I recently met with a student who had failing grades in all of their core classes. Before calling them into my office, I printed off their grade report and reviewed a litany of missing assignments and zeroes. Even I felt overwhelmed and a bit discouraged as I viewed the damage. For this student, the focus of school had shifted. It was no longer about learning, it was about turning enough of the “m’s” and zeroes into a point value that would lead to passing grades. As I looked at the sheets of paper in front of me, I knew the questions I would ask:
- Do you have the assignments you are missing?
- Are you staying for tutoring?
- Do you have a plan for completing all of this work?
Not exactly compelling questions for generating a meaningful conservation with a teenager. Instead, this student and I will spend the next few weeks chasing homework. Please don’t misunderstand – I am not excusing the student from their responsibilities and I am not advocating the complete elimination of homework (although I know some readers will make that argument). However, it does not take a great deal of reflection to see how homework assignments can quickly lose any intended purpose and merely become a means to a grade.
A few things to consider if you are going to assign homework:
- Is there a clear purpose and direct benefit to the student?
- Will the students receive feedback – written, verbal, or other?
- Do the students possess the knowledge and understanding to be able to complete the assignment?
- Will the students use the assignment during classroom instruction (i.e. collected data, journal entries, reflections)?
- Can the assignment be completed in a reasonable about of time?
- Does the assignment provide information that will guide instruction?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” you may want to reconsider making the assignment. Remember, it is about learning, not grades. Stop chasing homework.