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Crafting a Vision for Homework

by Deepa Bharath, Professional Learning Consultant
February 27th, 2017

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Recently I read Matt Larson’s message on homework and reflected on how much my own stance on homework has evolved in the last decade. Initially, I struggled alone with creating homework, photocopying weekly packets, and spending hours checking and tracking what students did. Things improved when I worked with grade-level colleagues to carefully select questions and share strategies and systems for providing feedback on homework. However, I was never completely convinced that my students benefited from homework. I found myself wondering about the purpose of homework and how my vision for math teaching and learning connected to the homework I assigned.

I believe that all students can understand math. Being successful in math class goes beyond the ability to memorize and recall facts or compute quickly. Students need to experience mathematics as a problem-solving, meaning-making process with related ideas, patterns, and relationships. I want students to be able to reason, think flexibly, communicate their thinking, and work in groups.

Teachers are not usually given the time to talk about their personal vision for math education. This is unfortunate because crafting a vision played a huge role in helping me make many daily teaching decisions mindfully, including what to assign for homework.

Over the last few years, I’ve felt strongly that the role of math homework is to foster positive home experiences and conversations around mathematics. I want to share the great work my students do in class and communicate often with their families. Homework should be an opportunity for successful practice. When students feel good talking about math at home, I believe I will stop hearing, “I’m not a math person!”

These days I am also a lot more realistic about how much can be accomplished at home. It took becoming a parent to discover that there is never enough family time. I admit, I don’t like homework as much as I did when I was a teacher. Now I’m the one groaning, “What? Homework, again?” when I pick up my son.

With this in mind, I drafted my ideal homework policy, guidelines that would help me make good decisions regarding homework assignments.

  1. For each unit, narrow down on big ideas to focus on.
  2. One or two good questions go a long way (less is more).
  3. You don’t have to assign homework for every student every day!
  4. When in doubt, choose games and weekly math routines to assign as homework. They are engaging, rich and open-ended (allowing all students access). For example, Today’s Number (Rename the Number) is a routine where students make the target number in different ways. It can be used in different units (whole numbers, fractions, decimals) and with/without constraints (specific operations).
  5. Use classwork as homework. Maybe on Fabulous Fridays, students pick one completed class problem to take home to share with their family. This is also a great opportunity for a quick in-class Turn-and-Talk move. “Tell your partner how you solved this problem. How might you explain this to someone at home?”
  6. Use math journals instead of packets. Packets tend to get lost, misplaced or forgotten. No more crazy time with copy machines that conspire against you, which is a bonus. Students need space to do math. No more crowded worksheets with tiny boxes!
  7. Use weekly student conferences (partnerships or table group) to generate appropriate homework assignments as follow-up. This way, I assign work that I know students can do or students can come up with their own problems. As follow-up, students can have 10 minutes in class the next day to share and discuss the work assigned. This system keeps students accountable and provides yet another opportunity for them to learn from each other. Instead of complex checklists and homework tracking systems, I can now use one class conference schedule to track what students do.
  8. Ask students to write and reflect about math as part of homework.

I would love to hear other perspectives on homework. What are some of your challenges and successes? What do you see as the purpose of homework?

 

Deepa Bharath, Professional Learning ConsultantDeepa Bharath is a Professional Learning Consultant for Math Solutions. Deepa collaborates with the Director of Professional Learning, fellow consultants, and district site coordinators, so that teachers’ professional development courses and experiences meet the needs of the school, the teachers, and the district. She holds a Master of Science in Education from Purdue University, and is currently working towards a Master of Science, Leadership in Math Education.

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