“I’m never going to assign homework again!”
–me (after reading Mathematical Mindsets)
I still assign homework every night in math class – except for the weekends, that time is for family. I don’t assign much. I usually tell kids and parents that if you’re taking over a half an hour to finish the assignment, pack it up and ask me for help the next day. I am thinking of ditching homework all together. Jo Boaler and some other teachers have convinced me that homework can do more damage than good.
But whats so bad about homework? I did lots of math homework growing up. I’d like to think that there is a connection between hard work and results. The homework that I completed in my youth probably had something to do with me being good at math. Besides, high school math classes give lots of homework. If I don’t give my students homework in 7th grade, am I setting them up for failure in their future advanced math courses?
I give a lot less homework now than I used to. At the beginning of my career as a teacher in Chicago, I taught 7th and 8th grade math in a system where students took a test and applied to get into selective enrollment high schools. I was the only teacher responsible for the math education of 180 students who were all trying to get into the best high school possible. Not only did I assign nightly homework, but I assigned a weekly review packet due every Friday after the weekly quiz. I felt proud of the fact that my students could complete the volume of work that I was assigning.
Given the circumstances, the parents all appreciated me “pushing” their children to do more. Word spread throughout the school community that Mr. Steinmetz was a really hard math teacher. Lower grades teachers talked me up, and parents prepared their kids by paying for math tutoring over the summer before 7th grade.
Moving to Rhode Island, the first thing I noticed was that the students at my current school had way less work than I was used to. This drove me CRAZY! But the stakes were different. All of my students were going to the same high school. I soon realized how crazy things had been in Chicago – It was not age appropriate for those 12-14 year old kids to be competing to get into the best schools.
Over the last few years in Rhode Island, I continued to push for my students to do more work. I have been lobbying for a new math curriculum that has an extensive amount of extra practice available online and offline. None of this is unreasonable, though. I have recently moved towards teaching with video, playlists, and GoFormative, and the independent practice has to come from somewhere. It is impossible to make all of the work by hand or find it online all of the time. Blended learning doesn’t make worksheets go away, we just have kids do them in different ways – Playsheet products like Prodigy and Quizizz come to mind.
Enter the Boaler
So why stop giving homework? I’m a successful math teacher. Why change what’s working? I now know that homework can do a lot more damage than we realize. Reading Jo Boaler’s book – Mathematical Mindsets – it dawned on me that the homework that I assign creates a certain amount of stress on my students and their families. Now that I’m a parent, I think I get it – though my kids aren’t old enough to have homework. In a family with two working parents, time together as a family is limited. We really only see each other a few hours a day after everyone gets home from school or work.
Additionally, students are alone when they are doing homework. All teachers like to think that parents will just help their children if they are struggling on an assignment. Even if students are lucky to have a parent around while doing homework, helping teenagers with their homework has historically had mixed results. I’m sure we all have a story about fighting over math homework with our parents or our children at some time in our lives. I have my own flashbacks to some pretty horrendous fights between my mom and I when she was trying to help me understand Algebra in 8th grade. Blended learning products that provide “Buddy Practice” online are a good way to ensure that your students can check their work while out of your purview.
I have a few things in mind when it comes to homework moving forward. I am not sure I can just say “tootles” and say goodbye to homework forever. I think that parents, administration, and my colleagues all expect it. So there has to be a compromise.
- One idea I have is to give IXL suggested practice for every topic. This way, if I think a kid needs more practice, I can make it mandatory, and parents will have something to give their children if they don’t agree with the “No Homework” thing. Going further with this idea, I could start doing mastery goal setting with IXL and have students track their progress, similar to the IXL tracking sheet I saw at BPLC18 during a classroom simulation. IXL can then become a consistent station in my classroom and a tool for extra “buddy practice” at home whenever necessary.
- Another way I could handle homework is similar to playlist guru Jason Appel’s homework policy. The students would just be expected to get any work not finished in class done at home if unfinished. This certainly puts a lot of control in the students hands. Not sure if 7th graders can handle that level of independence, but it is worth a shot.
- I have also been contemplating assigning “15 Minutes of Math” every night. Similar to how elementary/middle school students are told to read every night for a predetermined amount of time, why not ask students and parents to engage in math every night. This could be the extra IXL practice I mentioned before, but it could also just be playing a logic game as a family or playing a math video game just for fun. Asking students to engage in math in different ways will take guidance and resources, but I think it would be a great way to reduce stressful interactions with math in the home.
And finally, I could just change nothing. I don’t give a lot of homework as it is. I don’t get a lot of complaints. Maybe I am just overthinking this whole thing.