Should you assign homework? Should it be graded? How should it be managed?
Here are some ideas to help you make those decisions.
Some schools have done away with homework altogether. Is that right for your school? Your students? Should middle school students be expected to complete homework?
Let’s dig deeper.
What impact is homework having?
You don’t have to wait too long to hear opinions about homework!
If you have had even one Parent/Teacher conference, homework is usually part of the discussion … too much, too little, too easy, too hard, not done, never done, graded, completion grade…
It’s important to listen to parents’ concerns. Some parents see homework as evidence that the school is providing rigor and that their child will be learning.
While others, find it an overwhelming family battle that takes over the home life. Take time to learn how families deal with homework.
What role does it play?
If you do assign homework, make sure it is meaningful and serves a purpose. When you communicate the purpose of homework, parents are more likely to buy into it and support the completion of the assignment.
Whether it’s vocabulary practice or reading, make sure the assignment isn’t busywork. Make sure it helps advance the learning that is taking place in the classroom.
As students reach middle school, homework is important in helping them prepare for class. This includes reading assignments, finishing drafts of writing, preparing for discussions, and even practicing speeches or presentations.
Provide a way for teachers to adjust the pace of a class.
Give students a chance to reinforce difficult concepts in a low pressure environment that doesn’t place time restrictions on the student.
Offers extra practice.
We can’t expect students to grasp everything in the 40 minutes they’re in our classroom. By assigning homework that extends the lesson, students have the opportunity to practice what they learned in class.
Students and parents can understand the analogy that homework is like practicing the piano or running plays in football or basketball. It’s like swimming laps, running at a set pace, or dribbling a ball through cones.
It helps develop skills, confidence, and accuracy through practice.
But there are two things about practice:
- Sometimes it’s boring.
- It’s liberating. We don’t get graded on practice. It’s practice. Not Carnegie Hall, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, playoffs, or the World Cup.
I do believe that students should do their best and not just go through the motions…but I also believe that practice is full of mistakes — and we know that we learn when we make mistakes.
Students don’t have to have perfect homework practice. Thoughtful, intentional, deliberate — yes. Perfect? No.
What it shouldn’t be
Used as a punishment — gone (I hope!) are the days of copying a page out of the dictionary or writing “I will be quiet” 100 times.
Busywork to keep students quiet and “working” during class or study hall.
Rote, thoughtless activities
Unrealistic. Think about how long an assignment will take.
Tips for better homework assignments
Determine if you need to assign it. Can your students get their work done in class? Will they finish the assignments you give them?
Provide students with a time frame as to how long the assignment should take. This means how many days and how many minutes.
Consider providing the week’s worth of homework all at once. If you can post all the assignments at the start of the week, students can plan their time accordingly and work ahead.
Do you have standard assignments, like reading or vocabulary, that is the same each week? Allow students to work ahead, or log extra reading hours on the weekend.
Have a clear purpose for the assignment. What is it that you want students to do and why? Make sure you communicate that to your students.
Assign “homework partners” or “buddies.” This is a person in class students can contact if they have questions about the assignment.
Try flipping your classroom. It gives homework a whole new feel! One of the best outcomes is that it provides students with more thinking and processing time.
For students who are struggling with completing assignments, as them to do a time audit. This simple activity can help them see where they are using their time. You will also see if they are spending too much time on homework.
The next twist in the homework discussion is how it’s graded.
I use a weekly scorecard for homework. Students record their daily scores (we check together as a class), and then at the end of the week, they pick their favorite grade for me to record.
I tell students they have multiple practices to learn a concept, and it helps students see weekly progress.
What does the scorecard tell me? I can see how students are doing on the homework — are their skills improving? I can differentiate assignments when some students “get” the concepts and others need more practice.
When a student has 100% on the weekly homework, but does poorly on the summative assessment, that tells me something as well.
I like using a scorecard because it takes pressure off students to get everything right all the time. There is room for a bad day or an assignment that has been rushed through. Or even one that has been missed.
I don’t use the scorecard for all assignments — some, like drafts of an essay or a completed graphic organizer, are one-time assignments. But for repetitive practice, like learning a grammar concept, or new vocabulary or spelling words, a scorecard works great.
What do you think? How can you make homework more effective?