Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Homework: Graded or Ungraded

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
-Benjamin Franklin-

How many runs would home runs would Hank Aaron have been credited with had we kept statistics during every batting practice?  How many perfect practice routines did Nadia Comăneci complete without a judges score?  How many times did Rudolf Nureyev dance Swan Lake without the applause of an audience? Yet the grandeur of their accomplishments and their fame was made possible through the understanding that practice is what allowed them to reach the pinnacle of their performance.

Homework is a natural component of the learning process, just as practice is a natural component of mastering any activity. Whether it is learning a dance, mastering a musical piece or preparing for an athletic event, success is directly related to the effort put in during practice. And yet, no dancer, no musician and no athlete gains credit for their practice except through their actual performance in the event. We do not applaud the dancer or musician during practice. We do not add statistics from practice to the athlete’s record.

The role of homework should be as a "formative" type of assessment. Formative assessments are instructional devices to reinforce the material being learned. Such learning activities should not be part of the student’s grade, because they are essentially viewed as practice. The assessment should actually be of the effectiveness of the teacher’s instruction and in what areas the teacher should continue to provide instruction to assist student mastery.

Homework should be designed to reinforce the concepts discussed during class.  Homework provides an opportunity for the student to practice using the ideas that were presented and discussed during class time and to demonstrate that they are able to apply these ideas to situations not expressly discussed during class time.  Homework allows both the student and teacher to determine if there is understanding of the subject and/or where problems might be found.

Teachers must remember that homework is usually a flawed instructional tool. Grading everything that students do is unnecessary, and grading homework is simply not a best practice. Remind students that they are studying when they do homework and that they will benefit from it by getting better grades on their assessments. Use summative assessments for evaluation.
Things to keep in mind about homework:
  1. Students do not have equal resources for completing homework. (computer or internet, time, study space, privacy etc…)
  2. Homework that is busy work is often copied just for completion.
  3. If homework is summative then it must be graded. Often homework is merely checked off.
  4. Student homework assignments are the most likely to receive zeroes which can negatively skew the total grade that may be indicated by summative assessments.
  5. Homework should never be assigned over holidays thereby interfering with family plans. Kids do need a break.
  6. Many students have nights with hours of homework. Could students more out of 15 or 20 minutes of well planned practice rather than an hour of busy work?
  7. If homework is based on course standards then not doing the homework should naturally affect their grades on summative assessments. For this reason no separate grade should be necessary.
  8. Zeroes in homework followed by zeroes on summative assessments is punishing the student twice for that content.
  9. Failure to complete homework is a responsibility issue, and, as such, should be treated just as inattentiveness, not bringing materials, disruptiveness and similar issues.
  10. Many home help sites have blossomed in the past decade, casting doubt on how much work the student is actually completing.
Homework is a responsibility issue.  Teachers should focus on meaningful practice that assists in student mastery.  Students should create disciplined work habits that enhance their opportunities to maximize their potential.  Homework should be the win-win situation that provides optimum success in the learning environment for both the student and the teacher.


Ed Shepherd said...


Well thought out with very effective examples. As a former Coach, Teacher, and now Administrator I am a strong believer of assigning work outside of the regular day. But also feel that if this work is not done, the the results will speak for themselves. Thanks for the post. I will definitely be sharing this with my staff.

BRIAN said...

We seem to think alike. I too, am a former coach (baseball), and value greatly the journey of preparation as much as the destination. I have been advocating for several years to change homework policies at my school, but consensus is difficult to achieve on this subject. I hope you and your staff find the best solution for the students entrusted to your care.