Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Grading Smarter, Not Harder! Homework Freebie!

I have linked up with Jen Bradshaw of Teaching, Life, and Everything in Between and others to do a book study on "Grading Smarter, Not Harder" by Myron Dueck.  What an interesting book!  Chapter two focuses on "uniform homework" which the author notes is homework that requires the same answers from every student as follow up or review to something that's been introduced in class.  He is not referring to projects or more in depth assignments that require work from home time.  Dueck proposes eliminating ALL "uniform homework."
Benefits of eliminating uniform homework:
  • More "you" time
  • More authentic planning time
  • Student data is more accurate as you've removed the behavioral/compliance component
Problems with uniform homework:
  • Confuses completion with understanding
  • Decreases intrinsic motivation- Why do it if it's not graded?
  • Inflated grades for students with parents who help
  • Deflated grades for struggling learners and students with challenging home environments
Suggestions for making homework meaningful:
  • In class quizzes that are a condensed form of optional homework the students can use for review.  Students are also provided options for retakes for improved mastery.
  • Homework profiles- Categorizing students in one of nine categories based on homework practice vs. classroom performance.
  • In-school assistance during ISS, lunch, or after school with administration.
  • Flipped classroom using technology to engage students in the basics and then extending these ideas in the classroom.

The barriers to homework completion are wide and varied!  In my personal experience, the environment was the greatest barrier.  Little brothers and sisters running around hootin' and hollerin', lack of parental routines, distractions from video games and other fun techy stuff, and the million other things that are way more fun than reading that silly old book for 20 minutes!  For my students with parents struggling financially, it was sometimes a food or electricity issue.  It's not much fun doing your homework in the driveway under the streetlight. 
In my fifteen years, it doesn't seem that there has ever been a set rule as to whether or not we should grade homework or even the quality/quantity of homework.  There are usual general guidelines per grade level which for my fourth and fifth graders was around 45 minutes to an hour.  This has always left me free to implement homework as I choose.  Generally, I provide a weekly newsletter that lays out our weekly expectations which includes reading at home every night, a short math practice (exit slip style), and I faithfully included National Geographic student magazine articles each week with close reading activities (before close reading became a buzz word!) to reinforce our reading strategies.  It was predictable and usually completed without much ado.  I did NOT generally grade these assignments.  They were meant to inform me of students' progress as I would conference with students each morning, or at least every other day.  Because parents/siblings can become involved in homework, which is FANTASTIC, it also alters the results, and I don't think it's fair to grade students because they may have more interaction at home than another student.  I also believe this is partially why I didn't have a lot of resistance, despite working in challenging schools!

This chapter focuses so intently on homework, it had my head spinning and thinking how I had never done enough!  Quite honestly, however, I think the perspective is also different from elementary school to middle/high school which is where this author is grounded.  From an elementary school teacher's perspective, really all of my questions revolved around one topic- TIME!
  • Where do you get the TIME to create the charts, compare homework practice to classroom performance, create the optional homework with mini quiz and secondary quizzes, grade these quizzes, and do your time in the cafeteria, ISS, or after school?  Again, from the elementary perspective, with multiple subjects on my plate, this all starts to sound overwhelming.  I can't imagine doing this for hundreds of students either and maintain your classroom instruction as well.  The implementation is probably tricky, but once you get it streamlined, the benefits are clear. 
Overall, I 98% agree with eliminating uniform homework, or at least the grading of uniform homework.  It does, in my experience, pad grades for the already successful kids and only serves to frustrate and deflate the grades of already struggling students.  I think I have created a system that works with my classes in my grade levels with my personality so that students, parents, and teachers are all satisfied and continuing to progress positively.  I have attached a copy of the form I use to track my conferences with students each morning as well as their progress in the homework concepts.  I generally use a simple scoring scale for my own reference  from 0-3.  I use these scale scores to pull groups, documentation for RTI meetings and/or ESE staffings, conferences with parents/students, and report card comments.  Stick a date on it, and file them for future reference!  It is totally editable for your use....I print mine out and keep it on a clipboard for the week.

This is definitely a book that makes you think about your practices and consider some alternatives that may really open students to more authentic learning experiences.  A worthy read!

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