Homework: What is it good for?

Part of the problem with my particular leadership style is that I am very reluctant to tell other professional educators what to do.  I have my philosophy and my classroom policies, and they are free to have theirs.  A big part of my reasoning for this is recognizing that what works for one teacher might not work for another.  We each have a unique classroom–the students, the space, the resources, and our own personalities–and we need to make decisions based on that unique situation.

Homework is a prime example.  I don’t give very much homework.  This is not for the reasons that you might think, such as valuing my students’ time out of class or questioning the importance of this work.  It’s because I don’t trust my students.  I am not naïve enough to believe that when they take work out of my class the work that they return is solely the product of their effort.  Any veteran teacher can list a dozen different factors that contribute to the quality of homework, other than the skills of the student.  As I put it when I am explaining my policies to my students, “I simply don’t know who completes the homework that I assign or what resources he used to do it.”

But, I don’t fault other teachers who choose to assign, check, track, and grade homework.  If they see value in it, and it helps their students succeed, they should keep doing it.

Now, however, comes a new study that seems to reinforce the idea that homework has value.  The authors point to the statistical relationship between the time (self-reported) that students spend on math and science homework and their performance on standardized tests.  It should come as no surprise that students who practiced mindless tasks nightly also did well on mindless tasks administered over hours at the end of the school year.

What is surprising, and easily overlooked, is that when the authors looked at the relationship between homework and grades in class, they couldn’t find one.  As Alfie Kohn points out, this is amazing when you consider that the same teachers assigning the homework are the ones assigning the grades.  Wouldn’t you assume that, since most teachers who assign homework make it count as a portion of student grades, this relationship would be stronger than the one connecting homework time with test scores?

The answer is puzzling, but the data don’t lie.  Taking a “big picture” view of homework effectiveness seems to reveal that it might not be worth the time and effort that both students and teachers are putting into it.

What’s your stance on the value of homework?

photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

3 thoughts on “Homework: What is it good for?

  1. I am also a middle school science teacher and have seen homework and projects completed with the heavy guidance of parents passed off as student work. I have not given up on all forms of homework though. Specifically, this year, I have created a weekly reading assignment for the students. I find newspaper or magazine articles that relate the topic of that weeks study to real world application so that the students can draw connections between the material and their lives and hopefully spark further interest in each student at some point during the year. These articles I edit down to 1 page and make sure are at a reading level at or just slightly above the students.

    The homework assignment is to first read the article and then simply write one question that arose from reading the article and one comment about it and how it ties in with class. As I expected and have observed in reading the responses, especially evident from the handwriting, this is being completed by the students. Yes, a parent may help here or there, but in the end, it seems to always be the students’ work.

    I have begun asking slightly more from the assignments as we’ve developed the routine in the first 12 weeks of school and the students are comfortable with the comment/question responses. To direct more reflective thought I have begun giving writing prompts to be responded to instead of the vague 1 question 1 comment format. For example, this week, as the students are doing group research in class on fossil fuels, the article introduced the many ways hydrocarbons affect our lives positively, from providing heating and transportation fuel to chemicals. The students were to write after reading the article how their lives are made easier or more comfortable due to hydrocarbons in each of the areas presented in the article. In the end, I again observed 99% student produced work and I believe the assignment allowed the students to reflect on the uses of hydrocarbons and connect their research with their daily lives.

    I will continue this assignment and make the responses more directed as we continue. I feel assignments like this that are extension and connection are setting the students up for opportunities to create their own work rather than depending on a parent to produce it. I also grade only for completion rather than quality vis-a-vis each other, so that let’s all students succeed.


  2. I dig this, Pal.

    Most of the time, homework is more about making parents and teachers feel like school is rigorous.

    Not sure how we can ever change that perception.

    Hope you’re well — and that we grab a beer sooner rather than later. I owe you one!



  3. ” It should come as no surprise that students who practiced mindless tasks nightly also did well on mindless tasks administered over hours at the end of the school year.”

    Brilliant line right there. I’m right with you on this.


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