Homework…What’s the Point?

Homework.  Does this word immediately cue groans from students, parents, even teachers?  If the very word evokes primarily negative thoughts, then what’s the point?

We all want our students to succeed.  There’s no disagreement there.  So, we prepare amazing lessons, include creative instructional strategies, and encourage rich discussions, all to help our students learn.  But, how do we know our students are really getting it?  “Knowledge….it’s what the students carry forward, not what you taught.”(Rick Wormeli)  In other words, just because we say it or do it, doesn’t mean they got it.

What if homework took on the role of formative assessment tool?  What if homework was used as a vehicle for teachers to gauge growth and students to relay their understanding of a concept?  Put homework behind the wheel and allow it to drive your instruction. Give homework the license to help you determine the needs of your students.

  • How can homework be used as a formative assessment?  What if….

    • ….homework shows students collectively have or have not mastered a concept?  Use homework data to plan for the next day’s instruction.  Keep your students’ pacing in mind rather than the textbook’s.  Homework data can also help us to evaluate our instruction’s effectiveness.
    • ….homework shows different levels of student understanding?  Use homework data to plan small group or remediation station instruction.
    • ….students’ in-class understanding of a concept determined their homework assignment?  (see section below: Should all homework assignments look the same.”)
    • students ace their homework?  Unsure if students had parental assistance on their homework ?  Give an entry or exit ticket with one or two similar problems.  Students will independently show what they know.
  • Should all homework assignments look the same?  What if….

    • ….students aren’t getting the concept? Ask them to complete just a few problems or questions, but also include a way for them to reflect on and show their thinking.  If students don’t understand a concept, there’s nothing worse than repeating the same misunderstanding multiple times.
    • students are getting the concept, but just need extra practice?  Give them an appropriate number of practice problems or questions to show they know, but also ask them to reflect on their progress.
    • students have the concept mastered?  Challenge them to go deeper, not just do more of the same.  Take them farther with an online application or performance demonstration.
  • How can homework become a two-way communication tool?  What if….

    • ….students had a way to give you real reflective feedback on the homework?  Ask students to tell you how they’re feeling about their understanding of the homework concept by:
      • adding a 1,2,3,4 at the top of the page. (ex. 1 = Help!  2= I’m starting to understand!  3= Almost there! 4 = Got it!)
      • drawing an emoji to show how they feel about the concept.
      • writing a reflection sentence. ( ex. One thing I want to tell you about my work is_______________.)
    • ….students received useful and descriptive feedback on their homework?  How many times have we written “GREAT JOB!” or added an “EXCELLENT!” sticker on our students’ papers?  What do our students really take away from those remarks?  Give them feedback that will help them further understand. (ex.  You worked hard to make sure each sentence started with a capital letter.)  Don’t want to spend the time?  Use a rubric or checklist to speed things up or talk to them in person during center rotation or small groups.  Taking time to be their constructive lens offers students a view they might not otherwise see on their own.
    • ….students only see the number or grade at the top of their homework?  When students see a letter grade/% at the top of the page, chances are they see it as their potential.  If it’s a new or nearly-new concept, consider not giving a grade.  Give students time to grasp the concept through formative homework assessment.  Remember….just because we taught it, doesn’t mean they’ve got it!

Homework.  Maybe there’s a point to it after all!