What is your “philosophy of homework”?

During a PLC meeting today, our math department was asked to think about our current grading policy, and give feedback regarding its success as well as changes we thought might improve things for next year.  This discussion had us asking very fundamental questions about assessment and student learning.

One hot topic that I’m still mulling over is the simple idea of homework.  Math teachers out there – how do you “grade” homework?  Is it primarily a completion grade?  Do you actually collect and “grade” it for correctness and accuracy?  If you do, how often do you do this?  If scored for completion, are we assessing learning?  If we don’t score homework for correctness, should we score homework at all?  Or do we do away with scoring homework entirely?

The reason I am asking is that all of these layers were part of today’s discussions.  I would love to hear your “Middle School Mathematics Philosophy of Homework” to help me see and understand different perspectives.  I have strong opinions, but I’m trying to remain open to thinking about homework in ways that may be new and uncomfortable for me.  Feel free to share thoughts and references – I’ll weigh in as you weigh in… GO!

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18 Responses to What is your “philosophy of homework”?

  1. Marshall Thompson says:

    I’d love to hear your strong opinions. Here’s one of mine. I have watched too many teachers burn themselves out checking every single problem in every assignment. That is not sustainable.

  2. Chris Shore says:

    Although I am a high school teacher, let me weigh in on this. I will start off by saying that the best complement I ever received as a teacher was “Your class required the least of my time, and the most of my brain.” I feel that is a nice high watermark to reach for, and should tell you the general slant that I take in regards to homework.
    A great deal of research shows that homework is wasted on elementary school children. The results that I have read show a mixed bag, though, as you move through secondary. The solid rule is to keep it to 10 minutes per grade level, so your middle schoolers shouldn’t be doing more than 80 minutes TOTAL for all classes, and my Seniors should be limited to less than two hours. That equates to 20-30 minutes for our math class tops. Teens need sleep more than cramming, and if they really need to learn so much outside the classroom, then something is wrong inside the classroom.
    With that said, I have two more quick points: 1) I give NO homework in remedial classes which means Algebra in high school. The few assignments I do give vary in length and in nature. 2) Any gradebook should be recording learning of/performance to the Standards (content & practice). Not effort. There are others ways to reward & instill effort without putting a grade in the book, just ask any coach. That makes my gradebook 100% assessment based.

  3. Chris Shore says:

    P.S. I don’t want to imply that I grade homework. I don’t. There are ways to check it and get kids to do it, without grading it.

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      Chris, I’d love to hear more about the ways you check homework and get kids to do it without grading it. Very intriguing statement!

  4. Veronica Koite says:

    I currently give weekly homework that covers pre-dominantly current concepts in the classroom but also includes previous taught (both current year and previous grade levels) concepts for practice.

    I do grade each problem and try to find big mistakes or misconceptions. It is burning me out but at the same time the students who consistently do their homework perform better. I leave notes on the homework for students to see me about certain things, but rarely do I get these students in for tutorials. I would love some ideas on how to better implement this to make it work for my students.

  5. Cathy Yenca says:

    I suppose I’m at a crossroads with my good ol’ pal homework. I don’t quite know what to do with it, and it helps to read the sentiments of others, so thank you!

    For years, I have believed that “homework” is a student’s first chance to practice a new skill. Homework is their safe place to make mistakes because they’re brand new at whatever it is we’re working on. If they try every problem, they receive full credit (which translates to a very minute percentage of their overall average).

    Now, our faculty is being challenged to rethink homework. If we only look at effort and completion, and that is the number that goes in the “book”… are we assessing student learning?

    I get it – I can see how something that is viewed more as a (minute) completion score may not measure what a student has learned or what they currently know about the content. I may not be assessing mathematical learning… but is it true to say I am not assessing the learning of other skills crucial to the success of a middle-schooler? Responsibility? Developing study habits? (My mantra, and you can ask ANY of my students about this… is… “How do you study for math? You DO MATH!”)

    If completion grades are no longer acceptable, I feel I am at a crossroads between somehow “grading” homework… or assigning it and not “grading” it at all. Neither choice sits well with me at the moment. If I assign it but don’t grade it, will the average 12-14-year-old even bother? Maybe I need to get more creative and utilize technology to help me truly assess mathematical understanding of the homework on a weekly basis rather than looking quickly at student work on a daily basis.

    I am torn. Is it so wrong to stick to my original plan? Try every problem, and even if they’re wrong, you get credit, just “make your paper better” and revise it as we converse about it? Why is it NOT okay to assess something for effort and responsibility if the percentage of students’ grades devoted to it is already very, very small? Are middle schoolers responsible enough to do homework that isn’t graded, knowing that NOT doing it will directly impact the things that WILL be graded?

  6. David Taub says:

    I give math homework every week – however, I give the answers at the same time and never check who does it. They have one week to do the homework (this is a school policy), and the day it is due I always start the class by asking if there were any questions about the homework.

    A long time ago I used to grade it, then traded down to just checking, then gave that up. I realized there was no point. The students who are interested in improving will put the effort in, and the ones who aren’t won’t. Period. If you grade it, they will just cheat. You can’t follow them home and sit next to them while they do it. It’s a lot of effort with not much return.

    The parents know about the homework, when it is due. But this only helps for involved parents.

    This has been a lot less stress for me, and, personally, I have seen no difference in results.

  7. Shannon says:

    I didn’t read anyone’s comments so I’d have the courage to post my own! I give my students a completion grade. My thoughts are that they are earning the grade by doing the extra practice. First thing after our warm-up we go over the homework. They grade themselves. When I put in their grades, I’m also looking at what they’ve done. Did they do okay? Did they miss a lot? What does their work look like? I look to see if their are any trends in misconceptions so that I can alter my instruction. I don’t look at every single problem.

  8. Alisan Royster says:

    I give a small homework assignment nearly every day. My classes just aren’t long enough to get in enough practice, and many times my students have been working together during class, so homework practice problems are one way of seeing exactly what my students are able to do on their own. In my first years of teaching, I gave a grade for homework by percent correct. In more recent years, I’ve gone to grading (primarily) for completion — and while it’s true that it’s hard to keep up the pace of all that grading, I mostly switched to completion grading for 2 reasons: (1) I can give them the answers in class and they can know right away whether they know what they’re doing or not, and (2) I think they’re actually MORE honest (not just copying someone else’s homework or doing their work on the calculator) knowing that the grading is done for completion. We do still talk about the answers and their mistakes, and they make corrections if needed (off to the side so that I can look back and see their original work). But that way I can identify particular students who need more help right away rather than the next day or later in the week.

    I wish my sixth graders all had the maturity and responsibility to just do their homework because they know they need to practice in order to be successful, but the reality is that there are students who are ONLY going to do their homework because they know they’re getting a grade for it. And those students tend to be the same ones who are most in need of practice!

    I spend a lot of time thinking about the “best” way to handle homework. I’m not sure there is a way that’s BEST for every classroom, or even every student, but when you have classes of 30 students you have to go for what’s best for the majority of them, and right now my system is working for me.

  9. Jennifer Hull says:

    Here’s what worked for my 8th grade math students and raised their 2012 standardized test scores two to four times higher than the county/state scores…
    (What you’re about to read can be done in a 50-minute class, so here is the agenda in advance: Peer-to-peer quiz corrections for previous day’s quiz, 5 minutes; today’s quiz, 10 minutes; go over 5 homework problems from previous night, 12 minutes; teach new lesson, 20 minutes; wrap-up, 3 minutes.)

    1. Don’t grade homework: do assign it every night. (I know, I know, hold on…) Make sure each assignment combines evens and odds so that students CAN CHECK THEIR ANSWERS to the odd problems in the back of the book and make sure they’re on the right track!
    2. The next day, require that 5 questions be asked about the homework: this frees students to raise hands knowing they are contributing to one of the required 5 problems, instead of hesitating because they don’t want to look inept. Be sure to thank each student for bringing up whatever issue it is.
    3. Remind them that they have a short quiz on THIS lesson tomorrow, made from similar even AND odd homework problems. (So, homework is completely formative; short quizzes make students accountable, but it is critical that you create quiz questions that are very representative of the homework.)
    4. Proceed to teach the new lesson and wrap-up.
    5. The next day, students will take the 3- or 4-question quiz (short-answer, always, which I wrote and projected on the LCD projector) on the homework that we went over yesterday. I had half-sheets of recycled paper in the back of the room: students grabbed one as they walked in. They had to show all work or else.

    (These quizzes are quick to grade and enter, and, once I do, I staple tutors/tutees together for the next day so that students who “got it” can explain things to those who didn’t. This peer tutoring was eagerly anticipated in the classroom, especially since it gave ALL students, even the poorer ones, a chance to be the expert to someone else. )

    Now it’s the next day, so here is how a complete “rotation” works:

    A. As students walk in, they are given the previous day’s stapled quizzes and find their “staplee” to go over what they missed. The previous day’s quiz is projected on the screen.
    B. After 5 minutes, they take today’s quiz (now projected on the screen), based on homework that we went over yesterday.
    C. Quizzes are collected after 10 minutes, and students get out last night’s homework so that they can go over the 5 problems of their choice.
    D. Afte 15 minutes (more or less), we launch into today’s new lesson and finish in 20 minutes, with a brief wrap-up.

    All my grades were quiz and test grades; I reduced my grading time, increased the students’ accountability, and forced them to know the material by not using any multiple choice. Any quiz retakes were done during lunch and involved a student coming in and my throwing an impromptu problem up on the whiteboard or giving an oral assessment . Took 3-4 minutes.

    To the boys who get it, who have always gotten it, but who have had low math grades due to incomplete homework assignments… You are free to make A’s with no pain.

    To the girls who are great at math and love doing homework to prove it, have at it!

    To the middle-of-the-road kids, this is math with no fear. Relax. You can ask questions and try problems and ask questions again with no grade attached, and gain confidence.

    To the students who place math at the bottom of the list and don’t plan on doing homework now or ever, your quiz grades will soon put you on probation either at school, at home, or both.

    I wish all you dedicated teachers the very best, and hope some part of this system works for you.

    • Jeremy Bell says:

      awesome idea Jennifer. I think I am going to try this out. I was trying to do entry quizzes and grade homework, and that fell apart of me because it became too big. This idea ties all of the pieces together, so they all relate.

      My question is how does your system hold up for absences? What happens when a student misses 2 days and is out not in the seemless progression anymore?

  10. Cathy Yenca says:

    Jennifer, WOW, THANK YOU!

    I would love to try what you suggest, but mix it up a bit as far as the quizzing you mention. Since we have 1-to-1 iPads, I’d love to try giving a quiz using an app here and there. Aligning the quizzes closely to the homework, but making some quizzes multiple choice using a self-scoring app could provide meaningful experiences with multiple-choice problems as well. This has been so insightful! Keep your suggestions coming – this type of dialogue is priceless, and I truly appreciate “hearing” what has worked, and what has not.

    • Jennifer Hull says:

      How great to have those iPads: you have probably heard of thatquiz.com, which offers a great selection of teacher-made quizzes (or you can design your own) in multiple choice format. Don’t know if it has an app, but it may be helpful!

      • Cathy Yenca says:

        I LOVE thatquiz.org! Check out my blog posts about using it in the classroom – it works great on the iPad as long as the iPad is oriented in landscape mode on students’ desks. Great way to track basic skill data as well as higher level Algebra concepts – some of those quizzes are quite “Meaty”!

  11. P. Sutton says:

    Glad to know I’m not the only one that struggles with what to do with homework. I check it for completion every day for 3 points. It’s not all or nothing; if they did half the problems, they get a 1.5, etc. As I check I quickly look to see how the problems look … if I see something odd I’ll ask them what they did. If it’s obvious they just wrote random things down, they get a 0. I check HW while they work on their warm up … or, I should say, while they write the warm up problem down and wait for someone to do it on the board (a battle I am constantly fighting!).

    Where I struggle is how to check homework. I’ve tried a variety of things: letting the kids ask their own questions, calling on students to read every answer, having volunteers write them on the board, showing/discussing my answer key on the doc cam, showing the answers in a Word doc on the projector, passing out copies of the answer keys to have students check, etc. (Wow! Didn’t realize I’ve tried so many different things!). The answer key thing works really well with Algebra 2 – those students are starting to be at the point where they care, and some will actually check their work and ask questions. I would only give them the key, though, if they did the assignment.

    My applied Alg. 1/Alg. B students get homework just about every night – you know, I’m the ONLY TEACHER IN THE SCHOOL who gives homework on Fridays! – worksheets of usually about 10-15 problems, depending on the topic, that are very specific. I make up all my own worksheets. I never give textbook assignments, because I find that a.) students don’t do them and b.) there are so few problems of certain types that it’s confusing. I try to keep them to one topic at a time and give them sequential names (example: Practice 10-1A, Practice 10-1B, Practice 10-2A, etc.). This level of students don’t really see the connection between homework completion and high test grades. Grading for completion saves the students who bomb every test. Kids who don’t ever do HW but do really well on tests will still pass, but I always make sure to tell them periodically how many more points they could have if they had down their HW (one kid once would have gone from an 81 to an 88!).

    In my Honors class, I debated not checking homework at all. But they are 10th graders in Honors Geometry and they are still at the age where they won’t do it unless it is checked. I think it sometimes artificially inflates their grades (since they always do it), but I then make tests/and quizzes higher, so it evens out. (Quizzes are usually around 70-80 points and tests over 100). I’ve also given my H. Geo kids many graded homework assignments that I collect and grade – particularly with proofs. I sometimes let them work on them in class with a partner, other times I make them do them in one night. I always give lots of feedback on these types of assignments.

    I think I’d have a hard time feeling that the kids were learning if I didn’t give homework.

    • Cathy Yenca says:

      I give homework on Fridays too, ha ha! Actually, I give homework based on content, not the day of the week, and I let students know this at the start of the year. So, they may have a random Tuesday with no homework to do, but Friday they may have an assignment. I just roll with what’s needed, not what the calendar says. 😉

      I start class every day with what I call a “Homework Huddle”. Students pair up or get into small groups to compare and discuss the assigned problems, and try to resolve discrepancies before I show an answer key. This is when I walk around with my clipboard and glance at student work, assigning each student a 3, 2, 1 or 0, with 3 meaning every problem was attempted with meaningful work (even if there are errors), 2 meaning more than half was attempted, 1 meaning less than half, and 0 meaning they didn’t do it or they can’t produce the assignment at the moment. Discussions during this time are rich, and it’s really fun to hear “arguments” when kids disagree, or that awesome “OH!!!” when they realize what they’ve done wrong and make corrections. By the time we come together as a class to see the key and have a Q & A session, I rarely have to work more than a problem or two for the class, because most issues have been resolved during the “huddle”.

      My thought is to continue with this practice – assign homework, and informally check it by walking around during “Homework Huddle”, but perhaps give a “homework quiz” on Fridays that actually goes in the grade book? Allow students to use the homework they should have completed during the week as a reference during the “quiz” so there is incentive to do it and correct it?

      I still would like to keep some sort of record, though, of students who don’t do the homework, even if I implement this plan for next school year. Parents like to ask how students are doing on their homework, so if I have no way of saying little Johnny ALWAYS or NEVER does his homework, that makes me a little bit uncomfortable.

      Willing to change, just still not sure what that looks like. Time to explore some research, I think!

  12. Pingback: MS Sunday Funday – Grading (or not grading) Homework…? That is the question! | MathyCathy's Blog – Mrs. Cathy Yenca

  13. Glen Daniels says:

    I am a high school student that is above average in the means of academic intelligence. Although I am gifted in this area, I simply DO NOT DO HOMEWORK. My freshman year i did of course, but this year I realized something. I need more sleep, and more time to have a good high school experience by playing sports, socializing, etc. And because of family issues, the sports, the depression, and ADD, I simply do not have the will any longer to do homework. The reason behind this is because HOMEWORK IS POINTLESS, other than to get the points on for the nine weeks. My teachers do not understand why I don’t do it, but they must realize one other thing. The point of grades is to reflect the students intelligence, NOT to see who has the most extra time on their hands. I believe that homework should count as extra credit, for those who would do it would be the ones who need the points. For students like me, would simply not do homework, study where needed on our own time and not because we get penalized otherwise. Homework should be up to the students, not be forced upon them by the teacher. I am in higher level courses, among upperclassmen mostly because of this, and have a 3.996 GPA without doing most homework, but it is falling quickly due to the lack of points achieved by completing homework. I truly hope that you understand my view on homework. It truly makes life much harder as you may not know what some students are struggling with. Thank you.

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