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Critically grading homework

August 31, 2006

Since coming to the USA from England, I have had to adjust to many different attitudes, work practices and philosophies on teaching and the whole experience has certainly allowed me to grow professionally. As one would expect, some things are “better” here in the US, others not so good, but there is one thing that I have never really been able to grasp the wisdom of.

Many of my colleagues will set homework, but then will only do a cursory check for a few minutes at the beginning of class to see if the students have attempted it. The act of attempting to do the work is usually sufficient to gain a homework grade of some description. This seems like common practice in most classrooms across the country. I on the other hand, collect all the homework I set and then sit down and grade it critically – marking and scoring it for “correctness” NOT for effort. I have never understood the idea of getting kids to do work that is then not checked for accuracy. They could do all the homework in the world, continue to get it hopeless wrong, and what good would that do them?

Frankly grading literally thousands of problems each year is a monumental task that is not enjoyable in the slightest but I simply do not see any other way to monitor my students progress.

Nobody has ever convinced me of the merit of NOT checking homework for correctness.


  1. diverdown555

    I have really struggled with the homework issue, form the point of not wanting to undertake the monumental task, but also to give credit for the work the students have done. My basic premiss being that a kid who understands the particular concept, say solution stoichiometry for precipitate reactions, after doing a few problems should not be forced to sit for another hour to complete what is to him or her just busy work. At the same time, some students will need to do all the assigned problems to grasp the idea. My solution, evaluate the homework assignment by giving a short one or two problem quiz covering the material. Whether it took them 20 problems or 2 to become proficient, they can all demonstrate their mastery while also being able to budget their time wisely and not have to waste it in order to get their grade for homework. I began this idea in AP chem, and have used it now in both Honors chem and Honors Physics with great success. The students also respond well and seem to appreciate the college like feel of here are some problems, do them or not, your choice, but they soon learn that they have to be able to do them, or 10 % of their grade will be lost, and success on the tests will be minimized as well as the homework problems will be reflected there as well. To me it comes down to not wasting a student’s time when I do no have to. If they get it after 20 minutes, why force them to sit for another 40 to finish the work.

  2. webmaster

    I largely agree, but I am not setting homework with 20 problems that are the same type. I am setting a worksheet that has 20 DIFFERENT types of problem so there is virtually NO “busy work”.

    Teaching AP chemistry to sophomores in one year with no previous knowledge doesn’t allow for such luxury.


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