Suggestions for a Parent Re: Homework

Way back in March of 2009 I posted Session Notes on Homework With Rick Wormeli from the NCMSA conference.  Recently I had the following comment posted in response to my notes (emphasis mine):

Thanks for the great notes above. I’m on a school board and also the parent of 2 girls – junior and sophomore in high school. Rick Wormeli did a workshop for our local educators and our principal was raving about him so I googled his name and came up with this site. I appreciated the notes above and wish I could bring Rick back again for the high school teachers. My sophomore is very social, full of life, bucks the systems, comes to the aid of those she sees are being treated unfairly, looks at things with common sense – yes, she’s a rebel but she’s smart too and has missed some homework assignments that resulted in a zero. Ok, I can live with that. But, I’m having a little back and forth with her math teacher about homework that she did do. My daughter completed a 3 page packet but because she didn’t have it out on her desk and wasn’t “prepared” for class, the teacher gave her a zero. I pointed out to the teacher that I felt being prepared for class and having homework completed were 2 different things. But she doesn’t see it that way and maintains that she’ll continue to get zeros on completed homework unless she is in the class, sitting in her seat, homework on desk, pencil and notebook ready to take notes. I’m very frustrated. Any suggestions or constructive thoughts I can pass along to the teacher or should I just let it go??

This is definitely a tough situation as grading policies are a MAJOR struggle for many teachers. In my own classroom, classwork and homework account for a total of 15% of the student’s final grade.  The other 85% come from things which I feel are final determinations of mastery: tests, quizzes, projects, lab activities, and a notebook test.  In this respect, getting a 0 for not completing a homework assignment doesn’t have a dramatic overall effect on the final grade.  At the same time, I’m generally pretty open about a student completing the homework assignment after it is due.  The point is that they learn the material, if they are making a good faith effort to do that, then I’m fine with them continuing to work until they master the content.  Not every student makes that good faith effort however, and that’s when things become difficult.  What do you do when a student NEVER turns in a homework assignment, especially when homework is only assigned that moves the students forward in their learning.

Back to the point…

I would carefully steer the discussion with the teacher to the points of: A) what does the final grade in your class mean? and B) what is the reasoning behind your grading scale/practice?  These are tough questions, and in some instances grading scales may be mandated by a department.  Additionally, a teacher may only have the grading scale they do based on what the other teachers use, even if it is not “mandated.”  To me the grading scale plays a major part in the impact and fairness of giving a zero on an assignment.

I know there are many out there with widely varying opinions…please add your thoughts in the comments!

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13 Responses

  1. This teacher is petty. I doubt anything you say or do will make a difference. Imagine the grown up equivalent: Going into a meeting and being told you can’t participate because you didn’t have your notepad out on time. This is the kind of bullying behavior the teacher is modeling for students.

    • It hasn’t yet, I conceded yesterday but will continue to monitor – Petty indeed is my opinion as well.

  2. I feel like this teacher is concerned with establishing control. It is important for all teachers to have a sense that students will do what is asked. In this case, the teacher is using grades to establish that control. As a parent, my comment to the teacher might be, “I understand that my kid has issues with following directions. I want to help with that. My concern with using grades to control her behavior is that her grade is no longer a reflection of what she has learned or mastered in math.”

  3. This is a battle I struggle with my own kids’ teachers. The question should be, “Did they learn the skill?” not “Did they learn the skill on time?” It’s a struggle that most of their teachers don’t quite get.

    Because I tend to be a bit snarky with my colleagues, I always ask them if they passed their driving test on the 1st try, or if they passed their certification test the 1st time. How would their lives be different if they could only take the test once and if they didn’t pass, they were out of luck?

    I remember Rick saying those exact words during his keynote at NMSA in 2009, and they struck a chord with me. I came home and COMPLETELY changed my grading practices. My students no longer get zeros, they get incompletes. Eventually, the incompletes turn into zeros, but they have a whole lot more time to complete the tasks at hand. I think it teaches them that they are not “off the hook” for projects; they still need to be completed!

    • Thanks Erica, incompletes make so much more sense to me. And then if they aren’t done by a certain point, you get a zero as you pointed out. My daughter actually said yesterday they have been waiting almost 3 weeks now for the teacher to grade and hand back a quiz they took – hmmmmm, and my daughter wanted to make just that point to her – that they have to have their homework out on the desk and “be prepared” but the teacher can take 3 weeks to grade a quiz.?

  4. I am responding with my High School Assistant Principal’s hat on. You have been given some good advice. If you feel what this teacher is doing is not in the best interest of student learning (including you own child) then Do not drop it. Make some notes, mentally or otherwise, and talk with the teacher. If you believe this is educational malpractice, say so…respectfully but clearly. Ask if the teacher is willing to think about this and have another conversation afterward. If the teacher is unwilling and you are unconvinced, talk with the administration about your concerns…see what comes of that. I know that as a principal, I would want to know if a staff member were grading in such a way…zeros for the entire body of completed work because of a technicality would not fly with me…and I believe in assessing timeliness!

    • Thank you Chris – I’ve appreciated all the comments on here – very helpful and good ideas. Unfortunately this seems to be the way of the school itself so I’m pretty sure the principal would even see this as perfectly fine and would support the teacher. I certainly want and expect the teacher to have certain policies in place but my point to her was that having homework completed and being prepared for class are 2 separate issues. In an effort to come to some sort of compromise, I suggested taking points off the homework because she wasn’t “prepared” but giving a zero?? I just flat out disagree. Nope, she wouldn’t go for that either. Arghh!

      • I would push back, even if the principal doesnt agree. This is why I don’t work where my kids go to school. Continue to advocate for your daughter!

  5. Relating the teacher’s actions to adult behavior is a good strategy. For example, if the teacher is not in her seat with pen and paper ready when the faculty meeting begins, should she lose pay for not being at the faculty meeting? If she does not have tests graded and back to students the next day, should she lose pay for the day the test was given?

    One can also use the IRS as an analogy. People who are late pay a penalty. They are not taken to jail immediately. (A friend used this as an analogy for accepting late assignments 30 years ago.)

    In many school districts, behavior must not be considered as part of the grade. This teacher is grading based on behavior, not learning.

    As Chris said, there are times when a parent must advocate for the student – not to “take up” for the student, but to make sure the student is treated fairly. In your case, you are trying to ensure the fairness of all students (in your role as trustee).

    A last thought is that it might be a good time to have a discussion with your daughter about how her actions can impact her success. Although we might not like it, one’s actions can certainly impact the breaks one gets. A friend and I had this discussion the other day. Each of us remembers friends who suffered consequences because of attitude/dress, etc.

    While we all want to be accepted for who we are – and not be judged, that is not reality. Learning it in high school instead of later might pay huge dividends.

    • Rebecca, thanks for your input. Believe me we’ve had several conversations about actions/attitude etc. and how it will impact her later on. Thankfully, she and I have a pretty open relationship – just discussing this today with her and I told her I would advocate for her if I felt something was ridiculously unfair as in this situation but when it comes to other things such as attitude, how she presents herself, she needs to listen up – and she understands that but just has trouble putting it into practice. My daughter today said exactly what you did above – she said I feel like I’m being graded on my behavior and attitude and not if I’ve done the work or if I understand the work. I think relating the teacher’s actions to adult behavior is also a good strategy but I can hear it now “that’s because I’m an adult” and “that’s different” – yup, do as I say not as I do.
      Thanks again, Julie

  6. You have received some great advice above. It sounds like you have an important conversation(s) to have with the teacher. The setting of that conversation will be important. If the teacher feels attacked, s/he will become defensive and won’t hear your important points. If possible, I suggest, try to set up the conversation so that it isn’t revolving around that one assignment. You may want to point the teacher toward Rick’s work. I recommend Fair Isn’t Always Equal. As Erica stated, when I first heard/read Rick’s work it really changed my grading practices.

    Another more global, and back door way, to address the problem might be to go to a department chair or other administrator. Saying, ‘hey look at this great educational philosophy I encountered. Are you all familiar with these ideas? What do you think?, etc.” (Maybe even go in carrying a book to hand over if they are unfamiliar with it).

  7. Pardon the vernacular, but, “Holy Crap, Batman!” This is so irrational, I don’t know where to begin. Please ask this teacher to show you where in the course curriculum for this class it says, “Students will have homework out on their desks by the appointed time.” To require this and respond this way, the teacher is making a false assumption that it teaches self-discipline, builds moral fiber, or the importance of resepecting the adults in charge. In fact, ask the teacher to show us where it says the student will do homework. It doesn’t say either of these because they are NOT math principles, content, or skills. They are an important part of the hidden curriculum, but they have nothing to do with reporting the course curriculum itself.
    Since grades, i.e. report cards, are supposed to be a report of how students do regarding the posted curriculum, at least in the academic sections of the report card, to count any of this “Not having homework out on her desk by teh appointed time” against the student means the teacher is knowingly falsifying the grade report, which is an ethical breach unworthy of highly accomplished professional. It also means that the grade can’t be used to guide instruction, provide feedback, or document progress regarding those standards. She’s drifted very far from standards-based grading, which means her grades aren’t useful or valid to any stakeholders. She’s undermined the whole enterprise.
    I agree with “Tween Publishing” above when we label this as petty, but it may be the only thing she knows to do, so we can be patient with the teacher, unless she refuses to learn differently. I’m very sympathetic to people who are not informed about various education practices. It’s hard for any of us to keep up with all that’s out there, to be knowledgable about everything and sensitive to all students’ situations. This is why it’s so important, however, to remain open to critique and correction.
    This teacher may not be aware that she’s doing this, so as Chris says above, we have to give specific feedback and rationale to her about her practices. Hopefully the comments posted here will make their way to this teacher and she’ll be able to revise her thinking in light of new evidence and reasoning, another sign of an accomplished practitioner.
    All of this advice has to be done in a way that the teacher can save face, of course, because this stuff gets to our core teaching values, and who we are as teachers is close to who we are as people, so nerves are fragile and defensive walls build rapidly.
    Something to make us a little stronger in discussing (and confronting, as necessary) these issues with colleagues: These students are in these grade levels only once, or so we hope. They better be the best lessons and practices of the best, if at all possible. And who’s going to advocate for this student if his or her parents don’t advocate for him or her? This parent is correct in trying to edcuate this teacher. What goes unlearned and unaccomplished in students because we played it politically or personally safe? This building’s leadership really should have an candid, professional, and well-informed discussion of the role of homework and of sound grading practices. — Rick Wormeli

    • Rick, thank you so much for posting – especially since I hear you have such a busy schedule. If you have the “Batmobile” ready, I’d love it if you could fly up here and put on a workshop for the high school – “holy crap” is right. Here are the exact words from the teacher in her email:

      “If a student misses class they can get credit for the missing homework. However, I don’t allow students to make up homework. If it’s not done, or it’s not out, they get a zero. If they don’t have it done, they don’t get a chance to make it up. They simply get a zero.”
      Nice, huh???

      You hit the nail on the head above on several points-particularly grades and reports cards, thank you for that. And also going about talking with this teacher in a constructive way so as to save face. This hasn’t just become an issue now for me and my daughter, but for me as a member of a school board as well, from a school that sends students to this high school.
      Thank you, thank you again and I’ll keep watch for more posts from others –
      Julie

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