Homework

Perspectives

By: Cathy Vatterott, Lee Jenkins, and Larry Sandomir


Question?

To assign homework or not to assign homework? To grade homework or not to grade homework? Educators, parents, students—they all have an opinion. So, what is the value of homework and should it be graded?

Giving Feedback

Cathy Vatterott

When you ask teachers about the value of homework, they often say it teaches responsibility—to complete the task you’ve been given and return it on time. That may encourage obedience and responsibility for working, but the more important purpose is to encourage students to take responsibility for learning. When properly designed, homework encourages students to self-evaluate and reflect on their learning. “What do I know and how well do I know it? What am I confused about?"

For the teacher, whether homework is for practice, to check for understanding, or for application, homework is feedback about learning. Homework allows teachers to assess student understanding, diagnose problems, and prescribe remedies. Homework creates a private conversation between the student and the teacher. But students will only have that conversation if there is no shame or penalty for not understanding. “I didn’t do it—it was a stupid assignment” often means “I couldn’t do it—it made me feel stupid.” Struggling students would gladly take the zero. Then the question becomes: “Why grade homework?”

The most common reply is “If I don’t grade it, they won’t do it.” But teachers can wean students off their addiction to points. The other common reply is “Homework grades help poor test takers.” But a passing grade is no gift to a student who goes on to advanced classes without mastering prerequisite skills. A better solution is to rethink the test and create alternatives.

The current consensus is that homework is formative assessment that informs the summative assessments. Does it “count”? Yes, because it helps you pass the assessment. Should homework be graded? No. Should homework receive feedback? Absolutely!

Teachers who don’t grade homework still monitor completion of assignments and communicate with parents about missing work. They just don’t count it as part of the student’s grade.

Coaches don’t keep score during practice, but they do give lots of individualized feedback and they do require their athletes to practice.

Cathy Vatterott is professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. vatterott@umsl.edu www.homeworklady.com


Removing Pressure

Lee Jenkins

First, the premises:

  • Homework is a method; it is not a subject.
  • No method works on 100% of the students.
  • Homework is good for some students, but not all.
  • The issue is not whether you complete your homework, but whether you learn the content.
  • Homework refers to daily assignments, not to long-term projects.

Next, the problems:

  • Teachers say that most homework in secondary schools
  • is copied.
  • Teachers often do not have adequate time to prepare lesson plans because they are grading homework.
  • Almost all classrooms have students who score an “A” on exams and are given a lower grade because they did not use the preferred method (homework) to learn the content.

Now the possibility:

  • Assign homework.
  • Do not collect it.
  • Give a 2–5 item homework quiz, selecting some of the problems verbatim from the homework. Roll dice to see which questions to use.
  • Grade the homework quiz.

Pressure removed. This simple possibility, which John MacDonald of Mayo High School in Rochester, Minnesota, shared with me, has greatly reduced the pressure for grading homework and the pressure for doing it in many classrooms across the United States. The homework quiz measures what is in the students’ heads and not what they copied or was completed by their parents. The quiz can be graded quickly, relieving the pressure on teachers for so much paperwork.

Almost all kindergarten students love school. After kindergarten, fewer and fewer students love school until we reach the low point of 39% in grade 9.

Our job as educators is not to motivate students; they come already motivated. Our job is to find out why two-thirds of the students don’t want to be there anymore and stop trying. Traditional homework practice is one of the major contributors of dislike or even disdain for school. How do we expect to have high standards and high success rates when two-thirds of the students have lost their kindergarten level of motivation?

Lee Jenkins, education consultant, is author of Permission to Forget: And Nine Other Root Causes of America’s Frustration with Education lee@lbellj.com www.lbellj.com


Making Meaning

Larry Sandomir

There are many reasonable arguments against homework: Students are in school long enough. They need time to explore different parts of their lives after school. They need to rest, relax, and socialize. They need time to just be ridiculous and do things kids do when they can control their own time, just for a little while. Homework is often an exercise in repetition and boredom.

All true. So why give it?

For me, the question is not whether to give homework, but rather what kind, why, and when. Homework matters if it deepens and expands a student’s understanding of and appreciation for a particular subject. It matters if it helps a student better balance his or her life in terms of time management and sense of proportion. It matters if it gives a student an understanding of how to set priorities. It matters if, despite the challenge of time, it means something to the person doing it.

In my progressive environment, homework helps give students ownership of the material and allows them to personalize it. It asks them to apply the concepts to other parts of their lives. They make the meaning rather than answer teacher-directed questions. The homework sometimes is generated spontaneously from what’s happening in a given class. The class sparks an idea that’s worth considering, and the students give it shape while the teacher provides the foundation.

If I want my students to love words and their power, what I ask them to do must engage and invest them. There must be a purpose they can see. They should want to discuss what they are doing with their parents because it makes them think, wonder, get excited, or even struggle.

There must be flexible due dates. The fastest work is not the best work and students are more motivated to do well if they believe the teacher is sensitive to their outside lives or that to do their best, they might need an extra few days. Then students don’t mind evaluation.

I try to create a learning process rather than unnecessary learning tension.

Larry Sandomir is a middle school teacher at The Calhoun School in New York City. lawrence.sandomir@calhoun.org


Originally published in AMLE Magazine, September 2013.

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5 Comments
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5 comments on article "Homework"

Eliminating homework levels the field for all students. Time should be provided within the school environment for students to build their understanding. Students should have "experts" (teachers, specialists, and para-educators) available to support them, rather than relying on parents. I agree that work assigned for students to do and extend their learning helps to make the learning meaningful - but there needs to be in-school support provided. I agree with previous comments that "homework" (in-school work) should not be graded - but rather the learning that is enriched by the additional work should be assessed. Our focus as educators should be on student learning - in an arena where we have the most impact (the classroom). Homework creates inequity that is all too often based on the environment in the child's home (e.g., income level, culture, home responsibilities, etc.). It's time for this antiquated practice to go.

—Shelley Joan
10/19/2013 11:31 PM

I agree that Making Meaning of homework is the key. I don’t believe in giving homework, just to give homework if isn’t going to help students get a deeper learning about the knowledge they just learned in class. “Homework allows teachers to assess student understanding, diagnose problems, and prescribe remedies”. I think that quote is important to remember the next time teachers just want to throw out homework for students to do. Homework should be to help the teacher see what the students are learning and not understanding. Homework does not need to be graded for teachers to give feedback to students. Also being flexible with turn in dates, the fastest work isn’t always the best work. “I try to create a learning process rather than unnecessary learning tension”. I think we need to remember that, giving homework can be a great tool if it is used to make meaning of the curriculum and homework encourages students to self-evaluate and reflect on their learning, which in return help teachers see where students are in their learning process.

—Sherry
10/10/2014 10:51 AM

Ms. Vatterott makes an interesting point in that homework should be done, but not collected for points. It should be used as more of an assessment tool, and by grading homework, it makes students feel less welcome to ask questions when they do not understand because they may get a bad score on the homework. Instead, if homework is used a conversation starter for the student and teacher to discuss what the student does not understand, it is much more useful. I really like the point Mr. Jenkins makes in that a quiz can be used to assess how students are doing on their homework. If they already understand a concept, there is no point in making the student complete homework. However, it is still possible to grasp whether the student needs more help with the material based on the homework quiz. Lastly, I really agree with Mr. Sandomir's point about flexible due dates. Students need time to complete their best work. Teachers must also take into consideration what students have going on at home and with other classes and organizations. I like that he says he works to create a "learning process." The process cannot be rushed.

—Lauren
3/9/2015 12:17 PM

I enjoyed reading this article, and I agree with the authors. I believe that homework must be meaningful and engaging. As teachers, it is our job to create homework that supports and connects to what is being covered in class. I think that we should give homework that reinforces and serves as formative assessment of students’ progress; tasks that can be enjoyable, and authentic, and that can be done by students themselves. There is no point in giving complex pieces of homework that will end up being done by parents!

—Ana
6/10/2015 8:02 PM

I couldn't agree more with this article. Mr. Jenkins makes a great point in just having short quizzes to assess understanding. Giving students time to ask questions over the homework and get a better understanding rather than collecting it and grading it right away gives the student a chance to look back on what they were confused about and understand the content better. Then to go and be assessed on their true understanding of the work makes much more sense.

—Elizabeth
12/9/2016 1:36 PM

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