Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I started out my first year teaching math doing what everyone else did – x% of the grade is composed of homework scores, y% of test scores, and z% for participation. It made sense, it seemed rational and everyone was happy with it. For a month or two at least.
By the time we hit Thanksgiving I was realizing some SERIOUS flaws with the way I grade students. Students corrected their own homework in class the next day, then turned it in so I could enter it in the gradebook… and just that part took about an hour and a half every day. That’s a lot when I only get 50 minutes of “prep time,” during which I’m supposed to grade AND plan for 5 different classes. Psychology, Math 6 (traded for Math 7H second semester), Math 6H (my only class I teach twice), Math 8H, Secondary One, and Secondary One Honors. I wanted more time to plan, needed more time to plan. All my time was spent entering grades.
I kept doing it though because that’s what I was “supposed” to do. I had to keep track of all the homework scores so I could make sure they were all being good, responsible, students. And because of course a grade should include homework, it always does. If it was good for my students, it was fine that it took a while. And I was getting a little faster the more practice at it I had.
Then I started to realize that maybe it wasn’t actually best for them. Most of my college classes were based on assessments only and I LOVED it. I could do as much work as I needed and nothing more, but sometimes I did extra. I kept thinking it would be awesome to teach college classes so I could grade like that. But why not grade like that in junior high too?
Besides, as it was, the homework wasn’t valuable to many of them. They had 30 problems per night. Most of them rushed through it. They didn’t put effort into showing their work. After I entered grades then handed the papers back most threw it out – even though they were allowed to fix mistakes for full credit. And I blatantly caught about 1/3 of them cheating, with rumors that there were plenty more. Simply put, they didn’t care about homework. They weren’t learning from it. So what’s the point?
New plan: instead of doing all 30 problems from each lesson students pick 10. The lessons in our text are all cumulative, so it mixes in everything we’ve done so far this year. I don’t tell them what 10 problems to do. They pick. But I’m pretty aware of what most of them need to work on and told them I’ll be checking to make sure they are picking appropriate problems. The deal for getting to only do 10 problems is they need to do them well. Messy work or no work at all won’t cut it. Also, they need to fix ALL of their mistakes now. Finally, I’m not grading their homework anymore. I do random checks still. It’s counted as participation, which is 30% of their grade. Assessments are the other 70%.
We are one week in and here’s what I’ve notices to far:
1) I’ve actually had time to plan lessons! and get around to starting a blog 🙂
2) Students are more productive during homework time in class.
3) Students are asking better questions.
4) I’ve had students come ask me where they can find more practice problems for one they missed.
5) I’ve had students ask for harder problems.
Basically, they seem to care more. Not all of them of course. There are still a couple that don’t do it, but they didn’t do the homework the other way either. I do have several however that were NOT doing homework before that are now. One of them told me they do it because they feel like it’s not busy work anymore, it matters to them because it’s what they need to work on. Another told me he does it now because 10 is less overwhelming than 30, so he doesn’t feel defeated before he even starts.
I did have 2 who have caught on that doing 10 problems well, then fixing them is really not any less work than doing sloppy work on 30 🙂 But they said it’s fine still, because at least they don’t have to waste time on the easy ones.
Well, mostly no grade, I couldn’t quite wean myself off from at least doing participation points for random checks. Random checks are definitely good to give feedback… but points? Maybe shouldn’t have kept that part. I might change that next year.
I did lots of reading over Christmas break 🙂
I started out the break determined that something about my homework policy needed to change, and preferably I didn’t want them to turn it in anymore. But could I do that in a junior high? Has anyone else tried that and did it work? In my search for an answer to that question I found the SBG Gala! 6 of them actually:
SBG Gala #1
SBG Gala #2
SBG Gala #3
SBG Gala #4
SBG Gala #5
SBG Gala #6
Apparently yes, the whole no homework grade thing has been done, and yes, it works pretty well for many people. Plus a TON of other good ideas. Some of which I also changed 🙂 some of which will happen over summer.