The element of surprise can go a long way in the classroom.
“We had homework?” I cringed every time I heard that question as students entered my classroom that first year.
Even today, I view homework as a somewhat controversial topic: Is it beneficial? Do students understand the purpose of homework? Is there value in giving homework?
I did think homework had its benefits, especially in math, and thus I gave it occasionally—not a lot and not every day. I usually gave approximately 10 problems, and most days I gave students at least 10 minutes of class time to work on the problems.
I discovered that whenever homework had to be completed outside class, about 50% of my students didn’t complete it. How could I increase the homework completion rate?
I introduced homework presentations. The day after I assigned homework, I randomly drew the names of one to three students from a cup. These students would each present one of the homework problems to the class—and I’d choose the problem each would present. Each time a name was drawn, it was set aside until every student had presented; then we started all over again.
Choosing the students randomly the day of the presentation was a critical part of my intervention. If students knew when they were presenting, they most likely would complete their homework for that day, but probably not other days. I wanted an element of surprise. They had to be prepared every day by completing the homework.
When students presented, I required them to not only show their work, but also to explain their process to their classmates. I shared a rubric for the presentations so they knew how I was grading them (see Figure 1). There were three components:
- Mathematics/explanation. Was the answer correct and did they fully explain how they got their answer using math terminology?
- Readiness. Was their homework completed?
- Presentation. Did they face the audience and use an audible voice?
Rubric for Math Homework Presentations
|Superior||Satisfactory, with minor flaws||Nearly satisfactory with serious flaws||Unsatisfactory|
|• Accurate response that is communicated clearly with math language and symbols.
• Answer is correct.
|• Main ideas are accurate, with some minor flaws.
• Uses math language and symbols most of the time.
• Answer is mostly correct.
|• Response has minimal accuracy and explanation is unclear.
• Attempts to use math language and symbols but incorrectly.
• Answer is incorrect.
|• Response is inaccurate and explanation has no math language or symbols in it.
• No answer is given.
|Readiness||• Student is ready to present and homework is complete.
• Student does not use homework as an aid.
|• Student is ready to present and homework is complete.
• Student uses homework as an aid.
|• Student presents and homework is mostly complete.||• Student presents, but homework is incomplete.|
|Quality of Presentation||• Presenter faces the audience and uses a loud voice.||• Presenter sometimes faces audience and uses a medium voice.||• Presenter rarely faces the audience and uses a quiet voice.||• Presenter never faces audience and can barely be heard.|
Before we began these presentations, I modeled what I expected of them. I did a problem for them that showed all the characteristics I would be looking for, including presentation skills. I reminded them that it was okay if the answer was wrong. Math is not all about getting the right answer. It is important for students to concentrate on the process rather than just the product. If it was clear that they didn’t understand the process, I re-taught it.
Throughout the year, we practiced doing problems on the board. Whenever we had a review session before a test, I had all the students go up at least once to complete a problem.
After three weeks of homework presentations, I reviewed homework completion grades and was happy to see that the number of students who completed their homework outside class increased! I heard comments such as “It makes me terrified if I have to go up there and not be ready” and “You have to be prepared, and doing my homework is the key.” My intervention was having a positive effect.
Of course, some students still did not complete their homework and didn’t seem to care that they might have to present to their classmates. A couple of students initially refused to present and took a zero instead. On the second round of presentations, those same students at least tried to do the problem, even though their homework was not done. They knew how to do the work; they just didn’t do their homework.
I noticed additional benefits of having students do homework presentations.
Students used math vocabulary more often and correctly. During the presentations, students often corrected themselves. For example, some of the homework problems involved fractions. Students would begin by saying “the bottom number,” then would quickly say, “I mean the denominator.”
Students were getting more practice with presentation skills. Being able to communicate effectively is critical, especially with the emphasis on 21st-century skills. Prior to homework presentations, there weren’t many opportunities for my math students to stand in front of the class and talk. The first time around, almost all the students faced the board and talked quietly. After they saw my comments, they worked to improve. The second time the students presented, many more faced the audience and spoke more loudly.
Even if homework completion had not increased, I still would have continued the homework presentations in my classroom. Students explaining their reasoning gives me an insight into how and what they think. I see more than their work on paper. These presentations helped me understand my students’ reasoning process and correct any misconceptions they had. Because they used the vocabulary more often, they became more familiar with the concepts.
Finally, just being able to practice presenting in front of peers helped them get more comfortable in class and created a better class atmosphere. Everyone had to do it, so they were all very respectful of each other. And, presenting is a transferable skill to other classes and into the real world.
For more about homework presentations, see K. Heiser’s “Homework Presentations: Are They Worth the Time?” at http://scimath.unl.edu/MIM/ar.php.