Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why should I bother with this homework?

Dear Teacher,

In this standards based grading system, my classmates tell me that homework doesn't count, that I don't get any "credit" for doing it.  Why should I bother doing it or doing it well the first time if I just get to re-do it?

Your Student

Dear Student,

     Thank you for your question and your openness. I'd like to help you change a misconception you have about homework not "counting" and share some perspectives I have about the role of homework in my class and in learning.  My hope for you is that in a few years you will graduate and maybe go to college. If you don't go to to college, that's ok too, but I want you to find a job or career that brings you success and happiness.  In most jobs and careers there will not be homework. There will only be the job or tasks that need to be accomplished. Your boss will care mostly about results.  You will need to ask yourself "Have I done the work that I needed to do to help  the company achieve their goals in the most efficient way possible? Have I done enough to keep my job or even advance into new challenging ones?"  The kinds of skills you will need will be hard work, perseverance, adaptability, collaboration, communication and a willingness to learn new skills and content on your own time.  At its simplest level, your motivation will be to maintain your job and earn a secure paycheck. At a more sophisticated  level, I hope your motivation will be to push yourself harder and further than you ever can in reaching your goals and dreams.

      Back to the issue of homework. I don’t like to give homework and I often feel that if we have both done our job in class together, there may not be a need for any at all. However,  in my class , if and when I  give you homework, there will be four kinds with four very different purposes. The first will be preview. I might ask you to explore the kinds of things that will help you to build some basic background knowledge. It might be a bit of reading, it might be a few problems to try, it might be to watch a brief video. The purpose will be to help you have a context for learning either the next day in class or somewhere down the road. This homework shouldn't take you a long time to do. It's purpose is to "prime the pump" so to speak.  Typically, everyone in the class will be given this homework (if my pre-assessments tell me that most students do not understand the concept or have the background knowledge yet). I won't be assessing this work but you will absolutely be expected to use this new information in class the next day during discussions with peers and within the activities we do together.  If you don’t do them,  you might  feel like you might have missed something during the class discussion. But you will still have time to catch up with us. I might ask you to do the reading or watch the video while the rest of us are doing something else together. This is not a punishment. It is laying a foundation you will need to be more successful.  Remember, when you have a job someday, you will need to begin to learn new things on your own to stay up to date with new technologies, new information, and new ideas to bring back to your company.

      The next kind of homework I will sometimes give you is practice.  At home practice is needed when the evidence you provide me in class shows me that you need to try it a few more times to truly "get it". I will do my best to help you in class, give you time to work with peers and practice with them. I will also do my best to make sure you understand a concept at a basic level before asking you to go home and practice it some more.  When I ask you to practice something, chances are, not everyone in class will have the same type of practice as you. And some students may not need the practice at all.  There will be times when you will not need the practice either. This is not a punishment. It is meant to help you become better at something you might not be very good at yet.  And sometimes, you might already understand and can do it, but I want to challenge you to reach beyond what you think you know and can do. Don't shy away from this challenge. Embrace it.
   If you show proficiency in the practice homework, it will always be considered as evidence in  your overall "grade" for that learning target, but it's ok to struggle and it's ok to not get it the first time.We know that the best kinds of practice are those in which we practice something we can not yet do well.  To FAIL means  your First Attempt In Learning and it wouldn't be fair of me to lump the first, second, or even third attempts as "evidence". I am going to use all of these attempts (both inside and outside) to help you get to where you need to go and to do what you need to be able to do. When I give you practice types of homework, they will be respectful of you as a learner. I promise to give you practice that is both at your individual level of need as well as not overbearing on your time at home. We will use this practice together to help you become proficient at the skills you need to shore up.  I will provide you feedback that is timely, actionable, and respectful to you as a learner.   Remember, when you have a job someday, you will need to practice the skills, learn new skills, and improve upon them to help make your company grow and achieve their goals.

     The next kind of homework will be performance or evidence. This homework will require you to apply all of the practice in a new way. It will prove to me that you understand and can do the work. Typically, this homework won't be given very often, but it will help me to see you as a learner in a new way if I do not have enough evidence in class. This kind of work will ask you to think critically and creatively. It will help me to see if all of the preview and practice has paid off. It will be a piece of evidence we use to help us decide together whether you truly understand and can do the target we set before you.  Not everyone in class will have the same type of performance task as you. And some students may not have an outside of class performance task at all.  There will be times when you will not need to do a performance task out of class either. This is not a punishment. It is intended to give you another opportunity and for me to collect more evidence of what you know and can do.  Part of this process will involve you assessing yourself and reflecting on what you know and can do. I will provide you feedback that is timely,  actionable, and respectful of you as learner so that you can improve upon future learning.  If you have done the hard work in class and on the occasional practice I have asked you to do at home, performance based homework should confirm what we both know about you as a learner. It should tell us that you are proficient or advanced.  If it doesn't, we will need to go back and practice some more. And this is ok, because I will never stop helping you, and I will never allow you to quit.  Remember, when you have a job someday, you will be asked to perform. You will be asked to see a process through until the very end. You will be evaluated on it and given feedback on how you can improve. But if you don't use the grit, perseverance, and passion to learn throughout the entire process, the final piece will show that you did not use all of the right tools in your toolbox to achieve the goal. This is why we need to give our maximum effort at all times, to try our hardest the first time.  We can never be our personal best if we hold back at any point in the process.

     The last kind of homework in my class will be the homework that I never assign to you. My hope for you is that on a daily basis you will be engaging in personally meaningful and challenging learning experiences and that you will want to continue doing that when you leave my class. My hope is that you will talk to your friends and family about what you are learning and the challenges you are facing. My hope is that you will seek out new information from other experts and from the internet to help support the learning you are doing in my class. My hope is that each night you will review your notes and/or reflect on the learning we did in class to help prepare you for the next day's challenges. My hope is that you will recognize the need to continuously improve and learn and that your opportunities for learning will never stop, even when traditional schooling ends.

     In the end, the most important thing for you to understand is that I will not allow you to take the easy way out. I will not allow you to settle. You will work hard and you will struggle at times. I will never let you stop and I will always demand your very best. I will do my very best to make every "at home" assignment I choose to give you,  relevant to you and worth your time commitment. In return, I expect you to complete them to the best of your ability. When you don't, I will give them back to you and demand a better effort. I will not give you feedback for improvement until you do. When you do not turn things in or do not turn them in on time, there will be consequences, such as pulling you from lunch or requiring you to stay after school with me to show me evidence of your learning. This will not be detention. It will be time we will spend together to talk about your choices and help you make the best choices for your learning in the future. My goal is to ensure you are learning and reaching your maximum potential. You may get more "homework" from me than in the past or you may get less than you are used to. No matter what, my goal will always be to help you be successful and learn to your greatest potential.

Your Teacher


  1. Well said. It's so important to not only teach content, but to teach students how to learn. This message can be part of great instruction in helping students learn how to learn.

  2. Marvelous work!. Blog is brilliantly written and provides all necessary information I really like this site. Thanks for sharing this useful post.