An overly long post about Homework

I mentioned in my last post that I would do a post about my classes. I started it, but it got out of control. So I’m breaking off this bit about homework. And maybe I’ll break off another bit about warm-ups. We’ll see.

For a post just about homework, this goes on a bit. I’m far too verbose.

I need to do a better job this year of giving some time to review homework. I’m thinking after the warm-up I give students 3 minutes to ask their group any questions they might have had, and then I’ll take two pressing questions no one at the table could answer. I’ll be flexible with this based on what I hear while they’re reviewing. But I also want to be strict with myself that I don’t jump in during those 3 minutes. I hate, hate, hate being the “Sole Arbiter of Knowledge” in class. There are definitely times where I need to offer clarification, but too often their default is to ask me. I’m making a renewed effort to stomp that out this year. Instead I will use this time just to check their work. I walk around with a simple stamp and just stamp if they have it or not. No time to check for correctness, just completeness. The stamp changes every day, and I mark the stamp I used on a given day on the homework tracker.

HW tracker

I have a tracking sheet like the one to the right where I write down who is missing their homework. Usually the list of who’s missing homework is significantly shorter than who has it, and it’s easier to remember three or four names.  Plus absences and assignments are all in one place, and it’s easy to read.

In general I don’t accept late homework. Each assignment is only 2 points total. If it’s done very obviously poorly, I will give half credit. If a student is missing the assignment, they get a zero. At the end of every week (or more realistically every few weeks) I tally up the number of times I see a student’s name and deduct points accordingly. So if there were four homework assignment, then the score for the week is out of 8. If a student’s name is written down once, I enter a 6. If it’s there twice, I enter a 4. If I over-counted a student’s name, they should be able to show me the assignment with a stamp and I fix it. If I undercounted a student’s name, then chances are a few extra points won’t hurt them.

Unless a student is absent I don’t accept late homework. My reasons for this are that A) a few missing 2 point assignments shouldn’t drastically affect a student’s grades, and B) trying to keep track of late homework gave me a huge headache. This whole process was an effort to drastically simplify checking homework, and checking for late homework doesn’t make it less complicated. I will admit to feeling a little shitty about this, because I do think extra practice is important and I do want students to complete assignments and I do understand that sometimes kids just have super busy days. But I have to have a system that is manageable for myself. Grading is not my strong suit, and in the past when I tried to allow for late assignments it just overwhelmed me logistically. Last year I made each nightly assignment out of 4, and I hope that lowering the point value will make homework less stressful. Hopefully they will complete it because I sell the value of practice, but if they don’t then it won’t torpedo their grade. The one exception will be assignments on DeltaMath, which will count for more points (since students will have more time to complete it).

My goal of the low point value and checking for completeness was to make homework low-stakes, so students would just work on it without stressing about making mistakes. What actually happened is kids started just copying from the back of the book.  I don’t have a good fix for this. I will challenge kids if there’s no work shown, and it’s easy to catch when there’s a typo in the answer key and the kid doesn’t think anything of it, but day-to-day it’s just difficult. At the end of the day, though, homework is such a small part of their grade. Maybe doing more Edmodo quizzes or something to force them to think? But not everyone has consistent internet access at home.

In my opinion students should not be spending more than half an hour on any particular assignment from me a night. Hopefully less. They have so much to do, I don’t need them spending hours on anything I give them. I think eating a decent meal and getting a full night’s rest is probably better for their learning then completing an extra few math problems. I plan to tell them on the first day of school that if they find their homework taking more than 30 minutes, they should stop doing it and make plans to come see me after school. I’ll check in with some trustworthy students throughout the year if my goal of less than 30 minutes is actually a reality.

For homework in Algebra 2, we are going to try a modified lagging process that I heard about from Julie. Last year I tried lagging homework by waiting almost a week to do problems based on a topic, and I think there were definite advantages to the system. Kids had more time to review topics before a test, and spaced their practice more. But I did a terrible job of giving kids feedback while they were learning, so it turned into this weird system of kids not knowing what they didn’t know. The new ideal is as follows:

  • On Monday we cover topic A. For homework students get one or two “easy” problems on Topic A.
  • On Tuesday we cover topic B. Homework is one or two “easy” problems from topic B, and one or two “medium” problems from Topic A.
  • Wednesday we cover topic C. Kids will get a few “easy” problems on C, a few “medium” problems on B, and a few “hard” problems on A.

This plan is awesome! But also a lot of work. To make our lives easier we’re trying to plan out homework ahead of time and give them to students at the start of a unit. Since this whole curriculum is new this is going to be tricky, but I have high hopes. Some students may work ahead, but even if students fall behind then all assignments will be in one place.

We’ll also supplement the nightly book-work with DeltaMath  on the weekends. The assignment will be posted at the beginning of the week and will be due by 10pm on Sunday nights. They have all week to knock it out, so even if they have bad internet at home they can find us during the week (or obviously speak with me and explain their situation) and work on it another time. As a result, we won’t assign book work on Friday nights.

In my Studies 2 class, homework will probably be a bit more traditional with the assignment following the lesson. That said, I want to be constantly spiraling in old content from last year. The students are taking an exam in May that is summative on everything over two years of the class, and I don’t want to wait until April to start reviewing. Maybe rather than book work the students will get problem sets? I’m realizing this is a thing I have to think through further. I like problem-sets because they feel more official, but then it’s more stuff for students to do, and the fall of their senior year is going to be crazy.