Making Homework Meaningful – and Less of a Burden
“Is homework a subject or a method?” asks former superintendent Lee Jenkins in this thoughtful article in Middle Ground. “If it is a subject, shouldn’t teachers request that homework grades be included on the report card alongside other subjects? If it is a method, how can teachers justify grading students on instructional methods?”
Jenkins likes the approach used by Minnesota teacher John McDonald, who doesn’t collect or grade homework but gives a short quiz at the beginning of class on what the homework covered. This approach is efficient and fair. “Think about it,” says Jenkins. “With this strategy, homework is no longer about writing something down to hand in; instead, it is about learning… The final goal is to know the answer to the questions.” This solves a number of perennial problems:
– Students who know the content can skip the burden of doing redundant homework since the focus is on mastery, whether that comes from completing the homework assignment, paying attention in class, or background knowledge.
– Nothing is gained by copying another student’s homework or having a parent do the assignment.
– Lots of teacher time that would be used correcting homework is freed up to do more effective, creative things for students.
Jenkins has shared this idea with many educators and passes along two stories: A middle-school math teacher has early-arriving students roll dice to see which two homework problems will be featured in the quiz. This teacher says the percent of students getting D and F in his classes has dropped from 27 to 9 percent. And the parent of a high-achieving student reports that he spends part of his evenings fielding calls from classmates who need help with their math homework rather than doing assignments himself.
“Homework should have a purpose,” concludes Jenkins, “and that purpose should be to increase knowledge and understanding.”