Not Doing Their Homework

So, I’ve been seriously questioning the use of homework this year, especially after reading a large amount of Alfie Kohn over the summer. Last year, I had a large group of students who would not do the homework, despite parent interventions, tutoring, advisor interventions, and very lenient deadlines. Most of them did not do well on tests, either, and I found it easy enough to keep pointing to homework as a panacea… “If he would only do his homework, he would understand!”

This year, I have a smaller group that doesn’t do their homework, but they’re different. They’re nerds. They like math, programming, and science. They ask great questions in class, dive into problems readily, come up with really amazing intuitive solutions, explain things to their peers, and strike me as the type of students who really could excel in math or science. But they don’t usually get the homework done… and honestly, I can’t say that they need to. They don’t ace every test, but they care about math and seem to understand the material a lot better than their grades would portray because they’re being punished by missing homework.

There’s something wrong with this. If you observe my class, you would likely pick these students out to be some of the top students, but they’re not (in terms of grades). I think my need for “fairness” and “objectivity” has kept me from seeing before how that homework grade is really affecting many students in the wrong way. On the other hand, I have a small group of students who struggle in class but always do their homework, and their grades are overinflated as a result.

Sadly, my grades don’t seem to be reflecting what students actually know. Giving grades in general is something I also struggle with, but as long as we have to do it, I want the grades to mean something.

Some other great posts about homework that I’ve read recently make me think I’m not completely insane for wanting to give it up:

Tom Whitby: The Homework Option Plan

Dan Meyer: Why I Don’t Assign Homework

Shawn Cornally: Stop Grading Homework, Please

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3 thoughts on “Not Doing Their Homework

  1. I’m right there with you. I’ve read so much regarding homework this past summer, that the only homework I give is to read, and finish what you didn’t finish in class. I like to be right with them as they work, the immediate feedback is what students need – one piece at a time, not feedback 30-some hours after they’ve done the work, with much to work on if they were doing it wrong. And if practice makes permanent, what if they do it all wrong? I want to be there to help guide them. Plus, I can look at the work they’re doing closely, 1 on 1. When I grade homework, I just fly through it. Attitudes are better in class this year, and my seventh graders actually put work into what we do in class.

    As for grades, I can’t wait to get to know more about standards-based grading. It will focus me and my students more, and we’ll really be targeting the learning, and not the activities.

    Thanks for the follow-up posts, too – I’ll go read those next, and save them in my notes for when. I need to explain my philosophy to parents…!

    • Thank you, Joy! I agree with you on many points, particularly the cementing misconceptions part and the fact that the feedback is so delayed (even if I manage to grade in a timely fashion!). I teach math so it’s a little different, but I agree that reading at home makes sense. What I’ve been doing is giving “homework” but always giving at least some time in class to work with students and then having the “homework” be to finish it… but I also want to find ways to assess without collecting it later. I agree that working one on one is so key too!

      I’m about to be forced to explain myself to parents and others… I’m actually giving a TEDx talk about the subject in a couple weeks and have already been interviewed for the paper! It’s a really cool opportunity but I’ll have to be ready to explain myself and stick to it 🙂

  2. Pingback: The Homework Talk | Math for Humans

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