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.  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 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 bit of advice: 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?

and

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.