Saturday, March 24, 2012

Most challenging: homework

Three and a half years into my teaching, I've now tried four ways of motivating students to do homework.

  1. Hands off - my first year I was too overwhelmed with lesson planning and simply told the class "I expect you to master lesson content before the next lesson". Results in this class were the highest I've ever seen, but that may have other reasons than my homework (non-)strategy. 
  2. Binder checks - this simply required way too much organization on behalf of myself and the students. 
  3. Weekly quizzes - this works wonders in psychology, less so in mathematics. In maths, I'm concerned that weekly quizzes give some students weekly opportunities to fail, demotivating them further. 
  4. Flipped classroom - didn't work, see previous post.  
I'm thinking in part that this is an uphill battle. In Sweden, attitudes towards children and childhood is very "let children be children" = much play, little work, minimum pressure. In a different culture maybe all the above strategies would work, maybe they wouldn't, I can't know. I do have the luxury of having students from all over the world in my lessons, and I've asked them about their previous school (and homework) experiences. Without exception, students from Russia and East Asia report doing much more homework (double or triple) in their previous countries compared to now in Sweden. 
They also report that teachers would: 
  • assign much more homework, often give out exercise papers each lesson
  • collect homework every lesson from every student
  • mark every exercise from every student every day and give it back almost immediately (latest next day) 
  • have almost no exams, letting homework be the assessment of choice
Considering that classes in East Asia are rarely smaller than 35 students, I have absolutely no idea how teachers find time for so much marking. Also not sure how students used to a more laid back system would react to a sudden change in this direction. Worth thinking about though. 


  1. Grading homework --- damned if you do, damned if you don't. Last year I started w/ SBG, so no HW grades. Mixed results. So I thought about it, and this year -- still no HW grades, but I do *check* the HW. My intent was to have feedback to me, them, and their parents, but w/o a grade attached. If a parent asks why Junior isn't doing well, I can cite that Junior doesn't do his HW, though I haven't penalized this in a grade, but it shows in the assessments.

    In my Honors class, I gave them a sheet with 10 squares on it -- when I check HW, they write the date and get to put a rubber stamp image if they did their HW, or a red (no HW with the circle with the line through it) stamp. The plan was -- when they fill up 10 squares, they would get a non-grade, non-free period reward. Oreo truffles are good, and I can send the recipe. Result-- most of them wanted the stamp and did their HW to get the stamp. Honors 11th and 12th graders. The failure was actually me, as the year progressed, I just got busy/overwhelmed whatever, and I wasn't consistent about it.

    In my 9th grade class, I check HW, rarely a grade (it's not SBG), but I put it on the grading portal so the students, parents, and I can see a pattern. Surprisingly, MOST students do their HW.

    So, I'm not going back to grading HW, but am looking for ways to be more consistent (like for the stamp method) and creative.

    I did have an issue with students in SBG attempting to re-assess, without having done the HW or any remediation after the failed test. It was a struggle for me to deal with, but I stood my ground about making HW a pre-requisite to re-assessment. Should I create, administer, and grade a re-assessment, when the student has not remediated the original problem?

    Good luck in the never-ending HW saga.
    Don't give up , and keep fighting the good fight.

  2. Hi Anonymous, well grading homework takes on another dimension in the IB because everyone including the students know that homework grades don't matter at all in the final grades. It's just for show, just as all the in-class tests actually. Still, as long as I mark it, students seems to take it more seriously.

    Did you check your Honors' homeworks, or did they decide themselves whether to stamp it?

    I'm thinking back to what my teachers did to make me do homework (not an easy feat): one succeeded by having weekly quizzes (in English). The other collected homework every lesson and made it count as 20% of the final grade. Frequent assessments is what made me do frequent homework. But ugh, like you say, frequent assessments require consistent and creative and above all fast ways of marking.