Homework Contemplations

I am so grateful that the #HSSunFun topic of the week is homework!  It's time for me to re-evaluate my system, so this post has motivated me to get thinking.  Thank you @Carol_Leonard for compiling our blogs.

Over my many years of teacher, I think I have tried every HW policy ever shared with me, and these are my take-aways from all of the attempts:

  • Whether I have 60 or 150 students, I am terrible about checking and returning papers on a daily basis.  
  • My purpose of assigning homework is to practice a new skill.  As we all probably do, I tell the students that just as they must practice music, sports, or playing video games, they must somehow practice the new skills learned in math, which could involve working (and re-working) problems.
  • I realized that I'm very OK if students do not have an assignment completed the next day after it is assigned.  Students are involved in extra-curricular activities, or they work, or they have an AP English 3 project due, and they often face busy, late nights.  So for me, HW deadlines are negligible, but I want their homework finished before the unit test, just so they have had opportunities to practice and ask questions.
  • Students want to be acknowledged for their work, and they don't seem to care if it's a stamp, check mark, or a grade.
I have tried...collecting and checking homework daily and collecting stacks of papers at the end of the unit.  I have given HW quizzes, where students re-copy 5-6 problems straight from a week of assignments, a la David R. Johnson's 1990 book, Making Every Minute Count.  I have collected notebooks and graded a few random problems.  I have rolled a die and collected a row of HW assignments.  I have collected HW assignments and have graded only 1 problem on each paper.  I have had a "surprise" HW policy, where I could collect, check, or ignore HW on any given day of the week.  I've checked homework on completion using a rubric and a score of 10, 7, 5, 3, or 0.  I've checked homework on completion with a YES or NO--complete or not, 5 or 0.

For most years of teaching, I have checked HW on completion.  Students begin with a 100 HW average, and each assignment is worth 5 points.  For every assignment they skip, I deduct 5 points.  For extra goodness (super explanation, working extra problems, showing how they've re-learned something, peer tutoring) I add points to their HW average.  I have an Excel chart for each class period, and I always have my clipboard close by for checking, adding, and subtracting points.  At the end of the grading period, they only receive one grade for a HW average, but with the chart, I have documentation about what they have done.  (I can't believe I found an old check sheet around my house this morning!)

This procedure has worked fairly well over the years, and it has worked extremely well when the students are self-motivated.  In my classes with younger or ESL students, the stamp sheet idea (blogged here) seemed to help the students with an extra step of organization.

As I'm writing this, or until I see something new to try when I read other blogs, I think I'm going to continue with the completion-check-system with each assignment 5 points, but I think I will add a twist I learned at an AP summer institute.  The instructor checked daily homework on completion; however, if a student made 85 or greater on a "big test," he was excused from the homework checks until the next test.  Who were the students who made >85 on tests?  The students who somehow practiced their work in whatever way worked for them.  Differentiation is a district initiative this year, so I believe this homework policy will be one small way to differentiate a class process.

This post was a great exercise for rethinking my homework purposes and policies, and it's great to have this forum for reflections. But I am really looking forward to reading about other homework policies.  I still have a whole week before the students return...so I have plenty of time to read other great ideas and change my mind!

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