Thursday, November 4, 2010

How long is too long?

We met on Tuesday (election day) with some of the math teachers from the other high school in my district.  Part of the time was spent looking at the new standards that are coming out (Ohio is adopting the Common Core State Standards) and part was spent playing with the TI-NSpire  (that was fun!).

What really struck me from that day was a comment that an Algebra 2 teacher from the other school made.  We were talking about the differences between General, College Prep, and Honors and how we could differentiate using the new standards.

What she said was this:

"The only difference between my general and my college prep is that they get to use notes on their tests and quizzes.  Oh, and they only have 20 homework problems assigned per night while the college prep gets 40."

I was like, What?!  (In my head... I wasn't going to say it out loud.  She's an imposing figure.)  I think 40 problems per night is outrageous.  I figure these kids fit one of two categories:
1.  They know what they're doing.  40 problems isn't going to change that and it just becomes a major chore.
2.  They don't know what they're doing.  40 problems isn't going to change that and could just reinforce bad habits.

Am I totally off base here?


Rachel said...

I hate that approach to homework. Not ok. Giving more of the same is not making your class more rigorous, it's just boring smarter kids. I agree with your assessment on if they know it it's a waste of time and if they don't it's just a different kind of waste of time.

Marzano gives several good descriptions of the purposes of homework in his different books. Practice can be one purpose, but not until after the skills or procedure has already been mastered in class! In my experience that usually doesn't happen until a few days after it is taught in class. "first night" homework is probably more appropriately summarizing notes or procedures, error analysis of teacher provided solutions, vocabulary review, etc. I think math teachers tend to jump straight to practice before our students are ready.

thescamdog said...

You are not off base. For the most part, the kids who diligently do every question we assign are the ones who don't need to. We are wasting their time. The ones who would benefit from a little practice usually don't do it.

I assign very little homework. Most of what I want them to do gets done in class. Assignments are differentiated so that kids who need rote practice do that. Kids who can take concepts deeper do that. I do this even in our academic high school math classes.

don said...

8-10 questions is usually enough in my room. A few more if it is factoring or exponent laws etc. but nothing in the neighborhood of 20 or 40.

KFouss said...

Thanks for the reassurance, everyone! Another teacher at my school said they were talking about that comment at lunch yesterday and how crazy 40 problems a night can be.

Last year I started giving 10 - 12 problems (all odds) a night, especially to my precalc kids. If they can do those, then they have a good grasp of what's going on. If they can't, then they know to ask for extra help.

Doing more and more and more problems isn't going to beat it into their heads. I feel bad for those kids.

David said...

If you accept your argument, that 40 questions is ineffective because of the two reasons you cited, then you can argue by induction that no amount of practice exercises is worth assigning.

The argument goes as follows.
Assumption 1: One less question isn't going to make a difference in their learning.
Assumption 2: Doing forty problems isn't worth doing because students will either already get it, or practice misconceptions they have.

Now follows the inductive argument. Assumption 1 implies that if n is true, then n - 1 is true. If we agree that n = 40 is true (where true means, it is not good to assign this many questions), then hence 39 is also true because of assumption 1. We continue in this way until we hit 0 zero questions.

If you must assign homework, assign things kids can reliably do at home without intervention from you.