Behind the Blog

Behind the Blog
My name is Cindy Kruse and I've been learning from elementary students for the past 16 years. I enjoy discovering new technology and implementing it in the classroom, absolutely love literacy, and am passionate about Responsive Classroom. I am constantly striving to learn new and innovative ways to teach students in order to provide authentic, interesting, and joyful classrooms.


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Friday, February 18, 2011

Take the time to ask "Why?"

There are some bastions of education that are considered "holy ground". These practices in the classroom have been around for so long that we don't even question why we do them, we just make sure they get done. The issues of homework and grading fall into this category. They are currently topics of controversy among educators willing to place their practices under the microscope for closer inspection. The main reason for the debate is that we have failed to stop and ask ourselves, “What is our purpose for assigning a grade or assigning homework to a student?” Many believe that grades are not reliable or valid because they are so subjective. (An "A" in Mr. Smith's class can easily translate into a "B" in Mr. Fields's class next door.) According to Alfie Kohn, the issue is not how we should grade, but rather why do we grade? Why are we so concerned with evaluating how well students are doing? Researchers have found three consistent effects of using letter or number grades: reduced interest in the learning itself, reduced student preference for challenging tasks, and reduced quality of student thinking. Yikes! So, why are we doing this?

I believe that these are both topics that should be approached cautiously with open dialogue. Teachers, parents and administrators need to be encouraged to rethink how we grade and ultimately why we grade. Some major points that need to be considered are: late work, opportunities for retaking a test or assignment, cheating, and homework. It is my belief that students should be encouraged to complete their work. Teachers should not have a policy that prohibits work from being turned in late. Students are not motivated by assigning a zero or even 50% to late work. Allowing students to turn in work late, with a smaller consequence will provide incentive to complete the work in many cases. Assigning a zero to a student that is caught cheating does not accurately portray what a student knows or is able to do. The teacher and student need to discuss the reasons why the student resorted to cheating and allow for restitution with logical consequences.

We need to focus on measuring and giving meaningful feedback that accurately reflects what a student understands and is able to do. While establishing a new policy for grading may seem daunting, I believe we should
at least adhere to following stipulations: refrain from assigning a letter or number grade for each assignment – instead give specific, constructive feedback in oral or written form; never grade on a curve – this destroys the sense of community and collaboration as learners; don’t give a separate grade for effort – a low grade for effort can be translated to mean, “You’re a failure for even trying”.

In some schools homework is graded, in others students receive points just for completion. Research does not support the common belief that homework (assigned as practice) increases student achievement in the elementary grades. So, why do we continue to frustrate both students and parents with work that is not beneficial? I believe there are more negative effects than there are positive in regards to homework. Teachers and administrators should rethink why homework is assigned. Both quantity and quality must be addressed. Teachers should be given time to reflect and dialogue about the outcomes that they are trying to achieve by giving an assignment. They need to investigate what types of assignments may be better than others, based on research and best practices. I believe there are ways to create choices for students to continue to extend their learning at home that can result in joyful learning experiences for both students and their families. Taking the time to reflect and ask why we give homework and grades is the first step.