At first all of my students were required to do the same 30 problems from their math book. There was no choice, no varied levels, they all did the same work. The only differentiation in homework came from what class they were in. The honors class was one book ahead of the regular class.
I realized pretty early on that this was a problem. I also realized that doing 30 problems every night was encouraging cheating and discouraging checking their work and slowing down a little. They were stressed, overwhelmed by doing 30 problems, and just rushing through it to get it over with rather than to learn from it.
Now students pick 10 problems out of the homework assignment. We use the Saxon math program, so homework is spiralled. There will be many different types of questions on each homework assignment. They also don’t turn the homework in every day anymore. We will check all 30 problems in class and they are required to go back and fix the ones they missed. In hindsight, I think I should have said 15 problems instead of 10, but it is working out with just 10.
I have popsicle sticks with names on them and draw 3-4 students each day. I only check homework for those students. I check to make sure they a picking appropriate problems, showing ALL the steps, and correcting anything they missed.
Going into this one of my big concerns was that they would just pick the easiest 10 problems. And some of them do. But they are the same ones who just didn’t do any homework before, or copied it from someone else. So they are still doing more than before! Most of the students however are picking good problems. and some do more than 10 if they have time to or if they think there are more they need to practice.
During our recent parent teacher conferences I asked all the students and parents who came in what they thought of the changes. Are you actually doing homework, do you feel like you are learning, more, less, about the same? I had one parent who was upset that I was making any changes to the curriculum because she picked this school for Saxon math and wants me to stick to it exactly as designed. I told her 10 is my minimum, she can have her son do all 30 if that’s what she wants. She liked that solution. her son didn’t seem so happy about it 🙂
The rest of the conferences were pretty much a stream of parents saying thank you for recognizing the needs of their student! They’ve observed that their students are enjoying math more (something I think is important because junior high is about when many students decide they don’t like math). They have seen their students go back through notes or the book instead of just guessing and moving on if they hit a hard problem. Several of them also said tantrums, crying, etc over math homework has stopped.
I have noticed in class that students notice their own mistakes more often (and mine, which they get points for!) Their conversations are related to math a little more often than before. they are asking better questions. They are asking why more often. They are showing detail, they are looking for patterns. They are doing much better with the Common Core’s 8 mathematical practices! They also are more aware of what they get already and what they still need to work on. I never used to have students come ask for extra practice on a certain area before. Now they do. They know what they need to work on and focus on those types of problems.