I often reflect on how I implement homework (post here), and I am consistently disappointed. Although I do change it up now and then, my go-to tactic is to assign a set of practice problems based on that day’s instruction. We don’t have enough textbooks to send home with students (I’m not a fan of our textbooks anyway, so the limited number doesn’t really matter), so I either create or search for decent handouts to give for homework. Some of the practice handouts I’ve created are pretty good – asking students to reflect on what they learned, describe processes using math language, identify errors and write directions, etc. Unfortunately creating high quality homework assignments like these is extremely time consuming, and realistically, there is not enough time to do that for every assignment. And even when I’ve assigned the most creative and relevant handout, I can, without a doubt, count on hearing these three things the next day:
- “I didn’t do it.” For some students, it’s a matter of time, motivation, circumstances, or a host of other reasons. I find this concerning, but that’s an issue for another day. What is within my power are the students that didn’t understand the lesson well enough to complete the problems. They went home, stared at the paper for a few minutes then shoved it back in their bag. Or even worse, when they left class they already knew there was no point even trying because they didn’t get it. This is definitely an indicator of a poor homework choice on my part.
- “I did it…but I think it’s all wrong.” I find this particularly troubling because they are usually right; it’s all wrong. They’ve just spent a solid chunk of time practicing an incorrect method and now they’ve really got it down! AHH!!! So now, I need to try to “un-teach” that error and “re-teach” the correct method. Again, this indicates a poor homework choice on my part.
- “I did it and it was SO boring.” I honestly don’t hear this very often, but I know some students are thinking it. They mastered the skill on the first couple problems, and diligently continued through the rest without being challenged or learning anything new.
What I would love to hear is, “I’m glad we practiced that more. Now I really get it!” Wishful thinking? Maybe. However, I believe that I can get closer to this ideal, and I definitely need to move further and further away from what I normally hear. With all of this in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about my homework philosophy. I’ve never really given this particular “philosophy” much thought before and now that I have, I foresee a dramatic shift come September. Hold onto your hats…
Actively Think and Reflect about Math
Holy cow! Crazy, right? Stick with me…it seems so obvious but up until now my ideas about homework were very narrow. What I wanted was for my students to practice what we did that day or practice a host of things before a test. Practicing is part of it, for sure. However, to ACTIVELY think is what I really want. And, too often (see reasons above), the level of mental activity when completing practice problems is super low. And there are so many amazing ways to promote active and engaged thinking that could zest up the routine and connect with different learning styles! With this adjustment, I can implement some of the thinking routines (from Making Thinking Visible posts one, two, three, four) to help my students make sense of the content (bonus points for teaching great thinking tools for all content areas). In addition, homework assignments can become lessons in how to study on their own (make a set of flashcards, rewrite notes in a more concise way, other creative stuff that I haven’t thought of yet).
Reflection is also a key component to learning. If I can teach my students in class and through homework assignments to thoughtfully look back to that day’s lesson and make connections to previous concepts, this could be huge for their retention and engagement. Because we use Interactive Student Notebooks (ISN), I think the reflection piece can easily be woven into the routine. In class when we reach a question about a previous topic, I direct them to their notebooks; they search for the page, read and find an answer. In the past, I regularly told them to use their notebooks to study and help them on their homework, some did and some didn’t. So although this became part of our classroom routine, it didn’t translate into a homework routine. Homework assignments that require them to use their ISN to refer back to that day’s lesson will teach them to reflect on what they’ve learned and can extend this learning as well.
If asked before this summer, I would have ended the phrase differently – analyze and reflect about the day’s lesson. However, as I’ve read and thought more about homework, I think this is too narrow (again). Don’t get me wrong, I do want them to think about the day’s lesson, but I also want my students thinking about math in general. I want them to see math in the world around them, to problem solve, to notice patterns, to explore mathematical ideas that they find interesting, etc, etc, etc. So that’s why opened it up to actively think and reflect about math.
In tomorrow’s post, I will detail my budding plan…