msSunFun: Homework Hassles
Somewhere along the clogged up Google Reader, I missed the topic for this week’s:
It didn’t take more than opening up Flipboard to find out that the dreaded “Homework” is what’s on the menu today.
I have taught Middle School Math for the past four years. Until this year I have always taught sixth along with “something else.” Beginning Wednesday I will have three classes of Algebra (8th graders) and three classes of Math 8. I must admit that I am not exactly looking forward to the “Homework Hassles.”
I use Standards Based Grading in all of my classes, and one of the tenets that I feel strongly about is that a student’s grade is based purely on their understanding of math concepts and not on “participation,” “effort,” “behavior,” or “homework.” Therefore, even though I assign homework fairly regularly in my classes, it does not factor into their overall grade. Let me rephrase that: There are no “points” from homework involved in their grade, but I do feel there is a fairly strong correlation between a student’s homework completion rate and their overall grade. Unfortunately, (surprisingly enough,) not all middle school students necessarily have that same philosophy.
From my (albeit brief) observation of student behavior, sixth graders are much more “regular” in regards to homework completion. I think that whatever habit they developed in Elementary School tends to stay with them as the begin their life as a middle schooler. At some point, for some of the students, “grades” start to get in the way. If an assignment for another class counts as a part of their “grade” then it surely takes precedence over their math homework that “doesn’t really count” for their grade. By the time they are eighth graders, the percentage of the student population who find “more important things to do with their time” has definitely increased. Instead of completing a set of practice problems that your teacher has assigned in order to help you learn and retain the math concepts, school has become a series of earning “points” (or not earning them) to reach a desired “grade.”
Enough ranting, here is my “multi-pronged” approach for this year.
For at least the first month of school, all students will be required to fill out a log, tracking the date, the assignment, time spent, whether it was completed, student initial, parent initial, and teacher initial.
This will be kept in the front “pocket” of their math notebook. I will stamp (or not stamp) daily and collect the log on Fridays. A “bulk” email will be sent home to any students who were negligent in completing the assignments and/or having their parent/guardian sign off on their log.
If a student has been successful at completing their homework for the first month of school they will be excused from completing the log unless their habits begin to change.
No Homework Notice
As I circulate and check off (stamp) homework, student who did not complete the assignment (didn’t start, didn’t finish, or didn’t show process) will be given the following reminder:
Morning Math / Learn @ Lunch / Afternoon Academy
These are just my fancy ways of saying before school / during lunch / after school. Each Monday, students with assignments still missing will need to choose 15-60 minutes (depending on how much is missing) of time in which they will come to class and work on their missing work. (I have a cool grid on my board all ready to go for this. Students will each have a magnet with their name that can be placed in the location of their “first appointment.” No picture today – maybe later this week when I am at school.)
Making Homework Accessible and Appropriate.
Why have homework? What is my goal for my students when I assign it? These are important questions to consider when making decisions about a lesson each day. One goal I have for this year is to make sure I don’t assign problems “too early” in the concept development cycle. Just because a topic was introduced in class that day, doesn’t mean that students are really ready to “practice” on their own. Instead an assignment might focus on previous skills that will be helpful in solidifying the current concepts. This will take careful consideration, since I am not always sure how much progress will be made in class each day.
For some units I design quite a bit of the homework assignments myself, trying to incorporate some “puzzle/problem” solving activities that require students to come up with strategies that will, in the long run, help develop their understanding of math concepts. (See the example in this “Tricky Tables” post.)
In addition, I hope to make textbook homework less “rote” and more “reflective” at least SOME of the time. A few posts by David Coffey that I read recently share how to “flip homework” so that students are really analyzing a set of problems instead of just “cranking out answers.”
I certainly don’t have the “magic bullet.” I forced myself to refrain from reading today’s posts before composing this one, but I am looking forward to finding some ideas that will be useful.