#MTBoS30: The Homework Debacle

I thought about homework a lot this week. I just finished giving end of course exams and I did not cover nearly enough material this year. My new curriculum relies heavily on homework and...I do not. I turned the homework into practice activities/games to do in class.

I have major issues with homework:
  • you don't know who actually did it
  • you don't know whether someone copied
  • you don't know whether you should 'check' or 'grade' it
  • you don't know if students understand enough to do the work alone
  • you don't know the best way to go over it without wasting class time
  • you don't know if it is effective
  • you don't know what students have to do/deal with at home
  • you don't know what other commitments/priorities students have
My normal teaching method starts with notes as a class in the INB for day one, then day two is some kind of practice activity/game, and the start of day 3 is a short quiz, then the notes for the next skill.

According to my curriculum, I should be teaching a new skill each day. 

I cannot reconcile this with who I am as a teacher. How can students be introduced to and master a new skill in 47 minutes? I don't even feel good about them being comfortable enough to take home problems on day one let alone only have a day one. Will I really be better off by the end of the year if I kept up that pace? Or would students forget more than they remembered because we went so fast?

If I stand on my no homework platform, the only things I can think of to save time are to shorten my notes so that students get independent practice on day one, more independent practice on day two, and quiz at the end of day two. 

Not quizzing over every skill is another option, but I really like that for standards based grading.

My current bell ringers take less than 5 minutes but are not over course content. I could change them to be about content, but that means 5 different sets of bell ringers for each prep. I also think they cover important skills that I won't get to in the curriculum like mental math, estimating, visual equations, good questions, and which one doesn't belong.

I've talked to my students about homework before. About half of them say homework helps their grade but the majority admitted they would not do it if it wasn't for a grade. But I don't see how, 1. I could ever keep up with all of that grading, especially since I hate grading and 2. How would I ever know who actually earned that grade?

I don't think my students see it as meaningful practice, they just think they can get easy points to boost their grade. I try to keep my grades as 'purely' math as I can by just grading quizzes and tests. Students still ask me to grade notes that we do together! They think there is no value in classwork since it isn't graded.

My priorities are 
  1. Students are working hard
  2. Students are learning, not memorizing/copying
  3. Students retain information at least enough that they can look back over old notes and remember how to do it
  4. Students can make connections between similar skills
  5. Students are asking good questions.
Does accelerating my pace or giving homework accomplish any of those priorities?

Has anyone found a system that works? How do I do what is best for my students?


  1. I've been debating with the same questions. I'm looking to switch to SBG for next year, but our curriculum also thinks that every day should be a new topic (we meet every other day for 90 minutes). The only way I can think is pairing standards together and doing them both over two days of class, but I don't know how that will work out. There's so much in Algebra 2 nowadays, and we have to be ready for a state EOC mid-April.

    1. I'm right there with you. Our state exam is the PARCC which I have no idea how to even prepare for and then our district EOC as well. I don't know what the answer is.

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  3. I've a few ideas about how I am going to do homework next year. I'm trying to make a lot of my homework writing based as well. I just blogged about it and would love to hear your thoughts


    1. I really like the idea of writing based homework for math. I can't wait to read your post.

    2. I have thought about doing a monthly paper from wouldyourathermath.com where students have to justify their choice with math and write about it. But it wouldn't be content based and that's a lot of grading. Sooo I'm not too sure I could handle writing based homework assignments.

  4. Our curriculum expects two skills to be be taught each day. We meet every other day for 90 minutes. I enjoy the workshop model
    and just complete two rotations of it every class period. I have found that traditional homework either doesn't get completed or is copies from another student. I am going to look into writing based homework as mentioned above. I also like your idea of having bell ringers be the same across prep and as a way to teach basic math skills. I will use exit tickets as means for assessing content based knowledge.

    1. How do you plan on using exit tickets to assess content? Could you explain more about your workshop model or have you blogged about it?

  5. One to two skills per day, so that's 90 to 180 discrete skills? Seems like curriculum writers need to go back to math school.

    One idea which matches up with cognitive science and learning is the idea that should be taught over a period of time. Maybe you can break your 90 minutes into 3 sections. Each skill is studied over a three day period. Day 1: skill 1. Day 2: skill 1,2. Day 3: skill 1,2,3. Day 4: skill 2,3,4. etc.

    Then every fourth day is a formal assessment day. Or something like that.

    1. That's why I like my plan of introducing the skill on day 1, practicing the skill on day 2, and then a short assessment on day 3. But that pace is not covering enough standards so....I don't know what to do.

    2. Next year I'm grouping standards together. I'm altering my math workshop model because with my former model I didn't have time to do a fun activity or to give mini assessments.