Have You Got Your Homework?

Our wonderful consultants make this job amazing. We sat down with Big Ides Learning Consultant, Mary Quadrini to have a go on the topic that every teacher deals with – homework. Mary offered some great advice:

Mention math class and invariably the subject of homework will surface. In no other course in school is homework assigned as regularly as in mathematics. If you Google “Math Homework Help”, you will get more than 27 million hits! Parents, students, and teachers all have strong opinions about it.


Does Homework Help Student Achievement?

Research studies are divided on this matter, but generally, students in grades 6-12 benefit the most from completing homework assignments. A good deal of that achievement is tied to the type of assignment students are given and how they feel about their ability to complete it. For students in grades K-6, student achievement gains are less reliable because it is often difficult to determine who is doing the work. A recent study on math homework in the Journal of Advanced Academics provides some new guidance for math teachers: It’s not the amount of time students spend on homework that is important in raising achievement, but the sense of self-efficacy they develop while carrying out assignments


What Homework Should Teachers Assign?

The most important thing to remember when choosing a homework assignment is to assign what students can do.  Homework is practice of the skills and concepts that students have learned in class, under your instruction.  Your classroom is where the productive struggle with math concepts should be done, not at home, where both parents and students become frustrated.  Keep the assignment short and sweet. Homework should never compensate for a poorly planned lesson (“finish this for homework”).  Sending students home with an assignment they fail to understand only starts the cycle of spending too much precious class time reteaching the concepts students never mastered in the first place.

Most teachers rely on the exercises in their textbook or practice pages for homework.  Some teachers are adamant about not assigning odd-exercises from the text as they usually provide the answers, while others insist that students have access to the answers.  One such teacher is Marlo Warburton, from Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley, CA.  She assigns only a handful of questions, with a mix of skills, conceptual understanding and application and requires her students to check the answers.  Then they must work to justify the answers given in the book, showing the process needed to get to the answer.  She has them self-assess their success on answering the questions, noting whether they got the answer correct before checking the answer, after checking the answer or not at all.  I like this process as it puts the onus of learning, not completing, on to the students.  Students have a period of time during which they may “fix” their homework, once they have understood the process of obtaining the solution.  You may read more about Marlo’s technique for homework in the March 2014 issue of NCTM’s Mathematics Teacher.

Another teacher used the concept of a course syllabus to issue a week’s worth of differentiated homework assignments to students.  Assignments categories were Basic, On Level and Advanced.  She gave students choices and suggested they work with other students on the assignments.  Often, when given a choice, students remarkably aim higher than we would have thought they would, especially when encouraged.

It is important that the homework assigned to students be perceived by students as attainable and relevant to what they are learning.  Incorporating the use of technology can be especially useful.  One Big Ideas Math teacher gave her middle school students an assignment to pick a game from our Game Closet to teach to his/her family and write a paragraph about why they liked the game.  Another teacher asked students to read the next lesson in the textbook online and take advantage of the video tutorials built into the online text.

One of my colleagues always had students write a short paragraph about their homework experience during the week.  She asked them if they were able to catch any mistakes they made.  She asked them to describe what they do when they were stuck on a problem (study buddy, using tutorials, family friends, etc.)  This self-reflection helps students develop good study habits that will support them beyond your class.


What Should Teachers Do With Homework?

Remember, homework is practice on what students have learned in class.  Putting high grading values on homework only asks for trouble (copying, struggling to write anything on the HW paper.)  Students should have their homework ready at the start of class.  I always collected it just to get it off their desks and to help students focus on the lesson’s work.  Homework reflects students’ efforts to learn and to acquire fluency.

Having students check each other’s work in class provides an added benefit to students in that they must defend the processes they chose to solve problems.  The more they talk to each other about the mathematics they are doing, the better they will retain it.

Homework is an integral part of learning.  The more confident students are about being able to complete a homework assignment, the more likely they will complete it.  Making assignments accessible, relevant and engaging will help students achieve in mathematics.  The more students do, the less the dog has to eat!


What do you think about Homework and what Mary had to say? Let us know in the comments below.