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

Humor, Science

And you thought your family was weird…

Image courtesy of NotRocketScience
Courtesy of NotRocketScience

Deep-sea biology has always interested me, mainly because of the sheer enormity of what we don’t yet know about the creatures that live in this unique habitat.

Nothing beats the conclusions of a recent genetic study by David Johnson at The Smithsonian confirming the work of a Japanese group.  Breaking it all down is Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science in a recent post.  In a nutshell, there are three very different organisms that turn out to be the larva, male, and female of the same species.  Imagine what doors this opens up for re-investigating what we already “know”.