Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Most of My Students Did More Homework than Assigned

I know this seems unlikely, but it was true for my entire teaching career. I can’t take credit, however. My master teacher taught me this simple, genius plan. I taught a few years in middle school, but most of the time, I taught in a public high school. I used this plan when teaching French, German or English.

I assigned homework Mondays through Thursdays. I never gave students homework on Fridays, weekends or over holidays. They had a semester project to complete. They completed them during these non-homework days.

Homework for the week was posted on my website each Thursday. I uploaded the assignments during my conference period, after designing the lesson plans for the next week (which I also did during my conference period each Thursday). The assignments for each day were also posted on the whiteboard in front of the room. Students were used to seeing their assignments in this location.

Students could complete as much or as little of each assignment as they wished. They were rewarded for doing more than assigned. The grading went this way: 
Zero=Did not attempt the assignment, Check Minus=Completed part of the assignment, or it was late, Check=Completed the assignment as assigned, Check Plus=Completed extra work, in addition to what was assigned, Plus=Completed double what was assigned.

Homework recorded this way was not graded for quality or accuracy. It was practice on vocabulary or grammar. The work was checked to see how much was completed, this was recorded, and the work remained in the students' notebooks. There, it was often used as a resource. We went over it while students had their notebooks open to their completed homework. Then they put their notebooks away. We often had quizzes on these assignments. It was pointed out to students that those who did extra always did well on quizzes.

This was part of the incentive to do more than assigned, but there was more motivation. At the end of each grading period, I balanced the check marks, pluses and zeroes. If the student balanced into the positive, I raised his grade to the next level (usually just a plus mark). If, however, the student’s work ended up a minus, then I lowered the letter grade one notch (usually a minus sign).

Keeping track was easy. I used pieces of graph paper, CLICK HERE (ad), one for each row. I put the students’ names on the left, and an abbreviation of the assignment at the top of each vertical column. Where they intersected, I placed the symbol earned. It was very visual. Students and I could see clearly when someone had a positive or negative pattern going.

At times, when going through the papers, I showed a student his pattern. It was hard to deny when zeroes or minus signs appeared. At other times, students encouraged each other. This was especially true of other students seated in the same row. They acted as a team and cheered each other on to improve. Competition can sometimes be a good thing.

Once students are used to this routine, they catch on to the “tricks”. Since they know their homework in advance, busy and clever students work ahead. They’re prepared with their completed work on the day it’s due. Often they do so with double the assignment finished. This makes up for a day when they’re swamped in another class and perhaps can’t finish everything in my class.

I can truthfully say most of my students did more homework than I assigned most of the time. It made all the difference in the scores on their routine quizzes, their chapter tests and their final grades. I’m sure those grades made a significant difference when they applied to college and for scholarships. All this from doing as much or as little homework as they liked.

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