Monday, December 10, 2012

We don't need no stinkin' homework!

What are our students saying when they don't do practice exercises outside of school? This isn't a revolutionary thought. I'm just a slow learner. Last week I finally had enough of seeing too many empty desks when they're supposed to get out their Home Jams (homework) after our daily warm-up. I assign about 3-4 questions nightly Monday through Thursday. They're not worth any points because of the Standards Based Grading model I've adopted this year. I use Dropbox to sync all my home jams so students have access at home and I don't need to make photocopies or rely on students using a workbook or textbook. I don't collect them. I don't keep track of complete or incomplete home jams. Furthermore, chances are pretty good I will spend the first 5-8 minutes of class having students review the previous night's home jams as a group on their giant whiteboards. My school is in an affluent area and every family has internet access so why do I still see a strong majority of empty desks? I'm not the only one who is absorbing this pain and bafflement. Chris Robinson, Hedge, and Fawn Nguyen (my trusty cohorts) jumped in on this conversation/quest.

Let's find some scapegoats: laziness, apathy, age, adolescence, immaturity, puberty, hormones, SBG, points (or lack thereof), Gangnam style, etc.
Are these really worth my blame and energy? Should I be looking to point fingers, because I'll run out of fingers if that's the attitude I take. There seems to be a more productive use of my time and energy. I like Chris' idea of designing meaningful tasks for students outside of class, but right now I battle the clock with trying to design meaningful tasks for students inside of class. Therefore, should I be associating my home jams with incentives? Let's ask our kids what they think first before we rack our brains out. Here are the two questions we asked our kids today:
1. Briefly explain what reasons cause you to regularly complete or regularly NOT complete the homework assignments.
2.What incentives would motivate you to complete more homework assignments?
The results.

Reasons for NOT doing home jams:
I forget: 17
Online hassle: 12
Not worth points: 10
I don't need the practice: 1
I have other homework: 9

Reasons for doing home jams:
Master/practice skills: 18
I don't understand: 3
Prepare for assessments: 10
My parent makes me: 3

I didn't enjoy homework as a student and still don't (BTSA). I don't think students should be doing hours of homework. When my children get older, I hope they don't have hours of homework because I believe it would rob them from family time or time simply being a kid.

As for incentives, students suggested the following:
Make them worth points [that's not happening].
Make them fun [curious what that means].
Give candy [yup, all I need to do is encourage tooth decay, obesity, or diabetes].
Extra Credit [really? Again, that's not happening].
Put them on paper [I'm listening].
Bring in food [that co$ts money, y'know].
Play music [yes, I considered that and I like].
Redeem points for class prizes [who's paying for the prizes?].
Work it into Math B-ball [I considered that too and I like].

So now what? Enter my thought process and your input here. I'm open to the incentive idea. Could there be something for the group (since my students sit in groups) who completes their home jams all week? Their group DJ's music. They get comfy chairs to sit in during class. They get extra points when we play Math B-ball. They wash my car. Oh wait, that last one seems out of place. I'm going to sleep on this.

My parting thoughts go like this. It eats at me that learning just isn't more intrinsic, valued, and supported at home as much as I'd like it to be. Could that be another job for some caped homework crusader we all dream about? Incentives are cool, but is that just trickery? Am I tricking kids into practicing math? Once again, I think I'm asking more questions than necessarily providing answers. I'm not going to rack my brain out here. I'm not looking for a permanent and magical solution. It would be great to see students participate more and value their learning by practicing math. Is this asking too much of my 8th graders?



  1. You know I'm doing SBG also and not grading homework, but we do do a quick check for completion. Those who didn't do it come in at lunch to eat with me and complete their homework. (For some, this is not a bad thing apparently, and that's okay.)

    Because of our more frequent quizzes, MOST of the 8th graders are doing their homework. They see that the questions on the quiz are nothing tricky, nothing new, they're just like homework problems that get graded. They get it that their peers who participate in class, ask questions, do the [few] problems each night score 3s and 4s on quizzes, so they seem to know the "formula" for success.

    My 6th graders, however, are a different group this year. Lowest group ever. One third of them are, I dare say, 2 to 3 (3!!) grade levels behind. I just emailed principal right before I left school today about getting intervention for these. Not homework help, but serious intervention. I'm so outnumbered that I feel like crap. I don't even eat lunch any more; time is spent during lunch working on multiplication tables and single digit division. Yikes!! Sorry to get off topic.

    I don't do incentives any more. I make them believe that the incentive is to BE in my class. :)

    1. That just might be my New Year's resolution: quick checks for completion. I want to avoid incentives if they bug me. I get a kick out of seeing kids want to sit in my comfy chairs or request music. I might start there. Good luck with those sixlets.

  2. How about making them accountable to each other? Have the students complete the (short) assignment and hand it to a peer for some peer moderation. Students should be looking for ways to improve their answers, improve their communication, etc and not necessarily giving them a "mark". How about something like this: R
    Review your peer work and provide feedback to them. You need to provide them with two stars (things you like) and a wish (something that could be improved).
    This approach makes them accountable to each other and also gets them to consider other ways to solve problems. Just my $0.02!

    1. Dan, I totally dig this idea. I'm writing this one down and going to figure out the logistics. I appreciate the input!

    2. I like this idea. Their grade is based on the feedback and the marks made by peers on their own work and others' work. Then they score each other on a 4 point scale and I take those numbers down once a week when they are correcting it, let's say Friday. Nice idea Dan!

  3. I agree with Dan Allen. I read somewhere (wish I remember where) where a teacher did peer evaluations of homework. What he noticed was that more students were completing the assignment, it was neater, and more accurate. Apparently students don't mind looking sloppy and stupid to their teacher, but to their peers that's different.

    The students who completed the assignment may take part in the peer evaluation. The students who did not complete the assignment, complete it in class and turn it in to you.

    1. Good call! If I can't read it I'm sure their peers can't read it. The psychology here makes sense.

  4. What about letting them choose their own homework task? If your current objective is to get them to see the time as being useful and to develop personal organisational skills then letting them use the time in a manner that best suits them, even if the task is from another subject area, may be the start.

    1. There has been some choice in the matter. Choose 2 of the 3 questions. :P I'll definitely consider this. Thanks!

  5. I post the key to the homework every day after the warm-up. However, there is always one intentional mistake (and sometimes one accidental mistake). The students are supposed to find the mistake. I've noticed that since I've started doing this, I've gotten more participation in reviewing the homework, as well as more completion. Many of the students want to be the one who finds the mistake. Even though completion isn't at 100%, the students who don't do the homework still get the benefit of the discussion. My favorite benefit of this method is that students are much more willing to ask questions; even if what they point out is not a mistake, we get to talk about the process and what went wrong if the students' answers were incorrect.

    1. I love making mistakes on purpose for my students. Great strategy. It also makes actual mistakes look intentional. Ha! I like this idea. However, I love putting the homework questions up on the board and having the students whiteboard them, discuss them, and/or share their solutions. This saves me time in creating solutions. Chances are really good a few students will get the solutions and then I display that using a document camera. I let the students do the work which now provides me more time to plan or create lesson plans. It also gives the kids who didn't do the HW a chance to still get the practice and review. I need to start working in some more intentional mistakes.

  6. I haven't tried doing SBG yet (learned about it after I started this year), so I can't say for sure, but it seems to me like one of the ideas behind it is "students will work when they realize they need to work". So I guess idealistically, if you give them the answers along with the HW, then you're not wasting anyone's time in class, and those students who need the practice will realize this come the 3rd or 4th quiz they bomb.

    I say "idealistically" because I'd be worried about those students who never "get it"--that HW is practice that needs to be done, and even if they eventually start, then won't they be so far behind by the time they realize this that it'll be too late? I dunno. I think I'm stealing most of this from Shawn Cornally and his blog, so maybe he has an answer to that on his blog somewhere.

    Thanks for the post, though--helps me to rethink HW and I'm definitely going to make changes soon! (I do a quick HW check while students are working on the warm-up, while other students are writing their HW answers on the back board so everyone can check their HW after they finish the warm-up. Lots of things going on at the same time to minimize "down-time" ... it works just okay.)

    1. Oh, and I do have one incentive that I forgot about: "Choice Cards"! If they do their HW all week, they get one. They can choose to use them on tests, for points in class, or in place of HW if they forgot to do it one week. At the end of last year I was thinking of doing away with the system and so I polled the students and was *shocked* to see that over 90% of the students (well, when they did their HW) did their HW BECAUSE of choice cards!! Even my "good" students! Made it a no-brainer for me to try it out this year and I think it positively affects a large number of the students. Not that I don't still have major HW problems...

    2. Thanks for the idea on the incentives. Choice cards sound pretty slick. I'll jot that one down and see. Go SBG as soon as possible. It looks like you're in the right place with Shawn Cornally. I've found that giving students answers goes against my current philosophy. I try to have the students provide each other with the answers as much as humanly possible. Don't get me wrong. If the whole class draws a blank, I jump in as their math lifeguard only to point them in the right direction. It's amazing to see them grapple with questions enough so that when I do throw them a bone, they appreciate it a little more than just giving them the answer. it's very fascinating.