Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Is Homework Necessary and How do I Grade It?

In the article
The weird homework thing we do”, Mrs. Bluebird talks about a successful homework technique she uses in the classroom. This reminds me of my homework technique that I use that has also worked for many years.

First I want to share with you my philosophy on homework. I know that there are many different views on this topic, but I feel that homework teaches responsibility and independence. Homework is used as a reinforcement of the new skills learned. I also used homework as a team building assignment so it served many purposes. As a special ed teacher, I had many students with low self esteem and since they already felt separated from the general education students, they felt they were too “stupid” to do homework. By giving them homework, I was making a statement that they could do this work and could do it on their own without my help. I explained that even general education students sometimes had trouble with their homework and the students needed to come to me for re-explanation or go to a peer for help. Either one was acceptable. I gave homework every night of the week except Fridays and holidays, unless either they died or I died (that always got a smile on everyone’s face). Parents and students knew what to expect and no one had to ask, “Is there homework tonight?”

I would assign homework and even do a sample question or two if they were math problems. Sometimes I would ask them to write paragraphs about a specific topic. When I collected it at the beginning of the class, they could go on to their first assignment (which was usually a review of the previous day’s skill). If they did not have it, they would have to do it before they did anything else and they automatically lose 20 points. It didn’t take long for them to learn that if they were going to have to do it anyway, they might as well do it and get the full credit. If they pouted about doing it and took too long, they did not get their regular work done and would have to return during lunch and bring their lunch to my room in order to finish their work. Their names would go on the board until their work was caught up. If they came to my room for lunch two times in one week, we called their parents together during lunch to explain the situation to them (students hated this!). After the first month of school, I usually had no problems with getting homework turned in on time.

When I would give math homework I liked to break the students up into groups of my choosing. I would mix abilities in the group and let them choose their own group name. A chart was made with each group’s name on the chart and a place to tally up points. Students would do their homework at home and when they came to my class, I would check to see that their homework was completed. If they completed their homework, they could get in their groups to fill out a new homework sheet for the group. If they didn’t, they would not be allowed to get in their group until they completed it (and automatically lost 20 points). The group would discuss the answers and fill out the new group paper to turn in for a grade. Each person in that group would get whatever grade was on that group paper (the person turning in work late lost 20 points though). Ten percent of this grade would be the amount of points they earned and at the end of 10 math homework assignments, the group with the most points would receive a prize. These are the prizes they could choose from: a free homework pass for 1 night, eating and drinking in class for one time, library pass after work is complete, computer time if their work is complete, listening to CD player or Ipod after work is done.

My students were very receptive to this homework policy and the parents were also. They supported the lunch detention also because many of my students rode a special bus to school and could not serve after school detention. The only other option would be for the parents to have to pick them up after school or the student would be suspended (and get out of doing homework) so this plan worked for all of us. Since students were not getting a zero on homework, their grades also improved compared to previous years. Once they started being successful, many did not get a failing grade the rest of the year.

photo credit: outsourcing your homework by inju

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