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Melbourne, VIC, Australia
2nd Grade Teacher at a school in Melbourne, Australia. My job: push kids to think. My passion: helping kids to tackle the life-long skill of searching for meaning, skills, answers and more questions.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Great questions from the man who inspired Home Learning

If you haven't followed the short journey I've taken, you can see the back story in my past few posts.  Allow me to head straight for the questions at hand.  After all... I have asked for questions and I received one from the guy who inspired my entire Home Learning idea.

From Alfie Kohn (@alfiekohn) :

Is next step to let kids opt out of any schoolwork at home (vs just choosing how to do it)? 

Why make them work a 2nd shift? 

Now that's what I'm talking about!!!  What a cracking pair of questions!  Here goes:

Q1:  Is next step to let kids opt out of any schoolwork at home (vs just choosing how to do it)?

A1.  I think I've come close to letting kids opt out of 'doing schoolwork' already.  There are three boys in my class who are the 'classic' work avoiders.  These guys represent every parent or teacher who has read about my Home Learning trial and thought, "Yeah but what about those boys?"  My power trio would much rather play, run, kick a footy, chat with neighbours, work out with Mum or Dad, or even (hold your breath) play the xbox than do 'something academic'.  Wouldn't we all?

What I do with these boys each morning is validate (and occasionally challenge) their choices for how they spend their time.  It really doesn't matter if they are not doing things directly from my very limited list of 'possible activities'.  I am singularly concerned by one element: balance.

I talk with the boys about what they've chosen to document - out of the 30 things they actually did that night.
I get them to talk about why they chose the activities they did.  How it made them feel.  Who they communicated with.  Whether they were happy with their efforts.  Whether they felt generally happy with themselves.

Mr Kohn proposes in "The Homework Myth" that we should be far more concerned with the psychological well-being of our children.  That is the only concern for me.  Everyone spends their free time differently.  I, for one, am writing this post while my wife paints her mother's fingernails.  My primary concern is that these children learn to take control of their time.

Should they 'have to' complete 'something academic' to please me?  I realised how silly that phrase was even before the ink was dry on the poster.  What's 'academia' got to do with this trial?  This is about psychological well-being.  This is supposed to be about balance, time awareness, community, service, people... and perhaps skills IF that is what a child WANTS.

Short answer, Mr Kohn: 'I believe I'm already helping kids realise this step and I will be making my priority of psychological well-being more explicit next term.'

Q2:  Why make them work a 2nd shift?

A2:  They absolutely should NOT feel like they are working a second shift!  Dead right!  For me, the telling factor in this answer is how often my kids write on the weekend spaces - and how many kids insisted on taking their diaries with them on holidays. 

They don't feel like they are being asked to work a second shift.  Originally our language was about 'having the right to opt out if you had too much on that night'.  That's ridiculous too!  Our language changed to, 'Everybody did something with their 4 hours last night.  What did you do?'  From there I privately challenged the kids who were showing unhealthy patterns of addiction to computers, television, console games, trampolines (more on them later) and even sleep.  If I see patterns of unhealthy time management, I challenge privately and respectfully.  Invariably, I see amazing stories of saving dogs from the local park, going to citizenship ceremonies, playing with Uncle Peter on his iPhone and pushing little Mia on the swing for 30 minutes.  Those stories are not 'something academic'.... pfft.  They are much more than that.  They are profoundly, psychologically beneficial.

I saw that line in your book, good sir.  I live by it now as a teacher.  I had 'that duh moment'.  What is my primary concern?  Psychological well-being.  Home Learning is nifty if kids learn something.  It is amazing if they forge a stronger relationship with the people and places around them. 

Is any of that a second shift?  No.  It is the 'other' shift we all do each day.  The one where we manage our precious free time.  These kids are just challenged to document and learn how to manage their time - learning explicit life-long skills of balance, socialisation, imagination, community connection, service, restfullness, playfullness and JOY!

Sound 'Airy Fairy' to you, reader?  Sound too light on substance?  Spend fifteen minutes discussing last night with 10 yr old kids each morning.  Hear these stories of joy, learning, positive social behaviours and time management every day..... THEN LOOK AT HOW MUCH THESE WELL ADJUSTED, HAPPY CHILDREN WANT TO LEARN FOR THEMSELVES!

Thus endeth this evening's sermon.  I choose to spend time now with my wife and then having a late night swim.  Academic enough for ya?


Bruce Ferrington said...

To be a 21st Century thinker, our kids need to be:
1. Independent
2. Self-directed
3. Creative
4. Passionate
5. Problem solvers
6. Communicators
7. Technologically literate
None of these things are achieved by doing another Maths sheet, or any other proscribed activity, as homework.
The "Dark Trio" you identify are doing ALL the things they will need to do to survive in this century.

Tina Landos said...

Brilliant. It is clear that the students are being given opportunities where they can genuinely shine, and out of that will come a real sense of self-esteem. If we think of resilience based on self esteem, it is much more than just telling our students they are doing well, if they're not.
These students are learning the importance of peer relationships, learning to share, to control impulses, to empathise and to develop communication skills. Martin Seligman offers that 'not only can children learn to alter their attitude, but adults too can make a choice'.
As teachers we can then inspire out students not to endure wet weather in their souls, but be a nimbus cloud in a beautiful sun shining day.

Michelle said...

Wonderful Blackie. I am really enjoying reading your blog(even if it is well past the posting date) and will recommend and even quote you on your response to homework. As a teacher, I have always hated homework for homework sake and cannot understand why there is a need for 'school policy' on homework. I've hated for the students and hated it for the teachers. The opportunity for discussing balance and creating 'thinkers' who are inspired to 'find out more' is far more important.