Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Photo by zaui.
This school year I’ve been rethinking how to give homework in my math classes. This seems to be a trend in education, perhaps even a slow movement of sorts to get away from traditional homework. Do these 20 or 30 problems and then come back to class and I’ll check to see which are correct. There are two sides to this routine that some have realized.
First, students don’t like doing homework. That’s not a big revelation really. But assigning a lot of homework creates some animosity between student and teacher (ie, homework as punishment) and student and subject (ie, I’m not really good at math). A student should also feel that the opportunity cost of x minutes of homework is greater than the opportunity cost of a lower grade.
Second, the load of assignments to correct for teachers is amazing. Let me see here…105 students x 3 assignments in a week x 20 problems is 7300 problems to look at. I once worked at a school that was looking into grading by standards and benchmarks; the amount of individual grades per student was staggering.
I have started to think of each class as a sports team, such as basketball. On this team, some players are good, some OK, and some who are only there because their parents make them go. Basketball is just not their thing. Anyway, some players need more practice than others. If homework is like practice, do my star players need to spend as much time practicing layups as the third string team? No.
One evening I was having this same conversation with a guy I taught Algebra 1 with last school year. He said he’s set up one class where students are only required to do homework if they have less than a B. This seems like a good idea. He said that students are reacting differently: the smart kids like the policy but still want to keep their A’s and do the homework, the below-B kids still need to do their homework of course, and then there’s a group of kids who just do enough homework to get up to a B and then wait for their grade to fall back down again.
Any system is bound to get worked by students I suppose.
Currently, Team Geometry is handling homework through something called a homework check.* Instead of collecting assignments regularly, we collect them on quiz days. Students get 9 minutes to copy certain answers from their assignments onto a single sheet of paper. This paper is then graded and filed under homework for that unit. It happens twice per unit usually.
I like this system. It seems to be working for the time being. I can vary the checks from class to class. Students who still don’t do homework realize the consequences. The time limit works well also. Students can learn to budget their time throughout the week in case they have to study for another class or get something else done.
*This was first deemed the homework quiz. However, when you call it a quiz, everyone thinks it’s a quiz in a traditional sense. Sorta like death tax vs estate tax; both mean the same thing.