Sunday, August 26, 2012

Learn From Your Mistakes

I hate the word 'homework.'  Students cringe when they hear it and the negativity attached is hard to combat.  Instead, I refer to it as 'practice,' which is reflected in the way that I grade it.

My first year of teaching I had the basic homework policy.  Complete 20-30 problems, grade in class and lose points for problems missed.  The students were used to it, but I did not like that method.  Thankfully I took a great math course the summer after my first year, since then, I've used the following policy.

Preparing for Practice
After notes, students use whiteboards to work 8-10 problems (one at a time) and show me answers by holding up the whiteboard.  I give a thumbs up or thumbs down to tell whether they have the correct answer.  We talk about the problems as we go and they are always similar examples that students are going to see with their practice problems.

Practice Work
Practice problems consist of 15-20 problems.  I skip all around the book page, with 2-3 problems from each small section and some review problems.  If it's a worksheet with more than 20, I have certain problems students have to do and the rest they can choose.  It gives them choice in the matter, which they seem to enjoy.

90% of the time, students have enough time in class to complete problems.  This has helped with confusion and questions since I'm there with them.

Side Note
The reason for my change in # of problems came from APL training.  APL is training for instructional strategies (using timers, checking for understanding, pairing-and-sharing, etc.) and they had some great ideas on homework.  This is what I took away from it:  homework is PRACTICE, and during practice, you're allowed to work on your mistakes by reflecting.  I tell my students it's like band or basketball practice...should you be penalized for your mistakes at practice or learn from them?

Checking Practice Problems
The next day, students have their practice problems in front of them, ready to check.  They check their answers while we discuss them, but are required to do two things if they get an incorrect answer.
1.  Fix their mistake
2.  Explain their mistake (very specific)

It takes students a while to get used to analyzing their mistakes, but once they do, it works well for the students and for you.  It's so much easier to check!  Since there are 15-20 problems and students know that as long as they fix and explain, they'll get full credit, they are less likely to cheat by not marking wrong.  I always check the papers myself and look at the fixed mistakes and put 'ok' if they were done correctly, but it is a breeze compared to the old way!

Here is the page I hand out for setting up book practice.

Picture of paper.  Someone said the google drive link doesn't work.

I grade on a point scale and 'homework'/practice is worth 5 points each.  For late work, my school says to take off 10%, so I give 4.5 for late work.  Here are the posters I have in my room and what I use to check papers.

Here are pictures.  The google drive link might not be working.

The visuals don't show, but I have a colorful and large 5 on the first page as background.  There is a 4 on the second page, 3 on the third, 2 on the fourth page, 1 on the fifth and 0 on the last page.

Side Note #2
My school has a retake policy for quizzes and tests.  With 2 quizzes and 1 test per chapter, sometimes it's hard to keep up, so two years ago, I changed my quiz retake policy.

Instead of retaking, students get a paper from a file folder to fix and explain their mistakes for half-credit.  I explain that it's similar to retaking because if they retake quizzes, the two scores are averaged together to get the new score.

Here is the paper students must fill out and hand back in with their original quiz.  They have one week from the time I hand the quiz back to complete this.

Picture of the worksheet.  Someone said my link to google drive wasn't working.


  1. For some reason your pictures aren't showing up. I don't know if it's my computer or something wrong with the site. I will definitely come back to see them though. You're homework policy intrigues me. :)

  2. Thank you for letting me know. I tried to embed them using google drive so people can click on them and use them if they want. I'll take screen shots too, but they are not as useful since you can't use them, but at least you can see what they look like.


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