May 14, 2016

Do, Check or Grade? Homework

I asked Twitter on Thursday what I should blog about. And that day they wanted to know what's worth holding kids accountable for and how to do it.

So, I'm going to do a series of posts on my routines, today we will start with homework.

Honors PreCalculus Homework
I don't grade this, I check it.

In PreCalc I'm still doing a hybrid SBG model so attempting homework counts for 10% of their grade. I walk around the room with my clipboard while students are doing something else (the daily SET, an awesome opener stolen from Michael Fenton) and if students have work written next to each problem I put a check mark next to their name. If they are absent that day or were absent the previous class they can show me later for full credit. Otherwise they can show me later for half credit because we're about to go over it.

At the beginning of the year I was awesome about projecting worked out solutions to all the homework problems after the opener. I gave students the opportunity to ask questions but (especially since this is honors PreCalc) I limited the questions, they couldn't ask me to talk through all of them and needed to ask a specific question for me to talk about more than one of the same type. At some point I hit an assignment I didn't want to post solutions for and then got out of the habit. I should start again! But even without posted solutions we've followed the same routine.

I don't assign many questions most nights. I started off with 5 plus an SAT problem but it really varies depending on the topic - 10 matching vs. 3 polynomials to solve including complex roots. This still isn't a super speedy process, but I have 90 minute blocks every other day and I think it's worthwhile with this class where most kids do the assignments. On a quiz or test day the homework is to make an index card for the quiz or study for the test. The "going over the homework" portion of class gets replaced with the "asking questions before the assessment" portion of class.

Algebra 1 Homework
Right now we don't even do this.

I have half of my students every day for 90 minutes. I think this is plenty of time to learn and practice Algebra 1 material. Sometimes when my regular class is particularly unfocused I assign the remainder of the classwork for homework. The students who have me every day get to do that work (plus other assignments) in the support block.

We had a great plan though. One that I think will happen (more of, most of?) next year. Spiraled homework!

Over the summer the Algebra team got funding to meet for some paid curriculum work. One of our team members was going to be on adoption leave starting the first week of school so we used her need for sub plans as motivation to focus on planning the first unit in detail. Since we had class activities planned and assessments written we were free to spend our common planning time making homework. We chose skills each week that were review (this would be past units but for the first unit it was 8th grade), practice from the current unit (but a week delayed) and preview (skills that would be necessary for the next unit - for example, before we started solving equations we reviewed evaluating expressions).

I'd like to post answers online but not solutions. Students could ask questions any day but we'll dedicate some time for it on Fridays. That way we've made the suggestion that students do some work each day, but also allowed for them to be flexible in their scheduling and plan ahead for busy days by getting extra problems done. The only difficulty is that I don't have my full Algebra class every Friday (or every Monday for that matter). A two week schedule makes much more sense when you're on an alternating block but two weeks is a really long time for ninth graders to be independently practicing. We should provide time to discuss homework on Mondays too.

Since we are doing SBG in Algebra, homework isn't graded. We thought it would be good to check, for data gathering and some extrinsic motivation. One teacher made it a category in the online grading system that counts for 0% of their grade. I'd like to do that next year too. If it's not graded though, where is the motivation to do it? Last year we discovered that student retention was really low so this year we tried to build in opportunities to practice via Friday Review Days. Next year part of the Friday Review Days will be a skill quiz on one or more of the homework topics. Students could also use the homework as evidence that they're ready for a retake of another topic. This way, students who have mastered the skills on the homework and don't need the practice can demonstrate that on the quiz. No penalty for not doing the extra practice if it's unnecessary. Students who do need the practice will see the benefit of it as they improve their scores. I'm impatient to see what our new online gradebook can do as we haven't decided if these Friday quizzes would be additional assessments or retake assessments. I'd love a system where everything counts but the more recent assessment is weighted more. Fingers crossed this will be a possibility!

General Homework Conclusions
I do not have time to be grading homework every day. I think if you assign it you have to acknowledge it regularly. I only want to assign homework that is meaningful. In PreCalc it's extra practice of current material since we have a lot of content and not a lot of time. In Algebra it's skill practice since students arrive with varying levels of mastery and building fluency frees them up to focus on the new algebraic concepts. It's not a lottery winning plan, but it's an effective one.

Note: if I had to go back to teaching every day rather than on an alternating day block I'd strongly consider giving 2 day homework assignments. It allows flexibility for kids who have certain days they're really busy and means you don't have to spend class time going over homework every day.

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