Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What to do about homework...

There is an interesting post and series of comments about homework at The Daily Grind.

I agree that homework needs to be assigned every class period. But, like every teacher, I've struggled with how to best hold students accountable for not just completing it, but understanding it. In our freshmen math courses (Algebra 1, Numeracy), we give students full credit on an assignment if it is completed and turned in on time (we don't assess it for correctness at all). We also don't accept late work, unless students have an excused absence. The purpose of this is to build the ethic of doing homework and turning it in - as many students seem to come to high school with out having done much - if any - homework in the past. We are pretty successful at getting students to turn in their work by the end of freshman year. Getting them to really think about it, try hard on questions they don't understand, and seek help when they have difficulties is another thing altogether.

In my Algebra 2 course last year, I began the policy of assessing homework by spot grading 2 or 3 random problems daily, and giving that grade to the entire homework. I always made sure to include at least one of the more challenging problems. That way, if a student skipped a hard one (or did not put much effort into it), they would at best get half credit on the assignment. Overall, it seemed to work pretty well, and I often had students come in before class to get help on problems they didn't understand. This did, however, take a lot of time (about 15 - 20 minutes of my time per class); I would give them a self-paced Do Now at the beginning of each class and grade the assignments while they worked. I liked that this forced them to be more self-sufficient, because I refused to provide any help during that time. I was able to get immediate feedback on their progress from the previous class, and I was also able to give them immediate feedback (i.e. re-teaching a specific concept that many students had trouble with). While this was nice, it was also a stressful way to start each class. And sometimes, if the Do Now assignment was more difficult than I anticipated (or if I was feeling lazy), I wouldn't grade the homework right away - and then it would usually sit in my pile until I recycled it.

In my current summer Geometry course, I am trying a different tactic altogether. I am not grading (or even checking) their daily homework. Instead, I am giving a quiz first thing each day, where the questions are either identical to ones assigned for homework, or very closely related. It is a multiple choice quiz, and they take it on Scantrons - during their break, I grade them quickly, and this is a great way to provide us all with immediate feedback. It also will hopefully help prepare them for the high-stakes multiple choice tests that they will be plagued with (ACT, ELM, STAR, etc.). Now, I know I have some students who are not doing their homework, and yet are doing fine on the quizzes. I wonder if this is ok... if they are able to do it with out completing the homework, maybe that's fine... or maybe they are not getting important practice that will reinforce their understanding... I'm not really sure. My hope is that, if they see they do poorly on a quiz, that they will have enough ganas to go and complete the homework, with the understanding that the coming test will target those same skills, and will be worth many more points.

At the end of the summer, I plan on surveying the students and getting their feedback as to what was more effective for them (most of these students were in my Algebra 2 class last year). I hope to get some honest and useful answers from them. I'll post the results.

If anyone has other strategies they like for dealing with homework, please comment.


Zippy The Pinhead said...

These days there are a number of Web-based homework delivery vehicles out there that you may want to explore. Most are developed by publishers, and they do not typically grant access for free, but there is at least one fairly robust freeware package, which is called "WeBWorK." More about that in a paragraph or so.

Most of these typically offer algorithmically-refreshed problems, so theoretically every student gets a unique assignment-- similar problems with different numbers-- and most allow the student to print the assignment, so they are not tied to a computer while they work on the problems. The basic idea is that the students log in, get a printout of their assignment, log out, and after they work the problems they then return to the computer and key in their answers. The software usually grades the problems for you, and may provide feedback to the students as well.

WRT WeBWorK, you can read more here:


The learning curve on WeBWorK is about the same as other commercially-created equivalents. In a K-12 environment, I would expect the greatest difficulty could be securing computer access for a class. Back when I worked in K-12, my campus did not have any kind of computer lab, so for me to have used a product like WeBWorK would have been very difficult. Internet access is a must for all of these delivery vehicles.

Rob said...

Sometimes I used 'trade and grade,' but I know some schools don't allow that. I decided just to do it, accommodate the few students who were uncomfortable with it, and stop if administrators ever asked me to. They never did.

A couple semesters, I had students keep elaborate social studies journals with do-nows, assignments, quizzes, etc. Every two weeks, I collected them and did a few spot checks. It was hard to get kids to keep things organized, though, without devoting a chunk of class time to enforcing a particular organizational system.

NYC Math Teacher said...

I don't grade or even collect HW. I check HW every day. I expect to see a modicum of work and not just a list of numbers/answers on the page (it's a judgement call). Recognizing that there will be times that some students, try as they may, do not know how to do the assignment. To ensure that (a) they tried to do it and (b) their parents/guardians were aware that there was HW and their child tried to do it, I ask that students provide me with a note from a parent stating that the student tried but couldn't do it.

Anonymous said...

I teach also (not math) and have struggled with homework issues as well. The first policy you enacted, where students got credit for just doing homework (which wasn't checked), I think might contribute to a lot of students copying off of others just to have a complete paper. Your current procedure of quizzing daily has merit except, if you don't go over the homework and they are doing it wrong, than they will fail the quizzes. A good friend of mine had 3 sons, all terrific math students, who hated to do homework and really didn't need the practice. They would always ace the tests/quizzes. Some teachers would give them an A because they had mastered the content. Others would give them a B or C because they didn't fulfill the requirements (homework).