U-Turn In Homework U Get Better Grades Sign

There are quite a few different views about whether or not homework should be graded. Some say absolutely not; others definitely yes. And still others choose to just give a completion grade but not grade the work itself.

I suppose I’ve actually fallen into all three camps at different points. But none of them really seemed quite right…..

If You Don’t Count Homework

I was taught in college not to count homework at all. Just to record whether or not the students did the homework and to assign extra work if they did not.

The problem with this, though, is that the students quickly learn that homework doesn’t count for a grade and thus they’re much less motivated to put much effort into it.

And, unfortunately, a completion grade isn’t much better. At least not in my experience.

When I gave completion grades for homework, what I found was that the students’ work just got worse and worse. Of course some students still did excellent work, but many of them just threw something down on the paper and said they were done.

It just wasn’t working.

If You Do Count Homework

I knew I needed to change how I graded homework, but I wasn’t too thrilled with just giving them a percentage grade either.

You see, I taught math, and I view math homework as practice. So let’s say a student makes a mistake on 1 out of 6 problems. Is it really fair to give them an 83% on that homework? Or if they make 2 mistakes to give them a 67%? That just seemed way too harsh for me, and that’s not even considering the 50%’s, 33%’s, 17%’s, and 0%’s that they would earn if they made more mistakes.

I wanted my students to do their very best on their homework, but I also didn’t want to reward them with horrible grades when they inevitably made mistakes as part of the learning process.

I needed to hold them accountable without destroying their grades….So I finally came up with a solution I was happy with.

The Solution

I decided that I would grade homework a little unconventionally. Since I typically only assigned about 6 or 7 problems per assignment…. (You can read why I chose to give so few problems in the post “Why You Should Give Way Less Homework” – it’s definitely something to consider). Anyhow, since each assignment typically consisted of 6 or 7 problems, I took off 5 points for each problem that was incorrect (but valiantly attempted) and 15 points off for each problem that wasn’t attempted at all (or that they just put down a random answer for with no work to back it up.)

So here’s what their grades would look like if they at least gave a good attempt at each problem:

-0  100%
-1  95%
-2  90%
-3  85%
-4  80%
-5  75%
-6  70%
-7  65%

As you can see, even if they really struggled with the concept and missed every problem, they still received a 65%. Now this wasn’t going to help them earn an A, but it wasn’t going to kill their grade either. I rewarded their attempt but also didn’t just give them a 100% just for trying either. It’d finally found a wonderful happy medium.

Now if someone didn’t finish half the assignment, their grade was not so pretty. Let’s say they didn’t try 4 out of the 7 problems at all. Well, that’s -15 each, so their grade was a very-fair-but-not-so-flattering 40%. A very accurate reflection of how much work and effort they put forth.

If Your Assignments Are Longer….

If you assign more problems you can simply adjust the numbers so that if a student misses all the problems their grade is somewhere between 60% and 70% (or whatever you want the lowest score to be). So, for example, if you give 10 problems then you could make them 4 points each (because 4 x 10=40 and 100-40=60). Of course you’d need to take off the full percentage value (in this case, 10 points) if they don’t even try a problem.

What About Not Following Directions?

I used to take off additional points when students didn’t follow directions. I’m talking things like using pen instead of pencil, using the wrong kind of paper, not putting their name on the paper, not showing their work, etc.

But then my administrators said that this wasn’t in alignment with our school policy, so I had to come up with another idea. And I’m actually really glad I did.

I ended up making students either complete or redo the incorrect part of the assignment. For example, if they used pen instead of pencil, this didn’t affect their grade but they had to redo it in pencil. Same thing if they didn’t show their work or decided to use computer paper instead of lined paper. (I honestly don’t remember what I did with the no name – I think I either just took off a couple points or I counted it late until they came to see me and identified their paper. Anyone have any better ideas?)

Did this take a little bit more paperwork on my part? Yes it did, but I found that requiring them to redo the work was way more effective than taking points off. And soon I had fewer and fewer issues.

So what about you? Do you count homework for a grade? Why or why not? What do you think of this idea?

Want more advice about how to manage homework? Check out the post: 10 Tips for Giving & Managing Homework (Without Going Crazy)

Feature photo by identity chris is

New research suggests that a lot of assigned homework amounts to pointless busy work that doesn’t help students learn, while more thoughtful assignments can help them develop skills and acquire knowledge. How would you characterize the homework you get?

In the Sunday Review article “The Trouble With Homework,” Annie Murphy Paul reviews the research on homework:

The quantity of students’ homework is a lot less important than its quality. And evidence suggests that as of now, homework isn’t making the grade. Although surveys show that the amount of time our children spend on homework has risen over the last three decades, American students are mired in the middle of international academic rankings: 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math, according to results from the Program for International Student Assessment released last December.

In a 2008 survey, one-third of parents polled rated the quality of their children’s homework assignments as fair or poor, and 4 in 10 said they believed that some or a great deal of homework was busywork. A new study, coming in the Economics of Education Review, reports that homework in science, English and history has “little to no impact” on student test scores. (The authors did note a positive effect for math homework.) Enriching children’s classroom learning requires making homework not shorter or longer, but smarter.

She goes on to enumerate some of the aspects of effective independent assignments, like “retrieval practice,” which basically means doing practice tests to reinforce learning and commit it to memory, and “interleaving,” in which problems are not grouped into sets by type, but rather scattered throughout an assignment, which makes the brain work harder to grasp the material.

Students: Tell us how effective you think your homework is. What kinds of assignments seem pointless? Which ones are confusing or frustrating? Which ones are most engaging and interesting? Which ones are you fairly sure help you learn and grow?


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Questions about issues in the news for students 13 and older.

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