Posted in Education, Grading, New Ideas, Summer Reading, Teaching

Professional Development Summer Reading Part II

Homework is repetitive and unnecessary.  If classes are relevant, engaging, and meaningful, extra practice is not necessary for every student.  Why make the students spend what little free time they have outside of the classroom doing busy work?  Who’s doing the homework anyway?  When the day students go home and complete their homework, who’s really doing the work?  The students or the parents?  What about their peers?  If homework is uniform like a worksheet and every student should be getting the same answer, how do we know students aren’t working together?  Isn’t that what we want?  Teamwork amongst our students?  But, who’s doing the learning if students work together to complete a homework assignment?  Can we appropriately and fairly assess students on their understanding of concepts covered or graded objectives through homework completion?  If students do the homework consistently but fare poorly on exams, tests, or quizzes, are they able to truly and genuinely showcase their learning?  Why do we as teachers grade and assess homework and count it towards their letter or achievement grade?  Isn’t homework practice?  Should we be grading practice?  Is the record of a football team negatively impacted if the team “loses” to themselves during practice?  So then, why are students rewarded or punished for not practicing a skill?  Not all students need extra practice and sometimes those students who do need extra practice, need a structured environment in which to practice.  Homework is not the best way to help challenge and/or support students if we are grading it.

In Chapter 2 of Grading Smarter Not Harder by Myron Dueck, the author details and explains why homework should not be counted or assessed in the same way we grade objectives.  Homework should not be a factor in the overall grade a student receives in a course.  Homework is practice and will look different for each student.  Some students need more practice while others need less.  As teachers, we need to help students learn how much practice they will need to do for particular skills, concepts, or objectives.  We should not objectively grade the homework practice students do.  It should count as part of their effort grade only.

  • Uniform Homework: Assignments or homework used as practice or follow-up regarding an in-class lesson.  It is usually designed as a worksheet or series of problems for which every student should have the same assignment.  This means that each student would have the same answers.  How do we know who did the work if students collaborate to complete the homework?  Therefore, teachers should not grade uniform homework.  In fact, uniform homework should not be assigned.  Students should choose to do the extra practice or not based on how they want to prepare for in-class quizzes or exams.  Uniform homework should also come with an answer key so that students can check their work as it is just practice anyway.
  • “Grading Homework Confuses Completion with Understanding,” Myron Dueck states on page 45.  Just because students complete the practice work as homework regularly does not mean that they have mastered a concept or skill.  It simply means that they have figured out the school conundrum: If you do the work, you will get good grades.  We, as teachers, are trying to help our students learn new concepts, grasp new skills, and grow and develop as students, thinkers, collaborators, etc.  We should not be grading homework in any objective or standards-based manner because then students will become confused by the purpose of school and education.  Learning is a process and not a videogame in which points affect your outcome.

While I was already aware of the big ideas Dueck conveyed in this phenomenal chapter that every teacher who is unfamiliar with objectives-based grading should read, it did give me some food for thought.  Huh, having a growth mindset going into this second chapter of the book really helped me glean a cool idea that I will implement in the classroom next year.

  • I will create regular check-in assessments on Haiku that students will complete in class following the introduction and practice of a new skill.  Mostly this will apply to STEM class, but could also be useful in Humanities class as well.  I will input the answers so that it can be corrected as soon as the students complete it, providing the students with instant feedback.  They will know right away if they completed the appropriate amount of practice outside of class.  Apparently, there is data to support the idea that frequent quizzes help increase learning.  On page 56 of Dueck’s book, he cites a study done by Kent State University that found that “frequent testing that involves recall of information from memory improves learning.”  Who would have thunk that?  Not I.  I had always been under the impression that over testing is redundant and a waste of time.  Perhaps I was wrong or maybe this study is wrong.  Well, since I’ve tried my way for so long, it might be time to try an alternative method.  I like it.  Change is good.

Although this book is preaching to the choir as I read it, it is filled with valuable and useful information for all educators.  I can’t wait to read what Chapter 3 has in store on Unit Plans.



I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

8 thoughts on “Professional Development Summer Reading Part II

  1. I have not read the book yet, but I needed to put some input in here. I grappled with the homework concept as well in my classroom this year. I often didn’t count it, but instead used what I called an accuracy assignment. It had 3 leveled questions (no more than 5 total). 1 question was at the progressing level (understands basic concepts), another question was proficient (grade level questions, what we expect students to be able to answer to meet objective) and the last question was above level. It was a higher order thinking problem that asked students to extend their learning. I found these more useful than the homework assignments and they are easy to track and grade in haiku. My biggest issue was time. How can I ensure enough practice for my students with short classes?

    1. Great question. As a school, I feel like this is an issue we need to address. I love the idea of block scheduling, which many schools around the world use. It would allow for more time to dig into projects, problems, practice, and independent work. It would also provide teachers with more flex time to plan or meet with a PLC or their team. I love the double periods we have in the sixth grade. When our Science and Math classes were contained to just 40 minutes each, we felt so limited. The students weren’t able to really start a project before they had to clean up and transition. Having the extra time has been huge. We can chunk it in many different ways. I hope that as an institution, we begin to move to a model like this in the near future. It will benefit the students, teachers, and the school immensely. What are your thoughts on this issue?

      Were the accuracy assignments completed in class? If so, that’s just like a check-in assessment or quiz, which Myron Dueck suggests using in place of homework to assess the students’ understanding of a concept or skill. How can we help other teachers see the value in not grading homework?

  2. I love these ideas! Of course in science, a block period would be a dream. Last year, I read the book “Overloaded and Underprepared” by Denise Pope, which was very dry but had some real practical solutions for how schools can successfully implement block scheduling. I think that this type of schedule would allow for deeper reflection and analysis (very important in science!).

    Being a newer teacher, I am particularly worried about time (how long will this assessment take, or that lab, etc.). I’m going to try to use the frequent quiz method that Dueck brings up as a solution to check for homework understanding rather than completion but it’s that time thing . . . yikes 🙂

  3. Side note, I would love to show you some of the tools I found this summer that can help with exit-tickets and quick quizzes! They do not use haiku, but they are helpful!

      1. Indeed! I would love to look at what you’ve found Kyla! I used Plickers a bit last year which was a nice quick way to check for understanding (it’s also amazing how much the boys liked it – go figure). The downside . . . the site is occasionally down but you can still use the questions as a visual and the boys just have to hand-write their answers AND it can only do multiple choice questions.

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