Homework Checks or Frequent Math Quizzes?
A MiddleWeb Blog
So, we are halfway through our second 9 weeks of school, and this is the first year where I started out not checking homework. In August, I carefully explained to students that there would be suggested homework problems and that even though I would not check their homework, there would be frequent quizzes to check their understanding.
The initial response was, “yay, no homework,” which quickly turned to “why does my grade look like this?”
The suggested homework problems usually number five or six, and I have never assigned more than ten. I post the solutions, complete with accompanying work, on Canvas for students to access. I do this so that they can refer to it if they get stuck while doing their homework.
I spend the first few minutes of the next class addressing any questions students have concerning the latest homework problems, with the understanding that I won’t just rework every problem. The quizzes are very basic, nothing tricky, and very much related to the homework.
Just a note on grading: in our school system quizzes count the same as a daily grade (30%) while tests count 60%, and benchmarks count for 10%. So the impact on their grade is not over-large, but it is enough to get their attention.
I have begun to allow students to retake quizzes in addition to the option of completing a corresponding activity at IXL. I resisted doing this initially because I thought I would be overrun with students wanting to retake their quizzes, but that has not been the case. In fact, the requests mostly come from students who earn a good grade to start with but want an even higher grade.
I’m not going to argue with that reasoning, so for those students the retake option has been beneficial. I need to find some way to motivate all my students to take advantage of this opportunity.
Sharing the Results
I want to share as honestly as I can what the results have been in case others are also trying to find the best way to address the homework issue. At the first of the year it seemed to be working very well. Initially students were doing well on their homework quizzes and seemed to enjoy having some choice regarding their homework.
However, as the year has progressed, students are encountering more difficult material. Couple that with field trips, sickness, and absences, and the quiz-or-homework option is taking a toll. I have begun to hear more complaints about the homework quizzes.
My gradebook is not inflated with grades from homework checks as it has been in the past. Students no longer receive a 100 just for completion, without regard to quality or content. Grades this year seem to align with their progress and understanding much better than they have in the past. In fact, often a student’s quiz grade will be within a few points of their test grade.
How the Students Feel
On the flip side, many students are not happy with their lower average due to frequent quiz grades. To gauge more accurately how my students feel about the homework policy, I gave them an anonymous survey so they would feel free to share how they felt about the homework quizzes.
I braced myself for some strong comments because I have recently received some pushback from students regarding their grades. I made sure that the students knew the responses were anonymous (Google survey) and I had no way of knowing who submitted what response.
I was really surprised with the responses I got. There were students who said (about 16%) that they would prefer to have their homework checked in the more traditional way. However, the majority of students stated that they preferred homework quizzes to homework checks. I have listed of few of their comments below:
- “I feel as if they are more efficient.”
- “I would rather have homework quizzes because quizzes can bring my grade up and help me know what i need to improve on.”
- “They help me a lot, and if you couldn’t do the homework the night before you don’t have to get a complete zero.”
- “I like it more because you can’t just copy hw and get the grade, you have to do it yourself because there will be a test on it.”
- “I like the homework quizzes, I think that it helps me to do well on the test.”
- “i like them because if i already know the work i dont do the homework.”
I asked for suggestions for improvement, and I have listed two that resonated with me.
- “i don’t think the quizzes should be counted as a grade because we may or may not understand the material just yet. it takes some longer than others to understand it”
- “more time to learn homework before getting the quiz”
I feel these comments are valid. I realize some students will need a little more time to understand the material. As I mentioned earlier, I do allow retakes this year, a student can come to my room during our “Boost” time and retake the quiz to improve their grade or they can complete a corresponding IXL. But, I can understand a student becoming demoralized if they repeatedly have to retake a quiz or complete an IXL.
I don’t miss the time I spent walking around the room looking at homework, I always felt like that was wasted time even if I put a bell ringer or an assignment up for them to do while I checked it. The time I used to spend checking homework is now used for giving the homework quiz. The quizzes themselves take around 5 to 10 minutes, and it typically takes me about 15 minutes to grade a classroom set of homework quizzes, and I give 2-3 homework quizzes a week.
The homework quizzes have really helped me be aware of students’ misunderstandings while we are still in the unit. For instance, I recently became very aware that a lot of students are missing problems requiring them to use the quadratic formula because they don’t use parentheses, which causes them make a sign error.
In the past, I knew, in a vague way, that some students would make a sign error when using the quadratic formula, but now I have very explicit evidence and I know exactly which students are having this problem. So, for me, that knowledge is a very good payoff for my time.
I am also finding that the homework quizzes are helping my students diagnose the areas they need to improve. Immediately after the students take the homework quiz, they often ask me to work the quiz problem(s). I hesitated to do that at first, but I find myself doing it more and more.
And while I am putting the answer on the board, the students are really engaged, they are on the edge of their seats, and you can hear them say “I got it!” or “I got to that part, then I didn’t know what to do.” Whatever they say, I had found it hard to get them to pay that much attention before.
A case in point: recently some students did not label a, b, c correctly when using the quadratic formula. It was so interesting, right after we took the quiz on the quadratic formula and I worked the problem on the board. Two students shouted at the same time, “I did everything right except label a, b, and c.” They looked at each other and laughed and basically said, well at least we won’t do that again. As a follow-up, neither of those two students made that mistake on their end of the unit test.
As a result of this new homework policy, I have seen the advantage of regular, low-stakes quizzes. I always intended to do this in years past, but I always let the time crunch get in the way.
This year, since I haven’t been checking homework I have time to give the quizzes and get the quick feedback. As a result, I feel like I know so much more about my students this year. Regardless of what I do in the future, I will continue to use frequent, low-stakes, formative assessment.
For some students, I really think homework quizzes have helped them grow and learn more than if I had checked homework the way I had done in the past. I also think it is helping them take some ownership in their learning. They have to decide if they need the practice or if they have mastered the concept.
However some students, specifically students who are hard-working but struggle in math, are becoming discouraged. Students who are used to getting credit for just writing the problem can feel like they are being punished when their work is being graded for accuracy.
For those students, it’s going to be my job to work to bolster their confidence and give them the support they need to be successful. That’s going to involve some one-on-one help and encouragement.
So, that’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do next year. I will finish out the year with my current method and compare how my students do on their end of the year test before I make a decision. I’ll be sure to share what I find out!
How would this approach work for you?