MS Sunday Funday – Grading (or not grading) Homework…? That is the question!

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 10.40.47 AMUp to this point in my career, I haven’t really questioned my procedures for grading homework.  This year, our staff has been challenged to think about assessment in terms of learning… are we assessing student learning, or student behaviors?

I am still working this out.  I need help from others to continue to gain perspective.  My hope is by the fall of 2013 I will have a solid homework system in place.  Right now, I am still bobbling around, seeking opinions and research, all specifically with mathematics content in mind… because I believe when it comes to grading (or not grading) homework, the content area, specifically with respect to mathematics, can’t be ignored.

I started some dialogue several months ago here, and really enjoy reading different ideas from other math teachers in the trenches.  Some of us seem solid in our systems, not questioning whether homework is assessing learning of content or behaviors.  Yet, I wrestle with not only *how* to “grade” homework, but whether “grading” homework in math is even fair at all.  So, here are my “before and current” homework grading procedures.  I’ll follow up with “potential future” methods I’m tossing around.

“Before & Current”

Up to this point, I have graded homework primarily based on completion.  There.  I said it.  And it goes a little somethin’ like this:

3 points: Student legitimately tried every problem, with evidence of work, even if there are errors (This is the first chance to practice a new skill or concept, after all… are we expecting perfection at this point?  This is part of the reason I think “grading” homework in math seems inappropriate).

2 points: More than half but not all problems legitimately attempted

1 point: Less than half of all problems legitimately attempted

0 points: Homework not done or not present at due date/time

To encourage math communication, students get into a “homework huddle” at the start of each class (small groups or pairs of students comparing and discussing homework answers, seeking resolutions for discrepancies).  While students “huddle” I take a lap around the classroom, glance at student work and listen in on dialogue, recording scores as mentioned above.  We come together as a class, I either ask for answers verbally, display the answer key, or use a tool like Socrative or Nearpod to spot-check specific problems.  Generally, questions are minimal after a “huddle” since students help one another talk through and correct errors or misconceptions.  This process helps me know if I need to do a little reteaching before moving forward as well.  To put the homework “grades” in perspective, my current district chooses to weight homework as only 10% of students’ average… which tells me, whether I choose to “grade” it or not, it’s not worth very much.  At only 10% we don’t seem to value homework as a “grade”, do we?

So why “grade” it at all?  (Am I being devil’s advocate, or posing a legitimate question?)

“Potential Future”

A feasible method to “grade” homework in such a way that scores reflect learning of math content, not behaviors, could be as follows:

* Assign daily homework, as in the past.

* Facilitate a daily “homework huddle,” spot-check work, and listen to conversations.

* Display answer key, or use an app to do a quick check of specific problems.

(So far, nothing in the plan has changed… wait for it…)

* Don’t assign a homework score for each and every assignment.  Rather, give a weekly homework “quiz”, perhaps every Friday.  Problems on this quiz would be inspired by homework problems, but wouldn’t be the exact same problems.  Allow students to use the homework they completed throughout the week as a reference during the quiz (this would hopefully provide incentive to do it, now that actually recording a score for every assignment has been taken away).

* “Grade” the “homework quiz” knowing that students have been practicing on a daily basis, have communicated with one another about the concepts, and have had reteaching classroom opportunities.

Ultimately, if I opt for the “homework quiz” philosophy, I’d like to utilize an app to help with the actual grading or scoring.  Socrative could help, but because students can accidentally press the wrong answer choice, it’s not ideal for graded assessments in my experience (I REALLY REALLY hope they change this issue soon because I love their instant color-coded data reports so much!)  I am looking into The Answer Pad as an option, and Infuse Learning looks promising, though I prefer apps that don’t require the teacher to manually enter student/class info.

What are your thoughts?  Is the “Before & Current” plan acceptable?  Should we aspire to assess mathematics over behaviors and embrace a plan more like the “Potential Future”?

Please discuss, and thanks in advance for reading and for your input! 🙂

This post was also shared here.

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25 Responses to MS Sunday Funday – Grading (or not grading) Homework…? That is the question!

  1. David Taub says:

    Hi. Our school only allows us to give one 30-minute homework assignment per week (grade 7-9 in Sweden). We have to give students a full week to do the homework. That’s the school policy.

    I have read a lot of research on the topic (my teaching credential thesis was on this issue), and, unfortunately, it is completely ambiguous as to the value of homework. All sides can find material to support their point of view in the very minimal research that has been done. What is there suggests an increasing benefit with age, and highest benefit on training basic skills (as opposed to any kind of deeper problem solving).

    Personally, I don’t believe it is fair to grade homework. Not only that, but I believe it is counter-productive to grade it. In general, motivated students are the ones who will care the most about doing homework. But they also care a lot of about their grade, an that concern tends to override the interest in learning. From my experience this means that the more you grade homework, the more you will encourage students to cheat with it – in particular you may add the motivated students to the cheating crowd due to grade fears.

    We don’t grade homework, and have stopped checking it. We decided there was no point, since if we checked it that just meant the ones who didn’t care would stand outside the classroom copying off their friend five minutes before class. It was a waste of their time and our time. We assign it, we go over it, answer questions about it, but leave it up to the parents and students to actually do it (which raises another issue of the fairness of grading homework with incredibly different home situations).

    I really like your idea of a homework quiz. We have wanted to do something like that ourselves, but don’t have time. One of the problems with Sweden is we have the smallest number of classroom hours of math in all the OECD countries (3 hours a week at our school, and that is more than most schools)

    Have you tried ThatQuiz? It works fine with iPads and I believe you can set it so that students can change their answers. It keep track on all grades for a class across multiple quizzes. You can even assign homework with it and automatically see who bothered to do it at a mere glance (assuming you are allowed to assign homework that requires the internet).

    Anyway, just my thoughts on the issue.

    By the way, thanks for the ThingLink tips. I have now created 3 of my own and have started to spread the idea to the science department at our school as well.

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      Hi David,

      I ADORE thatquiz.org! Thanks for mentioning it! I have used the quick quizzes that the website generates, but haven’t created any of my own quizzes. Have you created your own quizzes for students? I love tracking student scores and the ability to see their incorrect answers right next to the correct ones. It really helps students see errors, especially if they’re making similar mistakes repeatedly.

      Thanks so much for your insight, and check out this ThatQuiz ThingLink. – though it is specific for my classes, using a ThingLink as a “table of contents” if you will has helped students access their ThatQuiz classes quite easily.

  2. Caryn says:

    Hi Cathy,
    I currently use the same 3-point system that you use for homework. One of the problems I have had is there are certain students who never do homework, but have excellent grades on everything they do in class. The zeros they continually get on homework assignments brings their marking period grade down, therefore not reflecting their true learning. I wrestle with this idea all the time. But I think I need to assign homework to teach students responsibility and to give them extra practice, that’s why I don’t grade for correctness, just effort. For now, I will continue this practice, but I look forward to reading some other teachers’ input to this topic for new ideas to try out next year.
    Caryn

  3. Andy says:

    Last year our middle school department decided to go with no grading for homework. We jumped in and surprisingly I found that I liked the waters. There have been many positives, and I would not want to change back. If you continue to assign homework faithfully, most kids will keep doing it. Assigning problems with the answers is extremely helpful, because students start to see that the work helps them get better at math and use it as practice.

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      Providing answers – that is a great point. I have been known to do this using resources from websites like Kuta Software. Even when the answer key is occasionally incorrect, it sure sparks some great math dialogue!

  4. Misty says:

    I like the idea of the homework huddles and of the homework quiz.

    Especially the homework quiz – the main benefit I see of that is that if they can use their homework as notes on the quiz, they will hopefully show more detail on their work.

  5. David Taub says:

    Thanks for the ThingLink ThatQuiz idea – that was really cool. I’ll definitely have to do something like that soon. I have made a few of my own quizzes. Some are public. If you are curious search teachers for “Taub” and you will find the ones I made.

    By the way, I’ve also started writing my own iPad apps. I don’t do fancy graphics, just a few basic training apps. I believe you called them “one offs” or something like that in an earlier post. Anyway, if you had a good idea for a simple focused training without fancy graphics send it my way and maybe I’ll use it for my next app. The two I’ve written so far are putting fractions on a number line and just basic multiplication practice (mostly to get used to how to write an app).

    One thing with homework I forgot to mention is that I also give answers with my homework and let students correct themselves. This erases all motivation for cheating. I then give time the day it is due for questions about what they didn’t understand, although I find that most of them are able to figure it out from the answer if they get stuck.

    Another point worth mentioning is grading “philosophy” here in Sweden and how that might differ from America. We are not allowed to use an average or anything like that for grades. We do what we call “positive grading” – we count successes for them but don’t count failures against them.

    By our national rules, when we set a grade, the ONLY thing that matters is the knowledge/ability of the student at that exact moment when the final grade is set. This means in theory that they can do nothing all year, fail every quiz and test and then on the last day of school somehow show a complete understanding and thus get an A. Although that is impossible because of time concerns, the idea is guiding in our approach. So in the example given above about students who don’t do homework but show good understanding, it would be against the law here to count the homework issues “against” them.

    It does take a lot of pressure off of tests – in fact we no longer have “tests” – we are supposed to assess EVERYTHING they do, and are required by law to use multiple forms of assessment. Some days we have what we call “individual work” which we say is like any other day of practice, but they are working on their own instead and we look more closely at their work to see what they know or are having trouble with. This replaces the old test idea. If there is something they don’t understand they can make it up in the future during other individual work days.

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      It is so interesting to read about and compare your school’s policies to ours here in the United States!

      Your experiences with writing apps also sounds very interesting! One skill-based app idea off-hand that I would love to see is something that allows students to compare and order rational numbers. Have you seen the free Number Line app? While it’s a great little freebie, all the values are positive. Since I teach 8th graders, the focus is more on rational numbers, so throwing some negative values in there would really help them.

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      P.S. David, are you on Twitter by chance? Would love to follow you and stay in touch! I plan to look at your quizzes on ThatQuiz as well – thanks for sharing!

      • David Taub says:

        No, I’m not on Twitter – don’t really have time for it. Did you mean just putting negative fractions on a number line? Or did you mean actual calculations with positive and negative fractions?

        Fractions are actually really annoying on the ipad – especially if a student has to enter one. It is hard to come up with an easy to implement method for it without a preset format (like always a mixed number, or always just a fraction, etc). One of the downside of computer support for math right now – really basic stuff can be really annoying to implement.

        If you want to look at my free number line app to compare to the one you use (I didn’t know that one was around) you can search for my name on the app store as well.

      • David Taub says:

        By the way, we are using google drive at our school and I have started working a bit with google apps scripts as well. If you maintain a web page I could share some ideas/code that way as well. They work on ipads through a normal web browser.

        I was also curious how you maintain the content on your ipads classwise? We are having some technical difficulties that way. The iPads work great individually, but our system for trying to push the same apps to all of them at once is not very stable. We also can’t control or check what the students are doing on the iPads which can be issue with some students playing games when they should be working. How do you handle this technical challenges?

        • Cathy Yenca says:

          Hi David,

          My students have access to apps that have been purchased by our school district in a “self-service” area accessible from student iPads. They can also download apps at their leisure (versus your description of pushing apps to iPads all at once). Our students take their own iPads home every night, and are responsible for bringing them to school every day, fully charged.

          I do my best to be mobile and vigilant as far as monitoring student activities. I also make it a practice for students to “double-home tap and close all the apps” before we begin an activity. Likewise, if we are not using the iPad for a learning activity, students are to close the iPads or put them away. I also try to be very purposeful with the tasks I choose. For example, students have no choice but to be on-task if they are using an app like Nearpod or Socrative that captures data in real time.

  6. Mary says:

    I am beginning a new school year where homework outside of school can not be counted. The students are also each getting new math books and a google chrome book. I really struggle with how to teach them concepts with out using homework to help. We have written and developed a new curriculum based on the Common Core and we need to rewrite assessments and if they don’t pass one of the standards, they have to retake the assessment over and over again. Needless to say, I am not sure how this will work for my students. I teach a lower level Pre Algebra and Algebra in high school. Many of my students are on I.E.P.s and struggle academically anyway. Any help would be appreciated on how to start the year. We can grade anything done in the classroom, but not outside the classroom.

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      Hi Mary,

      It sounds like you have a unique year ahead! It also sounds like, though you can’t “grade” work done outside of class, you can still assign/encourage it, is that correct? Maybe a flipped classroom model may help students a bit? Or assigning work that won’t be graded, but will be discussed in class and will eventually be quizzed? I just read this post by the amazing Rafranz Davis this morning about how she handled homework – her circumstances were different, but maybe there are still some take-aways for you? http://www.rndesigns.com/blog/no-math-homework-just-bringbacks/

  7. T says:

    Hello,
    Just ran across your blog.
    I wanted to give you an idea.
    I don’t grade homework.
    I tell the students to expect a quiz everyday.
    Their grades are 50% quizzes, 50% exams.
    They can use notes on their quizzes and exams.
    I assign “practice problems”; they are odd problems, of which, the answers are in the b.o.b.
    I have more than 10 years teaching experience.
    I have used this model from 5th – 12th grade.
    Currently, I am teaching 5th – 8th grade.
    I did this b/c students were cheating.
    So my thought was create a system where they can’t cheat.
    Parents would even do their homework for them.
    Nice.

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      I love the idea! Perhaps we can move toward this model in future school years. In my district, homework is currently a required category in our electronic grade book. How many questions were on each daily “quiz”, how much class time did they take to administer, and how long are your class periods? Thanks!

  8. T says:

    We currently are under a very tight eight period day.
    Our class duration is 50 minutes.
    I am trying to sell the block scheduling concept to our school. I have taught in that realm, as well.

    The quiz concept is however you want to factor it in. The only thing is that your opponent is time.

    I would say on average 4 to 6 problems. Every now and then concepts may just be one simple step. Well, then I’ll give 10 problems. The more new or challenging a concept, the less quiz problems I’ll give.

    You have to be able to read the students facial expressions when you are teaching. It’s a free “tell”. That way you can anticipate if they are going to have difficulty the next day or not.

    Thank you for your encouragement.

    I’d like to finally say that all I’m trying to do is find a system that helps students to do their best academically and be held accountable.

  9. Andrew Busch says:

    Interesting.

    I’m also in a conundrum regarding student homework. Depending on the course is whether I grade it based on completeness or based on correctness. I teach in a rather small district (there is only one other math teach for 6-12). The other teacher does not grade homework. In middle school it’s not such an issue. However, the high school students confess to just not doing the work in the other teacher’s class. They don’t see any point in practicing the concepts if they won’t be graded on their practice. To high school students, time is a commodity (academics, sports, extra-curriculars, work, social, etc). I’ve had more than one (or 20) conversations with students who were happy to be back in my class because they felt the homework helped them learn better. When I asked why they just didn’t do the homework in their other math class, they said it was too hard to keep up if they knew it didn’t matter. In other words, internal motivation to learn is really hard to keep up without some sort of external motivation. For some students, grades are at least some sort of external motivator.

    That said, I have 6 different preps and I feel I’m not teaching as well as I could because I spend so much time checking in student work. There must be a better way.

  10. jetti Luckoski says:

    sorry to butt in here but I have been searching and searching for some kind of factual research that shows what the best way of grading homework. Specifically math homework. My daughter struggles with math and has been especially hard this year with a new middle school, changed curriculum (common core) and increased expectations (taking a lot from 6th and some 7th and pushing it down to require it in 5th). She squeeked by most tests but what brought her overall scores down to failing was the homework. This is how it was handled and I can’t stress how much I disagree with it. I’m looking for some evidence so that I can argue this practice for the following year.
    1. All homework assignments were given a letter grade.
    2. Homework assignments were weighted the same as any other quiz or test.
    3. The students never had access to an answer key.
    4. Students were not given the opportunity to try working the problems again.
    In my mind this structure just punishes students who didn’t fully ‘get’ the concept in class. I like the idea of math homework and do believe it helps. But not in this form. These are like mini tests on subject matter not fully learned. The students can never use answers to find out that they were wrong and rework the problem perhaps finding a step that they missed. It did not give them ‘practice’ at all and punished struggling students in the end.
    Do any of you agree with this grading structure? I’ve read all of your comments and ALL of them seem much more fair and make sense than this. Do any of you have any suggestions as to how to approach next years teacher on this?
    This comes from a highly rated middle school in TX. I’m surprised that I can’t find an argument FOR this structure or even see it mentioned.
    Thanks for any thoughts or places I might visit for more information.

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      This sounds extreme, and as I mention in my post, I have a hard time “grading” math homework since it’s the first time students are getting to know the material. They’d also need feedback after giving it a go to see how they did. I’m sorry this has happened to your daughter. 🙁 P.S. We don’t follow the Common Core standards in Texas, but rather, we have our own TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills).

  11. jetti Luckoski says:

    Yes it seems in the extreme to me to and that’s why I’m questioning it and want to make a good case against it with her teacher next year. I’m having trouble finding any statistics or research that clearly demonstrate the best way to handle math homework. Your site has at least given me a clear idea of how many teachers take a much different approach so I thank you.

    I know that TX does not use Common Core Standards but TEKS does overlap with it. Additionally, even though it is illegal for schools to teach Common Core Standards it certainly does not prohibit them from using Common Core Curriculum. Case in point. My daughter just received a summer math assignment (the whole class did) to complete lessons through Thinkthroughmath.com. (funded by the Federal Government ) This company specifically states on it’s home page that it teaches Common Core . I chose the TX link and took the lessons myself. It is rife with Common Core methods. I just completed an application for a 14day free trial and will be taking the same lessons under CA which do use common core standards. It will be interesting how much difference there actually is.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment to me. I appreciate it.

  12. Deidre says:

    Good evening,

    Thank you for sharing all this valuable info. I read though all of the post, and I too struggle with this homework grading policy. Presently, I am an 8th grade math teacher in NYC. I do work in a struggling district and have found that in the past many of my students do not and have not completed homework on a consistent basis. My school’s homework policy states that homework counts as 20% of the students’ grade and it must be actively present in our gradebooks. Many teachers in my school have struggled with this policy because the majority of the students do not submit homework. So thank you again for generating conversation around this subject.

    I am presently trying to find a way to utilize homework in an effective manner in my classroom this year also. Last year, I did try to implement the flip classroom midway through the year, in hopes that my students would become more independent learners. I found this to be somewhat effective for some, but not for the majority because many students did not login into there accounts and review the notes/assignments posted. I’ve also tried to assign homework daily, but this too has been ineffective and has had a negative impact on the students’ grades.

    After reading your above post, I do think I am going to try option two. I like the idea of the students recieving a weekly homework quiz that reflects the homework given throughout the week, and that they engage in a daily homework huddle (this is genius, I must say). I think I will limit my homework assignments to five questions a night. 4 simple to medium leveled questions and 1 challenging question (short/long response). This will also be my format for the weekly quizzes. There are a few question I would like to ask you about the homework huddle:

    Approximately how long are the students in this huddle?
    While you are cruising the room during the homework huddle, are you asking the groups questions, or are you only listening to their dialogue to check for understanding?
    What does the flow of the day look like after the homework huddle?
    Do you review any of the homework questions?

    Also I would like to create a page for my students and their parents, similar to your think link page. Could you help me with this? I would like to save and display all of my information in one central location. Thank you once again. I hope to hear from you.

  13. Diane Nead says:

    I use an online homework system called MathXL for school. It is wonderful. I assign 20 problems a night. Students do them independently and they are graded as they do them. I set the program so students can redo problems as many times as they like with a potential to get 100% each assignment. I assign due dates (just to help students stay on track) but leave all assignments open until test day. On test day I enter in the grade book the % grade of each assignment. I feel that is fair as students have multiple helps online (right on the homework page) and unlimited tries. The only guff I get is from parents who think I should look at the work of their students each night. I volunteer to look at any written work a student turns in but really, if they get it correct online they don’t need me. For any student whose homework scores are 15% or less than their test or quiz scores I require them to write out problems because they are either cheating or using the hints too much and that needs to be corrected. MathXL is a free response homework system (not multiple choice). In bulk for schools it is only $15 per student – what a bargain – cheaper than photo copies of worksheets for the year. MathXL also has quizzes, tests, and a study plan that keeps track of objectives students have learned and those they have not mastered (if you link it to quizzes/tests).

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