Most students are motivated by grades and if they know that an assignment isn’t going to be graded, it becomes about as important to them as finding a good mutual fund to invest in for retirement. So how do you assign meaningful homework when your district has a policy that doesn’t allow for it to be graded?
It has taken several years for my team and I to figure out what works best in our classrooms, and we continue to tweak the process. Here are some strategies that we have come up with for meaningful homework assignments.
1. Assign quality over quantity.
As a math teacher, I was used to assigning upwards of twenty problems a night that were often repetitive and lacked depth. Depending on the subject, try to assign only a handful of problems that allow students to practice what they learned, and one or two that really challenge their critical thinking skills.
2. Encourage more.
Even if I’m only assigning a handful of problems, there are always more available. Try to narrow down the problems to cover a range of difficulty, and a variety of strategies that must be used. There’s still no way I can get students to do every type of problem I want them to practice and keep their homework manageable. Let students know that if they find the problems that were assigned to be difficult, then they need to do more on their own. Most will. Some will do it on the nightly homework, some will do it when studying for the test, but the students who want to do well will always do extra when they’re struggling.
3. Don’t grade it, but still kinda grade it.
Many teachers used to grade homework only on completion and that inflated students’ grades. If we grade only summative assessments, then the grade accurately reflects what students know, which is how it should be. But, it’s still nice to keep track of completion both for ourselves and for parents. It’s nice to be able to say, “Well, maaaaaaybe the reason your son isn’t doing well is that he only completes 40% of the homework.”
4. Put homework problems on assessments—and let the students know that you’re doing it.
I have taken homework problems and put the exact same problem on a quiz or test. When we go over the quiz or test, I tell my students, “If you did the practice problems I suggested the night before the test, this was one of them.” If students didn’t understand that doing the homework will help them on the assessments before they took it, this idea will quickly become very clear to them and they will want to start doing the homework.
5. Make it a requirement for something else.
My district also requires teachers to allow test retakes, and teachers can decide what makes a student eligible to retake. No homework? No retake. You may choose to require only a certain percentage of the work to be done. Or, you may require that no assignments were late. You might even allow the retake on the condition that they go back and make up work that was missing. If students didn’t make an effort to learn the material before the assessment, then they don’t get to retake.
6. Grade it.
I know, I know. I said we can’t grade it. BUT, we can if it’s NOT practice. If the concept has been taught previously and students have had time to practice multiple times and come in for help if they needed it, you can go ahead and assign it as homework and grade it. You might tell students that once a week you will collect homework and grade a review problem. Then do it – don’t make it an empty threat, make it part of your homework policy. You can even wait until you have gone over it in class before you collect it. The only excuse for not getting it correct is that they simply chose not to do it and not to fix it when given the opportunity.
7. Invite them to a homework party!
If you have students who habitually fall behind on the homework and show no interest in catching up, invite them to a homework party after school. Give them an invitation and let them know attendance is mandatory. (Yes, this is a detention, but it’s disguised as a party! Kids love parties!). Often, students who aren’t doing homework need the extra help anyway and won’t come in without you requiring it. Some students will be pushed to do the homework to avoid your super fun parties. The students who really need extra help will see this as a more positive alternative to a detention.
8. No homework, no test.
I’ve known teachers who would not allow a student to take a test until all the homework was done. This can be a nightmare, because some students will simply choose not to take the test either! (Then they get their invitation to the homework party.) This one works best when nothing else seems to work with the habitual homework avoiders who really do need the practice to be successful. It also works better when you provide additional help to the student so they can complete the work, since it’s very likely that they’re not doing it because they’re discouraged.
9. Let them choose.
This one is especially useful when faced with a chapter review which has dozens of problems. You know what’s going to happen if you tell them to pick ten problems. They will pick the ten easiest problems. But if you assign ten problems, you might be assigning problems that some students don’t really need to practice. Tell them to pick one problem in each group of 10 in order to do some easy problems and some advanced problems.
What are your strategies for creating meaningful homework? Please share in the comments.