Friday evening I was tagged in a tweet that was asking about my homework policies and I just had too much to say in to fit in 140 characters or less, so I figured I’d write a blog post as a response. One thing I make sure to do in class is to always call “homework” a “practice assignment.” You’ll never hear the word “homework” come out of my mouth at school because that seems to open up a very unproductive can of worms. Practice Assignment is clear to students and it can be worked on both at school and at home, and also reminds students why they’re doing it.
A bit about me, I teach on a 7-period a day schedule. On Mondays and Fridays each class is 51 minutes long, Tuesdays and Thursdays are 46 minutes long to account for a 30-minute advisory class that happens twice a week, and Wednesdays are 43 minutes long to account for our early release professional development sessions. I definitely am not a teacher whose sole purpose is teaching to the state test and “exposing” students to 100% of the topics in the textbook. I like a much more balanced approach. I think it’s important enough to go slow enough that students actually have a chance to absorb the material, but it is also important to me that we get through the required material as to not disservice them for their next math class.
I also believe in homework. This has become quite controversial over the years, especially in the online teacher communities. However, I do believe in a balanced approach to homework. Maybe 15 questions a night, and it’s rarely due the very next day. I have homework due on quiz or test days, which allows students a bit of wiggle room to work around their schedules. I think homework does so much for students. It gives them a chance to play with the material more on their own so they can really figure out what questions they have. It teaches them how to self-advocate for themselves when they need help. It teaches them time-management skills to work around their busy schedules and how to prioritize tasks. To completely get rid of homework at the high school level seems like it would be quite a disservice to students, in my opinion, and doesn’t seem like it’s setting them up for success in their next endeavors (whether that be entering the work force or higher education). However, I do acknowledge that each teacher certainly knows what works best for their own class, so the no-homework approach may be just right for other groups of students. It just doesn’t work for mine.
The past couple of years, the math department at my school has focused on paring back our pacing guide a bit to focus on the core concepts in a deeper way, and our state test scores shot up 13% each year in a row. Focusing on 90% of the topics and pairing back the most peripheral 10% has done amazing things for our students. Exposure to content means nothing if it’s at a pace students can’t absorb, but there is a tricky balance. If you’re only getting through half of the pacing guide each year, that’s definitely not setting up your students for success either.
Anyway, to get back to the main topic, I treat each class a bit differently when it comes to how we do in-class work and homework, so I’ll break up what I do by subject:
Algebra 1 + Support:
Info: This class is 2-periods long each day. I have them the first two periods of each day. Students are part of a cohort of 30 students that take math, English, and science together each day. They have been identified by their 8th grade principals for being at extreme risk of not graduating and their parents have agreed for them to be in a special program at the high school to help them be more successful.
Students pick up notes and homework as they walk in the door each morning. We record homework assignments on our practice tracker after our daily warm-up problems have been completed. As we are taking notes together in class, students are encouraged to switch back and fourth between notes and similar homework problems. Most days there is 15-40 minutes of work time. On our practice tracker, we write down the minimum required number of problems to enter the classroom the next day. Let me explain how this works:
Let’s say that the homework sheet has 15 problems. If they are given 30 minutes of homework time that day, as a class we come up with the minimum expected amount to be finished during that work time. The class might decide that, given the time they have to work in class that day, they think everyone should be able to finish at least 6 of these 15 homework problems during our in-class homework time, so we write this on our practice trackers (min=6). The next morning, I stop each student on their way into the classroom. They must show me that they have completed at least any 6 of the 15 homework problems to get inside the classroom. If they have failed to do so, they sit outside the classroom to work with our aide and finish up those problems with 1-on-1 help while the daily announcements are being played, and then come back to join the class who have already begun to work independently on the daily warm-up problems. Students are given one grace period to be “stuck outside,” after that a call home is made to discuss ways we can help the student be successful at staying on top of homework, especially when class time is being given. Now, since only 6 of the problems were required to be done the next day, students have until the next quiz or test (whichever comes first) to complete the remainder of the assignment. All homeworks are graded on a 3-point completion scale. Quizzes normally are given once or twice a week. NOTE: if a student emails me the previous night letting me know that they will not be able to complete their minimum required amount for whatever reason and what their plan is to make it up, then they are allowed in to class, no questions asked. Again, I really want students to learn how to advocate for themselves, so this is part of that goal.
Practice trackers get turned in on the unit test date, and then a new one is handed out the next day to start off the new unit. Students have mentioned how much they like using the practice trackers because it helps them remember their homework, and they have also commented that they like having the minimum required amount since it makes them stay on top of things and helps them focus better during work time.
I also offer a “double stamps” policy in all of my classes (except for Statistics because it’s college credit) where if a student finishes an assignment the day I give it to them and brings it back before I go home that day, not only does their practice tracker get stamped as 3 points “all done” for that assignment, but they get a bonus 3pt stamp for working so hard at completing it that day.
Lastly, I accept homework late up until the unit test. I also allow students to “move up” points. Let’s say they just got the minimum done and didn’t do more before the quiz where homework gets stamped off. They’d probably get stamped for 1 point or “a bit” completed. If they did more before the test, they could improve their score and I would re-stamp their practice tracker for 2 points.
Algebra 2 and Geometry:
Exactly the same as Algebra 1, except for the minimum required amount and having to show me the assignments at the door. They also don’t usually get 15-40 minutes of homework time each class, since these are only 1-period long classes. Most days, they get 5-10 minutes of work time. Other days, they get a bit more.
College Credit Statistics (MTH 243 and MTH 244):
Since this class is dual credit, homework is inherently done differently. Each Monday students are given a quiz over problems taken from the prior week’s assignments, and once they are done, they begin working on an Algebra and Geometry review to make sure that their other math skills are staying fresh. After everyone has finished the quiz, students work together in groups to complete the weekly Algebra and Geometry review. During the last 10 minutes of class, I allow them to ask me to go over any 2 of the 10 questions with them as a class. At this point, the rest of their homework is assigned, corresponding to whichever sections of the textbook we will be covering that week. Homework is always assigned on Monday and due the following Monday so students can manage their time as they see fit, in order to work around their schedules. The general format of the statistics class is:
Monday: quiz and Algebra & Geometry review. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: new notes. Friday: work day where students are able to work on their homework assignment together for the period.
Late work is not accepted in this class due to the dual credit aspect.
I could write a ton more about how homework works in each class, but I’ll leave it here so I don’t end up boring you all with a novel. If you would like me to go over anything in more depth, or have a question about something I forgot to address, please let me know and I will make sure to answer it right away. Thanks for reading!