As with any assignment, the question of whether homework is essential depends on its purpose. Homework that helps to activate prior knowledge and prepare students for an upcoming lesson serves a much different purpose than one that is purely busy work. One well thought out problem may be enough to help students apply what they have learned in a different context, although it might not be conducive to developing fluency in a particular skill. An assignment that simply practices a skill learned in class may help develop confidence and procedural fluency in younger students, but be perceived as mundane and promote apathy towards mathematics in older students. The impact of homework can be both positive and negative depending on the nature of the assignment, the age of the student, and the time it takes to complete.
In considering whether or not homework should be graded, we might first revisit the purpose of grades in general. Grades should be reflective of a student’s level of mastery towards specific learning targets. To this end, homework should either not be graded or should be weighted so minimally that it will not misrepresent a student’s level of mastery. On the other hand, there are instances where students will not complete homework if it is not graded. In this case, one might contend that either homework has not been purposeful or has not contributed to student learning.
Like so many other things in education, there is probably a right time and a place for homework, and finding it, is a juggling act that must be purposeful and strategic if it’s going to have any impact on student learning.
Other questions to consider:
- We spend a lot of time talking about differentiated instruction. Should homework assignments be differentiated and tailored based on students’ readiness level?
- Grades are summative in nature. Is homework summative or formative?
- Feedback has been shown to promote student progress. How can we provide feedback to students on homework without assigning a grade?