Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday's Five: Reasons You Shouldn't Grade Homework


Friday's Five is a feature every week where I pick a new topic and list five items that I think fit best.  Then I ask you, my readers, to share your thoughts in the comment section.  For an archive of past topics, check the Friday's Five Page.  If you'd like to make suggestions about future topics or discuss topics I bring up on the blog with others, make sure you click the "like" button on the right hand side of the page to join A Teacher's Life for Me on Facebook.  Don't be shy about sharing the blog and Facebook Page with others.  Each post has a "Tweet" button on top and buttons on the bottom that allow you to share in several ways, including e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter.


For a few years I've been a member of our district's Assessment Committee, where we try and develop assessment policy and guidelines for teachers.  We've tried to come up with policies and guidelines that both lead to assessments in the classroom that guide the teaching of classroom teachers towards areas of need for students and standardize grading practices across the district.  In our meetings and other discussions on assessment I've been a part of there is no more debated topic than homework.

Flickr/Cayusa
Many argue that completion of homework should be graded because of the need for students to be responsible and accountable.  They often claim that responsibility is a skill that will be needed in the workplace, and that not counting homework completion as a part of students' grades would be akin to telling them that responsibility isn't important.

Anyone who has read a few of my blog posts knows how passionate I feel about the need to prepare our students for the world they will encounter when they pass from our schools.  I am in complete agreement that we need to foster a sense of responsibility in our students.  I don't agree, however, that grading homework is an effective way to do it.

In today's post, I'm going to list five reasons that homework completion should not be graded.  I'd love to hear your thoughts afterward, whether you agree or disagree, so please leave a comment.  Intelligent discussion and debate are tools for progress.

  1. A homework grade punishes those who need the most support. - We know that a great many of our students face difficulties at home.  Those difficulties often make homework a low priority.  Put yourself in the place of one of your students that you know has a rough time at home.  Imagine how much you'd care about getting your homework done, or even if you'd be able to get that work completed, when returning to that home situation from school.  Think about how much parental support you'd get.  Now imagine that you were being punished in your grades because you didn't get the work done.  These students need us to support them, not punish them.
  2. A homework grade doesn't show what the student has learned. - If a student receives a 90%, shouldn't that mean that the student learned 90% of what they were supposed to in that course?  When you begin to count homework completion as part of that grade it becomes impossible for parents, students, colleges, or anyone else to determine what a student's grade means.  A child who passed all of his/her tests and quizzes can still fail the course if they didn't do their homework, and a student who couldn't pass any test or quiz can can pass the course if they did the homework.  That doesn't make any sense, and leads to grades becoming totally meaningless.
  3. Grading homework doesn't teach responsibility. - I've yet to encounter a student who was lacking responsibility and started becoming responsible because their homework was going to be graded.  Ask most high school teachers, and they'll tell you that the majority of students aren't motivated by grades, anyway.  The students who are responsible already are going to do their homework, and those that aren't are not.  Chances are, grading it won't make a bit of difference.  
  4. If you want students to care about homework (and schoolwork for that matter), make it relevant. - This is really the heart of the problem, isn't it?  Students don't care about school because school doesn't matter to them.  Getting a good grade isn't a guarantee of future success nearly as much as it used to be, and the lack of frontal lobe formation in teenagers prevents them from understanding the long term consequences of poor grades.  If you want students to do work, you need to get them emotionally invested in what they are doing.  Maybe this means that they are going to use what they are learning in your class to solve a problem in the community, help their neighbors, follow their passion, or to create something they'd be excited to show off to their friends.  If they are working toward something they are passionate about, they will be more likely to invest their time on it.  
  5. There's rarely an educational reason for every student in your class to complete the same homework assignment.  - If 40% of your students have mastered a concept, does it really make sense to give an assignment to the whole class and then grade whether they have completed the assignment?  If one of the students who mastered the concept doesn't complete the assignment, is it really fair or logical to reduce their grade because they (rightfully) believed that the assignment was a waste of their time.  If you've ever complained about your boss making you do tasks that you know to be useless and a waste of time, you know how those students feel.  
Now it's your turn.  What's your opinion on grading homework?  Do you agree with my reasoning for discontinuing the practice of homework grading, or have I missed something?  What's your school's policy when it comes to homework?  We'd love to hear as many different opinions as we can, so please pass the post on to other educators, parents, students, or anyone who may have strong feelings on the topic by sharing on Plurk, Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus.


21 comments:

  1. I agree with all of your points. There are, however, other considerations about homework.

    When I taught fifth grade, I taught in a high poverty school in which most of my students are like the ones you described. Responsibility was something my students needed to develop more than most, and I gave homework every night. Mostly, it was something that could be done in 5-10 minutes and only required that they thought about getting it back to school. If I gave them much work, it could reinforce something they hadn't learned well yet by practicing it the wrong way, and then I was faced with the need to have them unlearn, me reteach the concept, then practice it enough that they could relearn the correct way. Who has time for that?

    Along those lines of time, There wasn't enough of it in the instructional day. I needed homework sometimes so that things could get done that we didn't have time to complete in class. Whenever this would happen, there were always students who didn't get it done and were behind.

    I like the concept of the flipped classroom; in which students consume information at home rather than complete work. That way, we can spend time in class working and providing the support we agree our students need. This concept begs for more access that students can take with them; because you can't assign a youtube clip or a video you've recorded teaching a lesson unless the students have a way to watch it at home.

    There isn't ever going to be resolution on this issue. I had parents who would insist I assign homework, others who flat out refused to allow their kids to do it, and others who didn't care because they were so out of touch with their kids it didn't matter. Some of the ones who demanded it only did so as a babysitting device; and NEVER checked the work or cared how they did in school.

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  2. Andy,
    Fantastic comment! Thanks for sharing your experiences and ideas. I like the flipped classroom concept as well, or at least some way of providing access and materials (videos, primary sources, ways to research, etc.) to students while they are outside the classroom so that learning can be something that happens all the time, and not just between the hours of 8 and 3. -Mike

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    1. Michael, Thank you for your interesting website, and all of your input regarding homework. I have a tenth grader at Camden H.S., Camden New York, so I have a vested interest when talking about homework being part of the grading criteria. My son is a brilliant, honor roll student but struggles in seeing the importance of homework. I am currently a full-time college student, obtaining my bachelor's degree in Psychology, and am doing a persuasive speech on the subject of should homework be part of the grading criteria for students in high school. My question is this...how come there is no mandate within the board of education in New York stipulating across the board whether homework should be counted in a student's grade? Why and how are there variances allowed among public schools on this policy? and doesn't this put some students at an unfair advantage when it comes to grading? and when compared to the rest of the state's high school students? Thanks, Kristina Wilczak

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  3. Accountability is a huge part of the real world. If you don't do what is expected of you there are consequences, for example you get fired. I agree that a grade may not be the consequence that is most appropriate for homework. It isn't right that a student could pass or fail based only on homework. If the assignment you are giving is important enough for you to assign in the first place, it should be important enough for there to be consequences for not doing it. In our school most students get into homeroom 10-15 min. before the day begins. I encourage students to complete an assignment they forgot to do, and ask questions on assignments they didn't understand during this time. If the work isn't done before we are going over it, the student must stay in at recess to complete it. With wellness initiatives, I don't take the whole recess away.

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    1. Does the accountability have to be in the form of earning or losing points? Students need motivation, and there is no connection for students between what they do (homework) and their learning, they only see the impact on their points earned. If the accountability is in the learning, for example, you don't do the homework, you don't learn, and your grade reflects that, it becomes much more motivating to do it, especially if you are engaging the students in the tracking of their learning/progress against the standards.

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  4. Kari,
    I am all for making our schools resemble the "real world." That's the relevance we need to see. I have a hard time agreeing with those that claim that the homework they insist on grading is anything "real world" like, though. When you get a job, nobody is going to ask you to complete a worksheet of 30 division problems, make you write spelling words 5 times each, or any of the many insulting tasks that we often require our students to do. Our kids know that these are not "real world" tasks, no matter how we try to spin it. The reality is that what goes on in the real world has nothing to do with what we ask our students to do in the vast majority of situations, unfortunately. If it did, our "homework" would look nothing like what it does now. We'd be asking students to complete feasibility studies for new traffic lights and present them to the township supervisors, having them register new voters in time for the next election, or any of the other tasks that real people do. In short, we'd be expecting them to be mathematicians in math class, authors in our language classes, researchers in reading classes, scientists in our science classes, etc. The argument over whether to grade daily homework would be mute, because daily homework as we know it wouldn't exist. Thanks for commenting! -Mike

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  5. I have transitioned from lots of graded homework to no graded homework (I have gone to Standards Based Grading). But we do need to define what we call homework. I tell my students they have homework everyday...review your notes, look at an example problem or two, summarize notes in your portfolio (blog)...review/refresh/reinforce. If htey do not do it, they do not know how they are doing and they have missed a learning opportunity. There are some times when we have some homework problems-can you do this on your own, but these are a formative assessment and why should I grade you while you are still learning a concept?

    I agree with Andy on working towards a flipped classroom model (little by little).

    Also, school has become too much of "getting things done & over with" and less of "learning". Our students just get it done to get it done & regurgitate it on the test, then forget it. When are we going to get to school being a place of learning???

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  6. pshircliff,
    I totally agree with everything you wrote. It should be about the learning and not about the doing. Thanks for the great comment! -Mike

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  7. I would have my students "look at" their notes and some problems in chemistry. The start of the next class we would go over questions. The way I taught them to ask questions, was on the second day of class, I ask if there were questions from yesterday or from the problems I had them look at. If there were none, we had a quiz. I only gave that quiz once in 10 years. The students then realized I was expecting them to review and make sure they understood the concept.

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  8. Amen!
    I'm a high school math teacher that doesn't grade homework. Instead I try to treat it as an opportunity to learn - I post answers and ask that students check work, collaborate to work their way to the correct answer and ask questions for those they don't understand. Then I give homework quizzes where they are allowed to use their work to complete new problems on the same content. Its not quite standards based grading but I do want to try to get at what they know and not just did they complete the work. Some students can get by with doing very little homework while others need to do every problem and come in for extra help. Just depends on the student. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  9. Great post! I am a high school science teacher and I also do not grade homework. I use a Standards-based Assessment and Grading approach. Not grading homework has actually had the greatest impact on the transformation of my class.
    Many of my students face challenges at home that get in the way of getting work done. Some have jobs that support their families, some have to do the caretaking, some have no home at all. Instead of homework, we have classwork. Students work on their assignments, collaborate, cooperate, discuss and check answers together. I also "flip" aspects of my class which allows students to work at their own pace, to some extent, to master the content.
    As for responsibility and training for the real world...My students know that if they don't do their practice, they can't master the material, which will be reflected in their performance on assessments. That is very real-world. I don't know too many jobs where you are evaluated during your practice. Instead, you are evaluated on your performance. How you learn to do your job is up to you. The fact that you do your job shows your level of responsibility.

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  10. My husband and I just returned from the new school year's meet the teachers night. Our 11th graders teacher(also school's football coach) again insisted he does not have time to grade homework. My husband, who graduated top of his class in undergraduate and graduate studies says this is pure laziness on the teacher's part. Even his college professors reviewed student's homework. He insists a student learns best when the teacher details out the corrections needed on the homework. Is this a new way of teaching high school math - with no individual attention?

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    1. Hmmm. Not sure how to answer this. Whether or not the teacher has time to grade homework is really quite irrelevant to the points I was trying to make above. The homework shouldn't be graded because it's bad for learning. I don't know what your husband's class rank has to do with the debate here, but I'm hesitant to assign motive to a teacher whom I've never met in a situation in which I have few details. I don't think you're really looking for an answer to your last question. I think you are trying to make a point that the teacher you are upset with is wrong. I believe strongly in strong student-teacher relationships in the classroom and also in students having autonomy over learning. Whether or not some parents might view that as me being "lazy" or "not giving individual attention" doesn't change my belief that this is best for student learning. Each student should get what he/she needs to help them be successful in learning to love learning.

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  11. I googled this topic because I have a 5th grader that for the first time, is dealing with a teacher that feels the same way you do. I don't think that homework should count towards a report card grade that a kid receives at the end of the term, that should be based on his mastery of the subject. In that point, we are in agreement. But right now, with the teacher not "grading" i.e. checking the homework and marking in felt tip what is right or wrong with his answers, we are getting zero feedback on the assignments that my child is being asked to complete. As parents who give a darn, we were used to being able to see what topics/skills might require a little assistance, a little extra explanation, maybe a Kahn academy video to help to explain a question or problem that was something our kid didn't quite understand. Now it is all a black hole. There is some homework, but they just "go over it in class", it is handed in, but it never comes back. The old system was working quite well. We had a driven kid, who came home, thrived on doing good work, and when there was an issue, we all knew where the extra attention was needed. Right now, we as parents feel out of the loop, and to be honest, the lack of feedback (and from this teach, a relatively light work load) seems to be affecting a previously excelling student's attitude about school in general.

    I am not a teacher, just a marketing guy. But the one truism of marketing that I have found to be FACT, is people do not weigh reasons before they buy something, they decide when they WANT something, then they come up with reasons to justify their buying it. Are you sure you don't just want to NOT grade homework? I have teacher friends, they hate doing it, it is a repetitive, boring task.

    And any argument that starts out "well, we all know kids have problems at home" sounds a bit like, let's just say, new age gobbledygook.

    You would be more convincing if you had a few studies/facts to back up your reasoning not to do what some of us old fashioned parents consider to be part of your job.

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  13. I noticed this article goes back a few years, but the homework debate never fades. As I was looking for facts concerning the grading of homework, I came across these interesting point of views. Personally, I do not mind if a teacher grades homework. However, I do have a problem if the student DOES complete their work and has points taken off.

    For example, the homework is worth 20 points. The student does his/her greatest effort and completes it to his/her fullest knowledge. The teacher grades it and decides to take half of the points away because the student was incorrect. This is not right!!! Homework is work given to reinforce what is taught in the classroom. If the student is still having trouble, obviously, the teacher has more explaining to do to help that student master the subject in matter. Therefore, the student should receive full points because he/she completed the homework. I strongly believe the student should not be penalized for responsibly completing his/her assignment. The teacher should provide the help and guide the student to a better understanding.

    Nowadays, students are scared to do homework because they are thinking that if they don't do it correctly, their grades will go down. Seriously?! Teachers need to analyze this.

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  15. I dont really understand why you like to give homework out.

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