Some thoughts on Homework (and rubrics)

Posted on 05.25.2013


The role of homework is always elusive to me: it has so many roles and you really need to be careful about what the purpose of each assignment really is.  For example, homework can be used as practice time, study time, reflective time, prep-ing time for the next class and even for down-time.  Then the issue of credit for homework comes up – should this be for credit and how much?

Much of my homework revolves around the current project students are working on in class.  Usually it’s something along the lines of “go and work on outlining your project”. Or, “work on refining your final product.”  Or “research 3 pieces of information you can use tomorrow in class.”  Giving credit here usually comes in two forms: spot checking that they brought the next “step” in OR adding it to the project’s process grade.  (I’ve written about tracking progress in Managing Student Progress on Projects).  This type of homework is great because it supports what’s happening in class and also extends class time.  At bottom, it’s darn useful work.

And that’s the point: homework should be useful work for both the teacher and the student.

Often, I use homework as a formative assessment.  I want to know ‘do the students get it?‘  More specifically, I want to know three things:

  1. That they have knowledge about what we are learning that is grounded in reality and uses empirical evidence. (content)
  2. That they are being thoughtful and creative in regards to the message based upon that empirical evidence.
  3. That they analyzed and are being honest about the affordances and constraints regarding the message of the content.

This usually comes in terms of a journal assignment.  I give students this journaling handout in the beginning of the year but I think it’s time to update it to this:

Throughout the year students are honing three skills (among others): observation, reflection and analysis skills.  I model this off of the LoC primary source analysis sheet (online version or use the handout version).  It pretty much is aligned to the three goals I have stated above.

Students having to respond to work in this type of way is great: first, you can make your assignment focused on one aspect or skill (observation, reflection or analysis) or on all three.  For example, maybe you just want students to practice picking out details or important content OR to reflect on the message behind content.  These are important critical skills for anyone to have and useful work for sure.

You can also add it all together: for example, at the end of one week I asked students to tell me “the true story of Rosa Parks” after we had spent 7 days reading primary sources, jigsawed and acted out aspects of the story using Herbert Kohl’s book She Would not be Moved.  They wrote about the content of the story using 8 vocab words we had been using to understand the story better.  They showed me they had been ‘present’ and internalized the story.  I regret not asking them to reflect more about the point of the story and whether it’s a story worth retelling (the other two aspects I listed above.)

I look forward to reassigning this next year to make this assignment a bit ‘deeper.’  The point is, if we use this model of observe, reflect, analyze then homework becomes much more meaningful and powerful.

So, I’m making it official: my new rubric categories are as such:

OBSERVE: what content or evidence do you have?

REFLECT: what does the evidence or content mean to you?

ANALYZE: how good is the evidence, content or meaning you have created?

I can’t wait to apply these ideas more deliberately to my practice!

Posted in: Methods, PBL, Rubrics