The Homework Paradigm

Student homework is my Achilles Heel, my fatal flaw as a teacher, my nemesis.  The only thing I am worse at in teaching is taking daily attendance.

Some math teachers do not give or are doing away with homework.  I am not sure how I feel about this yet.  I feel that mathematics is a building skill, like a musical instrument, or a sport.  The more time you spend practicing the better you will become.  But, that practice has to be done well to be effective.  Also, I don’t feel that you need a large amount of practice, just a little bit every day.  Since most students have math class five days a week, is this enough practice?  Do students get enough practice by doing mathematics each day in class?  Many times I have seen students really feel like they “have it” in class, only to get home and have trouble doing it independently.

I worked as a research director in television advertising for a while. The rule of thumb there was “Frequency of 3”.  This meant that the consumer had to be exposed to the advertisement at least three different times in order for it to be effective. There was NO WAY any customer was buying ad spots where they were getting less than a frequency of three.  The sales people didn’t even pitch it.  Even the noobs knew this.  I think about this every time I consider throwing out homework.  I worry – is once in class enough, even if it IS independent practice? Because, it is only ONE event, not three.

Homework’s Flaws:

  • Checking homework the next day takes forever
  • Assigning the correct amount / level of work
  • Going over homework questions.  Students are either in two camps here – either I didn’t explain it enough or I am killing them explaining it too much.
  • Going over hw can really eat into new lesson
  • I feel bad bc I push hw questions aside in order to do the new lesson
  • If you make it for a grade, some students will copy other’s hw
  • If you make it for a completion grade, they will write anything down just to get “credit”
  • It is not effective if not taken seriously, (ie. copied, write down anything)

Reasons I feel homework is important (if it’s done effectively):

  • Students can figure out what really do and do not know how to do
  • Students can take more ownership of their mathematics learning.
  • Students practice more, thus they learn more

Fortunately, some wonderful teachers ( McTownsley and Shah )have gotten a big jump on me, and I can’t wait to learn more from their ideas!

At this point I am still going to assign homework for my classes.  What I would like to do is:

  1. Effectively checking that it was attempted / completed
  2. Ensuring it is effective
  3. Motivating students to really DO the homework effectively.
  4. Assign reading and a few problems of the next section to get the students thinking.

I would like the students to do homework and then I will check it, but not grade it.  I feel that the student wants to be acknowledged for their effort, and am hoping that just checking it but not grading it will give them the external praise that they like.  As I plan on giving them all of the answers AS I give them the homework, I feel that grading is pretty pointless anyway.

I would love to develop a hw system that works for most and can easily be adapted for all. I know that I am dreaming here.  But, if I can’t figure out why this is so hard to do, then it should be doable!  Luckily, I have amazing math teacher tweeps who are hard at work on this with me as well over at the Math Wiki.  We plan on sharing ideas then building something together, or at least that is my plan!

Please join us over there and add your ideas and methodology.  It is a public wiki party and everyone’s invited!

3 thoughts on “The Homework Paradigm

  1. I’m glad to find your blog and wiki. I’ve been poking around with the SBG group for a bit and buy into all of it, but homework is my weakness as well. I’m just not sure how giving optional homework will work for middle school kids. My school wouldn’t let me go 100% SBG because they felt the students weren’t mature enough to do the homework without being given some grade compensation for it. Our grades are at 75% assessment 25% everything else…which pretty much means 25% of my grade is participation because I don’t grade homework or classwork, which is what goes into that category. It’s messy. I want to clean it up this year.

  2. Jalzen – I agree with your thoughts regarding the middle school optional homework. I don’t know how well that would work (I will teach middle school as well this fall). For this reason I have decided to NOT make hw optional the first semester. However, I still do not plan on grading it – even for completion. I will however check to see that they have completed it everyday.

    Ideally, I would like hw to be relevant to the next day so it will be obvious during class discussion if a student did not do the hw. Additionally, my students will also need a portion of their grade apart from assessments. I am going to call this section assignments. Instead of nightly homework grades, I plan on filling it up with other assignments. Projects, participation in the wiki, filling out google forms, and other assignments.

    I just cannot grade homework for completion anymore. It ate a crucial part of class for me (the beginning), is a nightmare to keep up with (makeup work), and too many kids copy or do a poor job on it. Hopefully I will see what they have learned each night, not how fast they can scribbled hurried answers.

    I look forward to seeing you on the wiki. Please contribute as much as you can!

  3. When you check homework, how will it impact their grade? I guess I’m not understanding not grading it for completion. I’ve just gone through and stamped it as complete or not and kept track of it that way. Late work wasn’t that big of a deal because re-doing an assessment is what made true changes in their grades, so many of my kids didn’t do late work this past year. Spent the morning looking at things on the wiki. Going to take a few days to process and think about where what I have will fit before I start contributing. Everyone else is far more tech savvy than I am. I’ve never used the scrib box things. I’ll have to check them out.

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