For a couple of reasons this year I made the transition from giving HW 3+ times a week, to having optional HW. I noticed the no HW trend in education last year, and did some investigations during the summer and thought that HW optional was the best idea for me. One of the reasons I wanted to get away from assigning HW in the traditional way was the inequity of how I was giving credit. My rule has always been to receive full credit EVERY problem had to be ATTEMPTED, if not, no credit was given. So I had students who tried there hardest and didn’t know how to start problems, which is frustrating but understandable, that received no credit. I had other students who put down “slop” for a lot of questions, that I was giving full credit to. I knew it was not fair….but I didn’t know what to do. In addition I have the luxury of an 80 minute class each school day, which gave me a lot of flexibility in my schedule. Keeping these things in mind, and wanting to do something new, I took the plunge and went HW optional.
This was probably the best decision I have made in my career as an educator! Let’s start off with the selfish result, that I now longer have the internal struggle about who to give credit for their HW assignment, since there is no mandatory HW. When I compared my grades to the past couple of years I noticed little change, class averages are actually a little bit higher. Students actually started asking important questions during my lesson and while they were doing their practice problems, instead of when we went over the HW the next day. Students actually asked questions about the optional HW I had listed on my teacher website, I was in shock about this! As I reflect on the school year as a whole, I have not noticed 1 negative consequence from the change.
The next question you might have is, “What changes did you make?” I did have to change what I was doing in class a little bit. The textbook series that I use is Big Ideas Math, which I like for a couple of reasons. It works well with our 80 minute class period because it starts off each lesson with an activity to activate the students prior knowledge of the topic, and so that students can start to develop their own understanding of a topic. I did have to cut back a little here, instead of doing all of the activities I picked and chose which ones I thought were the most important. Something that sort of caught me off guard was I actually gained some time in class because I didn’t have to walk around and check all 20+ students HW assignments, and have all the clerical work that went along with that. Usually I would have a long warm-up that the students would work on to give me time to do this, now I have 1 or 2 questions warm-up that are very specific to check for understanding. I have also used Desmos (demos.com and teacher.desmos.com) a lot more this year. If you haven’t used Desmos, you really need to. It is a tool I have used more and more every year that makes me a better, more efficient teacher. If you need more info about it please let me know.
Its only half way through the school year, but so far I am excited about the change. I am very interested to see if the change has an effect on my standardized test score, in NJ we use PARCC. If you haven’t spent anytime rethinking your HW policy, you really should.