Homework exercises assigned to students should reinforce the big ideas consistent with the professor’s teaching strategy. Homework exercises should not be selected haphazardly.  A primary goal of assigning homework is to help students become more enthusiastic and proficient learners. Instructors may implement a variety of strategies surrounding homework.

Homework does not need to be assigned every day. Instructors must be sensitive to the student process of learning and strategically assign homework at the appropriate time. Homework should be assigned when students have basic understanding of the ideas contained in the homework. Giving practice problems to students who lack understanding can have several negative effects (Kohn, 2006).

  • The student may feel stupid. Over and over again, she is reminded of what she can’t do.
  • The student may become accustomed to doing things the wrong way because he repeatedly applies mistaken assumptions.
  • The student may fake that she understands the assigned homework by asking someone else for the correct answers to help to conceal her ignorance.
  • The student concludes that math is something people aren’t expected to understand.

At the appropriate time, homework should be assigned. But what homework? What is the purpose of assigning that particular homework assignment at that particular time? The author team uses several strategies to select and assign meaningful, purposeful homework assignments.

1. Have students read the textbook.

Homework can involve reading the textbook.  The author team designed the textbook to be read by students so textbook explanations are communicated in a conversational tone. Examples and solutions, pictures and graphs, and the written discussion work together to assist students in making sense of important concepts. To further engage students, the Peer into the Past feature accentuates the historical context of mathematical ideas. The Just in Time feature provides prerequisite review material at the exact time it is needed.

2. Give short assignments when focusing on concepts

Homework assignments can be short. By keeping the homework assignments short, students know that they have the time to dig deep and make sense of the mathematical ideas. Instead of spending an hour repeating a memorized procedure, students may spend an hour working to make sense of just a couple of problems.

3. Give longer assignments when practicing procedures

When students have made sense of the underlying ideas of a particular concept, it is appropriate to have them practice procedures. The Concepts and Skills portion of the homework exercises includes many procedural exercises.

4. Assign challenging exercises to stretch learner understanding.

Homework assignments can be challenging. The Show You Know portion of the homework exercises provide students the opportunity to write, explain, describe, and explore core concepts. The Stretch Your Mind portion of the homework exercises are designed to challenge the strongest students.  These exercises may be assigned to some students and not to others based on the student’s current mathematical understanding and learning needs.

5. Be flexible in determining due dates

Homework assignments may take time to complete. If the purpose of the assignment is to have students develop convincing arguments or well articulated explanations, allow additional time for students to produce their best work. For example, the end-of-chapter Make It Real Project typically requires students to collect and analyze data from an area of personal interest. An instructor may choose to allow up to a week or more for students to complete these projects.

6. Don’t grade homework assignments

Homework assignments do not need to be graded. Research has shown that homework in the best classrooms is not checked – it is shared. In fact, some educators argue that to grade homework is especially destructive because this tells students that the point of the exercise isn’t to help them learn: it’s to evaluate them on whether or not they’ve already succeeded. Consider having students present selected homework problems on the board and give them homework credit for presenting regardless of the accuracy of the mathematical work, recognizing that the students may learn more from learning how to correct a common mistake than from watching a student present a perfectly executed problem. In a supportive classroom environment, the instructor and students can discuss on-board errors comfortably without causing the presenter to feel inferior to his classmates. Alternatively, have the students discuss the homework exercises in small groups and reach consensus on strategies that worked.

7. Assign homework to be done as a group

Homework does not have to be done individually. Once a classroom culture of collaboration and teamwork has been created, it may be helpful to continue this culture outside of the classroom through the assignment of group homework. Admittedly, there are difficulties in assembling teams of students outside of class; however, the benefits of a fully functioning team working together to complete a meaningful task are great. Be flexible in considering student needs and schedules while simultaneously seeking ways to help students build effective teams.

8. Use a variety of strategies to assess homework

There are many different actions that an instructor may take when reviewing a homework assignment. Consider the following ideas and select the strategies that make the most sense for each assignment.

  • Classroom conversation. Ask students to share their ideas in small groups. Students may then be randomly selected to share and explain something that was discussed in the small group
  • Collect and grade. Homework should only be collected and graded if students will receive meaningful feedback from the instructor. This may be done a handful of times during the semester.
  • Paired board work. Students may work together with a partner to write solutions to problems on the board for discussion with the whole class.
  • Check for effort. Depending on the purpose of the assignment, an instructor may check only to see if students have worked on making sense of the ideas.

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