Thinking About Work and about Homework

I took my mom to the airport this morning which means I have one less reason to start thinking about work again. We start back on Jan 5 – as many of us do, I am sure – and I have a pile of papers to grade and some class planning to do. As I have written before, we are working with a new Geometry book that I wrote last summer. You can find a dropbox link to it here. I have also posted a folder of the HW assignments we’ve written for it here. I’ll be updating the HW folder regularly. I have been compiling a list of edits for the text and I’ll be doing the updating work this spring.

As I think about our next Geometry unit I have really been wrestling with the role of HW and how to incorporate it into my classroom routine. I’ve been mostly teaching AP classes the past few years and I have definitely adopted an attitude that HW is assigned but not graded. I’ll discuss it in class when someone asks a question, but I don’t plan around that activity. These questions from my students pop up on quiz days or on test review days but not too often otherwise. I am under no illusion that the students are doing all of what I ask from them, but their performances indicate that most of them are doing enough to get a grasp of the material. I believe that their understanding and mastery of the material would be deeper with more practice. I also believe that they would practice more diligently if I incorporated HW into my grading system somehow. What I have seen is that any way that I have tried to include this into my grading system encourages copying and shortcuts that are frustrating to me and reward bad behavior. This year, however, I am working with younger students again in the Geometry class. These students pretty clearly crave much more attention to HW than my older kids seem to want/need. Days when I post the last HW on my AppleTV and spend time directly addressing it are clearly appreciated. What I am wrestling with is the feeling that these days also lack some of the creative problem solving feel of days with more open-ended questions driving the conversation. Am I wrestling with the balance between what motivates me and what motivates my students? I know that there is a cliche that most of us become the teachers we had. I certainly think about some of the inspirational teachers I had and try to capture some of that magic. However, I also find myself thinking at least as much about the experiences that were NOT inspirational and try to avoid those scenarios. For me, many of those uninspiring days centered around 20 – 30 minute conversations about last night’s HW. Days where we seemed to be spinning our wheels. I know I was not the only student who had completed the HW from the night before and did not need to have most of those problems reviewed right after completion. I know that I have students who drift away from being engaged when we are going over problems they have already thought about and completed correctly and confidently. I am really struggling with how to best strike a balance between what some of my students crave and what I think is best for them. I think that our time together is best spent on open questions that push our understanding forward, problems that would be a real stretch for them on their own. I want to include those (periodically) on HW assignments and concentrate on THOSE problems when we are together. Given that a number of my students seem to crave the comfort of the routine of doing HW and then going over it together, I need to find comfortable ways to incorporate that without stalling other routines. One way I am thinking of – and I know that this is not original at all – is to have answers posted at the beginning of class and asking students to take the lead on any review questions that pop up. I can have a few kids up at once and cover this material more quickly and in a more student-centered way. This way, we can get to the more challenging questions together more quickly and I can respect the desire to have space for HW review. Since we are writing our own HW assignments, the students have no answer page to look at and this may be an important source of the difference in HW attention desired. My older kids have standard texts with answers in the back of the book for reassurance.

I’ll report back soon after we start again and I’ll write about how this works. In the meantime, as always, I welcome wisdom in the comments section or through my twitter @mrdardy

3 thoughts on “Thinking About Work and about Homework”

  1. The homework dilemma is an ongoing one.
    My immediate question is: Why do you set homework? What purpose does it play in student learning? If the purpose is not to progress their learning, then it is probably not a good one.
    If it must be set, then dealing with it in class time needs to progress learning further.
    A suggestion: For the first few minutes give students time to discuss in groups (perhaps different groupings either daily or weekly) how they completed the homework, methods used and difficulties encountered. Able students could support those who experienced difficulty and any unresolved issues could be raised with you, or the whole group, for clarification. If the homework is appropriate to student needs then this should not take much more than 5 – 10 minutes. It encourages collaborative learning, able students benefit from explaining to those having difficulty, and those experiencing difficulty have their issues dealt with immediately and in a non-threatening way.
    I look forward to reading further about your implementation of homework.

    1. Norah
      Thanks for the thoughtful reply and apologies for my delay in responding. I am sad to admit that, in large part, I assign HW regularly because it is our practice to do so in my HS and it would be seen as ‘lacking in rigor’ or some such problem if I did not assign it regularly. I also do believe that some daily practice – as we gather together AND as my students work on their own – does help lead to intellectual growth and an increase in understanding of the material at hand. But, given that, I would assign less frequently if it were entirely up to me. My Geometry class is a small group of 12 and I could easily see them buddying up into groups of 3 or 4 to look over each other’s work and to discuss some problems at the beginning of class. Our class length varies from 40 to 45 to 50 minutes daily depending on our schedule of assemblies, etc. I am optimistic that I can stick with this New Year’s Resolution to make this a 5 – 10 minute part of our daily practice together.

      I’ll be reporting back on this after our first week back together.

      1. I understand that external expectations do rule a lot of what happens in any classroom. There are some things we can’t change, we just have to do the best we can within the boundaries. I look forward to further reports in future posts. Thanks for your response.

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