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Archive for November, 2012

Homework–Are All of the Tears Worth It?

I follow a couple of former students on Facebook, and one evening there was a flutter of posts about homework, tears, and frustration.  The conversation took me back to many parent conferences that focused on the topic of homework: Why it wasn’t being done? Whose responsibility was it to make sure it got done? What its relationship was to grades?   Rarely did we have a conversation about the worth of homework.

Teams ought to be talking about homework–regularly. What’s due this week? Let’s not all schedule tests on the same day. What’s the project load for the month?  But more importantly, we ought to be talking about why we assign homework and what we hope it will accomplish.

Here’s a blog post to get the conversation started at an upcoming team meeting: “Homework: An unnecessary evil?  Surprising findings from new research“– it is written by Alfie Kohn and published in The Answer Sheet blog in The Washington Post.

Kohn reviews a recent study from the Indiana University School of Education  that looked at the relationship between time spent on homework in science and math and grades and achievement tests.  Here are the main findings plus Kohn’s editorial comments which I have put in italics:

  • “Even assuming the existence of a causal relationship, which is by no means clear, one or two hours’ worth of homework every day buys you two or three points on a test.  Is that really worth the frustration, exhaustion, family conflict, loss of time for other activities, and potential diminution of interest in learning?”  Kohn goes on to say, “Thus, a headline that reads “Study finds homework boosts achievement” can be translated as “A relentless regimen of after-school drill-and-skill can raise scores a wee bit on tests of rote learning.”
  • “There was no relationship whatsoever between time spent on homework and course grade, and “no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not.”

Hmmm…these findings are certainly worth discussing at a team meeting.  Questions come to mind:

  • Are there other studies out there with the same results?
  • What else do we need to know?
  • Why do we value homework?
  • Can we get past our own beliefs about the value of homework and really look at the topic objectively?

Other interesting resources on homework:

The Homework Lady: Dr. Kathy Vatterott’s Guide to Homework

Homework and Practice

What Research Says About Homework

Synthesis of Research Findings on Homework

Use It or Lose It! Writing Across the Curriculum

I decided to take the summer off and not post here.  Out of habit, out of sight, out of mind!  Result: it has been very difficult to get back into writing regularly. Not only has my habit of posting been disrupted, but my ease with the writing process has been adversely affected.  Words don’t flow as easily, and my new idea generator seems stuck in neutral.  It occurs to me that the same thing happens to our students when we don’t expect them to write on a regular basis!

The ability to communicate is a life skill.  It’s one of the 4 C’s in the 21st century skills set  and encompasses several standards in the Common Core. Furthermore, developing students’ abilities to communicate effectively is just common sense–it’s an every century skill!

Teams need to work together to build their students’ ability to communicate in a variety of ways, including writing.  Here’s a terrific article about one very low performing high school that tackled writing together and found improvement in students’ skill levels in other areas: “The Writing Revolution” in The Atlantic.

Everything students write does not need to be corrected and graded. Sometimes the assignments are just practices–like shooting hoops on the school playground.  Providing students opportunities to try out new words, sentence structures, and genres  will have dividends as students become more comfortable with the written word.
A few ideas to get started as a team…

  • An idea from the article above–have students summarize in writing the big ideas from the lesson of the day (in any class) using sentence structures they have studied in Language Arts class.  Write a compound sentence summarizing ratios.  Write a sentence beginning with “although” that explains the process photosynthesis.
  • Use journals or writing logs in every class.
  1. Summarizers
  2. Discussion starter prompts
  3. Practices for citing evidence in an argument piece
  4. Creative writing (The creative economy generates personal income & revenue for state and federal governments–we shouldn’t ignore this aspect of our students’ education)
  5. Write sentences using words from Word Wall
  • Keep a team blog that informs parents and the community about what is happening on your team.  Have students write the different posts.
  • Plan interdisciplinary units where students synthesize information from several disciplines–have you looked at the Webquest site recently for ideas?
  • Teach students to access online writing resources in all classes (OWL. Grammar Girl, thesaurus)
  • Browse ReadWriteThink together to identify ideas for working as a team on literacy skills.

Our students will not improve as writers unless they write.  Working as a team to provide daily opportunities for students to experiment with words, sentence structures, and different genres is an important educational goal.

Additional sources on writing across the curriculum in middle school:

Middle School Journal

Previous post on The Atlantic article mentioned above

RAFT strategy

West Virginia DOE–specific strategies

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