You teach a new math concept through an excellent three-part lesson where your students are hooked from the jump. They then venture off into groups to work on the activity. Thirty minutes later, after you have walked around and made sure that each group has a good understanding of the concept and is communicating by virtue of their assignment, you call the class together to consolidate the learning. At this point, there is about 15 minutes left for math and you give your students some “practice” questions to work on. Could be from a photocopied worksheet or a few questions from the textbook. You tell them that whatever is not completed in class is for homework. So…what do you do the next day?
I ask this because I have sensed that the conversation regarding homework has veered so far to the left that most “progressive” educators feel it is useless. But is homework useless? And by extension, is “grading” homework unnecessary? And by grading, I don’t mean assigning a mark out of ten or five or even a point. I am misusing the term “grading”, but I am simply getting at the idea of at least walking around the class and doing a “homework check”. Is that a no-no now?
It seems that way. During a recent Twitter chat I was engaged in, several educators chastised me for my philosophy about the homework check. They said the only thing a homework check teaches students is compliance. I don’t disagree. But by not disagreeing, I was painted as an authoritarian who is missing the grander purpose of 21st century education. But y’all wrote your report cards on time, right? You try to pay your phone bill by the deadline? When you apply for a job, do you not fill out the application in the way it is requested by an employer? Compliance (to a certain extent) is one small lesson that students should pick up in school. It is not the most crucial but it still holds some small value. And on second thought, I think the term expectation is more accurate in the context of a homework check.
Issuing random homework checks is not a violation of progressive education. When I walk around my classroom and check homework, I either assign a check minus, a check, or a check plus. My students are made aware of the homework policy at the very beginning of the year. This means that students not only know the standard I expect, but they are also aware of the fact that as long as they did some of the “practice” work during class they will still earn at least a check minus. I do not see the harm in that.
The kicker is that the homework check doesn’t even affect their grade. There is no “5% towards homework” in my syllabus. But what it does is “put students on notice” that practice is important and so are expectations. I am not affecting my students’ academic achievement through a homework check, but I am trying to affect my students’ achievement through a homework check, you feel me?
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