This post follows on from Purposeful Prep and Manageable Marking that I wrote last week. In that post I explained briefly the idea that I’m trialling with all of my classes: maths homework every night, self-checked by the students, handed in for comments and feedback, perhaps leading to a one-to-one discussion as well.
Aims – My point of view
My main aims were to ensure that students were working on mathematics much more frequently outside of lessons (i.e., every evening) and that they were ultimately completing a greater quantity of work that is directly relevant to them. Here is an enlarged image of the expectations sheet, much easier to read than last week’s (highlighting added by the student):
I’m also trying to keep my marking load well under control. By my nature, I’m relatively disorganised and hopeless at settling down to work on jobs. Face-to-face, I have all the time in the world for my students. Sat at my desk, I could win a gold medal for procrastination.
Ultimately, I decided that the best value I can add for my students is to provide specific feeback, advice and corrections on questions that they have identified as problematic. I could never keep on top of every class’s work, when every student is potentially tackling different questions and topics!
I frequently chat very openly with my students about how we organise our week, about the nature of class tasks and work, and, now, about how homework can be most effective. Some people see marking as a significant part of a teacher’s role, but I have to disagree. The marking isn’t anywhere near as important as expert feedback. (Expert in any sense: efficiency of method, clarity of presentation, accuracy of algebraic work, precision of written responses, providing a structured strategy when students are stuck etc.)
“Orange books, please” is now my opening sentence in every lesson. They’re all handed in – I count them explicitly as they reach me. If no homework was done, I note it in their book. If they failed to check their work, I comment on that – then return the book and expect the student to check the work during the lesson so that I can review it again.
At some stage in every lesson, the students are busy working on tasks and I have the time to look over each book, carefully taking in:
- the quantity of work they have done
- the source of the work and it’s approximate level of difficulty
- the topic of the work, and if it is similar to past work or something new/more advanced
- the presentation of the work: legibility, clarity of algebraic work etc
- the problems that the student has highlighted (and often they will have written in corrections in a different colour, which I can review for correctness)
- the wording of written responses, especially in statistics (many of my students are EAL and, moreover, I don’t expect students to be able to mark such questions simply from comments in a mark scheme for example)
This sounds like a lot but the whole process is incredibly efficient. I can add my annotations, closing comments, recommendations for possible future work etc within a few minutes. Where necessary, I can also chat one-to-one with the student to explain a point or, if necessary, fix a time for them to come back later in the afternoon.
Indeed, much of what I write is common across many books and so today I took some time preparing stickers that I can use (somewhat sparingly.. I don’t want to go sticker crazy):
These are just a first iteration and, as with everything I do, I will ask students for their honest thoughts on using them. It is likely that I will adapt some after another week of seeing what works. Of course, I will still be writing comments too!
After mentioning this trial approach with another colleague in the department, she has also adopted it (taking care to use red books instead of orange, as we have a number of students in common!) We have both seen a wonderful shift in balance: the students are completing more independent work than ever before, and our ‘marking’ (for want of a better label) is taking less time than ever before. It all happens within lesson time.
It is a strange feeling to be free during a free lesson, let alone not having to take a pile of marking home for the weekend. We are almost creating odd jobs to do just so that we don’t appear idle. (Hence printing sheets of coloured sticks today, for example!) Of course, there are term reports, leavers’ references, forecast grades etc all to be done, so we’re not that idle really.
Sustainability in the Future
This approach really does seem ideal for this summer term: there is no new subject knowledge to be taught this term as the students prepare for AS and A2 exams. As I mentioned in a tweet earlier this evening, it is possible that everyone of my students completes different classwork and different homework from all the others. But, equally, I can set a common homework task if I believe they would all benefit from it.
The big question on my mind now is to what extent I can continue this approach next year, during the Autumn and Spring terms when we are teaching the subject. I have plenty of time to mull that one over!
A Note on Preparing the Stickers
The stickers I’m using come on A4 sheets with 65 per sheet. I ordered them online a long time ago, but have never made great use of them. Avery provide template documents for all manner of sticker sheets, so I downloaded one of those to help with the layout.
Within each sticker, I created a two-column table. The left column contains an emoji (which I copy and paste from iemoji.com) and the right column contains the text. Print them on a colour printer and voila.
I’ve shared my sheet on Dropbox – feel free to play with it.