Grading Homework for Accuracy or Completion? Yes!

  • Grading Homework for Accuracy or Completion? Yes!

    By Susan Zielinski, posted August 15, 2016 —

    I was inspired when I read D. Bruce Jackson’s “homework sandwich” article in MT (Jackson 2014). He wrote, “Given two slices of bread—a problem and the answer—students fill in the fixings: their own mathematics reasoning.” This system is a brilliant solution to the common dilemma of how to grade homework: for completion or accuracy.


    Neither method alone gives students incentive to revisit problems they missed on the first attempt, which is exactly what they need to do. The sandwich addresses this beautifully, in the end grading for both completion and accuracy. First, students self-grade their homework, checking their work against solutions in the back of the book or elsewhere, marking each problem correct or not-yet-correct. In my classes, students submit their grade online along with problems on which they are stuck. They then have a week to ask questions, come to receive extra help, correct their work, and resubmit their work for a new grade of up to 100 percent, which replaces the old grade. On any evening, students might be working on brand-new homework as well as revising old assignments. This distributed practice is great for learning (Grote 1995).

    As with any system, it’s not perfect. First, I don’t know if students are completely truthful in self-grading. Random spot-checking helps ensure honesty. (I let the roll of a die decide whose homework to collect.) A bigger issue is that because students have solutions to the problems, they can just write them down without thinking. To combat this, I call on students who claimed success on a problem to present it to others. Student feedback and my experience confirm that they are mostly honest and accurate in self-grading; there’s less reason to fudge the numbers when they have a week to make it up.

    The beauty is that I am not assessing their work—they are. This is not my learning—it’s theirs! They determine iwhether they need to do more work by assessing their own understanding. This system enhances their sense of responsibility, rewards them for persistence, and encourages a growth mindset. Although it’s more work for me than just recording a grade once (or not grading homework at all), it’s worth it. In the next post, I’ll talk about how I collect daily grades and feedback online.

    Do you have an effective homework system you’d like to share? 


    Grote, Michael G. 1995. Distributed Versus Massed Practice in High School Physics. School Science and Mathematics 95 (2): 97–101.

    Jackson, D. Bruce. 2014. “Algebra Homework: A Sandwich!” Mathematics Teacher 107 (7): 528–33.

    2016_08_15_ZielinskiAuPicSusan Zielinski,, teaches mathematics at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. She is currently a doctoral student at Northeastern University, researching collaboration and power sharing in the classroom, algebraic misconceptions, and engaging assessments. Before her teaching career, she served in the Air Force, worked as an industrial engineer, and homeschooled her children. In her free time, she loves to travel, spend time in the woods, and ballroom dance.

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    Jerry Rhodes - 10/3/2018 9:53:56 AM

    I'm not sure that homework still has at least some positive effect on students. In today's realities, I think it is better to cancel them altogether. This will make life easier for both students and teachers. Many students today simply pay someone to do their homework. What will be the positive result of homework, if they buy it? And many people do the same, because it saves a lot of students' time that they are willing to spend anywhere, but not for homework. The most recently students turn to this service, which offers to do math homework if you pay them. And the number of such services is increasing every day. Therefore, I believe that homework has lost its relevance. And those people who want to learn will do that without homework.

    Rachel Smith - 4/29/2018 11:07:48 PM

    When reading your post about how you go about "grading" your homework I thought it was very effective for the students but I have to be honest, where do you find the time to go through their homework twice? the first time they do it with their questions set aside and then the second time for corrections on problems they may have gotten wrong.  I think this idea is good for high-school and college level students but I don't think my middle-schoolers would grade their own problems or for that matter even take advantage of being able to write down questions for the ones they didn't know the answer to.