Sunday, May 23, 2010

Kohn v. Marzano


Homework oh homework, I hate you, you stink.

Those who know me know my distaste for Alfie Kohn.  He's the clarinet player of education reform.  He writes things like "The Homework Myth" and "Punished by Rewards" and "Why Your Student's Teachers are Secretly Trying to Kill Him."  (I made the last one up.)  However, he's ten times the researcher and education reform advocate I'll ever be.  When he writes something, it is a foolhardy researcher or practitioner who doesn't take it under advisement.  Having read a number of his articles and books, it turns out that the big reason I don't like him is because I'm under the distinct impression that he doesn't like me.

Those who know me know that I like Robert Marzano.  He's written a number of books that tell me in a clear way how I should be doing my job in order to do it better.  This makes me happy, because even if I fall far short of good practice, at least I know that I could be getting better.  The "Art and Science of Teaching" in particular provides useful frameworks for how to think about teaching.

In Classroom instruction that works, Marzano recommends giving specific kinds of homework.  In September 2006, Kohn criticizes researchers, including Marzano, to task for sloppy research, particularly on the subject of homework.  During the time that Kohn publishes this, Marzano is working on his next trick, The art and science of teaching.  In this book, Marzano cites Kohn's book, The homework myth (which I have not read yet), but not that I have been able to find.  (I skimmed Cha. 3 on practicing new information and was unable to find it.)  

I'm happy not to assign homework if it doesn't help students--that's one more element I don't have to design, align, assess, and provide feedback on.  So I'm left in a complicated spot: Kohn, a researcher I don't like but respect, proposes not to give homework.  Marzano recommends it, but may be faulty in his meta-analysis methods.  By inclination, I don't give homework, because I'm lazy.  (To the extent that someone who works 14 hours a day can be said to be lazy.)  But I'm generally inclined to believe that it's important, so I assign homework mostly of the "review vocabulary" type.  But I'm not sure where the research leaves me.

Kohn, A. (2006).  Abusing research: The study of homework and other examples. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappan.  Accessed through

Marzano, R. J.  (2007).  The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001).  Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement.  Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Jerry said...

I'm not sure why you would decide whether to give homework based on research. (I recommend Frank Smith's article: "Research: Getting on Top and Out from under"). Given all the potential variable maybe your kids are not typical of those in Marzano's or Kohn's citations? This all sounds a bit patronizing, I admit. But I wonder if a decision about homework made without reference to some study might not be more "real"?

JohnCosby said...

Jerry, you've described the position that the war of the gurus leaves me (and teachers at large) in. Practicing things just makes one better at them. The conflict is one of what is effective homework, and what is a tremendous, frustrating, demoralizing waste of time.