grading homework

Teacher: did your dad help you with your homework?

Student: …no, he did it all by himself.

We’ve all been there. Homework. Need I say more.

…well…I will…

As I sit here hovering the cursor over the publish icon, I take a moment to wonder why this post is so hard for me to send out to the world. Homework has been around since teachings and studies within the time of the Roman Empire. It’s not like it’s a new idea to the world, and little did any philosopher or teacher within this era, ever foresee that it would become quite the hot topic in education for decades and centuries to follow.

The purpose of this post is merely to share out where I am at the moment around thoughts on grading homework, and to hopefully gain more insight into this daily dilemma; should homework be graded?

To begin we should go back and look at why homework in the first place.

Over this past summer, some of my amazing colleagues took their own personal time and accepted a challenge to create an updated homework policy that works for our school. I could share out the full document, in the complexity of why, how, and when, homework sits and lives in our school; however, I will opt to condense and share publicly, in its simplest form; that our school will abide by these checkpoints before assigning anything out for completion after school hours.

Assigning homework is an optional choice by the teacher.

If assigned: Is it meaningful? Is it purposeful? Is is appropriate?

posted with permission by the Illustrator, Deanna Bertrend 2019.
posted with permission from the illustrator and colleague, Deanna Bertrend, 2019.

Taking this step back, and maybe just one more, before I go forward with where my “grading” of homework stance lives at the moment, is critical. When I alluded that this is a “hot topic” of discussion, I wasn’t making that point lightly. You can search many twitter discussions, blog posts, articles, and even journal indexes on why homework, is or is not beneficial. The burning question has led to many arguments and heated discussions on social media, and compelling participants of the debate to either be on one side of the fence or the other.

My question: why is there even a fence?

Maybe as a teacher, you believe homework provides additional practice; maybe you don’t think it adds value. Maybe you want students to finish incomplete work at home, or perhaps you get back work completed by a sibling and/or parents (we know it happens.) Maybe you want to build executive functioning skills, maybe that doesn’t fit that into your grading scheme. As a parent, maybe you want homework to fill time at home, maybe you don’t. Maybe you see homework as a practical practice of skills, maybe you see family time more important than additional study after a long school day. Wherever you stand, you’re standing somewhere, and that’s okay. Homework is never going to be agreed upon by all. What began this post, is that my school now has a stance, and has shared out their ideas of where homework sits with us. So now what?

If my homework (if I assign any) is all meaningful, purposeful, and/or beneficial, then what do I do with it. Knowing the purpose before is essential. I have struggled over many years with my grading scheme in middle school math and if to include homework or not. Grading homework, has become not just an added “time filler” for the students to complete, but also cumbersome to me with hours of marking that leads to nothing concrete. Not wanting to “dilute” any mark with work and effort in which does not assess content properly or effectively, (pause those thoughts and stay tuned for an assessment post around backward design coming soon!) is not helpful to either the student or myself. This year I am strategically grouping my grading scheme into the following categories: Knowledge and Understanding, Application, Thinking, and Communication.

So why then am I sometimes still assigning homework?

Math is a discipline that requires practice. Think yoga (if you can make that connection) but each day is a practice and it’s continual in its learning and application. Basic facts are not the base anymore. Application and thinking should be. Should I still be enforcing memorization, yes/somewhat/perhaps, but I’m not valuing it nearly as much as I am for application, thinking, and inquiry, and definitely not as much as communication of work and reflection of work.

So how is that graded if at all?

As of right now, the beginning of my homework page on my blog reads something like this:

Mathematics is an ongoing practice, and each day we craft and sharpen our practice, and there are always next steps. Mathematics is not just only about memorizing formulas and steps, although it does account for some of your learning and makes going forward easier. Most of your practice will be honing in on critical thinking skills, developing strategies for inquiry based learning, and improving problem solving skills.

Sometimes homework in our classes will be solely memorization based, to aid in speed and efficiency to simple problems and will be personalized on the needs of the student. In other cases, homework will be more synthesized or new to you, as watching a video on a new skill or concept and coming to class the next day to try it out, (flipped classroom) and then attaching that idea to a skill you already know.

In all situations, homework in my class is all about the effort and time that you put in, to make your learning more consolidated. It has a purpose and it counts.

So back to grading homework. What exactly am I looking for? Completion? Accuracy? Connection? Let’s face it. We all know that the effort students put in, and the students who do homework, are the ones who don’t need the responsibility skill drilled home as much as others. Executive functioning skills are becoming more and more necessary in today’s classrooms. Where does this fit into a math mark? Or does it? What’s the larger picture? The point I’m trying to make here is homework needs a makeover. Flipped classrooms are great (if you haven’t tried them already,) but more importantly, homework, if at all, should spark interest and curiosity in math related ideas and circumstances.

Where I leave my thoughts, is that providing feedback that is useful to the students growth and practice is where I take any homework assigned, if fitting.

Feedback and not a grade.

Feedback to better the student, provide next steps, a growing point. No grade, but something much more meaningful:

what’s next and why?

So, I sign off on this post, with more questions than I’ve started with. Does someone have all the answers out there? It would be great…but I don’t think that is the case. I’m also currently writing this post while also working on “how to look at assessing math in today’s classrooms”, I continue to look and sponge up anything I can to support the growth of my students, and decrease and eliminate the endless hours of grading that leads to a dead-end.

So…end thoughts…

…it’s not only that if the homework is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate, but it is if the grading and feedback is also meaningful, purposeful and appropriate.

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