Here’s my problem with homework: the students who most need to do it, don’t. It’s the students who already understand and have no need for extra practice that do it. Homework simply widens the gap.
Also, home is the worst place to practice – there is no support, there are lots of distractions, and it’s often a downright miserable experience, furthering everyone’s bad feelings about math. Even parents usually feel stress about math homework!
So, I stopped giving homework. Does that mean getting rid of practice? No way! It means shifting practice time to my classroom and it’s the best thing I did for learning in my class. Here are some of my favorite consequences:
1. All of my students do the practice now and -surprise!- they realize that they are not dumb! It quickly becomes clear that everyone has to wrestle with the first few problems. (It’s called learning!) During problems 1-4, everyone is consulting their notes and following the in-class examples. By the time they round the corner on problem 6, they’ve usually got it. The difference is that my struggling learners would give up before they got out of the weeds, so they never got to feel smart. Shifting practice time to class means that I’m walking around to help, remind and cajole where necessary. The students who never do homework are stuck with me baby-stepping them through problem one, and more often than not, they settle in and do problem two.
2. I am very aware of how well my lesson went. I can see who’s getting it and who’s not. I can see which kinds of problems are giving the most trouble, so I can focus on those tomorrow. If I’m getting the same question over and over again, I can stop the class and give a clarifying example or mini-lesson to everyone (and know how to tweak this lesson for next time). It’s awesome formative assessment!
3. Ownership shifted to the students. They are no longer doing the assignment for me. They are practicing until they know it. I have them use our standards-based grading scale to rate their knowledge as they finish, so there’s always the question of “Do I need more practice on this topic?” They may even decide to take extra work home -and I hope they do if they need it- but it’s their decision to make, not mine.
Of course, I’ve had to do a lot of restructuring to make this work, and I’m sure each teacher would do this differently. I prepare:
- Extra practice pages (with detailed answer keys). I encourage them to take a picture of the answers if they’re taking it home.
- A stamp sheet (here’s an example) since I don’t collect practice work (they complete it in their notebook with their notes). I have them turn this in on test day.
- A what-to-do-when-I-finish routine to account for varied work times; it defeats the purpose if my most confused students have to finish alone at home.
- A short, daily quiz at the beginning of class to replicate the independent, after-a-break thinking that homework usually provides. It’s graded, but fixable and we go over it together as another layer of learning. It’s the place to get those lingering questions answered.
Getting rid of homework has revolutionized my classroom. My students are empowered, while at the same time I have much more contact with each one. It’s a work in progress, of course, that gets more refined every year, but I love it!