Thursday, February 9, 2012

Homework Grading Practices

Grading practice (homework or independent practice) can be counterproductive.  When students are learning, they need feedback but that feedback should not simply be a check mark on a paper.  If students are sent home with homework and know that the next day that homework will be graded, then often the student is doing that assignment for homework completion and not for learning.  Students need to be allowed to practice without it impacting their grades.

Homework Completion vs. Learning

When homework is about completion, then you will create situations where cheating is rewarded.  It also punishes students whose parents can't help them complete the assignment.  When it's all about homework completion, a student might complete the homework but not know any of the answers on the in class assessment.  Did the student learn?

Difficulty for Teachers

It is difficult for teachers who have always graded homework to give this practice up.  Teachers ask, what will the motivation be to complete the assignment?  Are we going to lose rigor?  Are the students grades going to go down (many students are saved by the homework grade)? What if some of the students stop doing homework?  This is a scary proposition.

Relevant Homework

So why would a student do the homework?  The homework must be relevant.  Students must  see the relationship between doing homework and learning.  If the student doesn't do the homework, they will not know the correct questions to ask in class.  The homework must advance learning towards the stated objectives.  Use brain research to find best practices for homework.  Don't just send students home with what we didn't get finished in class.  Students should be practicing the skill that was taught, not teaching themselves at home.  Teachers should check for understanding and do guided practice before sending students off on their own.

Students View of Homework as Practice

In a conversation in a teacher's class that uses the approach of not grading homework, an 8th grade student said "I wish you graded homework, then my grade would be better."  Another student replied, "Don't give her that idea, then if I don't get it (understand the homework) at home, then I will panic because I have to get it done."  The student identified that learning is the most important thing in this teacher's class.  In this class, if you don't "get it", you can ask without being punished with a bad grade.

Another student told me, the nice thing about Middle School is that it's not a battle about getting homework done.  Students and teachers work together to make sure that we (students) learn.

Things to consider when not grading homework

  1. Homework is most productive in Math.  Other areas show little, if any, correlation between homework and learning.
  2. Homework should be limited.  Add a zero to their grade for minutes of homework.  Sixth Grade = 60 minutes.  Each subject area should be at about 10 minutes because this is a total, not per class.  The default answer should be no homework and hopefully students rarely get to 60 minutes of homework.
  3. Assess students with several small quizzes. 
  4. Allow students to re-take quizzes.
  5. Check for understanding during class.
  6. Do Guided Practice during class.
  7. Create systems that require students to complete homework when they regularly don't do homework and do poorly on assessments (like a lunch time homework opportunity).
  8. Leave your answer book open-let students self check.
  9. Learning can and should happen in groups but the assessment should be to find out what an individual knows.
  10. Have an in-class test or assessment that is based on standards.  Assessments shouldn't be fluff.  In-class assessments and tests are the way to find out how much the student learned.
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