I often hear teachers say they have been told that homework should not be graded. This message is a source of confusion.
Somehow, students have interpreted this as “homework doesn’t count, so I don’t really need to put any effort into it.” This is not the message we want to send. Any work given to students should be designed to further their understanding and increase levels of achievement. It is crucial to their success and that message needs to be loud and clear.
Formative and summative work
Let’s consider the terms “formative” and “summative” in order to best understand the connection to grading and reporting. Formative work is intended to pre-assess knowledge and skills, establish background knowledge regarding a new topic that will be addressed, or provide practice intended to solidify understanding. The results of this work are used by the teacher to determine the next steps in the learning process. Summative work occurs after practice and is intended to provide evidence of understanding. When summative work is assigned, teachers are confident that students have had ample practice and have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform accurately.
The more accurate message about homework then, is that homework, when formative in nature, should not influence a report card grade. Tracking student performance, however, provides valuable data to the teacher and student as well. Grading, for the purpose of this blog, refers to keeping a record of student performance on all assignments given to students, in and outside of class, whether the work is formative or summative. Grading does not mean that all work influences a report card grade. Does this need to be a letter or numerical grade on all work that students do? Because letter and numerical grades provide no source of feedback, the answer is no. Instead, feedback provides students with a pathway to improvement. As a result, it seems that feedback on all work has great potential to get students to the next level of success. A grade does not serve that purpose.
Tracking student growth
That being said, in order to have data to identify student performance over time, a method needs to be chosen to track student growth, likely in a gradebook. The purpose is to use the information while evaluating performance and determining next steps, but not to influence a report card grade. If a student does well on formative work, but struggles when completing a summative assessment, this information is helpful when working with the student. When data show that the class does extremely well with formative work, the timing is right for a summative experience. Patterns may develop between the teaching strategies used and success on formative work. Certain types of work may result in increased student performance. Unless we record the information, we can miss valuable information.
‘Checking in’ with our students
“Checking in” formative assignments without some reference to the quality of the work does not provide enough information for future decision-making. By “checking in,” I am referring to simply recording if students did or did not do the assignment. Recording a quality indicator, like a number or letter, provides information that is useful in the short and long term.
Now let’s consider the terms formative and summative as they relate to homework. Homework is traditionally thought of as formative and is likely most often formative in nature. It provides students with the opportunity to practice skills or processes they are learning but have not yet mastered. We keep track of the levels of success on all homework, but allow only summative to impact a report card grade.
With any homework, we are interested in students experiencing the highest levels of success possible. We are also interested in having students see the connection between homework and their increased levels of success. Ideally, students should understand the crucial nature of homework, just as we do. With that in mind, let’s consider purpose, relevance, doability, and quantity.
Providing purpose for an assignment gives students an understanding of why they should put in effort to demonstrate their understanding of the work. They need to realize that they benefit from the work because of its direct connection to the learning targets. We want the focus to be on the learning, not on the grade, and not because the teacher told them they had to do it. The connection of purpose between the assignment and the learning can impact the result.
Relevance refers to the connections we can make for the students between the learning targets and the usefulness of the information. How does what they are learning impact their future success in school? How do the targets relate to purposes in the real world? How are the concepts and skills related to careers?
In order to confirm doability, consider student knowledge and skills needed prior to giving any assignment and assessment. What degree of confidence do we have that students understand the task at hand so they have the likelihood of a successful outcome? After presenting information in a lesson, a small group task, and then a brief individual performance evaluated immediately, can help us be secure that students are ready to continue on their own. Confidence in student ability will promote doability.
The fourth consideration is quantity. When any assignment is given, we want to make sure it is the right amount. What amount of evidence to we need to ensure that students understand, but not so much that the task is overwhelming? The right balance will provide us with the information we need, and give students the opportunity to practice or demonstrate previously learned skills in a way that is a reasonable measurement of their performance. The right quantity is likely to improve the student’s desire for a quality and complete result.
What role does homework play in the world of grading and reporting? If formative, it has no influence on the report card grade, but greatly influences decision making both immediately and in the future.
Depka, E. (2015). Bringing homework into focus: Tools and tips to enhance practices, design, and feedback. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.