Thursday, August 17, 2006

New homework review policy! (Don't you just get the chills?)

Finding an effective and efficient way to review homework is quite a challenge. I've tried a lot of different strategies over the years. The problem, I've found, is that a lot of time is spent reviewing homework, and it is not necessarily clear if there is much benefit to it. Also, getting students to go back and revise their work - to actually use their homework as an opportunity to further their understanding - is a difficult task. Last year, I collected my Algebra 2 students' homework, and spot graded two or three problems while they worked on the Do Now independently. This allowed me to see how the class did as a whole, as well as noticing if individual students were really struggling with the concepts. There were two big downsides, however. First, it took me about 20 minutes to get this done at the beginning of class (we have 80 minute periods), and it was quite a stressful way for me to begin the lesson. Second, students were motivated to do well on the homework because of the grading; however, if they did not do well, there was little incentive for them to go back and revise their work (I wouldn't have time to look at revisions with this system).

After thinking about it for a while, I have come up with the outline for a new plan of action. The goals are to minimize my time at the board (while increasing collaborative work time), review the homework efficiently, allow students to tailor their practice to their needs, promote revision of homework, and help students learn the value of completing homework. Here is the plan in its initial form.

This will occur in the first 15 – 20 minutes of each class:

When class starts, students have homework out and ready (done in pencil only), with a colored pen for correction. Open up the class journal to a new page, write the date, and then “Homework Review” as a header.

Correct answers are shown on the overhead. Students check their work (checks for correct, x’s for wrong) and write down the correct answers when needed.

While students are checking their work, a tally sheet is passed around, where students indicate which problems they want to see reviewed. They can make between 0 and 3 marks.

When done correcting work, students pick a problem (or problems, if there is time) to redo in their notebooks. They should collaborate with their group members if help is needed.

After 10 – 15 minutes, I collect the tally sheet and demonstrate one or two of the problems with the most votes (or select students to present these problems). If students want further demonstrations of problems, they are encouraged to ask me sometime later during the class (when appropriate), before school, or during office hours.

The five pre-selected problems that will be graded are now indicated on the overhead (i.e., I circle the problems). There is no partial credit – for each circled problem that is correct, students earn 2 points. Students write their score (out of 10) at the top of the paper.

Students can turn in corrections to the homework in the following lesson. For each circled problem that is correctly done over, with all work shown, students earn 1 additional point to the original score (i.e. if the homework was not turned in on time, students can earn no more than 5/10). Corrections must be on a separate piece of binder paper, stapled to the original assignment, and very clear and easy to read.

After completing this homework review process (at about 20 minutes), students will then work on the “Do Now” problems, either individually or collaboratively, depending on the needs of the lesson. While they work on these problems, I will circulate to record their homework grades, check homework corrections from the previous class, and answer quick questions. This will be given another 10 minutes or so, allowing about 50 minutes for the remainder of the lesson.

Well, that's it. I'm not sure if it will work, but I'd like to give it a good shot. Any comments would be appreciated!


Anonymous said...

Your grading system means that a student who easily masters the material and doesn't bother with your busy work could get a lower grade than a swot who religiously obeys your every dictum and doesn't understand a thing.

What's the point of homework? If the kid hasn't mastered the material in class, he's certainly not going to figure anything out at home--especially the kids you're working with, who don't have anyone to ask for help.

I'd skip homework altogether.

Darren said...

I have homework count for 15% of a student's grade, whereas weekly quizzes count for 30% and tests count for 50%. Students must display a mastery of the material in order to get a good grade.

Dan Wekselgreene said...

I don't know of many teachers who would agree with your assessment. Students get valuable practice and reinforcement when doing homework. It's false to say that a student who did not master the material in class will not figure it out at home, given the chance to reflect, use notes and examples, get help from others, etc. In the end, they may indeed not figure it out, but they will be further along than if they had done nothnig, and they will be more likely to ask better questions the following lesson.

Also, I would not classify my homework as busywork. I don't assign work simply for them to have work; the homework I give consists of problems I've written for students to reinforce and occasionally extend the class objectives. I usually give fewer problems that go deeper, not dozens of problems that practice the same exact skill.

My percentages are about the same as yours, though quizzes count less and exams more. What comprises your final 5%? I am planning on devoting about 5% to grading the students' binders, to provide additional incentive to staying organized.

I consider homework to be a very important part of the overall experience, but it is only the means to an end. I don't ever make it more than 20% of the grade. I believe math students need to be assessed on their mastery of the material, not their ability to turn in homework. I guess the swots better follow my "go study for your test!" dictum.

Anonymous said...

Here's something to consider: Have students rate each answer 0-3. Zero means "I had no idea how to start"; 1 means "I got started but couldn't finish"; 2 means "I got an answer but I'm not sure whether it is correct"; and 3 means "I know the answer is correct".

The ratings would help point you to the most important solutions to review AND help your students learn to analyze their own work.

(I read about this in a journal; I haven't tried it myself as I don't teach. But I think it's a really interesting idea.)


Dan Wekselgreene said...

Thanks - that's an interesting idea. I think it might be too time consuming for me to do on daily homework review, but it might work really well when preparing for an exam (like while doing a study packet or sample test). I'll have to give it a try.

Anonymous said...

I do something that is a bit unusual.

Every kid has the right to put homework on the board during the first few minutes of class (three quarters of the boardspace is reserved for their work, I use half of the front board, only)

And they get credit. They get credit if they are right. They get credit if they've made an error. They get credit if they put up a problem and indicate where they got stuck.

Now that credit is small, but I do count it towards their participation grade.

More importantly, class discussion of homework is driven entirely by their questions about what is on the board - they have selected what they need help with, or what they want to show off.

Structure: They do some intro exercises, or we chat a moment of two, while homework is going up. We review the exercises, maybe I do a little more at the front, we review homework, and then we get to the rest of the lesson and practice.

And as far as grading homework, they are responsible for putting up stuff they couldn't do, and for correcting their work based on what is on the board. I just check for completeness (and maybe only 50-60% of the time, at that)

Dan Wekselgreene said...


Once your students learn to be engaged in taking responsibility for their homework, I can imagine that your homework review is quite lively and useful. How much time do you spend on it, because it seems like it could be quite lengthy. I have done my best to trim down the time spent on homework review so we can focus on the lesson and in-class practice.

Also, with my students, I've found that they have difficulty explaining problems clearly enough for others to really learn from them. The lower skilled the student is, the more likely he or she is to prefer having the teacher do all the explaining. Right now I guess I kind of avoid this problem by ignoring it; do your students get better at explaining through practice, or is there some kind of explicit instruction you provide to help them improve?

Anonymous said...

Only a small portion of the homework generally goes up (maybe one quarter) and not all of that needs review. When more goes up, it is usually show-off work, which is fine, they look for each other's errors, but there is not much to review.

The problems that need going over, sometimes I explain them, sometimes I ask kids for help. They do not, in general, get up to explain their own problems to the class. That would significantly extend the length of homework review.

You are right about how much better homework review is when they are taking responsibility. The best part, I think, is that they take ownership of the room. They decide when to get up, what to put up. It helps build a positive dynamic.

Of course, these are different kids, but I did some of this when I taught at a large, regular, Bronx high school as well. (the sense of ownership was wonderful for those kids, but the question you ask, time, was a real problem)

Anonymous said...

I liked your idea and wanted to see how it worked/is working. I have struggled with how to handle homework review for all 3 years of my teaching. I also struggle with students not correcting their work.

I have a couple of questions. 1. To what degree and how do you check method/work as compared to the right answers? 2. Do you collect any of the work or simply record the work during the do now time?

Thanks for your help.


Dan Wekselgreene said...

Jay, I used this method for all of last year, and I think it worked pretty well in my Algebra 2 honors class. For it to work, there does have to be a good level of both buy-in and trust. I didn't check work - only recorded their scores. There just isn't time to really check their work this way. I keep my homework percentage low enough that students who might be reporting higher scores than they should won't see any benefit to it when they do poorly on tests.

All that being said, we are trying something new (again!) this year in Algebra 2. We are having daily homework quizzes that occur during the first 10 minutes of class. Students get 3 - 5 problems that are directly from the homework. These are graded right away (we have keys ready, no partial credit, and the first 2 - 3 kids finished become graders) and returned. I only check homework then for students who received a failing grade on the quiz. This way, if a student really understood everything from the lesson, they don't really need to do the homework, as they will get credit for passing the quiz. (Although this applies to almost none of my students!)

All students are encouraged to study and retake their homework quiz before the next class. (We make ourselves available in the morning and during lunch). This is nice because it gives immediate feedback to the student, and the lack of partial credit forces them to deal with those "little errors" like leaving off negative signs and so forth. It also gives them incentive to learn what they haven't already, as they can replace any score with a better one, so long as they put in the effort.

I have the added benefit of having a TA in my one Algebra 2 class this year who takes care of all the grading and recording herself, which is awesome for me.