Standards-based grading: Motivating students to complete homework/practice without points

A teacher from a nearby school district recently emailed me with a few questions about standards-based grading in preparation for the upcoming school year.  He gave me permission to share some of our dialogue in this public space.  This is the first of two question and answer posts about homework as practice, rather than merely point accumulator, in standards-based grading.

Q: When homework is no longer completed for points or a grade in a standards-based grading environment, I could see some students reluctant to submit homework assignments. Do you have any advice on convincing students that homework is still a required, essential part even if they aren’t getting a score for it? What about those kids who just don’t turn in their work?

A: Let’s be honest for a moment – there’s no silver bullet for motivating kids to do homework! When we think about the traditional grading paradigm, students do not often value practice/homework, even when it is worth points. Evidence of this theory includes students across the country in high schools with traditional grading who do not turn in their homework assignments and students who turn in copied homework assignments.

Here is my biggest piece of advice, which comes from personal experience: In traditional grading, when a student does not turn in an assignment, we give them a zero, but do not talk with them about it. We assume they’re going to “learn” from the zero. Instead, I tried something different in my later years as a high school teacher.  It went something like this…

Class, the purpose of homework in this class is practice.  Although homework is not worth any points, it is still very important.  The purpose of homework is practice!  Just like you practice for a small group speech contest, vocal music solo or volleyball game, practicing is important in math class.  Turn to your neighbor and share with them two reasons you believe practicing in math class is important and one reason why you might be tempted to not complete homework in this class….Okay, who can share with me a summary of their partner discussion?  How many of you talked about the importance of practice in doing well on tests?….

Then, when a student (inevitably) decides to not turn in an assignment a few days later, have a good ole fashioned one-on-one, sit down conversation with him/her.

Why did you decide not to do this assignment?


How well do you think you’ll do on the next assessment?

I’ve found this to be a relationship building exercise and gives me a better idea how I can help the student. Sometimes students are going through tough times at home. Other times, they’re lost conceptually and don’t want to admit it.

This is not a cure-all type of solution, but one that I and other educators using standards-based grading practices have found to be helpful.  In what ways have you motivated students to complete homework when it is worth zero points?  Leave your ideas in the comments below.


4 thoughts on “Standards-based grading: Motivating students to complete homework/practice without points

  1. Pingback: Matt Townsley | Standards-based grading: Integrating homework completion with reassessment

  2. I am a student currently in a mathematics education program, and I am starting student teaching in about a month. This means, unfortunately, I don;t have any experience with motivating students to complete homework when it isn’t for points. I do think that your strategy is a good one, but what happens if a student persists in not doing his/her homework? Or if a majority of the students in the class decide to not do an assignment? Also, does your approach vary from class to class?

    • Hey Joe,
      Thank you for the comment. You asked, “…what happens if a student persists in not doing his/her homework? Or if a majority of the students in the class decide to not do an assignment?” These are both great questions! One of the reasons I wrote this post was to implicitly point out that standards-based grading is not a silver bullet to solving all classroom management and motivational concerns that teachers experience every day in the classroom. Whether a teacher uses SBG or not, he/she will inevitably have a few students who appear to be less motivated than some of their peers. I found that developing relationships with these students was helpful. For example, one year I had a student once who showed up to class every day and put his head down on the table. He was tired from working a late evening shift at the local convenience store….all because he needed to put food on the table at home for his family. Once I understood this about him, my perspective changed and our relationship deepened. I was not able to motivate him to love high school math overnight, but over the period of a few months, he started to experience more of an interest in class, because I became more interested in him. I don’t know if this helps you at all, but I hope it encourages you to see each student as an individual!

  3. As part of standards-based grading, I use retakes as a learning tool and have found them very effective. However, students are not eligible for a retake unless they have completed at least 80% of the homework. This has had 2 benefits. The students who do the homework most diligently rarely need a retake and students who regularly skip the homework need the retakes the most. It usually only takes 1 unit for them to learn their homework lesson. Parents have been very supportive.

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