I feel like one of my biggest recurring teaching issues is the time spent going over homework.
I am constantly questioning myself whether I am spending enough time or too much, and it varies from one day to the next.
There are always students who need more time and want to go over every single problem and answer with full explanations. And there are always a handful who are done after only 5 minutes, because they do not need to go over the homework at all.
Does this mean that the homework was too hard or too easy? Or that I should be giving different homework sets to different groups? It is the one dilemma I can never quite feel satisfied about.
As I struggled through each of these, I found the last strategy (the split end) to be the most versatile. It's also one that takes a certain classroom culture, so it may not be right for everyone. Here are the methods that can work in different situations. I doubt I am alone in this struggle, but who knows! Maybe it's just me. Either way, I hope that trying one of these will help you feel that you are finding a better balance with homework review.
How it works: Students have an assigned homework partner. Desks are arranged in pairs. It helps to keep the same partner for at least a month or so. A full quarter is best. A routine is set up, explained on the first day, and practiced starting on the second day of school. Students get in a pattern of walking in, pulling out last night's homework immediately, and going over it with a partner. They may not need to check each and every answer, but they get into the habit of planning ahead and circling difficult areas as they work. They know that they will compare notes with their partners. The key is to hold them accountable to themselves and their partners. Reinforce the idea that they are helping each other to prepare for a test, and this is an intense tutoring time with one another to clear up any confusion.
When it's best:
How long it takes: Once students get the hang of this procedure, they become pretty efficient. The partner time can be limited to about 10 minutes, and then problems that were a challenge for everyone and cannot be cleared up in pairs can be addressed as a whole class.
Calling out Names
When it's best:
- middle school courses with streaks of 20 questions that all have quick integer or fraction answers
- classes that need to be held accountable out loud for showing that they have an answer and have completed the work
- during the first weeks of school, when you can reference a seating chart to call as many student's names as possible to get to know them quickly at the beginning of the year (kill two birds with one stone!)
How long it takes: Once you get into questions at the end, this can drag on longer than I like sometimes. I have been known to cut them off and transfer the rest of homework checking into a split end strategy (see below) when I start losing a few bored students, but others still have questions. Either way, keep the verbal answer portion moving quickly. It should only take 3-4 minutes, unless you assign more than 30 problems.
- in-depth problem solving (word problems)
- combined with the verbal or self-check strategies (when the last few problems are word problems) - Assign 2-3 challenge problems per day, and rotate slowly through the whole class having one student present each challenge problem.
- small classes
How long it takes: This one can be the most time-intensive, but also can have the biggest payoff, for both the presenter and the class. It's so beneficial for kids to see a different method, and a different explanation other than the teacher's. Allow about 5 minutes per challenge problem.
Even for classes that I usually do a different method, I pull this one out for special days when we have shortened classes. It is super speedy when you are in a time crunch, but want to make sure everyone at least knows how they did and what to study.
When it's best:
- when time is short
- students who are reliable and have a desire to fix their own answers for future success on tests
- the material is review, or most questions have already been answered
How long it takes: Potentially under 5 minutes (plus any time at the end that you reserve for questions)
When it's best:
- classes with diverse students with different ability levels
- classes that do learning stations once per chapter or lesson
- teams that are grouped by ability
- students that need extra teacher support in a smaller group setting
How long it takes: 10 minutes, repeated with each small group, while others work on independent learning stations around the room. This time is really maximized for big benefits because the time is intensely spent on each group's individual needs, and you have each student's full attention because of the small group setting.
I started this differentiation strategy after realizing that some periods I would spend almost 30-40 minutes going over homework, and never get to the lesson I planned because only a group of 5 students needed me to go over every single problem.
Once we developed a culture that worked for this, everyone was happy! As long as no one is embarrassed to be in one group or another, they all feel that they are winning. I was surprised at first to realize that the attitudes were not what I expected. Those that need help feel that it's a privilege to get extra time with me, and those who don't need it feel that it's a privilege to go work on something else instead of sitting bored and feeling held back. It made me wish that I had tried this sooner.
The reasons that I had always avoided splitting this way were far outweighed by the benefits. And the challenges that I expected never came, because each student felt the freedom to decide what they needed. I've tried this in middle school and high school, with great results and positive feedback from both groups of students.
I always let students self-select their own group. If I see someone consistently making a poor choice of which group to join, I address it privately with that student outside of class time.
The students love this method, because everyone gets what they need. The group in the back can get deeper into a critical thinking activity, work on an enrichment activity, or sometimes work ahead. I vary it from one class to another. I keep these groups flexible, because during one lesson, a student may be ready to move on, but in another topic feel totally lost. Once students get used to the "split end" structure, they love it and gain confidence. They also take great pride in self-assessing themselves correctly for each lesson, and knowing which area of the room to head to in order to set themselves up for success.
When it's best:
- a strong classroom culture that can support visible differentiation
- students who can successfully self-assess their own level in order to group themselves according to their own needs
- ability to self-direct (in back group)
- variety of differentiated activities, resources, or problem sets available
How long it takes: anywhere from 10 - 20 minutes (It's not really worth splitting and getting re-settled for less than 10 minutes, in my experience)
During any option, I also check homework for completion, and grade on a 4-point system, which you can read about here.
As for myself, I am feeling like I will never be fully satisfied with any one solution to going over homework that works well for every class and every topic, but my goal here is really to share as many options as possible. These are the ones that I have tried, but please share what has worked best for you in the comments! I'd love to collect more strategies for our math teacher community. Thanks so much!