Kathleen cushman - Citing research on practice youth challenge the effectiveness of homework
8. Citing research on practice, youth challenge the effectiveness of homework in
Fires in the Mind
The question of homework has developed into a full-blown controversy in recent years,
dividing teachers, parents, and students along lines of deep-rooted beliefs and values.
How much homework, if any, do children need? Is it fair to ask kids to continue
schoolwork at home, despite all their other activities and responsibilities? Is homework
effective at increasing student learning?
Now the teenage co-authors of a new book called Fires in the Mind have thrown their
own argument into the debate.
Homework, they say, does not meet the criteria of “deliberate practice,” which cognitive
researchers have established as necessary for knowledge and skills to stick in a learner’s
That was one of the conclusions high school students made after a year-long
collaborative study called the Practice Project. Conducted by the nonprofit organization
What Kids Can Do, Inc. (WKCD), it asked 160 youth around the U.S. to consider the
question “What does it take to get really good at something?”
In discussions with WKCD writer Kathleen Cushman, the teenaged participants started
by reviewing recent research on how people develop high levels of performance. Ten
thousand hours of deliberate practice, they learned, go into the making of an expert.
Inborn talent matters less than hard work and effort for someone who wants to excel.
For successful students, homework should qualify as part of those 10,000 hours, they
speculated. After considering the evidence from their own homework, however, they
found that most of what teachers assigned them did not help.
For example, deliberate practice must have an express purpose, but students said they did
not see the point of most homework they received. Deliberate practice is geared to the
individual learner, yet students said they typically all got the same homework regardless
of what they needed to work on. Deliberate practice requires attention and focus, but
students said they could do most homework without thinking.
Fires in the Mind also presents examples of homework that does qualify as deliberate
practice, by developing new habits of mind as well as content knowledge. For example,
students suggested that a teacher ask students to write down their own questions after
doing an assigned reading, instead of answering predetermined questions.
Cushman and her young co-authors set out “four R’s” of good homework: it readies
students for new learning; requires repetition and application of knowledge and skills;
reviews material learned earlier; and requires students to revise their work.