Homework Paradigm – Part II or Wanna Be Happy? Then don’t grade homework

I analyzed the homework survey results from Sam’s blog.  He asked teachers a series of questions about their homework polices.

What I was most interested in how teachers were grading and if they were happy.  Sixty-eight percent of teachers that answered the survey are grading homework for completion only.

Homework Graded Pie Chart

However, I was most interested in which teachers were the happiest with their homework procedures.  Apparently…

Teachers who are the happiest with their homework procedures are NOT grading homework, not even for completion.  I was thrilled by this result.  Forget the fact that I am going to be a happier person if I do not have to spend many hours grading homework.  Apparently I will also be happier with my homework system if I do not grade homework.  This is classic win-win.


Numbers.  Sam received 40 responses, which satisfies the minimum number required needed to perform statistical calculations.  However, I did not run the numbers through any tests, I just analyzed the resulting percentages, quick and dirty.

Subjectivity. As the responses were open-ended response, I had to use my judgment in categorizing the responses regarding happiness.  I used a scale from 1 – 3.  With 1 being very forms of not happy (i.e. – dislike, hate it), 2 being somewhat happy, and 3 being happy or very happy.

Best Homework Practices – Summary of Ideas

I pulled these ideas from the teachers comments in the survey and my own thoughts.  Specific quotes from the actual survey are at the end.  Many of the ideas here came from and are presented on the Math Teacher Wiki Homework page.


  • Create the proper homework culture at the beginning of the year
  • Be consistent – do not give up or change it
  • Call homework “assignments” or “practice”
  • Do not make it a large percentage of students grade if you do decide to grade it


  • Make it relevant (homework as preparation for class discussions)
  • Include review problems
  • Exit Card – One problem each day at end of lesson to be quickly graded, then can base hw off of that (maybe the hw levels)?
  • Differentiated HW –
    • Optional Homework
    • Assign section only – do as many or as few as you need (time limit idea – work for 30 minutes)
    • Pick 5 problems that are not too easy for you to do out of section
    • Recommended / Suggested problems from teacher

At Home:

  • Put the responsibility on students to self-evaluate what they don’t understand
  • Online homework evaluation each night
  • Law of Diminishing returns – don’t kill em with homework. A Duke Study cites a “10 minute per grade level” rule that my school lives by.  I love it.
    • STOP after you have worked 30 minutes on hw (with no other distractions)

After the Homework is completed:

  • Have students put up problems they don’t understand, other students work them on board
  • Red/Yellow/Green
  • Homework Quizzes

In Summary:

I think our major problem as educators is that most students are not intrinsically motivated to do homework.  Until we can change this, I don’t think that any of us are going to be very “happy” with homework results for long.  This got me thinking…

What is the motivation to do homework?

Homework is the definition of anti-climatic.  It comes at the very end and doesn’t play into the story at all.  The lesson is finished, the homework is independent, it won’t even be “really” graded, and tomorrow we will be talking about something entirely different.

Why would students care about homework?  Because we force them? Because we are going to give them a bad grade?  Because we are going to call their parents?  Because they are going to be “embarrassed” that they did not do it?  These are not motivators – these are threats.  These threats are what lead students to do a poor, sloppy job on homework, the period before it is due, half-copying from their classmates.

In order to change the effectiveness of homework assignments, we need to change how these assignments work.  We need to make homework relevant, not only to the lesson of the past, but also to the lesson of the next day, if possible.  Can we make it practice of the current day, and the topic of the next day?  If this is too hard to accomplish, then what CAN we do to motivate students to do homework?

What can we do to make homework important to students, to make it relevant, and most importantly, to make them want to do it well?

I copied my favorite comments and ideas from the survey here:

These are straight quotes from the teachers who participated in the survey.  Thanks to all of those wonderful teachers for sharing their insights and to Sam for getting it started and putting it all together for us all!

The one thing that I know I would have to do, to implement any of these ideas, is to BE CONSISTENT with it and DO NOT GIVE UP OR CHANGE IT.
The thing that works is that students have answers for the problems assigned and are required to do the homework, check the homework and come to class already knowing what they don’t understand.  The burden is on them to figure out what they need help with.  I do check to make sure they have done and checked each assignment, but it is not a culture of me correcting homework to give credit for correct answers.  They get credit for doing the HW and checking it.
I never called it “homework”, I called it “Assignments” and this year I will call it “Practice”. That better describes the purpose and intent of the assignment.
I will also require a writing element to every Practice I put on the board just to reinforce the idea of thinking instead of just doing.
Well, next year my guiding principle is going to be Homework as Preparation for Class Discussions
I’m studying Philips Exeter’s Harkness Method as a way to help me see teaching in a different way
Include review problems in hw
Have students create an “exit card” with one problem each day that demonstrates whether they have mastered a specific kind of problem or concept.

Suggestion:  the “exit card” I mentioned above will be graded.  However, if the student does not demonstrate mastery, then I will have them show me their homework and make suggestions for the kinds of problems they need to focus on with their tutor.

I like to put the responsibility on the students to self-evaluate how well they are understanding the material
Neither grade it nor collect it, but give roughly-weekly quizzes that come verbatim from the assigned list. I include the exercise number on the quiz problem to assure students that the HW had been assigned. There are 12 of these quizzes @ 20 points each; I count the maximum score as being 220, so students can miss up to 20 points on these quizzes before having any negative effect on their grade. An average score of 18 is therefore a “perfect” score, allowing students to make some limited mistakes. (These are formative assessments, and I explain to students what that means.) Students who score above 18 on average end up with extra credit. Quizzes count for about 20% of the grade total.
Typically i do the following:

At the beginning of each unit/chapter I hand out a list of assignments from the text (I use Geometry by Lang/Murrow). I label them “Recommended” and “Suggested.” The recommended problems are the ones I tell the students are the minimum they should be able to do if they understand the topic, the suggested are if they want extra practice. I do not “require” any problems.

For actual homework however I will usually tell them “Problems section 4.3” They are then to do as many or as few problems as the feel necessary. Helping students realize that some practice is necessary is part of my goal, along with deciding what is reasonable to be doing. What they turn in though are the answers to 3 questions:

1. “What did you learn?” They can refer to whatever occurred in class the day before that resonated or something that they finally understood while reviewing their notes or doing problems.

2. “What specific question(s) do you still have?” They must make the questions specific and not of the “How do you do #13?” variety. If they say they can’t think of a question, I tell them to come up with a “What if…?” type question. Asking questions is a huge part of what I teach.

3. “What specific problem did you have?” This is reserved for the nights when their are problems involved (I also give assignments with just reading or other activities.). Here is where they can identify the one problem that they just could not get. They have to write out the problem as well as any work they were able to do on it.

The rule at our school is that regular classes (at the high school level) cannot have more than 45 minutes of homework and honors level 1 hour. I tell them to stop whatever they are doing (reading, problems, etc.) to allow themselves time to answer the 3 questions in the allotted time. Most spend less, some work beyond because they choose to.
I give a short quiz at the beginning of class in which the problems come directly from the homework – students are allowed to use their homework on the quiz.

3 thoughts on “Homework Paradigm – Part II or Wanna Be Happy? Then don’t grade homework

  1. We are having an on going conversation about homework at our school right now (especially in the Middle School) — for my 7th graders, according to the Duke Study, an acceptable amount would be 70minutes of homework TOTAL (all classes combined). But, how do the students find a balance with multiple periods? Do you speak with your grade level team to discuss how you will all work together to keep the load at 70minutes? Do you account for students who work at a slower pace?

    • Yes to all of your questions. At our team meetings, we regularly discuss the amount of homework students have. On our class pages, we coordinate tests and large assignments so students are not overwhelmed. In advisory we ask students how much homework on average they are doing nightly. Also, we tell the students to stop if they have been working for more than 30 minutes on any one subject and send the teacher an email. This keeps the homework usually under 45 minutes. At the first conferences we also inform parents that it is ok that their student is doing about one hour or less of homework each night. Children spend 8+ hours in school and then most of our students play sports. We are a small school so many students play for the school to help populate the teams. I think that a lighter homework load is a life saver for such young students. I love our homework policy! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Meaningful Homework and CPM | I Speak Math

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s