Teaching Opinion

Homework: Only Review What You Need to Review

By David Ginsburg — October 02, 2011 2 min read
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A lot of teachers think that if you assign homework, you must review it with students the following day. This makes sense in that it’s important for students to correct and learn from their mistakes.

But what if they didn’t make any mistakes? I realize it’s unlikely every student will have the correct answer for any given question. Yet even if only half the class got it right, what should those students do while you review something they already know how to do? Well, I can tell you what they did in my classroom before I changed my approach: they talked or slept or worked on assignments for other classes.

The root of the problem is the same as what I described in the context of class openers (or Do Nows): teachers reviewing an assignment without knowing whether students need them to review it. In extreme cases, teachers go over every homework assignment, beginning to end. I’m reminded of my high school math teacher working through problem after problem on the board, oblivious to snoozing and socializing students.

Then there are those teachers who act like disc jockeys by taking audience requests: “What questions would you like me to go over?” And if just one kid requests #3, the teacher reviews #3. Same goes for #4, #5, and so on. I did this until it backfired for a couple of reasons. First, just because Michael needs you to review #3 doesn’t mean Maria and Marcus do, which is why many students don’t pay attention when teachers use the DJ approach. Second, if students want to keep you from moving on to the next activity, all they have to do is request another question. And if you think kids won’t play you like this, think again. Nothing rankled me more than students asking me to go over problems, and then yakking or putting their heads on their desks as I obliged them.

Of course, you can’t look over students’ shoulders while they’re doing homework, so you’ll need to identify in class those homework questions most students need you to review. And here’s a great way to do this:

As you wrap up the class opener, show the answers to homework on your interactive whiteboard or projector screen. Then give students five minutes or so to check their answers and troubleshoot their errors, while you circulate to identify questions worth reviewing as a class (i.e., those most students struggled with)--and identify students to present the correct solutions to the class.

This process not only saves time, but also improves student learning. By working backward from the correct answers, students often figure out where they went wrong, and have a better grasp of the material as a result. And in the end, you’ll have fewer questions to review as a class, and a more captive audience for those questions you do need to review--as captive as any DJ could hope for!

Image provided by GECC, LLC with permission

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