Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My View on Homework

You know those classes, where all the students are in different directions and on different levels?  Of course you do.  We all have them.  The range in student knowledge and motivation is so great that it sends a teacher's head spinning.  It is my belief that homework should be just as great in diversity.  However, I don't assign the homework, the students do.  Is your head spinning yet?  Don't worry, it gets better.

This plan of mine needs tweaking.  I realized this past school year that students took my words, "I don't assign homework." and translated it to, "You don't have any homework."  Allow me to back things up a bit here and give you a little information about my classroom weekly schedule.

In our department, we teach outcomes, not chapters or units, but outcomes.  Some districts call them targets.  In any case, we broke our Algebra 1 course into about 36 outcomes (I broke all my courses into about 36 outcomes).  Interesting, there are about 36 weeks in a school year.  When all goes well, I teach an outcome in about 4 days (Monday - Thursday) give or take.  Fridays have been reserved to take a look back and see what an individual students didn't quite get the first time.    I allow students to re-take another version of a test they have previously failed.  I call those days "Flashback Fridays".

Back to the homework part.  Monday - Thursday I do not assign specific problems for the students to do.  They are to determine what they need to work on.  A student will look at the online grading program and see that he needs more work in, let's say, outcome 4 - Solving Linear Equations.  On Monday - Thursday evenings the students does the prescribed set of problems for that particular outcome and hands it in on Friday in order to take the reassessment.

That was my plan.  Here's what really happened.  Students did nothing in the evenings of M - Th, came to class, grabbed a lap-top, waited 10 minutes until the laptop logged in, looked at the online grading program, decided which outcome to do, completed the prescribed problems, and the bell rang.  The reassessment wasn't taken and the student waits until next week to take the test.  *sigh*.

My new plan:
Flashback Fridays:  Students start class by taking a test (on the outcome of their choice and only after handing in the prescribed problems for that outcome).  Next they log-in to the online grading program and pick the next outcome(s) to work on.  They fill out a reassessment plan for the next Flashback Friday (click here to see that) and hand this in by the end of the period.  Now I have a hard copy in their handwriting of what they decided to work on.
Monday - Thursday evenings:  Students complete the prescribed problems for the outcome(s) they picked, hand in their work first thing on Flashback Friday, and we repeat this process.

Of course I'm still going to have students not do their homework.  In an effort to keep them honest, I'm going to create 4 outcomes (1 for each quarter) based on homework.  I noticed that once homework was only to learn and not for a grade, the students stopped doing it.  I guess I need to make it for a grade again.


  1. So students are taking different tests on each of the flashback Friday's based on the targets from the previous weeks? What days do you give the assessment for the current weeks target? How many times may they retake a target?

    An interesting idea I just need to wrap my head around the logistics a bit more.

  2. Brian: Yes, the students are each taking different tests on Fridays. At first I thought it was going to be torture to grade them, but since my grading is traffic light grading, I don't have to get picky about points. Either they know what they are doing (green) or they don't (yellow/red).
    They may retake a test as many times as they like. Once I see that a student is struggling and taking a test too many times, then I sit with them one-on-one to try to find out exactly where their misunderstanding is.
    I give current assessment where they fit naturally. If a class is ready for a test on a Tuesday, then I give it on a Tuesday. Sometimes a test will fall on a Friday and I will give it then rather than wait until the following Monday.
    The first year I did this was painful for me. Creating all the prescribed practice problems and answer keys, and creating the reassessments took up a great deal of my time.

  3. Last year I started something similar. The students had to turn in their homework assignments prior to testing. Missing or incorrect homework meant not taking the test with the class, but working on what they were missing or needed more help on. It was a hellish year in terms of my paper trail I needed to keep up with it all. (I still need to figure out a better system for this.) BUT, the payoff was worth it. The students were tracking me down with their missing work instead of the exhausted teacher hunting down her elusive students like I had done for the last decade. This year I will be refining their assignments with a core set for all students to complete, extra practice for those who might need it or challenge for those who are ready/bored.

    I love the contract idea! I often would forget when the student said they would make up a test or when they were coming in for help if they didn't understand. I think having a contract is a great way to put it in writing for both the student and me.

    Keep up the good work! You certainly have encouraged me. You rock!

  4. The contracts seem like a good idea. Even if you don't make it into a grade, just by checking in with the kids consistently will keep them more honest. The students who are doing poorly in class because of low amount of homework can be dealt with by contact with parents.

  5. I love the idea of giving every student homework based on what concepts they need to work on. But, I am just imaging an organizational disater in my classroom (I teach 7th graders) when I am handing out homework/collecting it. How do you organize your classroom so, it is not tons of work on your part?

  6. The thing that helps me is that I don't handout or collect homework. All of the problems, solutions, and answers are posted on my website (some teachers have hard copies available in the classroom). The students must do these problems in order to reassess on any of the outcomes. I don't check their work since all the solutions and answers are provided. This saves me a lot of time.

    Some students just go right to the solutions and copy. Most students realize they are wasting their time doing this because it won't help them on the reassessment. Others never learn.

    I rarely assign homework for an outcome that I am currently teaching. I prefer to have the students practice together in a think-pair-share setting, where we can redirect any misconceptions right away.

  7. I am interestd in knowing your breakdown of outcomes for algebra. I also teach algebra. How long are your class periods? Since students are working on different outcomes, do you ever teach to the whole class? Do they have a one to one laptop? Is there a way I can view a copy of your assessments? Can you post your URL to your website? Thanks, Maureen Sikora

    1. I have a list of my outcomes on the Algebra 1 Outcomes tab at the top of my blog. They are listed in the order that we teach them. Our class periods are about 45 minutes. I usually teach the whole class, it's what they work on on their own time that is different. You can read more about that under the Standards Based Grading tab. Yes, we have a one-to-one laptop ration during class if the laptop cart is available. Here is a link to my class website:

  8. Thanks for this great information. I totally agree with your perspective. Your articles made me want to read more.