Homework (What is it good for?)

Sorry about the horrible title but that seems to be a common thought right now. A good summary of the thought process can be found here (although its a slightly older post). There are many problems with homework;

– The originality and authorship of the work is very unclear.
– It is often too easy or too difficult for some students leading to frustration, wasted time, both, or just undone homework.
– The grades for homework combine academic grades (although at the point above notes they might not be correct grades if the work is too easy or too hard) and behavior grades (penalties or willingly or unwillingly not turning it in)
– Homework can be seen as a stand in for poor time management on the part of the teacher.

I’m going to ignore the final problem. It can be an issue and I think all teachers are guilty of it at some point but its not the biggest problem. Similarly, while I care about the first problem its not my concern right now. If I can get HW set up so that I can get meaningful academic grades out of it while giving the students meaningful practice I’ll be happy to seriously worry about academic honesty. BTW, one reason I can dismiss honesty so quickly is that I have already moved to a system with low value for HW, grading on attempt/completion, and recitation type student problem presentations on whiteboards. Its not perfect but it satisfies my desire to have them practice, the administrations desire to have multiple weekly grades, and my growing dissatisfaction of lumping behavior grades with academic grades. This way if a student gets too frustrated by the problems they can turn in their attempts and still get credit so copying isn’t required.

That still leaves two big issues for me; unwilling failures to turn in HW and the mismatch of HW with the practice needs of the students. I feel that a teacher has the right to assign work outside of class. But realistically there will be times that our students can not complete this work even thought they might want to. Unwilling failures to turn in HW are those times when the student lost it, was just involved in too much stuff, was occupied with other bigger issues, or was unable to complete the assignment for some other reason outside of their control. Going under the assumption that practice (ie HW) is generally a good thing I do not want to reward the students for not doing it but I also do not want their behavior issues (even those that are bad personal decisions) to doom them academically.

At this point i”m going to leave the last issue for another post.

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