How I’ve Been Doing HW This Year

My biggest complaint from students is that I give too much homework/never give class time for homework. My second biggest complaint from students is that I don’t grade enough homework. Guys, come on, make up your mind!

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So here’s what I’ve been doing (things have been adjusted over time but I’ve been doing it this way since the semester started):

Assigning:

  • Assign up to 10 HW problems per class (which means every other school day since I’m on A-B block scheduling)
  • Have told students that they should never spend more than 30 minutes on homework
  • Use a HW packet for the unit (new this semester)
  • At least 3 problems are from the section they were working on that day and at least 3 problems are from previous sections/units (my attempt at spiraling homework – new this semester)
  • Answers are always provided in the packet

Checking:

  • Roll a dice (or a student rolls it if they want to) at the beginning of class and do whatever the result says to do:
    • Even: No Grade
    • 6: Reward (I’ll pass around my bag of treats)
    • Odd: Grade (completion)
    • 1: Collect (grade for accuracy)
  • ALSO, 1-3 HW problems are written on the board before class starts and before the warm up is done for the day, students sign up to present those problems to the class
    • Students must present 4 HW problems in the semester
    • Presentation points are only given if the presenter talks through how they solved the problem
    • Presentation points can be given if the student answered the question incorrectly, but is able to work out how to get the correct answer from class participation
  • I always accept homework late for a 10% deduction
  • Even if I’m not putting a grade on the homework that day, I still put it into the gradebook as an assignment that doesn’t count toward their grade so I can track who’s doing/not doing it consistently. I just started this this semester along with the caveat of having 75% of homework complete before being able to do a reassessment.

My reasoning:

  • Homework helps retention so it should be assigned and (hopefully) completed
  • Students spend enough time during school working in class, so the time they spend on math outside of class should be meaningful (short and spiraled)
  • Homework is practice and there’s no way for me to know who’s really doing it, so shouldn’t be part of the grade, but I have to have it be a grade so I make it minimal
  • Students benefit from speaking in front of their peers and also their peers benefit from seeing math be explained by other students

I like this and I dislike this.

Ok after this point this post turns really long (as if it wasn’t already) and kinda emotional so really what it comes down to is how do you do homework in your class? Comment or tweet if you want to share.

If I was really doing what I wanted, I’d have no grade for homework but I already get enough push back from barely having homework as part of the grade. Last semester it turned out to be about 10% in each class. I would DEFINITELY keep the presentation part (which I totally stole from my old Physics teacher) because it’s honestly awesome. It’s something I can tell parents about and kids can be proud of and I also let my really shy students just come in and do it for me only but then they’re guaranteed to get questions about it from me. That’s the tradeoff. But honestly the presentation part is great.

I was a student that always did my homework because, to me, it was my job as a student to get it done. Math homework was always the easiest for me to do because it was usually just a bunch of exercises on one or two topics I just saw in class that day. In my classes now, the feeling I get from my students is that homework should be done in class and should be part of their grade so that they can get good grades just by attempting/writing anything for their homework. I actually got this as a response from a student in my first unit reflection at the beginning of the year:

Im actually getting all good grades in all of my classes, and I take this stuff seriously. Having one F or D and the rest are all A’s doesnt look that great. And like coming in this year i was super confident about math because i got AN A in math class last yearrr and I literally had no idea what was going on in that class and what the teacher was talking about but I still did well somehow. I always did my hw, which is why it so valid to always grade hw, for kids like me. And I always got good grades on my tests. I dont remember the last time I got a D or an F. Or really, to be honest, even a C ! So hm. I know I could be doing so much better… but really, I just dont understand the concept of most maths and thats just all there is to it. Some teachers are better at understanding that than others, I guess

And that was rough for me to see at the beginning of the year. And it wasn’t just this student saying it, she was just the one that wrote it out. I had a parent who is an elementary school teacher tell me that she would never “do this” to her students. However, what the kids didn’t realize at the beginning of the year is the power of reassessments.

I did start the year off with some not-so-awesome grades. Part of that had to do with my school’s grading scale:

That grading scale has since been removed by my principal. So my grades went up but still weren’t awesome. Apparently my class was hard. The (lack of a lot of) homework part of my grade took most of the blame. I blamed it on me not preparing my students well for assessments. Looking back, it think the blame should go to both me and my students not really being ready for each other.

So last semester for all of my classes, things ended ok. Students were starting to see that reassessments were good for them and also helped them with final exams in the end. This semester, students are doing their homework more. I’ve heard/seen comments about the fact that they realize the homework helps them be prepared for assessments, the packets help because they can do the homework at school during study hall and then ask me questions before they go home or get to class, and that me choosing which ones are being presented has helped them get their presentations done earlier (I used to have it just be presentations if anyone had a question on a problem). I have noticed more homework completion and I thought it may be because the students still see every assignment in the gradebook, so I’m getting more late work turned in. Homework presentations have been so much better, probably because of the higher completion.

But in the end, should it really be about how much homework gets completed? I should be more worried about how much students are learning. I think that on an A-B block schedule, homework is essential practice because my students have to regularly go 2-3 days without seeing the material and sometimes (like this week or if they’re absent) go up to 6 days before being back in class. I struggled with retention last semester and I’m struggling with it less this semester. But it’s still a struggle.

This post went in a lot of different directions and is probably hardly coherent but I’m not gonna proofread it at this point so I’m just gonna post it. Can you tell me how you do homework? I’m very intrigued by Jonathan’s post on Infinite Sums about his homework structure in his calculus class. I plan on adjusting my homework policy as I move more and more towards SBG, as well.

Pourquoi les devoirs? Je veux savoir la solution à ce problème mais je n’ai pas de grille de réponses.

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3 thoughts on “How I’ve Been Doing HW This Year

  1. I’m in my second year of teaching and my first year teaching 9-12th at my current school. Here’s what I do. It’s not perfect, but it’s what I’ve come up with after reading many blogs and learning my students.

    I give at least one assignment with each lesson, sometimes I break the lesson down into two or three sections and then give an assignment for each section. This usually means two or three assignments every week. I give students 10-15 problems on each assignment, 5-10 are from the new lesson and the rest are from old lessons-spiraling. I grade most, but not all of the problems for accuracy and they count for 20-30% of the quarter grade, depending on the classes. Students have 2 days to complete each assignment-so I can give them timely feedback and see how they do on their own. I will accept late work, without penalty for one week. I tried allowing them to turn in assignments at any point throughout the quarter, thinking that I don’t care when they learn the material, as long as they learn it. However, too many saw it as an excuse to not do hw until the last week of the quarter, which hurt their learning and was unfair for me to have to grade them all in such a short time. I allow them to do corrections at any point in the quarter to improve their grade and to identify and correct their errors. At this point, my students wouldn’t do the practice if I didn’t grade it. They would just accept their poor test grades. Eventually, I want to make hw optional and students will do as much or as little as they need.

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  2. I hated checking homework. For students who complete HW, checking was a waste of peak learning time. Those who didn’t compete it followed along with the class when it was checked and that seemed good enough to them. Since I view HW as part of the learning process rather than demonstration of mastery, I never recorded a grade anyway. I now give a few HW problems almost daily and then tweet, Remind 101 and post on my school website the answers along with solutions. Students are expected to check their own HW. They may ask questions the next day, but that’s on them not me. I’m moving on. This also has the advantage of making information available to absent students. If there are problems that multiple students had questions about before school, I will be sure to review the with the class.

    To encourage HW completion a bit I do put a couple HW problems on quizzes and tests which should be free points if students did their part. If the student has a question about one of these problems during an assessment, I tell them straight up that it was a HW problem so now’s not the time for questions.

    In the past, I have had almost all my students do most of the HW most of the time. Some students are afraid not do their HW for fear I will call home. Fear is not motivation to learn; it’s motivation to comply. That is pure defense. Not fun. (These are high-flyers–8th graders taking Math II. However, this year the crew is less motivated than those in the past to learn and make an effort if there is the slightest struggle to be had.) There are aways those couple of kids who don’t do their HW no matter what. Changing how I do business is not going to change them. I do occasionally hand out index cards; give three random problem numbers from the night before; give students only enough time to record their answer on the index card; turn it in. I record these as 2 out of three or three out of three or zero out of three or whatever, but I weight the score by zero. This is information, not a measure of mastery. If a parent wants to inquire about poor performance of assessments, I have a record of non-hw completion if I need it. I have even permitted kids to use old HW on quizzes without prior notice. Intermittent accountability is essentially my method. There is no direct grade from HW.

    I NEVER give HW to my math 8 students. My experience is that most don’t do it anyway and I would just be setting them up for failure. I want to set them up for success. I would spend more time assigning and checking HW than would ever be worthwhile. I quiz frequently–a mini on Tues or Wed, even if just on a an index card and always a big quiz on Fridays. Minis carry a weight of 1 and Friday quizzes have a weight of 3. Tests are weighted 10 and projects carry a weight of 5. I do give completion/participation grades once in a while that are intended as free 100s to boost grades. These are usually done so that I have a record of absences in the book, even if I weight them zero. Students will be ask, “Is this for a grade of information?” They get it. Not everything that matters counts as points.

    Bottom line, I don’t grade HW. Even when I checked it daily, I never graded it. Grading the learning process does not provide me with information that I need.

    (Sorry this is so long. Yikes!)

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