Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The value of homework

Yesterday as I was cooking supper I listened to a podcast that is fairly new to me - Nerdy Teacher.  The podcast was about the value of homework.  It really got me thinking about what homework I assign, if we should check it in class, how to grade it, and more.

I'll start by explaining what I've done in the past, then talk about changes I might make.  I am a high school math teacher, and I truly believe that my students need to practice new skills independently in order to master them.  In my class we take notes, we work on problems with partners/groups, then students do some homework.  My homework is typically short and should not pose huge problems.  It is a reinforcement of what we do in class.
Last year, I tried to make homework more engaging by using Google Forms to send my students around 5-10 homework problems.  They showed their work on paper, entered their answers, and checked their work (answers were provided on the page following the question).  Then at the end of the assignment were some 'extra practice' problems for students who (self-identified) did not do well.  Then (in theory, if I had time) I could check who did their homework and how they did before class, and have an idea of where my class was.

I actually did not particularly care for this style.  It was so hard to keep up with who did the extra practice that needed to, who did the homework but forgot? to write it down, and I never had time to check their progress before class.  It amounted to more work for me with little benefit.  I see the good in the system, but I didn't harness it.  Therefore, I may be doing away with the Google Form homework this year. (We'll see. Maybe I'll reuse the ones I made last year, and just not make new ones for my new preps).

Overall, though, I see homework as helpful.  Every year, I have a few bright students who do not want to do the homework.  They do not do well in my class.  My homework is graded (it's probably worth about 30-40 points a unit versus a 100 point test), so it's important for that reason.  But more than that, students who don't practice the problems just struggle more on the test.

So where does that leave me?  I thought yesterday as I listened to this podcast that perhaps I can find a middle ground.  We practice a lot of problems in class, so maybe homework can be more extension than drill.  Maybe I can tell students 'come up with a list of 3 mistakes you think your classmates would make on this concept.'  Or 'solve this one problem and write one sentence for each step explaining what you did'.  Or 'write 4 problems that you think could show up on our test over this concept'.  Higher order thinking for sure!

Also this year, I'm going to ask students to self-assess where they are on each homework.  I have a little poster that has the numbers 1-4 and an explanation next to each one.  1 means the student really struggled, up to 4 meaning the student could teach the concept to others.  I'll try to add a link here later, I'm not sure where it came from.  Anyway, when I walk around and check homework (I never collect it) I will require that the self-assessment number be clearly marked on the top right-hand corner.  Hopefully I'll use this information for forming differentiated groups on the fly, but we'll see how it shakes out.

I have a lot more to say on this topic, plus eventually I'll directly discuss how I do flipped classroom / video homework.  For now, keep on keeping on!


  1. Fellow Math TeacherJuly 29, 2015 at 4:22 PM

    I like your take on homework and I'm glad I found your blog. I'm looking forward to reading more about the technology that you use. All of that doesn't come naturally to me (I'm more likely to yell at a student for texting than actually use tech in class) so maybe you can help

    1. Thanks so much Fellow Math Teacher! I'll be posting more specifics about technology that I use daily soon. I hope it is helpful!

  2. I think that homework is awful for students - including my high school son. He's always trying to meet deadlines and staying up too late, between school and sports. I'm a teacher too (high school art) and I almost NEVER give homework

    1. Annie, I agree that many students are over involved and stay up all hours doing homework. However, in my math classes there are definitely times where students suffer if I don't give them enough practice. I'm already pressed for time in the curriculum, so taking more class time out for practice just can't always happen. I try to be mindful of the lives of my students!


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