Thursday, June 10, 2010


I've been thinking more lately about how I "do" homework. I'm still in the camp that wants to assign a completion grade only, so that they don't get penalized for making mistakes while they're learning. I see how many problems they attempt, and how many they grade in class as per my instructions, and I give them a grade accordingly. I still like to provide some kind of answer bank, so that they get immediate feedback and are more apt to persevere through a problem if it's wrong. And yet, I still understand that for some kids, this completion grade leads to laziness and lack of an honest effort and potentially to not grasping topics.

I have a thought rumbling around in my head of something I may want to add to the grade. I want there to be an EXTRA question group on EVERY homework that MUST be answered in order to get full credit (any credit?). Here it is:

1. What is a problem you had most trouble with?

2. What specifically is wrong, examples:
* I don't know how to start
* I don't understand some words
* I get stuck at the point ______
* I'm messing up with my calculations somewhere
* I ______

3. Write out which of the following you did:
* I looked through the book and found extra examples
* I went to our online book to see if there was a tutorial on this problem
* I went on Ms. Cookie's website to see if she had links that may help
* I looked through my notes to see if we did something like this in class
* I called/texted/e-mailed a friend and got help
* I did ______ and it helped
* I did nothing and waited until the next day in class to ask questions

4. Describe what progress you made after you did this, examples of what could happen:
* I didn't do anything, so I made no progress
* I solved the problem
* I understood more about what part confused me
* I made progress in the problem but still did not solve it (describe progress)

Maybe I'll print this out on pretty paper and have them tape it in their composition books as a reference. In this way, it'll cause the kids to reflect nightly (or the period before-ly) on their homework. My lists will hopefully also serve the purpose of prompting them to find other sources to persevere before giving up. And giving a grade for this portion will maybe be the incentive to do the reflection.

Which brings me to my next change next year. I'm a recent CONVERT of composition notebooks. Before I just let the kids buy whatever 3-ring binder or spiral notebook or whatever they wanted. At my not-so-new school they had a tradition of requiring composition notebooks for other classes, and the kids would tape pictures to the front that represented whatever class it was for, and the teacher would put packing tape over the cover to preserve it. Now all the notes are in the book and not easily lost and if there were handouts, the kids taped them to the appropriate dated page. I didn't do it this year, but ... Love it! I believe I'll require them to get the graph papered composition notebook. Then POOF! instant graph paper on demand.


  1. I have "done" homework in the past in a way I called the "The 3 question" assignment. Students were assigned X number of problems of which they had to do up to X number of problems (yes, they could choose to do less). Then, to turn in they had to answer the following:

    1. What did you learn?
    2. What (specific) question do you still have? (This had to be written in question form and could not be anything like, "How do I do problem 15?")
    3. What are you still having difficulty with?

    I found this very helpful.

  2. I like the reflective part of your questions, and the choice of which questions to do. I haven't thought through how to manage that aspect ... for me, I'm thinking I'd like a basic/medium/challenging separation, and TONS of time to generate the problems. Maybe if I taught a subject for more than the 2 years it seems to be.

    Thanks for writing,

    Ms. Cookie

  3. I gave up on homework. This will sound whiney - not my intent. 1) no books 2) if I have a choice of classwork or homework, I want classwork (my dear MIL said pick your battles) - and it appears in my school it is one or the other.

    I tried composition notebooks (they are what I use for my notes) but the kids I teach tear the pages out even when told not to. I am going to a portfolio system. There are 5 or 6 units per year. I will tell them what I will grade up front and give them a rubric and then they (hopefully) will keep up with the pages. I will post more about this over the summer as I noodle it out.

    I like both sets of reflective questions - I may turn these into posters and put on my walls.

  4. Ricochet,

    I feel your pain. I haven't taught that type of kid (yet?) that leads me to the no homework path, but I've heard horror stories. I wonder about how they'll do in college. Maybe they'll grow up and learn to be self-learners.

    Ms. Cookie

  5. I really like this homework idea. And why oh why didn't I think of graph paper comp notebooks when making my supply list?

  6. I require graph-paper lab notebooks, preferably perfect-bound rather than spiral-bound, so it's nearly impossible for kids to tear the pages out.

    The graph paper has several advantages. Aside from the one you mention (instant graph paper on demand), it also promotes more organized drawings and tables, and for some kids it helps to make their handwriting more horizontal and therefore more readable.

  7. Great topic and timely. I am re-evaluating my current practice, which is to have the students self-correct at the beginning of each class period while I walk the aisles, and record a grade based on completion. The other math teacher has the kids swap papers, and record the number correct for a grade. Neither of us is happy. Too many of the kids copy from other students, don't actually correct their or other student's answers, write down gibberish (a problem when grading based on completion or effort) or don't do the homework at all. She is also considering doing away with a homework grade. I am still putting a lot of thought into other alternatives.

  8. Annkas,

    I'm guessing there's no ONE perfect solution. Otherwise, someone would have raved about it already and practiced it and it would be the way of the land. I still think homework is important, both as a discipline issue and as a practice issue. I try to keep in mind: "practice doesn't make perfect. PERFECT practice makes perfect." Maybe the answer banks will help in that regard. Good luck in your quest.

    Ms. Cookie

  9. Anonymous12:11 AM

    I've been using graph paper comp books for about 4 years and they're a great tool for the reasons that have been noted. The only problem now is that the science teacher and art teacher like them also, so on the first day of school, if science or art come first for that student... they use the comp book for math!! I have to let the teachers know next year that that is not cool.

  10. Oh, THAT would be annoying. Then their notes and such are all a jumble, and they'll never know where to find anything.

    Ms. Cookie

  11. Anonymous12:33 PM

    As a parent who used to make sure all homework was completed, I used to think, "Why do they assign them all this work when they have them for the best hours (for learning) of the day?"

    Then, I started tutoring my middle daughter through all her high school Math courses (completed via correspondence through Texas Tech.) Talk about grueling. But, on the other hand, she now has a master's in Math. She had the attention span to do it an hour or so everyday after regular school. That still translates into a class period.

    Now teaching eighth grade Math, I am amazed that parents require no homework of their children, many of whom can't add, subtract, multiply or divide accurately.

    If they WON'T do homework--we're lucky to get about a 10% return with every "trick" tried, then really we're teaching it without homework, and not very successfully.

    IF they'd work in class the way my daughter did at home, they wouldn't need homework. But that is also up a steep hill battle.

    We're trying to have them ready for you, but it's not looking good. . . .

  12. Oy! I hope it doesn't seem like every grade level thinks it's the fault of the previous grade level. I'm wondering if the college people think we just have them sit around and not learn.

    I think teachers' hands are sometimes tied because of reasons you state ... the kids don't do the extra work themselves sometimes to get the information to stick.

    I guess we can just do what we do and maybe hit on a magic bullet. If you find it, let me know.

    Ms. Cookie