An SF State student's qualms about graded homework

When I went through my syllabus for one of my courses this semester, my jaw dropped. “Homework will be 40 percent of your grade.”

After the first shock, I started to giggle and thought of something my friends and I used to say to each other before taking a pop quiz in high school: “Longest answer is correct — if not, it’s always answer C.”

In the end, it didn’t matter what we did because we would fail the test anyway.

For an American, homework being part of your grade might be a very common occurrence, but as a Dutch girl, it left me laughing. I couldn’t imagine that homework was actually part of my grade. The teacher wouldn’t be that strict on it, right? I felt like I was back in high school, unable to plan my own work and tied to deadlines that were set for me.

Don’t get me wrong, we do homework in the Netherlands. We are not utterly lazy — at least, most of us aren’t. The homework is just not part of our grade. Our grade is based on a final or an assignment handed in at the end of the quarter. You can hand your homework in and the teacher will give it feedback, but it will not get graded. Teachers would threaten me with it back in high school, but even the threats couldn’t put my lazy self to work.

For me, the thing was that I didn’t work at all in high school. Homework did not change much for that. I would complete homework assignments an hour before it was due or, if I was in a good mood, the night before. My grades weren’t that fabulous because of this. Nevertheless, I passed my exams in one year, which I still consider to be a miracle.

Once I started studying journalism, what I really wanted to do, everything changed and homework became regular work that I liked to do. I didn’t mind studying my books that much – and if I did, I knew it was for a good purpose. Even though I did not need to hand in articles or drafts, I did it because I did not mind doing the work. If I ran out of time to do my assignment, that wouldn’t be a problem either because the teacher did not care. We weren’t there to please them, we were there for ourselves.

So the switch was not that big – I was used to doing all the work already. But the strange thing was that it was part of my grade to hand in the assignments, which in my opinion is a bit childish. Of course you want students to do well in class and help them improve – but students can improve their skills without being graded on it in the meantime. Besides, when you run out of time you hand in half-done assignments — a waste of time for the teacher to read it and a waste of time for you to write it down because it’s going to get you an F anyway.

On the other hand, doing the homework might motivate the students to participate more actively in class. I remember from my experience that a lot of people don’t show up to class or start Facebooking in class when they haven’t done the work (I plead guilty to the Facebook part). It stimulates students to actually do the work to study. We Dutchies like to proclaim that we do the work, but let us be real: very few of us actually do it.

There are multiple things to consider. First of all, as a teacher, you want your students to do the work. As a student, you want to get a good grade — or at least pass the class. We can meet each other in the middle. We students will do the work and you will give us our final grade, a final grade based on a final assignment and a few tests in between. But please, consider not grading us on homework. I’m running out of sleep and time to finish all of it.

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An SF State student's qualms about graded homework