Friday, February 26, 2016

It's Not About the Points

While many math teachers have stopped giving points for practice/homework, I confess that I'm over here still giving points. This semester, I decided to at least challenge my own attachment to points . . . particularly the thought that students will not do an assignment if there are not points attached to it.

So I set a lofty goal: 100% of students completing 100% of assignments. Whenever I had time to walk around the classroom, I carried a clip board and asked students to show me their completed assignment(s). Not done? No problem. What questions do you have? What can I do to help you finish up?** I did some repeated asking and follow-up and asking again. Over time, it got easier as students realized that not completing the assignment was not an option.

I also discovered that, more frequently than I expected, lack of completion was really due to lack of understanding. Many times it came disguised as laziness, disinterest, and the like . . . but really the student just didn't know how to do the math.

When an assignment was complete (and correct!), I recorded the points on my clip board. I used circles to indicate assignments that were late and highlights for assignments that took more than two weeks to collect. I ended up with a sheet for each class that looked like this:

Notice fewer circles/highlights during the second half of the quarter?!

Since everyone ended up with all of the points for all of the assignments, it really brings one big question to mind . . . What's the point of the points?!

I'm finally believing that students don't complete assignments because of points. Students complete assignments because of accountability. I would argue that there are forms of accountability that are more affective than points. I never had 100% completion when I was only assigning points.

Another unexpected outcome (which shouldn't have been surprising), is that assessment scores were higher as a result of "Operation 100%". In the past, I spent a lot of time orchestrating/scheduling remediation and re-assessments. Since students ended up understanding the content better on the front side of assessments, I spent significantly less time on that type of thing this semester.

**My school has some structures in place that helped tremendously with follow-up here. I assigned many students to our school's tutoring room. It is held during the school day and staffed by a few teachers and lots of National Honor Society students. For students who understand the content but were just dragging their feet on completion, I had the option to assign them to academic lunch.


  1. I am in the homework boat with you. I have freshman an I work to change the expectation. I only assign 5-8 problems. I refuse to assign more because they will refuse to do it.