Homework Busters

Reimagine homework and grading as valuable learning experiences.

Homework is a hot topic.  Should we assign it?  Is it beneficial?  What does quality homework look like?

Even if you're on Team No Homework, you probably still assign practice problems in class, right?

 

And then there's the grading...that school bag full of notebook papers and worksheets you lug home each night (but rarely open) or the times your family perches on the arms of the couch because this week's essay responses are spread out across the cushions.  That's  your favorite  part of teaching, right?  No, probably not.

 

But it can be hard to justify using class time to trade-to-grade homework.  Students find out what they got right or wrong but spend little time with the WHY.  When we go over problems on the board, students who got them right zone out while students who struggled don't get much time to figure out what's really behind their mistake.  

 

Do students really pay attention to what their grade means anyway?  Or do they see their score and just move on?  

 

So what do we do?  These practices and activities turn grading into truly valuable learning experiences.

Most of the activities listed here are DOK 3 (open-ended, strategic thinking) and 4 (using what you've learned in new context), while the typical worksheet or homework assignment is primarily DOK 1 and 2.  These activities use what you're already assigning and doing to take learning much deeper.

Post an answer key online or somewhere in the room.  Students use it to quickly compare their work to the correct answers.  Rather than calling the answers aloud to the whole class, this lets students check their work quickly and quietly.  Then you can go over commonly missed problems.  This process alone does not drive the learning very deep but does make in-class grading more efficient so it takes less class time.  Follow up with an Error Analysis to drive the learning deeper.

Students work in a partnership or triad to compare answers to the assignment.  When students have different answers, they rework the problems together until they agree on a common answer.  Students may use resources to justify their thinking.  Students may correct their answers as they work.  If you want additional accountability, partnerships may complete a form like this to record their process.

Can be used with any homework activity.  After students are provided the answers, they analyze their errors to draw conclusions about what went wrong and what they can do to fix that misunderstanding or mistake.  This helps students better understand and improve their learning and gives you much deeper information than simply whether a student got an answer right or wrong.  This Google Doc table is one way to analyze the errors.  You could also make a Google Form version so results come to you electronically.

Students consider what ingredients go into an assignment and what "preheated the oven" to make it all possible.

Despite our best efforts, some skills are dead on arrival.  Perform a postmortem to diagnose the underlying cause of death and take steps to correct the problem.  Add a medical mask and gloves to complete the experience!  Related student materials can be found here.

Pass It Math It

Expand answers by adding, taking, or re-arranging elements to make answers stronger.

Students sort answers to assignment questions to evaluate how correct each is to discover exemplar answers.

Students check their homework assignment using Post the Answers or Partner Check.  Using number cards to represent the assignment problems, they flag problems they missed or struggled with and then sort them into categories by making connections between problems.  They can consider the processes or skills needed to solve those problems, how those problems are related to the content and each other, etc.  This activity is similar to Six Degrees and Graphic Organizers.

Create and complete graphic organizers to compare the content, skills, processes, vocabulary and other elements of the various types of questions on an assignment.  More than having an answer right or wrong, this encourages students to think about what they're learning and connect ideas in deeper and more meaningful ways.  Instead of there being one "right" answer, these diagrams can look different from student to student as they construct meaning for themselves.  Students can color-code areas of their diagrams to represent how confident they are.  

Possible organizers include Venn diagrams, flow charts, and webs.  See examples and starters here.

Students show off what they know by connecting any two assignment problems.

Students can connect facts, terms, the process they used to solve the problem, etc.  This shows you what they know about the content far beyond the questions on the page.  When students create connections like this, they are more likely to remember the content.

Enter the page to see other variations including a Worksheet Buster activity.

Find the form here.

Post a blank sheet of paper for each homework item somewhere around the room.  Every student starts at a paper and writes what they think the answer to that problem is.  Then all students rotate.  When they get to the next paper, they either justify or refute the posted answer using evidence. Rotate again and continue the process.  When students run out of contributions to justify or refute answers, they start writing statements to explain what they did wrong, a strategy they used to get it right, a resource they found helpful, a related question they still have, etc.  Students may write in response to what other students have already said.  Possible questions and thought stems can be found here.  Close with a whole-class discussion on any surprises or new insights.  Try it with Musical Desks!

Start class with a homework quiz.  I first read about this idea in the AMLE Magainze .  Select a few key problems from the previous night's assignment and use them as a quiz or bell-ringer at the start of class.  If students feel they need to do the homework to pass the quiz, they'll do the homework.  If a student can pass the quiz without doing the homework, did they really need to do the assignment?  You're still getting useful data about what your students know and don't know AND holding students accountable for their learning without taking class time (or home time) to grade full daily assignments.  Use sites like Kahoot, Socrative, Formative, Google Forms, and similar assessment sites/apps to get instant results.  You can use those results to quickly drive your instruction.

Consider going over the assignment content using any Worksheet Buster!

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Teacher., Speaker, and Author

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