I have a split mind about homework. In my first years of teaching, I shared a commute with students attending one of the city’s elite high schools. I overheard complaints about how late they stayed up to do their homework; they occasionally whipped out their graphing calculator and beat up spiral to scrawl out some math homework. Not that this is a model of how things should be, but I thought: these students are already more proficient than my students, and the gap is increasing everyday. Thinking of my own high school days, I remember long sessions of homework which surely had some effect on my learning.
At the same time, I never developed a homework system that I liked. For the last school year, I essentially didn’t assign homework at all, which is certainly one solution to the issue. However, my students were expected to do DAILY homework in their previous class, and I’m not sure what message they’re getting by getting no homework in a class that’s supposed to be harder. So… homework is on the agenda for the next year (my fifth year of teaching!) I hope to use this blog post to share my thinking and propose a system that I could imagine working for me next year.
Guiding principle: Homework can let students use as much time as they need to try out some math questions. Therefore it can be an effective forum for practicing and receiving feedback. Feedback is the focus, not grades and the pressure they bring.
I highly recommend looking at Sam’s blog post HOMEWORK SURVEY RESULTS. It’s a thought provoking synthesis of what different teachers out there are doing. In the survey data I came across a great counterpoint to homework review in class, as follows:
Counterpoint: “Homework review, next to disciplinary conflicts, has been the most efficient way I know to waste classroom time and sink classroom morale.”
Homework System (v 5.0)
A handful of homework problems are assigned each night. Students complete them in their journal. At the beginning of the next class, randomly selected students put problems on the board. (Not optional.) They sit down. We look, discuss, correct. Teach a respect for what goes on the board. I love mistakes. Teach how to respond to the work and not the student.
At the beginning of class, the rest of the students have out their homework to compare with the work on the board. The teacher sees who has done their work in a rough sense. I make a note of who has an incomplete collection of work and/or missing notebook.
At the end of class, collect a selection of notebooks to look at. (Ideal world, I would get to see this during class, but not happening I think.) At least collect a few. Emphasize that I just want to look closely at their work and see how they’re doing. The students who get their work collected should work on their homework at a later date.
Also at the end of class, assign, say, four homework questions. Students make a four square in their notebooks and put one in each. In their notebooks, write: “HOMEWORK DUE ON WEDNESDAY, OCT. 25th” or whatever. This gives me a clear heading to see that their work is organized, and it makes it easier to scan the class.
(Discarded idea: write this on the board at the BEGINNING of class. Students copy down the problems in their notebooks; this lets me put it on the board in an organized space. Discarded because this doesn’t let me be that flexible with the types of problems I assign, and some students will just automatically start solving the homework problems instead of reviewing their previous problems.)
Assigning a Grade
The grade will be given on a completion basis. Perhaps I give a weekly homework grade: 10 points per week, and they start at 10/10. I subtract points for incomplete work or missing notebooks. No late work accepted in general. When I collect the notebooks of a few students, I see if there is an agreement between the what I have observed and what’s actually in their notebook. (Of course this is also the best time for providing written feedback to the student.)
Does this address the counterpoint?
What I like in the system described above is that it’s something I can actually imagine doing on a daily basis. For the most part, it provides quick feedback in terms of seeing student solutions, which in turn can spur some revealing conversations. I’ll need to read the class to make sure we don’t kill the homework review. The major pitfall of the homework review is that it can become an endless process if a few students have a number of questions, while the majority of the class has no interest in hearing how this or that problem is solved. With this in mind, I might start out with a lower number of problems (like 1 or 2), and then build up to more when I get the pacing down.
Any thoughts on this, intrepid reader(s)?