and of interest to your child at school.

  • What was the funniest thing that happened today?
  • Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
  • What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
  • Who made you smile today?
  • Which collaborator would survive a zombie apocalypse? Why?
  • What challenged you today?
  • Did anyone push your buttons today?
  • Who do you want to make friends with but haven’t yet? Why not?
  • What did you do today that you are proud of?
  • What was your biggest challenge today?

(Questions gleaned from the world wide web)