Do they NEED homework?

25 Jun

Ok, I teach 7th-grade. Remember that in light of this entire post.

Here’s what I’m thinking…if I squeeze EVERY LAST MINUTE out of my 52 minute (or whatever it is with the new schedule change) period, do they NEED homework? I’m anticipating an average agenda looking like this:

*Bellwork–review yesterday’s concept, scaffold today’s concept, spiral review old concepts
*Answer questions from the “homework” (See below)
*Conell Notes for today’s topic
*Some sort of activity for application–video, graphic organizer, SMART board activity
*Some sort of “practice” through various games and activities
*Exit slip/summary/writing prompt to show mastery of that day’s lesson

Homework: If I give homework this year, I’m thinking of a MAXIMUM of 15 problems a night (and maybe students only choose 10). I’m also thinking about giving them the answers the day I assign the work. I stopped grading homework several years ago, so really, is giving them the answers going to hurt anything? No. There are already some in the back of the book, and all I’m looking for is to see it’s completed with work. Nothing changes if they have the answers ahead of time. The work is what’s still required. What’s it going to hurt for me to give them the answers so they can self-check? Nothing. Then if we discuss homework the next day, it’s because they couldn’t get to the right answer and they want to know why. I’ve been guilty of assigning too much homework and I really want to do my part to make sure my students don’t have over 70 minutes of homework a night.

The other option would be to give the answers the next day and then have them grade. I could use their scores to check understanding but not penalize their overall grade. I’m not crazy about this option, but it’s one I’m considering.

Here’s the thing, should the homework be required? Why? I know the arguments for they need practice and work ethic, but I’m not sure either of these arguments really push students toward better mastery of standards or really teaches them anything about responsibility. Plus there’s the issue of constituency. Many of my students face trials far worse than I could ever imagine. They are raising their younger siblings, homeless, working by candlelight because utility bills weren’t paid, etc. I don’t blame them for not making my homework a priority. Survival is reality for some of my students. All of this makes me think homework should not be required….then I remember that I teach 7th-grade. What do I do about that? They’re young. Do they still need me to tell them what they should do? If I pack in that class period with the practice that would be completed during homework, will it matter as far as achievement goes? I’m interested in responses on this from both middle school and high school teachers. Middle school, what do you do? Why? High school, if I stopped giving homework, would they be “ruined” when they got to you? How would you respond to this?

Our grades are currently 25% assignments and 75% assessments because that’s where we compromised when I pushed for SBG last year. That’s basically 25% participation because homework, classwork, and general practice goes in that category and we hardly grade any of it. If I do away with required daily homework, that category is literally giving them points for all those things completed in the above daily agenda. How do I assign points for that fairly? There’s also talk about putting quizzes in this category and making assessments literally the tests. What would SBG say about this? Teachers weren’t crazy about the tediousness of replacing scores on quizzes when students did better on tests. We listed objectives in the gradebook twice, once for quizzes and once for tests. If they did better on the tests, we replaced quiz scores. The logic in moving quizzes to the assignment category meant they were a much smaller portion of the grade, so if scores were not replaced it wouldn’t be a significant impact on the grade. We also discussed only putting each objective in once and then replacing scores on each assessment, but no one wanted to lose previous scores to track progress. This mess is also why I’m particularly interested in Mr. Cornally’s new SBG program.

I know this is essentially a word/idea vomit, but comments and push-backs would be appreciated.


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10 responses to “Do they NEED homework?

  1. Kristin

    June 25, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Okay, Since I know and work with you here are my thoughts whatever they are worth…
    I like the idea of assigning the 15 problems and the student choosing the 10 problems they want to show the work for. I am wondering that if I give the answers will the students then be more willing to do the homework. Like you said it is the process that matters to me. As you know I am a believer of the student being responsible and have homework. Over the years I have modified and re modified this process. I did use the choice option last year without the answers part, it did improve the homework completion rate of my students. I am interested in adding the giving the answer perspective.
    Quizzes! I am wondering were I was when the discussion to put the quizzes in the 25% category happened. You are right I was not excited about the replacement and within the classroom I did not replace quiz scores. Test scores yes I did replace because it was the progress toward the mastery of the standard. Okay to be completely honest I took the 75% and made the quizzes 10% of the assessment scores. Yes which means in the grade book the total assessment was 75% broken in to two (65 % tests and 10% quizzes). Just for a FYI I split the assignment category as well (15% classwork and 10% homework)
    Like always you have given me so much to think about. I am interested in the responses you get on the topic.

    • jalzen

      June 25, 2010 at 10:37 am

      Kristin, your thoughts are always worth a lot to me! Thanks for sharing. I anticipate that I’ll end up keeping homework, but I’m not sure I’ll keep it every day. I don’t know. We’ll see. That really may matter more on an individual daily basis. Maybe I’ll always be prepared to give the homework but depending on what we do in the day will depend on if students actually get it or not. I’m not sure. We’ll see. This seems to be a continual process that we’re all revisiting over and over. Though it’s annoying, I like it at the same time. I love working at a place where people are willing to think outside of the box and change things if it will help student achievement. Sure it would be easier if we just did the exact same thing over and over every year, but I’m pretty sure I’d be miserable doing that. We talked about putting quizzes in the 25% on that last work day. You were chatting with 6th-grade. No official changes were made. Just batting ideas around since people weren’t crazy about going back. We’ll talk more. I’m interested in why you made the breakdown changes that you made and if you think they were effective and will you be doing it again. I kind of like that homework is only 10% of the grade…hmm….always more to think about.

  2. brooks

    June 25, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I am a fan of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. Reinforcement is a good tool, but quality vs quantity is the key for me. I like to keep everything in the classroom, because I can provide a good learning environment and I am there to answer their questions. So many parents aren’t home to provide the “kitchen table” homework place with a snack and encouragement. I do believe that is why my groups and classes with the students that are not motivated work. I am hoping that the positive environment our intervention class and NEU will help motivate and create positive interactions between the teachers and students. I am tired at the end of the day and so are the students. I think you are on the right track, but I am one of those “positive intervention” teachers, lol. The students know that I believe in them and usually work for me when they won’t work for others.

    • jalzen

      June 25, 2010 at 10:43 am

      Thanks, Brooks. I’ve really been thinking and reading a lot about how homework often becomes a threat or a punishment, even when it’s meant by the best intentions to be a motivator. I cut homework A LOT last year and am thinking about cutting even more. I’m not sure if I’ll be bold enough to not require it…all the time…we’ll see. I’m still mulling over that. Like I said, if I can get the practice in during class, and they get it, I’m not sure what homework is really going to do other than hurt their grades. And you’re right, we aren’t in a place where a lot of parents can really help in that reinforcement homework is supposed to provide. I do think that intervention class and NEU will help immensely, but how can I also do my part in my classroom to help the process overall? My thought in the shortened homework is that an assignment of under 15 problems should be able to be finished easily during advisory. Giving them the answers will hopefully motivate them to try because they already know what the end result is supposed to be.

    • brooks

      June 25, 2010 at 11:42 am

      Ok now everyone has me thinking, would the world really end without homework? No, it wouldn’t. The students that I work with often get so much homework from ALL their teachers that they usually give up. They then get so far behind that it becomes a monumental task. Speaking from the mind of a 12 or 13 year old, if you don’t give me feedback or some type of “grade” why should I do it? So many questions, so little time. I am going to go out in the sun and spa now and rest my mind….lol The student mind is often colored in black and white, I will do the work that is graded and not the work that is not….. Points to ponder…..

      • jalzen

        June 25, 2010 at 1:29 pm

        Similarly, why would I do something if I don’t even know if I did it right or not? That’s my motivation behind giving them the answers. At least then they know if they get something or not. I don’t know that there’s a perfect answer to all of this, but there is definitely always a way to improve the current system. I’m also really big on the whole 10 minutes per grade homework situation. I really don’t want to be the reason why my students have more than an hour or so of homework, max.

  3. Sherri

    June 25, 2010 at 10:58 am

    What is best for kids? If you are jam packing the class with positive, relevant, standards-based lessons and practice, why burden them with tons of homework? When you are constantly assessing their progress and supporting their weaknesses and strengths, they feel successful and that in turn makes them intrinsically motivated to continue. Practice is important, but I think it needs to be relevant and manageable. Understanding the big picture and keeping focus on the goals is much wiser than perseverating on homework completion. It is about quality not quantity. Love ya! 🙂

    • jalzen

      June 25, 2010 at 11:08 am

      Love ya right back! It’s hard to let go of something that has always been drilled in to me as what we do and what they need. Stepping back and asking if it’s what they really need is challenging, but exciting. It “almost” makes me not want to leave the classroom. We’ll see what’s set out in front of me come next Spring.

  4. Linda

    June 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I REALLY like the idea of allowing the choice for them. I do believe that will give them more motivation. The practice could be planned for in-class with a requirement of finishing as homework, which again should motivate them to stay on-task in class. I require little to no homework because I feel I can better assess their abilities as I observe them in my classroom. However, as a person who struggled with math, I really needed the quiet of home to see if I really understood what was taught that day. Then I sometimes I just felt more frustrated when I discovered I could not do the problems by myself, so maybe if we had done the practice in class that would have helped me! I am probably not helping at all–no surprise! I am interested to see how this plays out!

    • jalzen

      June 25, 2010 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks for chiming in, Linda. I love this conversation! Your input does help. I like the idea of starting the class period with the idea that there are these 15 problems I’m going to assign and give answers to and students get to choose 10 of them…BUT, if we get through so much during class that I happen to use all or some of those problems for an in-class activity and I feel an adequate level of mastery has been met, then maybe that only leaves 5 problems for students to go home and do to check their own understanding where it’s quiet and they aren’t distracted by all their friends. I’m beginning to maybe realize that the math department is giving SIGNIFICANTLY more homework than any of the others on campus. I kind of want to poll kids and find out how much time they spent on homework in total the night before and how much time was spent on each subject…hm…maybe something to track through advisory or AVID? Could even be a cool long-term math project with computers, tables, and statistics in the intervention class or in a double block. That would be interesting information…for me anyway. I don’t know if anyone else would care, lol.


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