I’m going to let you in on a little secret… Teachers HATE grading homework!! This post discusses the ways in which I have modified my homework collection practices (and a few teaching/grading practices).
My First Year Teaching
My cooperating teacher during my student teacher told me to make sure that I had a bin where students turned in their homework. This would eliminate students handing me homework or leaving it randomly on my desk.
When I started teaching, I got one of those clear shoeboxes from target that I put on the corner of my desk and students would put their work in after we had corrected it. This little bin was pretty much the worst decision of my first year of teaching. I was stuck on the idea of correcting every single homework problem. I taught about 90 students that first year and each of them had about 15 homework problems a night an average of four nights a week. A little simple math tells me that I would correct approximately 6,000 problems every week. I HATED EVERY SECOND OF IT!!
Yes, homework had a specific place to go and I didn’t have as many piles on my desk as I otherwise would. However, 6,000 problems every week (because when I read the answers out in class, students would just copy them) was INSANE! I also ended up with students papers mixed up all together. That meant that I would go from grading 6th grade work to 8th grade then a random late assignment from a 7th grader followed by a batch of papers from 6th grade. It was all over the place. In order to be semi-efficient, I had to sort all the papers first and then grade them. Then I had to deal with the nightmare of passing them back.
Part way through the school year, I managed to scrape together enough funds on my teacher salary to get some nicer bins (because I had gone through 3 of the shoeboxes because students kept pushing it off my desk accidentally and it always managed to overflow before I could get through the work).
These bins were awesome… one piece of paper fit exactly inside of the bin. I bought one bin for all 4 of my class periods, one for blank paper for students to show their work on, and one for graph paper. That means at any given time, there were 6 bins to put out for collecting papers. I made labels for each bin and taped them on the end to help students make sure that their papers were in the right bin. This at least tamed some of the chaos, but it was not the final answer. I still felt the need to correct every question and then give a score based on accuracy.
We were required to send home progress reports every week and never fail, there was something missing on my reports because I decided that sleep was more important than getting through the massive stack of grading that I had left. I discovered that if I had my assignments in the grade book, the tests and quizzes did not impact students grades at all. If a student turned in all of their work, they were pretty much guaranteed an A in the course. (Even if they failed every single test they took.)
I kept my separate bins for each class period I taught. Now I taught not only math but some variation of everything else. At some point during these two years, I taught pretty much every subject. (Even high school French for a short period!) Students still turned their work into the appropriate bin and then I would grade them. I gave up on grading every single question and instead graded for completeness and spot checked accuracy. Each assignment was now worth 10 points and pretty much everyone got a score between 5 and 10 if they turned the work in. However again because I didn’t have weighting figured out, students that turned in their work would still have higher grades regardless of how well they did on the tests and quizzes. I hated this because I was not assessing students and their content knowledge. Instead of spending time following up on student understanding, I was chasing them around asking them to turn in homework so that they could receive a passing grade. My administrator would sometimes insist that I change the students grades regardless of the amount of work that they completed.
The bins that I had were getting pretty beat up and finding space for them in the classroom was a bit annoying. Enter the IKEA trofast unit! I found this on pinterest and I fell in love! Work was still a jumbled mess and it was a challenge to sort out each assignment prior to grading.
Each drawer was labeled with one of my classes. Eventually I purchased a second one and then there was a bin for scratch paper and graph paper and whiteboards and anything else that I wanted! Work was still a jumbled mess and meant I had to sort out each bin prior to grading. I ended up handling every piece of paper a minimum of 2 times. My goal in homework was to handle it the fewest times possible.
In terms of grading at this point, I made every homework assignment worth 5 points and I would have students grade 5 problems from different sections of the homework and then give themselves a score out of 5. This score was recorded in the grade book. This at least allowed me to gain a better understanding of the students abilities and helped to keep tests an important part of the grade conversation. I did run into problems when it came to assignments that had 20 questions on them and were only worth 5 points. Then there were assignments that had 5 questions and were worth 5 points. When asked by a concerned parent about this, I explained that the assignments with 20 questions were ‘easier’ and lower on the depth of knowledge scale than those with only 5 questions which were labeled as “critical thinking.” For the most part this system worked even though I struggled with the fact that students were merely ‘playing school’ instead of truly understanding the content. It was about whether or not they turned in the work and performed on the assessments. Students weren’t concerned about ensuring that they understood the content from math class.
I changed schools at the beginning of year 7. My new school was a standards based school and homework was not supposed to be a factor in students grade. I was still expected to track it and report it to parents, but it was either completed or not. I attempted to check-in homework at the beginning of class. This was not successful for me because I was attempting to learn a new curriculum as well as improve/change my teaching style to include guided groups as well as the many initiatives that my new school had. I would mostly end up asking students to turn the homework into the bin and then at some point during the week I would check items in. Returning work was still a major pain and typically things were filed in the blue bin labeled recycling in my classroom. Because homework factored less into my grading, I gained a better understanding of my students knowledge through the guided groups and weekly assessments that I used. I still tended to let my bins pile up and the students weren’t truly feeling that they were accountable for the homework because it wasn’t regularly checked. Enter my newest (and frankly my favorite system!)
I invested in some poly folders from Staples. I bought one for each table in my classroom in four different colors (because I teach four different periods). I was even obsessive enough to get two different shades of blue for 8th grade since their book is blue and two shades of red for 7th grade since their book is (you guessed it) red. I labeled each folder with the class period and table ‘superhero’ and placed them in the trofast bins that I still love! Every week on Friday, students take out all their homework for the week. We spend a couple minutes talking about what each assignment was and listing it on the board (mostly to make sure that students know exactly what they need to turn in). Students then sort the assignments out at their table so that all of the similar pages are stacked together. We then place all of the work inside the folder. One pocket reads ‘turn in’ and the other says ‘pass back’. Students put the new homework into the turn in side and remove the papers from the pass back side. This is holding them more accountable for their work because even though I am not collecting it every day, I am collecting it regularly. Students are also seeing that I grade it regularly and I don’t fall as far behind on checking homework in. (Entering into the grade book is a different story… but there is always next year!) I think the thing I love the most is that I am using the half-sheets of paper that Fawn Nguyen talks about in this post to track the homework. (I love these lists and will never teach without them again!)
While I know that many places are moving away from assigning homework, I do believe that students should still have something to do at home. I want to put problems in front of my students similar to what they will see on the MCAs (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) when they take them in April. I want my students to be comfortable attempting problems even if they get them wrong. I want my students to struggle with understanding something and work on referencing back to the examples that are in the book or that are in their interactive notebooks. I want my students to work to make sense of the topics we review in class. Sometimes, my homework will be “explain your thinking on this problem we completed in class.” The most recent one that I was most excited for was “Create your own problem similar to these examples.” Homework has evolved from e assigning only the problems that were in the textbook to me asking students to create their own thinking about the problems.
While none of these systems are perfect, they were what brought me to my current state. While I am currently satisfied with the way that I am managing the paperwork in my classroom, I am sure that at some point my style will change again. That’s part of the beauty of teaching. I get to be flexible and evolve.
If you’ve made it to the end of this insanely long post, leave me a comment below! How do you collect homework? How have things changed since you started teaching?
As always Live Long & Learn!