Sunday, August 28, 2011

Missing the Point

Recently, I wrote about my system for assigning practice. I give students an answer bank with every assignment so that they can find mistakes and revise their work.

I know why I do it this way. The purpose of these assignments is practice, so I want to give them feedback while they are working. I want students to keep practicing until they are doing it correctly. I want them to learn from their mistakes.

We have only been in school for 8 days, but I have spent a lot of time trying to communicate this to students. I keep getting responses that tell me students don't really get it, like these:

1.  Extreme excitement, because having the answers feels like legalized cheating.
2.  Confusion (usually from the high achieving students), because they don't think it is fair that everyone has an equal chance of getting all the answers right.
3.  Resistance, from students who feel like it is pointless to show their process since they already know the answer.

Practice is a process, dear students! I will assess you soon, I promise.

I am not sure how I can help my precious Algebra 2 students to understand.

It seems obvious (but not all inclusive) to use some sort of sports analogy:  If you are learning a new football play and you totally mess it up, the coach doesn't mark a D- in the grade book and call it a day, does he? No, he doesn't. He sends you back out there to try it again until you get it right.

That is all I have for now . . . I am going to keep working on it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sticker Survey

I have always done some kind of survey-type thing at the beginning of the year. My lofty goal is always to collect the data and learn valuable information about my students. Sadly, most years the surveys get filed away. I get busy with the planning of lessons and the grading of quizzes and such, and I never look at them.

This year I decided to put the survey questions on card stock and post them around the room. I gave each student a strip of stickers.

I think these two are interesting, placed right next to each other. (The grade I usually get in math is . . . , and My goal for a grade in math is . . . ) I assured them their responses would be anonymous.

This was kind of a last minute idea, so I had to work with what stickers I could find. I think next year I will try to find something real distinctive for each hour, so I can easily compare the data for a single class.

Anyhoo, it was a fun first day activity and it was definitely more useful than my old survey.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Thoughts On Homework

Lately I have been thinking about how I assign, collect, and give points (or not) for homework. (For the record, when I say ‘homework’ I really mean ‘practice’. I want my students to practice every day. Sometimes they practice at home.)

I know a lot of bloggers have had success with not giving points for homework, but I am not ready to go there yet. I tried not giving points once during my first year of teaching and it was a disaster. Then again, lots of things during my first year of teaching were a disaster. But if giving students a score on a paper helps them to reflect on the quality of their efforts as they practice math, then I’m okay with using points.

So this is what I do . . . In bold is the thing I am trying to accomplish, and after that is how I attempt to make it happen.

1.     The perfect system emphasizes quality practice. Students need to reflect and make corrections as they are working:  I spend a lot of time teaching students how to practice. I want them to work out a problem, and then check the answer and find any mistakes and revise their work as needed. I hate to say just “show your work”. I do emphasize the importance of justifying your solution so that you can communicate to others how you found it, and prove it is correct. I make up a page of problems where some are perfect, others are missing work/justification, others have a wrong answer, and some have a right answer but the work/justification is incorrect or incomplete. Then students work with a partner to critique and discuss the quality of the practice. This takes time, but it is worth it.

2.     A good system gives students feedback while they are working, whether at home or at school. Ideally, they can find out if their answer is right or wrong without being told the actual correct answer: I put the answers to the problems in random order in the margin of the assignment. When students finish a problem, they find the answer in the margin and cross it out.  The only drawback here is that they can use the process of elimination to know the answer to the problems at the bottom of the page. Still, it works pretty well. I am thinking of tweaking this a little this year using the sum of a couple answers (sort of like Kate’s Add ‘em up). Instead of writing all the answers in the margin, I think I will try something like “the sum of #1 and #2 is _____”.  Then they will know if they need to fix their work without giving away any answers.

3.     If points are given, the points should reflect the quality of the practice vs. the number of answers that are correct on the first try:  A problem counts for points if it has correct work (or justification of some kind) leading to the correct answer, regardless of how many tries it takes you to get there. I don’t really even think of it as a “homework” grade. I want the point value to help students think about how well they are practicing. Hmm, maybe I will start calling it the “quality of practice” grade. Or something like that . . . I will have to think of something more catchy.

4.    If points are given, the system minimizes teacher time spent grading and recording:  My students spend so much time learning what good practice looks like that they know whether a problem they have finished qualifies. It has correct work leading to the correct answer and it counts, or it doesn’t. So students take the number of problems that qualify as good practice divided by the total number of problems times 5 (because I want a practice assignment with 20 short problems to have the same value as a practice assignment with 4 or 5 lengthy ones). I will even put that formula at the top of the paper to make it simple. Round the number to the nearest tenth and hand it in. Teacher records that number.

I am pretty happy with this system, but I still have a few problems. Sometimes students put a score on their paper that isn’t accurate (pretty easy to catch). Sometimes students rely too heavily on clues from the answers in the margin (maybe my little tweak will help that). Sometimes students copy their friend’s homework in the hallway before school (but at least they have to copy the work, too).

What's your homework system?