More Reflective Homework

This year, I have tried to engage my students in a more thoughtful homework process. I don’t think any math teacher, ever, has been satisfied with the way homework works in their class, and I would certainly put myself in that boat. My frustrations in the past have been that students sometimes would do something wrong and then continue to cement that wrong thing by repetition, I would get 30 homework assignments that look basically the same and spend tons of time giving useless feedback that they didn’t really even look at, and students were focused on completion over learning. I attribute this to the structure of the homework over students being their nutter butter selves. Here are the changes I made this year:

1. Every homework assignment comes with a full solution (not just answer) guide. It’s more work for me, but also makes me assign a reasonable amount of homework.

2. Students go through the assignment and do whatever they can without the solution guide.

3. Then they check the solution guide to check what they did and finish what they couldn’t. Anything they write after this point (or using the solution guide) is in a different color – which is a crucial point. They check their answers, fill in the rest of incomplete solutions and give themselves feedback on what they did well and what they did poorly.

It takes a little longer for the students, so I try to assign a little less. And some students haven’t bought totally into it yet (slash never will). But as a teacher grading it, I can see so much more. Like…

  • Where students struggled and what they still don’t understand well, which is so obvious with the colored pen. What they did in pencil is their work and what they did in pen is their work with the solution guide.
  • Evidence of learning – instead of doing something wrong over and over, they correct it and do it better the second time around, or at least know that what they did is wrong and need to get help from me.
  • Where to give them feedback on the specific things that they are struggling on.
  • Who is engaging with the homework and trying to learn from it, vs. who is just tryna get-r-done.

I also spend less time grading homework while still giving better quality feedback. I think they spend about the same amount of time doing homework but get more out of it.

The training process for this has been an investment, but worth it. I share with the class examples of things they can do to do this better, like this:




Feedback from students has been that they almost either really like it, or are fine doing it. They almost all indicate that it’s better for learning, which is what I care about.

How do you feel about the method of doing homework where you check your own answers?

It is very helpful XXXXXXXXXX

  • It allows you to learn the right way of doing it while it’s still fresh in your mind.
  • I like understanding what I did wrong right after I did it so that I can grasp what I did wrong.
  • Being able to look at the answer and find what I did wrong at my own pace helps me understand the problem and how I should do it next time.
  • Writing my own feedback is more helpful than skimming any you would give on homework.
  • Self check is a way to see what you did wrong right after you did the work instead of a couple of days later,

It’s fine XXXXXXX

  • I feel as though that making corrections and not totally understanding my mistakes is perhaps the biggest downfall.
  • maybe if i came back after a longer period of time it would be more helpful to me in particular.
  • I understand that it’s good to correct ourselves but I think I get more out of simply going up to you to clarify he things I’m struggling with.
  • I only feel like feedback is necessary for some problems if I really don’t get it
  • Well it is helpful some of the time but it does take a really long time to do this.
  • I think that it’s helpful like 85% of the time, and then other times it confuses me

Negatively X

Meh, I don’t really do it. XX

Still experimenting! Would love some thoughts.

Posted on March 26, 2015, in Homework and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I like how explicit you are with the notes you want kids to make! I need to remember that.

    I do something similar, but I don’t give them the solutions at home. I have written out solutions ready at the start of class.

    If the work could generate some productive discussions because what I asked them to do involved having some insights, then: I’ll start class by having students compare their work with their group, and ask each other (and me questions) for 3-4 minutes… and only then I’ll let them take out a different colored pen and look at the solutions to do corrections, write notes, etc.

    If the work was more routine, I have them compare their solutions to the solutions I’ve written up, right away, and mark things up with a different colored pen, write notes, etc.

    For groups of 3, I give them only one copy of the solutions, so they are all looking at the paper together talking. For groups of 4, I give them two copies of the solutions.

    The only benefit I see for this approach versus your approach is that it allows kids to ask each other questions, and generates good discussion. The huge benefit I see for your approach is that if a student gets totally stuck at home, they have the ability to look at something to help them figure stuff out immediately, rather than wait until class.

    • right. it’s a total trade off and it’s funny you say that because i do this once a week (2 nights of homework). then one day is a quiz, and then the remaining HW is more like one you’re talking about – they do something and then discuss in the beginning of the class the next day. i have to think about a way to get more discussion going from this type too.

  2. Love this! I see total applications in Humanities, especially in how students edit the grammatical part of their homework; I’d have to think a little more with how the directions could be changed for analysis. I was wondering if you could provide a little more on how you assess their feedback. Do they get a number grade? What happens if a student really got the material so they have little pen?

    • Oh great question. I forgot to mention that. I give the 3 points per assignment, 2 points strictly completion, 1 point for the checking process. If a student gets it I just ask them to at least put a check mark by every answer (in the other color pen) and that’s enough for me. If they don’t have anything written down in the other color, then it’s not obvious to me they checked so I don’t give them that third point. Sometimes if they don’t have much too I’ll just check a few to make sure they are actually doing it. But nothing is based on amount of correctness before and after the answer key, just effort and completion with both the homework part and then the checking part.

  3. Bowman, I really like this. I have been doing something similar in class, but not as take home. In class (ap stats) we work a problem independently in a 10 min block, and then go through the answer together, either through a trade and grade or keeping your own material. This is for notes or for turned in work. It has greatly improved the turned in work, and the quality of notes had dramatically increased.

    I agree with Sam above about the detail being so important. I am going to adopt something like this for next year. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Just read your posts on The Dead Puppy Theorem and More Reflective Homework while I was looking for “auditor training” stuff. Love that stuff! You, sir, are a “Teacher”….not an “Educator” (one who presents information to convince you that this is the way to do it, understand it, see it), or an “Instructor” (one who gives people a set of things to do and get them to do it). Nope. You “teach”: you help someone understand who they are, what they’re capable of doing, and how they can get themselves to that point…all while presenting them ideas and methods and principles that they probably have never done and encourage them, show them, and help them see that they, too, can do it! I love Teachers who help others learn from themselves, their mistakes, their successes, and their thinking/feeling processes as they apply it to what they’re doing. This, in essence, is teaching Wisdom. Impressed, sir. Quite impressed.

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