15 June 2014

What Educators Can Learn From Biz Stone's No Homework Policy

Biz Stone, Twitter Co-Founder, writes about a No-Homework Policy in his recent memoir.  As educators, we can learn from this as we look for ways to re-imagine learning outside of school. By re-thinking our homework policies and approaches in schools we will be better able to meet the needs of today's learners.  As Stone says in his book, "the point of school, after all,  isn't to do homework. The point of school is to learn" (147). To re-think our homework polices requires open and honest discussions about our philosophies and ways of "doing work" in our schools and departments.

Why do we give homework anyway? To provide extra opportunity to practice skills? To ensure students will perform well on standardized tests (shudder)? To progress our instructional agenda at a pace faster than what we have time for in the classroom? To extend learning?  To encourage curiosity and exploration?

If you don't want to read his entire book (even though it's good and a short read) you can read an excerpt from his no-homework policy chapter here

Students (like Biz Stone when he was young) might have a good reason for not completing homework.  In Stone's example, he worked to help support his family, participated in athletics for physical well being, and attempted to complete homework before learning it required him to stay up until 4:00 in the morning.  Eventually, he decided he knew best what he needed and homework wasn't something he really needed, if he could pay attention in class and learn the required content during the school day.

Grades for homework either punish students for non-compliance or they provide an inflated sense of what students know and can do. In Stone's example, he is willing to accept the consequences of non-compliance even when that means earning an A in genetics and a C in something easy. How often does this still happen in our schools? Do we punish students with poor grades based on non-compliance to our made up rules rather than on what they really know? Alternatively, do we give students and their parents a false sense of what students know and can do when we give points for mere homework completion?

Students want teachers and adults to listen to them and to know them and maybe even (Why not?) design assignments that offer choice based on interest. Stone thought "it was a mistake to assume that teachers or anyone else for that matter automatically knew what was best [for him]."

A few weeks ago when I blogged on take-aways from Biz Stone's memoir, I mentioned I would write again about Stone's no-homework policy, and I was encouraged to keep that promise when Elisabeth commented that I had piqued her interest. I hope I've piqued your curiosity as well, and I'd love to know your thoughts about how we can continue re-designing homework practices in our schools. Please comment here or join me in September at the Innovations for Learning Conference in Lexington.  Here's a blurb from my proposal:

In this session we will share, collaborate, and explore tools and websites that will help us turn homework into wonderwork. We will re-imagine the possibilities for extending learning beyond the school day. We will ask--what if?