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Homework

In the article, Homework: A Few Practice Arrows, Susan Christopher makes the following statement:
“When homework is used as a formative assessment, students have multiple opportunities to practice, get feedback from the teacher, and improve. Homework becomes a safe place to try out new skills without penalty, just as athletes and musicians try out their skills on the practice field or in rehearsals. Effective homework is the rehearsal before the final event. Because the role of homework has changed in my classroom, so has the way I evaluate it. I no longer count homework when computing student grades.”  

Having taught in a setting where more than 80 percent of the students are eligible to receive free or reduced lunch, I have seen first hand the hinderance that homework can be on a students grade.  When I first started teaching, I assigned homework each night, and graded it, because thats what I thought you were supposed to do.  Many of my students didn’t return their homework, or quickly became discouraged from doing it because they didn’t have support at home.  Then there were also students who would ace their homework, but weren’t able to perform in class (presumably because a parent or someone else was doing most of the work).  Similar to the teachers at Health Sciences High and Middle College (Fisher, Frey, Pumpian, 2011) in San Diego, California, my school district went through an extensive reevaluation of our grading procedures and moved to standards based grading several years ago.  
After some time and effort, my district began using a variety of standards based performance assessments.  Several committees were formed to create district wide assessments to be used to measure student performance, and there is no longer a category in our grading system for “homework”.  It wasn’t until a few years ago though, that I decided I was no longer going to grade homework.  I was having the same issues as in the past with only a handful of students returning homework, and I began to ask myself why I was giving my little first graders homework.  What is it that they were getting out of it?  I decided that the homework that I was giving wasn’t exactly serving the purpose that I intended, which was to practice the classroom content.  Rather than asking for clarification, or help, I began to see my first graders getting stressed about their homework and on a few occasions even copying from friends.  These were habits and attitudes towards school that I did not want to see forming at such a young age.  
    I made the decision to not only stop grading homework, but to scale back on how much I gave.  Instead I only give the homework that I feel the students need in order to do well.  As Susan Christopher (2007) states “when homework is used as a formative assessment, students have multiple opportunities to practice, get feedback from the teacher, and improve. Homework becomes a safe place to try out new skills without penalty, just as athletes and musicians try out their skills on the practice field or in rehearsals. Effective homework is the rehearsal before the final event.”  I have dramatically reduced the amount of homework that I give as a result of this reflection on my practice. I do give nightly math homework, because it is included with our curriculum (its just a tear out page in their workbook) and the parents really like it. Other than that I send home a word list for the year and students are expected to read nightly. I also have a variety of digital resources on hand for parents to use should they feel like their child needs (or they want) more. I invite students to bring in any homework or extra items that they do at home if they want recognition for it or have questions, but I make it clear that it is not part of their grade.
I have had an overwhelmingly positive response to this method from parents and students alike. Here are a couple of more resources regarding homework that you may find interesting!

*I really enjoy Rick Wormeli’s videos- he does a really great job at explaining standards based grading!


References


Christopher, S. (2007).  Homework: A few practice arrows.  Educational Leadership, 65(4), 74-75.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Pumpian, I. (2011).  No penalties for practice.  Educational Leadership, 69(3), 46-51.