Anyone reading ed news has run into articles questioning the practice of assigning homework and I address those questions here. I want to explain what I see as a high school math teacher and then explain how I meet the need.
I teach a few classes of “Algebra 3,” for disaffected upperclassmen that did poorly in Algebra 2; and I frequently hear, “I never did the homework last year because it didn’t count for a grade.” Before anyone tries to convince me that’s because my students are short-sighted, dumb, or lazy, I would respectfully ask they spare my blood pressure and see my thoughts about that here. My students are smart, busy, and sometimes come to wrong conclusions about priorities. In the past, if something was important to them, they could see the importance, somebody made them do it, or both. They didn’t see the value of doing homework in Algebra 2 until it was too late.
Students need repetition to learn most things. There is a ton of research to support that.* If we don’t incentivize homework, we set a certain percentage of our students up for disadvantage, sometimes even failure, simply because they do not wrap their minds around the importance. They think they will cram before a test; and, indeed, that works pretty well for the short-term.* I often hear that a teacher’s intent is for the student to learn responsibility by failing. I say, Let the non-core teachers “teach them a lesson on responsibility.” We math teachers hold open the gateway to post-high opportunities and should remove obstacles.
No, I don’t grade the homework, well, yes I do. I don’t have time to grade 150 homework papers very often. I collect it every day and can fire an email to a parent in about 45 seconds if someone doesn’t turn one in. My older students hate that, “You emailed my mom!” I say, Yes, thanks for putting more work on my plate. If you are unhappy about it, please do your homework. But the real secret is an application of statistics: random sampling. The students never know what will end up in the grade book. My grade book represents a sample of each student’s work and tons of comments. It looks more like a journal. “Excellent representation of concepts.” “Much of the work did not lead to the answers provided.” “Did not check answers with those provided.” The parents understand, then, why test grades are what they are. The truth is, I might not grade any homework for two solid weeks. When I do grade it, I grade it for good evidence of understanding. I do not grade for “completion” because of the often devastating unintended consequences that come with that practice.
To add a little fun to the endeavor, I often assign 11/10 for a homework that shows effort beyond my expectations. The students notice, and many start using color to tie concepts together or make grading easier. They start comparing and develop an understanding of what excellence looks like.
Often parents request that I accept late work (not due to an absence) and I explain my system: Students would only do what they see ended up in the grade book . I also explain if there are anomalies that are adversely affecting a student’s grade, they can be deleted at the end of the semester. This also gives hope to the student who is late getting with the program. After all, it should never be for a grade, it should be for the learning.
Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why don’t students like school? San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass