Homework: Will kids do it if they don’t get a grade?

If you don’t grade homework, kids won’t do it. Duh.

Irving schools announced a reversal this week in their one-year-old policy to not grade homework. The new policy fostered laziness among students, said teachers, and kids tended to procrastinate learning the material until the night before the test.

Administrators first made the change to keep homework scores from inflating grades for kids who hadn’t mastered the material, but when all 5 district high schools had a majority of their students fail at least one class in the 5th six weeks, they heard an outcry from students, parents and teachers alike. Beginning this fall, a portfolio of class work and homework will count 20% toward student report card scores.

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RISD does count homework, but they give great leeway to classroom teachers regarding specifics. Some opt to give “completion grades,” meaning students earn high marks for merely making an attempt. Educators say this policy is best when the work is time-consuming and challenging, and when the mere act of practicing helps master the skill. Other teachers reward students who answer correctly with a higher score, to the delight of the uber-competitive set, fighting for every point on the GPA scale to get into the college of their choice.

Sadly, more college kids are taking the easy way out when it comes to their education today, according to a new essay in the New York Times. The average student spends only about 12 hours per week studying, about half the time a student in 1960 spent. And when choosing college courses, 32% did not take a single class requiring more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50% did not sign up for anything requiring more than 20 pages of writing per semester. How do the kids know? They’ll devote plenty of hours on social networks asking friends and strangers which professor is “easier.”

In addition to introducing his students to Shakespeare, Milton and Homer, LHHS’ David Wood seeks to help solidify his students’ study habits before they head off to universities around the country. Wood sees a growing number of students failing classes because they simply didn’t turn in their assignments. On the other hand, he says, when assigning homework, “teachers must have a clear academic purpose beyond merely filling the gradebook.”

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For his part, Wood continues assigning homework – mostly reading – to his senior AP English students. “Ironically,” he told me, “homework is increasingly necessary because so much learning and teaching time in class is sacrificed to TAKS/EOC testing.”

Ah, fodder for another blog, another day.

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