Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ramblings on Homework and Grading

There are a lot of thoughts rumbling about in my head today and a lot of them have to do with my latest summer #EduRead - Grading Smarter, Not Harder.

A few weeks ago, prior to the AP Reading, @mathteacher24 posted something about this book on Twitter and it reminded me that I had it in my to-be read pile, so why not add it to my summer reading list? :)

Many years ago, I was unhappy with how my class was structured grading wise and started exploring Standards Based Grading (SBG).  For the past 8 years, I've used SBG and been fairly happy with it, but throughout the years, I've become more and more frustrated with some of its shortcomings, so I knew I wanted to do some thinking about assessment this summer.

Last night was our first chat session over Chapter 1 and I really don't have a ton of insights from that chapter because I agreed with almost everything the author said.  I completely agree that grades should be a reflection of the learning objectives and not student behavior.  One part that struck me though was the idea regarding a zero for missing work.  I've never been one to penalize late work but what do you do with students who haven't turned in missing assignments or taken a quiz when the time comes to turn in semester grades?  In the past, I've always changed those to zeros but according to the author, that's the same as a late work penalty because had the student turned in that assignment, the likelihood of earning a zero is probably small and therefore the grade is not an accurate measure of student learning.  One strategy the author suggests is a policy I remember from years ago called ZAP - Zeros Aren't Permitted.  I haven't thought of that strategy in years, so I need to go back and do some refresher research on it.

BUT - then, this morning, I decided to go ahead and read Chapter 2 on Homework.  Oh wow... I definitely need to do some thinking on this one!

I'm pretty sure that Homework is the bane of my existence.  I've tried something new pretty much every year and I'm never fully happy with it.  I haven't graded homework in years, because I believe that homework should be about practice.  Add in other equity issues such as the outside of class difficulties and the fact that not every student needs the same amount of practice and I am still firmly in the "no grade" category.

However - I do feel that there should be an accountability system in place and I've been battling how to handle this all summer.  Over the past few years with SBG, I've noticed fewer and fewer students are doing the assigned practice problems and I take a lot of responsibility for that.  I have done a poor job of connecting practice and assessment and helping students build the necessary study skills to help them find success.  I take it for granted that students know that doing their HW should help them to be more successful on the assessments.  Because I don't grade the HW, nor do I hold students accountable for doing the HW, I think many students have taken that to mean that I don't value the HW as a learning tool, which is far from the truth. 

So while reading Chapter 2, I run across Strategy #1 of In-Class Quizzing, which has several bullet points talking about students tracking their own progress and teachers using homework-completion data as formative assessment, which led me to throw down this tweet:

Here's my current thought...
  • In my table folders, students already have a weekly exit ticket sheet that they are used to.  Sometimes this is a question to be worked for feedback, sometimes it is a written response, etc.  What if I modified this form to have 2 spots per day - a HW reflection and an exit ticket area?
  • The HW reflection would be part of their warmup time and students would self-assess on a Likert scale how much of the HW they had attempted and a couple of short reflection questions, something to potentially open up a personal discussion about problems they attempted, where they struggled, etc. If they didn't do it, they could put in why as well - it's not punitive, just for documentation
  • Off to the side of the paper, I would have an area to write comments or go around to spot-check / stamp their self-assessment, etc.  

Anything else that you can think of???

As I mentioned above, I've not done a great job of connecting practice and assessment and the next strategy in Ch 2 talks about a Homework Profile.  (You can read more about it over at ASCD)

Pretty much I envision a test / quiz reflection form that looks something like this:

Corresponding to each box would be the descriptors from the ASCD link.  I'm thinking this might be a great post-quiz reflection tool to help my students really see the value of WHY they should do the practice.  Also on this form might be an error analysis to help them make a study plan which leads into the reassessments. 

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading :)  I just had to get some thoughts down on "paper" and as always, I value your comments.  Please feel free to push back in the comments here or catch me on Twitter.  


Unknown said...

You've really got my wheels turning on this homework thing! I had backed off homework the last two years in part because of all the articles I had read about how it's inequitable and in part because of the increased use of photomath apps. It was an easy decision to make at the time because I saw my students every day for 90 minutes, so I felt they were receiving more than enough practice in class. But this year we're changing to every other day classes, which means I'm now going to be fighting against the "forgetting curve." I'm not currently reading "Grading Smarter Not Harder" but I think I might have to download the book and join in next week to get some ideas! You've got a great start here :)

Lois Burke said...

I have all those same thoughts over the years. Homework is a tough one. My upper level students used to be pretty good about doing homework whether or not I graded it but my struggling students seemed to never do it regardless of whether I graded it or didn't. I quite grading homework a few years ago. I have collected it once a week and just marked down whether students attempted it or not. I assured them that, if there grade wasn't where it should be, that their parents wouldn't care whether I graded homework only that they hadn't done the practice. It didn't work! I did require practice to reassess and did show them, frequently, the data connecting homework completion with successful assessments. That worked for some ... but homework/practice, no matter how limited, seems to be a struggle overall. I know... this comment hasn't been helpful but hopefully empathetic.

S. Leigh Nataro said...

I do like to see who is putting in the effort and who isn't relative to homework. It is important for me to know that as a teacher when it comes time to writing letters of recommendation and talking to parents. It is also important for me to know which problems students struggled on and they need an answer key to get a full idea of where they are struggling. Students need to also become better at monitoring their own understanding and not only do work because it is counting for a grade. I plan on not grading homework this year. Checking in on students to see where they had problems will still happen, but not formal grading of homework.