Friday, July 12, 2013

Homework- I think I solved it!

Next year I've been slated to teach ALL GEOMETRY. This translates to ALL FRESHMAN. I haven't taught this age group in eight years! I've never gotten them fresh out of Intermediate School and I am a little worried about how mommy-ish I have to be. I've taught juniors and seniors mostly and I am really worried about homework.

Let me pose some questions...

1) What is the goal of homework, at its most basic level?
2) Should we punish kids that don't need to do the homework?
3) How can we be sure THAT student did the work and it isn't just copied from a friend?
4) If the student did all of the problems incorrectly, should they get a perfect grade?

Here's my thoughts:

1) The goal of homework is to reinforce skills/concepts that we have worked on in class. It is not for me, the teacher, it is for them, the students to get better at doing their job (which is learn what they need to learn).

2) If a kid is SO GOOD (and it's extremely rare) that they don't need to practice, then I should not punish them for spending time practicing other subjects that they need to work on.

3) Copying is problem in ALL schools. I do not want to reward this behavior. I want to reward the fact that a kid took the time to learn/relearn/reinforce the SKILL, not the fact that they put someone else's efforts on a page during lunch.

4) The reinforcement argument assumes that the kid is doing the work correctly. But what if they aren't doing it correctly? Then they are reinforcing BAD HABITS, which is unacceptable.

So, how do I deal with all of these factors? 

(First, let me say that my school is on an alternating block schedule- kids have 4 classes on A day and 4 different classes on B day. So, in essence, they have two days to complete homework to get the skills down.)

I assign homework EVERYDAY. Sometimes it's three questions (basic, medium, hardcore) and sometimes its fifteen (5 different problems at each of the three levels). I also give out a list of the answers with every homework. No work shown, mind you, just the final answers.

The following class, there will be a homework quiz. The quiz has both multiple choice and free responses questions and it's four to six questions BASED ON THE HOMEWORK. Not exact replicas, mind you, but assessing the same skills at about a B- level. The kids take the quiz during the first 15-20 minutes of class and hand in the answer sheet when they are done. They keep the question sheet.

After everyone has handed in the answer sheet, we go over the quiz right away. We discuss the answers and how to get them, we talk about different ways to tackle the problems, we learn from our mistakes and our classmates. We realize that homework has value- if we had completed the homework, we would have done better. Maybe some of us should stop by Mrs. G's room for extra help today?

Then we grade them. They grade their question sheet, I grade the answer sheet. Each question in worth one point, but the grade is out of twice that number. So on a six question quiz, if you get one wrong it's an 11 out of 12, two wrong is a 10 out of 12, etc. After they are graded, I throw them away. I used to keep them, but quickly realized that's not necessary.

I like it because I can quickly assess where my kids are and pinpoint misconceptions. It doesn't kill their grade- the lowest they can get is a 50%. The kids like it because they know where they stand right away and they can see how they are doing. Parents like it because they get an update everyday as to how their kids are doing BEFORE the major assessment (quiz, test, project).

Questions? Comments? Points of view? Thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. Hello!
    I've been thinking about homework long and hard too and I really like what you've described.

    I'm kind of on a similar page with regards to the answers you gave above - but with a few additions:
    1) I think that homework is also a way for higher level students to challenge themselves with harder questions that we might not have time to explore in class.
    2) Given my addition to your answer for "#1", I think that even if a student is "so good" that they don't need to practice, there's always something more that they can do to stretch themselves.

    I've also been thinking a lot about the power of choice and how important that is for students. So what I'm thinking about doing next year is:

    Give students 10-ish problems a day. Around 3 would be easy/review, 5 would be the expected level of understanding, and 3 would be challenge. The students would be expected to do 5 problems - they can choose which ones.

    My idea for curving cheating is to tell the students that though I will collect and grade HW every day, it is only worth 5% of their grade. And since HW is mainly for THEM to practice and for ME to know where they need help with, it doesn't make sense for them to waste their time and mine with copying... If they're going to copy, just don't do it and take the 5% hit. They can still get an A. (This means that even if they miss one or two HW assignments b/c they're busy, it wouldn't make that big of an impact.)

    BUT, every Friday, there will be a HW quiz (similar to what you described) that would be part of the quiz grade, which is a bigger part of their final grade.

    I dunno - I'm trying to mix getting the students to practice/challenge themselves more with the idea of choice with wanting to help students before they get too far into a hole.

    Anyways, I would love to hear how your system goes!!