‘The pathway to educational excellence lies within each school.’ Terrance Deal
For the second time this year, a teacher was certain two students had cheated on their homework. After viewing the worksheets, it was obvious the teacher was right, students at our school had copied the same letters down for the matching exercise and had written identical short response answers. I agree with the teacher that we need to turn this into a teachable moment for our students and have a conversation for all our students about academic dishonesty. My fear is that could this be a lifelong habit our students are developing? Please understand as you read this post, I am in no means excusing the students in this circumstance. What they did was dishonest and I will using this situation as a valuable learning experience. Yet, due to all the twitter chats I have participated in pertaining to Homework my philosophy has changed. When I looked at these two worksheets, it made me question, could this situation have been avoided? Are there some assignments that are more cheat-proof than others? Does the homework we assign, encourage cheating? To help me answer this question here are few facts to know about our school.
In my building homework is graded. Like many of us we can relate to homework that is graded. Traditionally, this is what took place. And if you were like me completing homework assignments became more important than learning because if we did not complete the assignment, we were punished somehow. In my building that is what happens. Students either stay in for recess to complete the assignment or receive a 0 in the gradebook. I agree with the teacher that we need our students to understand the severity of academic dishonesty, but I also believe we as educators must evaluate and even change our homework practices. Through my #sbgchats, here are some aspects I believe need to occur:
- Move toward Mastery: With the implementation of CCSS, we must help our students see that the goal is not completion, but mastery. We want students to understand that cheating prevents our teachers from supporting them as they try to accomplish the standards. With a standards based movement, it is perfect opportunity to make the shift from grades to learning. Each time they cheat, the students rob themselves from an opportunity to demonstrate their true understanding. Without the content and skills from the previous year, the students will greatly struggle the following year and into their future. We must make our students see this. We must make our students see the value in our assignments by making them self-assess, and charting their progress. Using formative assessments will be critical as we move our students toward mastery.
- Provide Feedback not Points to Homework: At a staff meeting, I asked my teachers to define homework. Most of them stated that homework was used for practice. However, they still grade homework using points and many students grades are impacted due to homework. I believe we must provide feedback for students so that they understand what they know and do not know. Homework or classwork is an opportunity for us to check for understanding. As teachers our role is to make sure students are learning and should “practice” be the time we are holding our students accountable for mastery or should we be using homework to see where our students are in their understanding? Similar to basketball practice when an athlete is shooting 62% at practice, a coach will provide feedback to the athlete, and even other drills to do, but the athlete is not responsible for the 62% until game time. Students that struggle on homework or pratice are demonstrating they might need interventions to learn the material. Assessments like “game-time” will be the moment when our students demonstrate what they have learned through core instruction, guided and independent practice, and any other interventions that were implemented.
- Make the Homework Meaningful: If we can provide homework that is meaningful for students, cheating is less likely. The more I read about #geniushour, the more I think this is what we have to provide for our students. Giving them a chance to explore their passions. Through these assignments they are still learning content and skills. Unless they have similar passions, these type of assignments do not encourage cheating. We need to find ways to make learning challenging and fun, and help the students see the relevance behind the assignment.
- Be a part of the Homework Process: Teachers need to monitor students often and provide instant feedback so that incompletion doesn’t snowball into an opportunity to cheat. Many of my PLN stated that homework is now called practice, which encourages the teacher to be involved in the process. Although I believe homework does not need to occur for students to be successful, I believe that if we do assign homework we still MUST be a part of the process. Students should not come the next day and turn that assignment in without getting immediate feedback.
- Provide Rigor for All: Regardless of abilities, socioeconomic status, or cultural background, all students can be equally involved in the assignment and the class discussion that follows. As the fear of “one right answer” dissipates, all students will begin to contribute and may become respected in new ways by their peers. (Alleman 2010) A math teacher in my building used a socratic seminar in her classroom. She was amazed to see how her struggling students shined in this type of environment. It made her see how we can’t have a fixed mindset because this will influence us not to provide rigorous opportunities for all. All our students deserve a high quality curriculum and instruction!
As a school we need to carefully and purposefully consider the role of homework in our students’ lives. The implementation of the Common Core State Standards provides a great opportunity for us to reexamine our homework practices. It is time for us to shift our thinking on how we can discourage cheating through our homework assignments!