Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You know it's (almost) summer when. . .

I'm started my annual pondering on how to treat homework in class.

A few years ago I changed my policy of giving 25 - 30 problems a night to 10 - 12. Kids were happy and I didn't feel like I was wasting their time doing a bunch of the same type of problem.  All was good in the world.  I'm still happy with the amount of homework I give a night.

But I've run into my regular dissatisfaction with what to do with those assignments in class. Here's where I am:
1.  If I don't count it for something it doesn't get done (generally).
2.  I feel like shouldn't have to count it (I get so tired of the grade grubbers) as it's an opportunity for the kids to practice what I expect them to know how to do.  But then I get a little frustrated at home with the time my son spends on assignments that don't translate into a grade for him.  (I wonder if there are kids in his class that don't do their homework and if there's any "penalty" for it.  It's so tempting to skip on those nights when we have soccer/baseball/whatever practice!)
3.  I typically wander around the room checking for completion. I'm pretty good (I think) at catching the kids who write random stuff, show me the wrong assignment (oops! they say) or just write down the answers from the back (in precalc I only assign odds).
4.  I like collecting to check randomly to see where they're at in understanding.  But with over 90 kids in precalc this year (plus my other two classes) that didn't happen often.

My big issue is at right now the copying that I know is happening. One boy (who I know has copied all year but it never happened in class) stopped in my room after school to turn in some assignments that he hadn't gotten in because of some days he'd missed.  I told him point blank that I knew he'd copied a lot of assignments throughout the year. He started off by trying to deny it, but I kept at him. Said I couldn't prove anything but I was pretty sure he hadn't done a lot of his own work.  I told him that it would catch up with him and I hoped it would burn him enough to teach him a lesson before it really hurt him.  Did he deny after that?  Nope.  On his way out of my room he threw out a "No comment".  I'll take that as an affirmative.

So who has a system that they like?  That they feel like keeps the kids accountable for the assignments, takes away the gift points for copying?  And doesn't mean that I have to collect and grade every single assignment?

Rock my world.


  1. Hey! (love your blog, by the way) So I teach at a private school and I think I'm going to switch to the Pearson MathXL online textbooks next year for this reason. I think with this technology, kids will get instant feedback, won't be able to cheat as easily, and I don't have to walk around and check all their work! I think it's going to be good! Could you use something like this at your school? Good luck with your last weeks!

  2. I love Sam Shah's Binder Check system. I'm going back to it in the fall. The unpredictability of the problem selection for checking is the best insurance against laxity.

    - Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  3. I'm in the same boat. Still thinking about it. What started out great this year (stamping HW, exchanging papers to correct, entering grades) lasted for about 2months before it became too much to keep up with. Definitely will keep thinking hard about this one.

    Sorry I offered nothing, as usual. Will leave quietly out the back door.

  4. I don't collect homework but do spot check to see who's done it. Still doesn't go into their grade though. If the student is doing poorly, most parents don't seem to care whether or not I actually include the homework in their grade - just that their kid is making some effort.
    I do give homework quizzes on current material. They can use their homework and notes on those quizzes. I hope this encourages taking notes, correcting work etc. I don't give the same problems so they have to know how to work them and not just to copy from an assignment that they may have already copied. I still get frustrated at the number of kids that don't do homework. I do find that this doesn't penalize those few that can grasp the content without a lot of practice and it usually catches the ones that aren't putting in much effort while still concentrating on content. I want to know what they can DO not what they can copy. I am really trying to not just teach the math but also trying to make them understand that sometimes you have to do something to learn even if you aren't getting credit for it.
    Not a perfect system but I think the kids that would do the homework if I were grading it are still doing it and visa versa.

  5. I had a teacher in High School that used random number generator to pick the row, then chair of a student to present each problem. If you didn't have it, you got no points.

    Regarding #3, I did like Fawn and used a stamp, but I didn't grade it, just went over it. For 8th grade, I want completion more than correctness (...boy, this slope sure is slippery).

    For high school, I tried this with moderate success:
    --HW isn't graded. Still assigned, but I don't check it.
    --Once a week, you have a HW Quiz, where I pull problems straight off the assignments.
    --You may use your HW as a study guide on said quiz.

    This did not eliminate copying (though I had other ways to catch that), but it was a good start. Students realized quickly that their Quiz/Test band would go up if they just did their HW.

    Much like teaching ingeneral, it's not a perfect system and is prone to frustration, then improvement.

  6. Homework wise, I thought about using quizstar or quia online or using my clickers to get a daily grade. My team members want to keep the HW grade 10% so I will have to do something.

  7. So I have thought about this topic a lot. I'm not sure if my system will work for you because I have way fewer students so can afford to spend more time per assignment, but the way I work it is that I assign less than 10 problems per night and look at each one (for real at the start of the year, taper this back as the kids get with the program). If there are more than 2 errors, points are docked a lot since that means they didn't check their answers. The score is based on accuracy or thoughtfulness (depending on if it's procedural or analytic). They can correct assignments as many times as they want until the end of the chapter, which I think really cuts down on copying, as well as the fact that homework is only worth 20%. They have time in class to go over questions with group members or ask me stuff. Grading it does take a lot of time, but it gives them really good feedback and correcting assignments helps them pinpoint exactly where they're struggling. It's pretty brutal in September, but pays off big time by December as the quality of the work improves and they learn to ask better questions and get help before stuff is due so they don't have to correct it. For accelerated classes, I just spot check a few problems per assignment since they're generally pretty good about checking and fixing stuff before they turn it in. But in either case, I find that a quick turnaround for giving feedback is key... if I don't check assignments for a week, they don't respond to the feedback as well as when they get work back the next day.