Should teachers grade homework?

Increasingly, teachers are assigning homework but not grading it, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Educators say many of the daily assignments measure a student’s work ethic more than knowledge. Besides, they say, some papers come back with an obvious assist from mom and dad.

Homework should be seen as practice, says Ken O’Connor, a teacher turned consultant. Students benefit from feedback on what they need to improve, he says. “Nobody gets better from getting a 1 out of 10.”

The change comes as many schools revamp their entire approach to grades. The end-of-term average that for years lumped together tests, homework and class participation did not show whether students mastered a specific set of skills, teachers and curriculum experts said.

Now, many teachers calculate a student’s grade without regard for homework. They reserve that for a separate section of the report card that asks if “students complete homework on time.”

A St. Louis-area school district has told teachers to grade homework, but not to count the score in the final grade.

Some Detroit schools mailed activities packets to students in grades three through eight, telling them the homework is due on the first day of school.

Teachers, should homework be graded? If so, how much should it count in assessing the final grade?

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Comments

  1. Nope. Your first quote had it right on – who knows who actually did the work? I find this more true in elementary school than high school. I have a friend who hates Quebec’s ‘new’ reform (it’s a cohort old, K-11, and was pilot-tested for years before that but it’s still considered ‘new’) because there is an emphasis on project-based learning and she is constantly working on those projects, generally the night before they are due.

    Of course, this conversation is only worthwhile if one gives homework. It also depends on the type of homework that is given.

    I refuse to give homework for homework’s sake. In teaching grades 10 and 11 over the past few years my students often had larger pieces of work that they were working on over a period of time. I always gave a lot of time to work on it in class and part of their overall grade had to do with organization – I spent a lot of time making sure students were up to date and on task – those who weren’t stayed after school with me to get help. encouragement, and space to work.

    Next year (next week!) I will be teaching K-6 French as a 2nd language. At this point, the homework I conceive giving will have something to do with watching/listening/reading French media and then talking about it in class. I need to make sure they are exposed to more French than the 40 minutes a day they will be getting! In this way, I’ll be able to grade them on oral communication in class that is based on the work they did outside of class.

    So, to answer your questions – a) no, and b) none :) Unless there is learning/practice of which I can see direct evidence, I can’t count it towards a final grade.

  2. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Homework may not need to be graded but it definitely needs to be corrected. Errors illuminate areas that need attention. They reflect either lack of motivation to do careful work or lack of understanding of what is being taught. In the latter case the student needs to be retaught and then to practice. There needs to be more correct practice that incorrect or the incorrect may remain in the child’s mind and prevent mastery. If the homework is not corrected, homework could worsen students’ mastery as they practice their misunderstandings.

    If teaching is a progression from what the teacher presents to semi-independent work to entirely independent work, then homework can fill the independent work niche, freeing class time for other things.

    If parents understand the role of homework and that it will not lower their child’s grade, they may refrain from doing the work themselves. I suspect few parents simply correct an error without explaining why it is an error and what the correct approach is. There is a real advantage to the child in having errors corrected promptly. Many children who achieve mastery do so because of a de facto teaching partnership between teachers and parents.

  3. There is no use in assigning anything unless there is the possibility of grading it, with the grade counting towards their average. Few students have the intrinsic motivation to fully complete their homework on their own without some sort of carrot or stick.
    I assign short homeworks most nights and randomly grade them. Sometimes I’ll include some of the homework questions into a starter quiz. If I don’t grade an assignment, we correct it together.
    As for parent involvement (especially in the early years), there is a simple solution – give students assignments that they are actually able to complete by themselves. I have seen numerous assignments given to my niece and nephews that require organizational skills that many college students don’t possess, let alone elementary students.

  4. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Supersup, you make a good point about using grades to motivate students to do the homework.

    You point to the fact that correcting homework takes time and mention some strategies for dealing with it. The question that remains is how does the teacher know what misconceptions remain in children’s minds? Misconceptions call for more than correction, they require reteaching the concept and practicing it to mastery.

  5. Homeschooling Granny –
    I try to build plenty of practice and reinforcement into my classes. We often start with a short 5 question quiz that asks about previous material, I build questions into the day’s notes or activity, I usually call on students to answer quick questions as we do the notes or activity, and I’ll also give them a short 5 question quiz on the day’s material. We go over the short quizzes immediately and I try two explain any issues that come up.

  6. Cranberry says:

    If classes are getting much larger, I fail to see what we gain by requiring teachers to spend immense amounts of time on very simple correcting tasks. I’d rather the teacher had the time to create lessons to refine his presentation to the class, or giving useful feedback on essay assignments, than spend 3 hours every other day correcting multiple choice tests.

    Homework should be corrected, but it need not be corrected by the teacher. A class can go over the homework together and self-correct. If the intent of the homework is to reinforce the knowledge of basic facts, a computer drill can be assigned. For example, ALEKS gives instant feedback to students. Its Math Tables section has been very helpful for my youngest child. The parent or teacher can also access reports on student rate of learning and such. Thus, any mistake is instantly corrected, and the teacher or parent can monitor student progress very quickly.

    I do not favor grading homework, because the student should have the opportunity to make mistakes. A grading system can be an incentive to complete the homework–however, in my cynical opinion, it’s the parents who respond to that incentive. A kid whose mother did his homework while he was at baseball practices won’t gain anything from the experience, except the knowledge that he’s expected to cheat, lie and deceive.

  7. Well, I’m sure it’s just coincidence that not grading the homework saves the teacher no end of unpleasant bother.

    A *LOT* of what you’re supposed to be learning in school is good responsibility and work ethic. It’s a waste to educate someone without also giving them the real-life skill of getting things done. When they go out into the workplace, homework will be graded, as will long-term assignments that come due on a specific date.

    The point about correcting the students is also a good one. If kids are sent home whit a math worksheet (a quaint, discredited idea, I know), it’s ludicrous to assume that any good has come of it unless the student was actually doing the activity correctly. Practicing adding fractions incorrectly is actually reinforcing failure.

  8. Tracy Fitzwater says:

    Although my district has a homework policy, I rarely give homework just to give it. When the math curriculum we had used workbooks, I never gave homework, mostly because I needed to have those workbooks in class the next day, and some students were notorious for never bringing anything back! Now that I have a textbook for math, the “homework” consists of work that has not been completed in class. We always correct it, and work problems out together, so everyone can see and participate. This work is graded. I have a couple of colleagues who just stamp the paper, and at the end of the week count the stamps – I find that to be a useless process.
    In the high school class I teach, I use Moodle as the class platform, and since the students can access it anytime they have an Internet connection, I don’t have to give homework. They will post and write at the craziest times, but they do (for the most part) meet the deadlines I set for contributions.
    I hate giving homework to just give it – what’s the point?

  9. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Correcting homework is a good idea, so kids can see where they went wrong– even better, give the problems whose answers are in the back of the book–then take questions at the beginning of the next class.

    Because, at least in classes like Math, the homework is a means to an end–mastery of the subject. Kids who can get an A on the test shouldn’t be penalized for failing to do the work or keep a notebook or whatever busy-work insanity the teacher has come up with.

    And kids who CAN’T pass the test should not be given a passing grade in the class just because they ‘tried hard’ and turned in work on time.

    If your aim is not to teach a subject, but to teach ‘organization skills’ and ‘good study habits,’ be honest. Give a ‘study skills’ grade in addtion to the course grade. Have a ‘conduct’ section on the report card.

    But don’t grade compliance and mastery on the same scale.

    (This is a sore spot with me… I was the “dumb” (got bs and cs) calculus student who got high A’s on all the tests and a 5 on the AP exam. Because I did the homework but couldn’t keep a neat notebook….)

  10. I don’t correct homework, and it only counts for 10% of the grade. It will never pull your grade down.

    I’ve had shockingly good homework rates this early, but the students are surprised when I just look at it quickly. I walk through the class, looking at 4 or 5 problems that are key. This lets me know whether I need to review or not. I also give “Homework review” days, which are for kids to go back through their homework with new knowledge and see if they can find errors. And yes, I self-correct.

    A *LOT* of what you’re supposed to be learning in school is good responsibility and work ethic.

    This is really not true. Grades are supposed to denote ability, not effort.

  11. The cost/benefit ratio of homework will depend on the subject and on the match between the curriculum and the student, I expect. I taught high school Math, and after the first couple of years stopped assigning and grading homework, with one small exception.

    It is a conflict of interest for a teacher to grade his or her own students. Also, a grade means little unless it reflects the student’s ability, and not a friend’s ability. Further, if the grade is to inform future readers of a transcript, even if only to determine promotion, grades should reflect performance at the end of the year. If a student misses every test and assignment up to the final and scores 100% on a test of the year’s material, any grade other than A misinforms a future reader of that transcript. Similarly, if a student completes every assignment and test perfectly up to the last week of school and gets kicked in the head by a horse before the final, any grade that does not reflect the brain damage misrepresents the student’s abiliy.

    One can play with the terms in the above. Why not consider the entire year “the final exam”? Moreover, we are all good at lying to ourselves. If some Math teacher tells students than the only test that matters is the final in the last week of the year, they will always have higher priorities than Math, and say to themselves “I’ll study the Math later” and later will never come until it’s too late.

    American pre-college Math books stink. Same goes for most Science textbooks that I have seen. They are bloated, scatter-brained, and filled with gaudy distractions. I gave up on textbooks and gave students worksheets of my own composition. I divided the year’s curriculum into two week blocks. With minor alterations, each day’s worksheet looked like the exam at the end of the block. After one week I gave a quiz and anyone who got an A or B got a library pass. At the end of the second week I gave another quiz and students got to pick the better of the two scores. I gave two quarter finals a week apart and students got to pick the better of the two scores. The quarter final grade was 50% quiz scores and 50% final scores, plus a supplement. The supplement was a collection of classwork and quizzes, corrected (maintaining this file was “homework”), which elevated a grade by 1/2 a grade point. It’s a clear and rigid system which is also forgiving. It saves busywork. It worked for me.

    Dunno ’bout History or English.

  12. Roger Sweeny says:

    Grades are supposed to denote ability, not effort.

    But, of course, effort is part of ability. People who don’t try don’t accomplish much. A naturally talented kid who doesn’t develop his talents will be less able than a not-so-talented kid who works at it.

    I suspect you meant to say something like, “Grades are supposed to measure performance, not effort.”

    Thus, Malcolm Kirkpatrick’s suggestion that a person who does nothing all year but gets 100% on the final should get an A. I think this makes perfect sense if that 100% represents actual learning. However, I would bet any amount of money that by August 30, the average high school student has forgotten at least 70% of what she “learned” the previous school year. It is a rare high school graduate who retains even 10% of what he “learned” during his high school career.

    We’d better be teaching good responsibility and work ethic, because they aren’t leaving with much subject matter knowledge.

  13. Roger Sweeny –
    Not to contradict, just add on to your last statement. Teachers need to teach responsibility and work ethic through personal example and holding students to standards, not through the oh-so-enjoyable and useless canned responsibility lessons.

  14. Roger Sweeny says:

    Agreed. Nobody respects, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

  15. Homework should allow kids to practice what they are learning. That’s how we learn, by practicing. Making mistakes is a part of practice, especially when it’s a new skill that we are learning…so homework should not be graded as something that will enter into the computation for the final grade that term. The final grade is a communication tool and should indicate whether or not the material has been mastered.

    I use homework to see what a kid needs more help with, or to identify things I need to reteach to a small group or the whole class.