Grade Less Homework

I’ve never met a teacher who hasn’t bemoaned the amount of grading they have to do at one point or another. For many teachers, grading takes up just as much time as lesson planning and actual teaching, and for some teachers it takes even more.

The number of hours spent on grading vary from teacher to teacher and program to program. Sometimes there’s nothing a teacher can do. Certain curricula demand certain assignments and assessments that require tons of grading and there’s no way to get out of it.

But if you’re designing your own class and curriculum, you get to call the shots about how much you’re going to grade.

There are ways to lessen the amount of time spent on grading assessments, but this post is going to focus on grading assignments and homework.

And the answer isn’t to give students less homework. It’s to make them responsible for their own work.

What are the benefits of not grading homework?

Time is precious in the classroom. Homework gives students the opportunity to get lots of repetitions with that skill at their own pace. It’s practice, not assessment. And practice always needs to be deliberate to be effective.

Part of deliberate practice is feedback. But feedback doesn’t always have to come from the teacher. In fact, it shouldn’t. For most assignments, teacher feedback on homework comes with a delay – until the next class at least.

The following homework types save the teacher time. And I believe they’re actually more beneficial for the students too.

Grammar Workbook: The Answer Key

My class is working with the black Azar grammar book. My students have the textbook, which we use in class, and the workbook, which we use for homework.

At the beginning of class, I come around to make sure that the students have at least made an attempt at their homework and I make a note if someone left it blank or incomplete. I ask if there were any questions about the homework. If there aren’t, we move on with the lesson for the day.

Their homework should be already graded by that point. It’s graded by them. I told them the rules are that they should try their best to answer the pages assigned for homework and then check their answers with the answer key in the back of the book. I made it clear that the workbook homework is important for practice. And if they want more practice, there are always more problems in the workbook.

I don’t feel bad about giving students this long of a leash. If a student wants to simply copy the answers from the back of the book, they can do that and get the same homework grade as everyone else. But it’s pretty clear who actually does the homework deliberately and who just writes something in: the tests and quizzes have no answer key and are worth much, much more than the homework. A horrendous test score is good motivation to start taking homework seriously.

When I used to grade grammar homework in the past, without letting students use an answer key, I found the same pattern. I would waste time grading pieces of homework that were clearly done as an afterthought: complete guesses, mostly all wrong.

Writing Blogs

In writing classes, feedback is important. Students often head off into the wilderness of their essays with their incomplete or incorrect grammar maps. Feedback from a proficient English speaker helps students realize their mistakes and piece things together. In short, feedback improves accuracy.

But there’s another aspect of writing: fluency.

So many students have told me that they run out of time during TOEFL tests or in-class writing assignments. Or they say that their drafted essays took too much work on and type out. These are problems with writing fluency, and they happen because students just haven’t written enough in English.

One way to address this is to have your class write blogs. They should write on a fairly consistent basis so that they have plenty of practice. And the goal is for fluency, so a word limit should be imposed, but students should not be penalized for accuracy, unless a post is so unclear that it needs to be rewritten.

You should ask your students to interact and comment on each others’ blogs. Then you just make sure that everyone has posted and commented.

Even if the grammar mistakes are glaring (“Why are you still writing run-on sentences?!”) just let them go. You should combine blog writing with other assessed, graded writing assignments: you can give feedback then.

Listening Logs

Listening Logs are probably my favorite kind of homework to give. When I teach a class that involves listening, I always use them. Basically, students can listen to whatever they want in the target language, write down what it was, a summary of what they heard, and some things they learned (vocabulary, facts, etc.).

It’s the perfect self-study tool for listening. I tell students that they need to find listenings that allow them to fill out that third category, which means they need to find things that teach them something.

When you get their listening logs, you’ll just check to make sure the students have them filled out. You don’t need to spend more than a few seconds to see that they wrote down a summary in their own words and jotted down some vocabulary words and their definitions. Again, you don’t need to correct their grammar. This is a tool for the students, not a grammar exercise. Avoid whipping the red pen out and marking up the paper.

I really enjoy looking at listening logs. Students find some really cool things. And some students show incredible diligence. I love getting detailed summaries and rows after rows of new vocabulary that they heard in authentic contexts.

But they don’t need to eat up much time at all.

Make the Students Do the Work

Teachers have enough to do. Homework should be work for the students, not more work for everyone.

Just because you don’t grade every homework assignment doesn’t mean that students aren’t getting much out of it. In fact, allowing students to take ownership of their learning is probably much more worthwhile.

P.S.: What about reading?!

I left out reading!

To be honest, I’m less experienced in teaching reading. I just used good old fashioned book reports in the reading class I taught.

Any ideas for other reading homework that requires minimal grading? Please comment!

Thanks for reading.

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Featured Image Credit: Lastenglishking
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