I've been throwing out this idea to a few of my colleagues: "Are we encouraging students to 'cheat' by assigning points to homework?" Because I teach math, I see assigning a "score" to homework each night as being in one of three categories:
1) Points are based on "effort" - if students attempt the problems, show their work, etc. they receive "points." Failing to showing work, checking with a pen and/or turn it in equates to fewer, if any points. In this scenario, students are rewarded for effort and encouraged to collaborate because "effort" counts. Students who are able to show "just enough work" or make their work look different from friends can still earn maximum credit. Students are, in a way, encouraged to "beat the system" if they don't understand the material...after all, effort, not mastery counts! This also creates a mismatch for students/parents. Do "points" equate to "learning" or "effort"? In other words, if a student has earned the maximum amount of "points" on their homework assignments, does that mean they "understand" it...or does it mean they "did it?" This can be confusing to stakeholders.

2) Students are rewarded homework points based on the number of problems they get correct each night. This rewards students who "get it" right away, but penalizes those who take longer to process or make several/many mistakes before overcoming their misconceptions. This also highly encourages students to cheat. If a student can figure out a way to get the "right" answers and sneak it by the teacher, he/she has "won" the points battle and has a better grade. To get the same results, why not just give students a test every day?

3) A third system is possible that combines the first two.

A colleague suggested some sort of in-class computer-scored assessment on a daily basis to take the place of a homework score. While I like this idea, because it gives students immediate feedback, I still am not sure if it should be 'graded.' When do students get a chance to make mistakes? Shouldn't their grade reflect their "summative learning" rather than some sort of "points" system that attempts to keep them accountable?

More thoughts are available on my blog. What ways have you found, both with and without technology to get around the "points" system and instead emphasize learning?

Tags: assessment, homework, math

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A few suggestions would be to 1) reduce the number of homework problems and 2) give each student a unique set if problems (unique numbers and be produced in excel using the random number function - be sure to create an answer sheet for each worksheet).

As to grading, the grade is merely a number that reflects whatever values are inputted into. If you assign points for effort, then it becomes a practice sheet. If you grade it for accuracy, it reflect summative learning. If your district or state wants points for homework, they are telling you that the final grade is not to be summative, but to show effort.
Honestly, I don't think it is fair at all to grade practice. Don't we learn the most from our mistakes? Why couldn't homework be considered a plus or minus in your grade book so you can keep track of how much the kids are understanding of the work and target those who do understand it. Honestly, I think practice homework has no place on a final grade, as does anything dealing with effort.

Have you read the work of Ken O'Connor (no relation)? I just started implementing his strategies this last school year, and I am very pleased with the results. It really made me look at the purpose of grading in a different light.

You might also find this you tube interesting.


Good luck!

The reason to reduce the number of problems is that fewer problems can encourage the student to do their own work since the pile of problems is less onerous. It there are three well-developed problems instead of 10 or 15, the student is more likely to make the "effort" to solve them by him/herself.

Do you not want the student to consult a parent or another student on method? If not, use an in-class assignment and hawkeye so that cheating doesn't take place. Choose problems for homework that the student can (perhaps even encouraged) to collaborate to get the answer. Copying is prevented by the problems having different number and perhaps other differences.

If you know how to do random numbers in excel, set up a bank of problems - maybe 30 problem for a class of 20. Set the worksheet to randomly select which three problems are presented, and randomize the numerals in each problem.

For homework, word/story problems are best since the usually involve some critical thinking in solution. One thing to seriously consider including is more numbers than are necessary to solve the prolem. If you develop these excels, you will be able to use them year after year, and the assignments will always be unique. You could even randomize terms in the problems, randomize names, randomize objects, randomize nouns in the problems. The more parts of the probems are randomized, the less likely that someone can provide the answer without proving considerable assistance in learning how to solve the problems. If you are teaching basic calculations with whole numbers and decimals, I have excels that are set up to do this. If you are working with higher math, I havent done those yet.
another good idea - modeled after michael wesch - have online quizzes that the kids take (there are tons of good sites for this) to make sure they got the homework. since it's online - you could also include subsequent possible practice quizzes if they don't pass it the first time. anyway - they do the online quiz for practice before the class quiz - or class discussion (however you want to approach it) - which then can be for a grade.

I glance at homework during the week for attempts at the assigned problems. Students turn in their homework on the day of the test. When I grade the the test I evaluate the homework but not student can score more than 1.5 times their grade on the test. If they pass the test they can make 100% on the homework grade. If they make 50 on the test, they can make 75% on their homework. Since I assign homework with the test in mind, if they learn to do the homework (from me or collaboration with others) then they will pass the test. I teach Chemistry so I am using this with high school students. So if they copy without learning then they fail the test and should also make a lower grade on the homework.
Thoughts on homework:
1) homework can be dangerous. If a student actually tries to do it himself with no help, he may be doing it incorrectly and thus reinforcing bad practice.
2) If he cheats, he is reinforcing bad practice.
3) if we are truly teaching to standards, then the assessment should measure the achievement of the standard rather than their effort.
4) the best measure of achievement is authentic. Practical problems may be difficult to come up with, but they will serve far better than homework or a test of the nature we see in texts, etc.
5) I far prefer daily quizzes and an assessment as to what they are missing.
6) I also far prefer in-class assignments for a variety of reasons: I can monitor who actually does the work, I can sooner detect and remediate bad practices, I can assess what reinforcement is needed in the classroom.
I agree with #6. In class assignments definitely makes students directly accountable and you can assess any struggles at their root.
Just jumping in but this topic is one I have worked with for years...as all math teachers have.

I read all of O'Connors work and agree with most of it. I have tried to offer no percentage weight to homework (practice) and it has worked for advanced students but to the average student they struggle with it. Here is my take on homework and a method I am using that I have found HUGE success and the best of both worlds.

1. It should have little to no affect on the overall grade. As stated in an earlier blog...it is practice and why are we punished for practice.

2. I assign 4 problems a day. That's it. The first problem is for basic understanding, the next two cover the average level of knowledge needed and the 4th pushes their knowledge to a higher level. I have a sheet that helps them with showing their work. I have the students work out the problems, then and MOST IMPORTANTLY they must explain how they arrived to their solution. This takes the place of all that remediation we are all trying to avoid. If they can explain how they got to their solution they can then perform the same work on additional problems.

3. As far as tests are concerned, students take tests as usual however any any chapter test, they can retake the test for full credi (whatever they earn). A few things must happen for this to occur. They MUST "begin the process" (remediation) within a week of the test and they must complete all tehir homeowrk to a "satisfactory" level.

This works because those stduents who "get it" only need to do those problems to show their understanding, however those that struggle are forced to do the remediation they alwasy hate doing.
It took my a lot of time to get the students to understand the diffference between doing work for learning rather than completion (and it has to be re-done every year!). The writing is the major component. Without that there is no reflection. I am very particualr on giving them credit when the writing is poor. Oh, by the way, homework is only worth 5% of the grade (essentially nothing by the end of the semester.
Great subject. I, too, am interested in the school-home connection and the cheating issue. I also agree that we should award points to effort/practice, not "correctness" of the assigned work. As far as the accountablity issue, last year I devolved all of my homework grading to the parents of my seventh grade ELA students.

On back-to-school night I make a deal with parents: I won't assign grammar or essay homework, if you will supervise your child's reading-discussion homework. No parent at the middle school or high school level wants to supervise the former. Parents graded a three-minute discussion of the daily homework reading. Students led the discussion with reading comprehension strategy discussion prompts. I got a high degree of buy-in from parents and students. I flesh out this homework program much more on my blog at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-get-students-to...
I struggled with this concept last year. I was assigning homework everything and grading it for accuracy (myself) everyday. This became overwhelming and students didn't seem to be learning b/c my feedback was lacking toward the end of an assignment. Also, I had many students cheating. What I ended up doing is changing my system. I still assigned homework nightly and gave a small amount of points for completing it. We graded it in class and them I took quesitons. After about 2-3 lessons, I assigned a quick Accuracy wkst, so I could see how much students absorbed. After about two accuracy assignments I gave a quiz. The accuracy wkst was completed at the beginning of class and took about 10 minutes. I then provided good feedback to students and they were able to make changes if they wanted to. I feel that I got a much better understanding of what students had learned and students were more apt to complete their own homework because they knew it was important. I entered the assignments in differently so parents could tell exactly where the homework points were coming from. It gave a percentage for completeness(effort) and accuracy.



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