Our Homework Solution

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Erika Koenig, Stanley, WI, ekoenig@s-bschools.org

Our math department has attended CPM summer workshops each of the last five summers. A common discussion topic among teachers at these workshops is, “What do you do about homework?!?” Our math department is always very excited to share what we do, as it works quite well for us. We have been surprised that many teachers will tell us that what we do will not work, even though it has been our department procedure for several years. Others are insistent that homework must be graded in order for students to value it even as they lament the low homework completion rate in their classes.

Our high school math department has not graded homework for several years. We believe that homework is practice and should not be assessed. We also believe that homework completion and homework discussion are essential for success in the CPM courses. If these two things are essential for student success, we must a) make sure that students complete the homework, b) give them time to discuss homework, and c) help them develop the skills to discuss it effectively. We feel that we have both a department-wide and school-wide structure in place to help students complete homework and discuss it effectively. The rest of this article explains the procedures that are in place and how we use them to facilitate student learning through homework completion and discussion.

In my classroom, students spend the first five to 15 minutes of a 65-minute class period discussing homework in their teams. (Our math classes meet for 65 minutes each day, but most only meet for 24 weeks of the school year.) Students are usually instructed to start with the questions that caused them trouble and then check every problem if there is time. If they have different answers than their teammates, they are encouraged to have a deeper discussion about that problem to try to figure out the correct answer. I do not usually give them the correct answers unless their group cannot reach an agreement on their own, or unless I hear them agreeing to an incorrect answer. By not providing them with the answers initially, it leaves the discussion open-ended and encourages students to re-evaluate their work on all of the problems.

As we all know, there are days when we feel the lesson will take the majority of the class period. If I think the time for homework discussion will be in limited supply, I might direct students to start their discussion with either problems that are key to understanding what we will be studying that day, problems that are a review of key topics, or problems that provide an essential preview to upcoming topics.

While the students are discussing homework, I walk around the room and check to see if students have the work completed. If they have everything done, I record a “+” on the grade sheet for that day. If they have the assignment started, but not completed, I record a “–” on the grade sheet. If they do not have the assignment done, a “0” is recorded. If I just recorded this information and did not follow through, I doubt that students would be motivated to finish the homework; many students will choose whatever path is easiest.  Therefore, our math department believes that we must make it harder for students to fail to complete the homework than it is for them to complete it on the day it is assigned. We require all students to have each assignment completed. They will be required to turn any – or 0 into a +.

This is where the structure of our school day helps. Our school uses a “5 + 1” trimester schedule. Students take five classes per day and have a 30-minute resource period at the end of the day. If students do not have homework completed, I request their presence in my resource period that day. If they finish the assignment during resource, I change their 0 or – to a + and all is well.

If they do not finish the assignment in resource (or do not come to resource), they still have the option to show me the homework before school the next day. If they do not have the work done by the start of school the next day, they advance to our second tier of intervention. We currently have a 50-minute lunch period in our schedule. We consider this long lunch period to be a privilege earned by students for doing what they are expected to do each day. If they do not complete homework, they can be assigned to an Academic Loss of Privilege (ALOP) study hall that meets during the first 20 minutes of lunch. So, if students do not complete homework by the date it is due, and do not complete it in resource or show they have completed it by the next morning, then they are assigned to ALOP.

If they still do not complete the work, the cycle repeats the following day. Eventually, a student with missing work would be assigned to a Behavior Loss of Privilege study hall (BLOP) that meets during the first 40 minutes of lunch. They can also be requested after school for an hour as we have an academic late bus that will take students home three days per week.

If the teachers are consistent in following this system, the students quickly realize that it is much easier to complete the homework on time than it is to give up their lunch hour or time after school. When a student comes to class without work done, their teammates are usually quick to point out that they just made their lives more difficult and that they should have just done the homework in the first place. The encouragement/pressure from their peers is often far more effective than if I told them the same thing. In fact, I just asked my Algebra 2 students why they consistently have their homework done. One of the students said that the feeling of letting their teammates down and sitting awkwardly while the group discusses homework is a bigger motivator for them to complete their homework than the other levels of intervention.

I realize that students miss out on some great homework discussion and valuable learning time if their work is not done when it is discussed in class. To help with this, I always positively suggest that a student who is missing work will just have to work extra hard during the discussion time to make up for not being prepared. They usually do this as they realize they will be required to complete the work anyway. Attentiveness during the discussion time makes it easier for them to complete the assignment later in the day. This keeps them engaged during homework discussion time and allows teams to benefit from the ideas and opinions of all group members.

While completing the homework is important, I feel that valuing the work and the learning process is even more important. I recently surveyed the students who had just completed Algebra 2. They believed that 20 – 30% of their learning in the course took place during the time they spent doing and discussing homework. It was obvious that they did not just view homework as an exercise to complete or a hoop to jump through. They truly valued the experience.

While this system is not perfect, it works quite well in my classroom. I currently see about 90 students per day. On a typical day, I have two students who do not have the homework assignment completed. I often have days where every student has the homework done. The greatest number of incomplete assignments I have had in one day this year is six. We do have more students with missing work at the start of a semester, but the homework completion rate improves rapidly as classroom routines are established and expectations are explained and enforced. The high level of student engagement and the learning that inevitably follows reinforces our opinion that taking the time to develop good homework discussion procedures is worth our time as a math department.

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Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

This series contains three different courses, taken in either order. The courses are designed for schools and teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM curriculum materials. Teachers will develop further understanding of strategies and tools for instructional practices and assessment.

Building on Equity

In this course, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their  classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for implementing Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Follow-up during the school year will support ongoing implementation of equitable classroom practices.

Building on Assessment

In this course, participants will apply assessment research to develop methods to provide feedback to students and to inform equitable assessment decisions. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

This professional learning builds upon the Foundations for Implementation Series by improving teachers’ ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rigorous, team-worthy tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices.