The Homework Debate

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by Brendan, May 12, 2008.

  1. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    May 12, 2008

    At our latest department chair meeting the issue of homework came up, more specifically in the weighting of it in grades. We debated how much it should count toward student grades extensively and by the end of the meeting no ones mind really changed, but we definately gained alot of insight.

    In your opinion, how much do you value homework in you classes? What and how often do you assign? And how much does it represent of students grades?

    Depending on the course I count homework as 20-25% because I give homework every day and I value it in all my classes. In math its nightly worksheets/practice work and in History depending on the class are mini-papers/projects, readings, review worksheets, read/notes, and more creative endeavors such as the ISN type assignments.
     
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  3. ancientcivteach

    ancientcivteach Habitué

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    May 13, 2008

    I count homework as 10-15% of the quarter grade, depending on the class level. I assign it Monday - Thursday, and it is usually practice/review/enrichment based on the topics we are studying that week. Each assignment should take no more than 10-15 minutes.

    My notebook work and projects are done in class, and count considerably more. :)
     
  4. Calliope

    Calliope Companion

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    May 13, 2008

    Our grades are weighted like this:
    40% major tests & writing assignments
    20% HW
    20% CW
    20% quizzes

    It's what I was handed. Sometimes I have to juggle things to make it "fair." For instance, I don't give many quizzes and one 5 pt quiz shouldn't count for 20% of someone's grade.
     
  5. SSA

    SSA Companion

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    May 13, 2008

    While I disagree with Alfie Kohn in a lot of his other books I think I have to agree with a lot of his conclusions in the Homework Myth. Not only does HW fail to achieve what it is supposed to oftentimes, but having graded homework I think sometimes distorts grades to reward behavior instead of measure what students learned.

    Students especially younger students need frequent feedback, but that doesn't mean it has to always have a grade attached to it.

    If a student masters what the course asks of him/her than why do we care if s/he did poorly on their HW in week 1-2?

    As BF Skinner noted "Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten."

    If the kids walk out of the classroom in the next couple weeks knowing little more than they walked into at the start of the year than they really didn't get much of an education and should get a grade that reflects that.

    Due to practicality you can't expect most K-12 students to take a 3+ hour comprehensive final exam, but I think giving HW too much weight in the grading system causes some kids to give up on the grading term prematurely. Since HW comes before tests and quizes generally most grading systems should accordingly downplay HW in the final grade.

    One other important consideration, despite the cynicism, is how do you really know that the student did his or her HW? Is the HW a student turns in a reflection of the students own work? Or is it the reflection of their ability to copy from "smarter" students or having their parents give them very heavy handed help? Some cheating on HW is clearly blatant (you see student x copying student y's HW or long answers that are virtually identical), but most cheating goes on under the radar.

    Various opinion polls show most kids admit to cheating at least once and cheating on HW is probably disproportionally more common than classroom assignments where cheating tends to be more transparent.

    Unless you are a very good anti-cheating sleuth the student having good work on the page doesn't mean that they know anymore than the kid who turned in half the HW in fact the cheat may have learned less.

    Even your best students cheat on HW so merely because xyz student does good work in class doesn't mean they did their HW without some questionable help. I knew one girl in HS who was a near straight A student who would copy off yet another stellar student. I could only infer that she felt a lot of family pressure to do well academically because her brother graduated summa cum laud at Berkeley.

    Call me a cynic, but I think students should be doing HW for their practice on concepts that they need to work on, not because the teacher arbitrarily is requiring every student to do it for a grade even if they don't seem to need it.

    I full well expect I am going to be flamed, but try considering some the arguments against HW before getting too vitriolic.
     
  6. jw13

    jw13 Groupie

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    May 13, 2008

    SSA, I completely agree with you. Simply put, homework should only be practice for concepts taught. It should only be given an acknowledgement of completion, not a grade.

    However, I do not hold homework and projects/reports to be completed outside of class in the same category.
     
  7. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    May 13, 2008

    See thats where I disagree, for Math and any computations in Science, Grammar, Spanish etc. I think it should be graded for completion, but in History, English (reading assignments/Worksheets) and Science (Reading Assignments/Worksheets) I think it should be on accuracy.

    I feel this way because I see that in math (including physics, chem, etc.) as well in Grammar, and Foreign Language it is not really fair or realistic to expect master in their practice homework. In these classes we are teaching new skills everyday, but in History and English we are just building on the same skills essentially (most of the time just using the same ones for different material).

    In English and Social Studies (as well as non-computation based sciences) I think that it is reasonable for them to read/participate for mastery in that days required readings, activities, lecture, and notes. I then expect to see the comprehension and analysis in any and all application form like mini-papers/projects, review worksheets, enrichment/extension activities, and more creative activities WITH accuracy. I also feel it beneficial for me to see how they are dealing with each day's lesson/reading on a daily basis, just not at assesment time. Keep in mind though this is solely from my experience teaching History and English.
     
  8. Loomistrout

    Loomistrout Devotee

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    May 13, 2008

    This is basically what Madeline Hunter argued at a conference I attended some years ago. Her stance suggested teachers are wasting a lot of valuable time correcting HW. According to Hunter, the teacher never knows for sure who has merely "done" and who has "learned". If a teacher really wants to know who has learned - the purpose of HW? - a quiz ON the HW should be given. If anything is to be graded it should be the quiz not the HW.
     
  9. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    May 14, 2008

    The problem, at least for me, is that without requiring homework and practice, students won't learn the material because they can't learn it without doing it. If I don't assign points to the homework, even just a few points, the students won't see any value or benefit in doing the work.

    I generally assign two types of homework: pre-reading/notes and translation passages.

    Pre-reading and note-taking are often assigned as true homework to be done completely outside of class. I generally assign some nominal point value (like 5 points) to these sorts of assignments. I find that this small point value is enough of an incentive to those students who need one, but it isn't enough to seriously hurt those students who, because of their home situations, aren't as able to complete homework.

    As for the translation assignments, those are usually worth about 10 points--more than the notes, but much less than an exam (which would be 50-100 points). I typically allow students to "get started" on a translation assignment during class. If they use their class time appropriately, they will likely finish the assignment during class. Most students finish about 3/4 of each translation assignment during class. The rest must be finished outside of class in order for the student to earn full credit.

    On translation assignments, I typically give credit based on completion: 10 points for being complete and appearing accurate at a glance, 6 points for being incomplete or appearing to have many errors, and 0 points for no attempt. I prefer not to grade translation assignments for content/correctness because I feel that students should be given some freedom to make mistakes in learning the new content. We always go over the translations together, and students are expected to ask questions and make corrections at that time.

    Although I permit (and welcome!) mistakes during practice, I do expect students to shine when it comes to their exams.

    I think teachers should place more emphasis on summative assessments than on formative assessments. Erring along the way is part of the process of learning (at least in my subject area). It matters more to me that a student ultimately figured it out than that they got it on their first try.
     
  10. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    May 14, 2008

    Agreed, that they should count more, but how much more. I think anywhere from a 60-40 split to 75-25 (to summative vs. formative) is acceptable, any more I think is just overkill.
     
  11. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    May 14, 2008

    I assign homework every single day (I'm a math teacher). I grade it for completion for the reasons already stated above. I keep track of the numer of classwork practice/homework assignments I give and give each student a check for each one they've turned in. I add up the number of checks and divide that by the number of assignments. That becomes their homework grade, which counts for a nominal part of the final grade. As cassie said, you simply can't learn without practice, and without some sort of point value, the students won't bother to do it.
     
  12. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    May 14, 2008

    Homework is ridiculous. That's pretty much my stance on it.

    Undirected instruction has shown very little return on investment for almost every subject (Math excluded). As a history teacher homework consists of, at best, interaction with the material I presented in class that day. I can do that in 5 minutes of bellwork the next day and avoid all the headaches homework brings.

    I gave homework my first two years because I thought that's just what teachers did. I haven't given any in the last three and my students reguarly outscore other students in my school on common assessments. I have no problem assigning big projects that likely won't be finished in school but to simply assign homework as a "read this chapter, answer these questions exactly as the teacher's edition says you should" is a horrible disservice to our kids.

    I have tons of enrichment activities available that they are welcome to do on their own time for extra credit but as far as I'm concerned homework will never again be part of my class.
     
  13. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    May 14, 2008

    Rock, I think you're hitting on a key point without realizing it. Math, and any computational science, requires practice time. Any "homework" given for the social sciences should be limited to reading the text to prepare for class (IMO). I do think high school teachers should start training kids to read the text book in preparation for the college professors that will expect it when they get there. Certain skills require practice, and those skills are what need to be reinforced with homework (but I would fight to the death with people who think that that type of work should be graded for correctness.)
     
  14. SSA

    SSA Companion

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    May 14, 2008

    I think the general thoughts here is that HW is important for math, foreign languages and comp sci, but for other subjects it depends upon the students.

    I think mmswm made a good point that in college completing the reading prior to the class is expected. Depending upon the difficulty of the course you may get very little if anything out of the lecture without doing the reading. For HS teachers it would be a disservice to not at least prepare kids for the reality of how college courses tend to work.
     
  15. kilgore_trout

    kilgore_trout Rookie

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    May 15, 2008

    One tidbit for me, an English teacher, is writing fluency. Guided practice is part of it, but simply putting the pen to the paper for many, low-stakes, opportunities to write is another. My students come up with valuable insights in their journals once they've had a chance to decompress at home for a while. I agree that what they do at home shouldn't be a huge part of their grade, though, unless it's a solid continuation of the in-class work.
     
  16. Budaka

    Budaka Cohort

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    May 15, 2008

    I agree with many of the points that people make here about homework and I know that many students copy. However, if I didn't grade homework my students would not do it, none of them would. There is nothing that I could do that would make them do it if they did not receive a grade on it! As a Spanish teacher, I really need them to have the extra exposure to the language outside of my classroom. It takes about thirty different exposures to a word before the average person can learn it. Even if my students are copying someone else's homework that at least counts as one exposure! Also, homework helps my students' grades. My students do to get very worried and stressed during their tests. I do try to give homework that is difficult to copy-like describe yourself. I like it when a tall, brunette boy describes himself as short, pretty, and blonde. Then I know someone has been cheating!!
     
  17. PowerTeacher

    PowerTeacher Comrade

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    May 15, 2008

    I assign classwork that can be completed as homework if you do not finish in class. It is not graded. I grade a separate assignment with questions about the specific concepts they need to learn called the Brain Check.

    The hook for them to complete the other work is that they may not use the book, or a partner to complete the Brain Check, which is graded for accuracy. They may use any work they have generated personally.

    I grade the Brain Check and give it back. They can then correct the Brain Check for a better grade.

    Do some of the kids not do the work and do poorly on the Brain Check? Sure, but they are the same ones who were not doing the homework, and most of the classwork to begin with.

    However, several of my kids who would not do the work before will now finish the Brain Checks, and then correct them for higher grades.
     
  18. MrU82

    MrU82 Rookie

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    May 16, 2008

    To be honest, i rarely assign homework. Most of my "homework" is long term project work, papers, and/or reading assignments. I never give out worksheets and/or anything similar. All the students do is copy each others work anyway. They serve no purpose. Its just something you give them because you didnt plan anything else. I mean lets just be honest.
     
  19. Mamacita

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    May 18, 2008

    I very rarely assigned homework, but when I did, I expected to see it on the due date. Everything weighed the same in my class.

    Homework was generally an original essay of some kind, and it let me know who needed help with grammar, who needed extra vocabulary instruction, and who the cheaters were.

    In the classroom, immediately after the lesson, many kids can "do it." At home, hours later, some kids realize they can't. Homework helps us learn who those kids are.

    Homework as an issue differs, depending on whether we're discussing small children or middle and high school students.

    Lower levels: simple practice and "reminder" exercises, while in the secondary levels, actual proof of learning should be required.

    I used to give each student a different sentence to diagram, or an individual vocabulary word to research, or a different sentence to parse, or an individual verb to conjugate, etc.

    Excessive homework deprives students of family or individual time, but no homework at all deprives students of valuable practice for important skills. Busy work is unprofessional and worthless at any level.
     
  20. Emily Bronte

    Emily Bronte Groupie

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    May 21, 2008

    I also think the idea of reading the material ahead of time is good because as others have said, college profs. will expect that. Long term projects as homework is also beneficial. Those long term projects help with learning time management. We'd hope at least.
     
  21. forchange

    forchange Rookie

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    I agree with SSA. If I could, I would still give homework, collect and return it with comments but no grade. Ideally, I would like assessments, Socratic Circle grades, and projects account for a student's whole grade. It would be a much clearer mark of what they know.

    However, I do assign every night and grade homework (10% of the final grade). I do this not only because it is school policy, but because doing homework is painful and like most painful things, must become a habit. As 7th graders, my students need to be practicing the skill of -doing- their homework, if not the actual skill practiced with the homework.

    As a compromise, I try very hard to make my homework relevant, challenging (but simple to understand), and in the same format as my assessments.

    I find that boys, much more than girls fail to do their homework, although it doesn't necessarily mean that their skills are lower. Every time I hear about a gender gap (especially among African-American students), I think about the homework issue.
     
  22. Idiom

    Idiom New Member

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    Homework drove me crazy until I made it a section in their portfolios. Most homework is a continuation of classwork and students are to put whatever they get to within ten to fifteen minutes into their portfolio. Essentially it is optional, but I directly link it to test questions. In other words, students who complete the homework do far better on assessments. Furthermore, I allow them to use homework pages on quizzes. Students who have an average of two assignments per week in their homework section receive a hundred percent in that section. Anything further can be counted as enrichment points (extra credit).

    I try not to take it personally if students don't do their homework. Sometimes I will add bonuses to students who do their homework to encourage others, like an extra participation point, free reading time, or "first out the door" rights. This is not done every day, but it is memorable enough to motivate some students.

    Good luck!
     
  23. Weazy

    Weazy Comrade

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    I agree! I only assign homework that has a purpose, but I also think that it is my responsibility to prepare students for college. Several friends of mine work at a nearby college, and they comment about students experiencing homework shock because very little was assigned in high school. I don't believe in overloading kids with homework, but I do believe that 20 minutes worth will not kill them. BTW--I do not assign homework everyday. If we are reading a novel, then yes, the college prep students do have to read on their own time. It will be expected of them in college, and part of my responsibility is to prepare them for the future.
     
  24. SSA

    SSA Companion

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    Solid post. In HS, there is no time like the present to prepare students for their future. Even for those not going to college knowing that some things you are going to have to do on your own time without a boss/supervisor making sure you are doing it is a useful skill. I remember working a sales job for a while and I would spend an hour or more a day learning about products and reading reviews not because my boss was going to quiz me to make sure I was reading up on the products in our industry, but because I knew that it would make me better at my job.
     
  25. ms_chandler

    ms_chandler Comrade

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    Jun 23, 2008

    Our percentages are set already. 20% of their final grade includes daily grades (such as quizzes) and HW.
     
  26. Ms.cooker

    Ms.cooker New Member

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    I am not a teacher yet, but I agree that homework is a way to prep for college. I think the fact that my high school made our teachers account for homework by grading made me not so much in shock when I was given my first college syllabus.

    One Social studies teacher I had knew that kids wouldn't do the homework if he didn't grade, but he knew that he didn't want to grade every night. So he assigned us the chapter reading and we were to take notes on every section. He would come around the next day and look briefly at our notes. He didn't care how much we wrote as long as we did it. Then all week as he lectured we would put stars next to what was discussed in his lectures. On the day of the review (Thursday) he would have us go through our notes and pick 10 things we thought would be on the test and turn it in. What was on the test that we listed was an extra credit point on the test. Those who did the homework would have the notes and stars and would therefore get the extra credit.

    Another teacher would give us homework daily but we would never know which day she would collect and which day she wouldn't. That helped people to do the homework even if it wasn't getting graded.

    Whichever subject I teach in the future I will use these strategies.
     
  27. Tenured

    Tenured Rookie

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    and as soon as kids realize it doesn't count, they quit doing it.


    I beleive homework is for practice purposes. A football team doesn't simply show up on Friday and expect to win. They put in practice time

    A band student can sight read a piece of music, but let him practice it for a week, and then let him play, he will play better.

    Daily work and homework are simply the practice and repitition a student needs in order to be ready for their "game" or "performance" (the day of the test)

    So, while I agree, grading it isn't the important thing about homework/daily work, it's the actual practice, but unless you have an entire student load of kids who are highly self-motivated (which won't happen) you have to tie in consequences to not completing the process (lower grade)
     
  28. Loomistrout

    Loomistrout Devotee

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    Consider: there might be two goals of HW. One - timeliness. Two - demonstrated learning. Hunter goes on advising teachers to give a quiz on the HW if goal is to find out who has learned. Quiz can be short (use back of HW) and similar to HW (not trying to fool anyone). Collect HW and grade the quiz not the HW. This generally separates the doers from the learners. A separate mark like a check can be noted for turning something in on time.
     
  29. bluelightstar

    bluelightstar Companion

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    Kids who would normally do homework won't do if it's not graded. I tried giving out homework assignments for English, but if I never took them up, they wouldn't get done.
     
  30. HMM

    HMM Cohort

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    I never collect HW in any of my freshman (college) math classes. HW at that level doesn't show what they know (because you don't know if they really did it...or how long it took them). I give short quizzes based on the HW instead.
     
  31. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    I can't remember having homework in the traditional sense in college. I know I had tons of reading to do, and, in my upper division classes I had "homework sets" that were only a couple of proofs, but took forever, or a handful of very in-depth problems.

    I think the point of homework in high school is to both get students to practice, and also teach them to work on their own.
     
  32. HMM

    HMM Cohort

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    In my freshman calculus class I assign a lot of hw (non of which I grade).
     
  33. LMath85

    LMath85 Companion

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    To be honest, I consider homework to be a big part of students grades. If it wasn't for giving homework how else would they practice skills that they need to a) pass my class b) know for higher level math classes and c) pass their state exams. I don't give a lot of math problems for homework (roughly 8-10, always spiraling) so I expect all of my kids to do the homework I assign.

    Many teachers in my school take off points from test grades for not doing hw (-2) and add (+1) for homework instead of trying to figure out that homework is 15%, 20% of their grade. It also makes the kids do it because they don't want 2pts off!

    Apparently we are the only department (as heard from other departments) that puts such an emphasis on homework. But you don't learn math over night... you really need to practice it to really understand it.
     
  34. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    Jul 9, 2008

    What percent does it amount to your students grade?
     
  35. Science Mike

    Science Mike New Member

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    Newbie to the site, but 13 years in the trenches. I have read the posts here and have been enlightened how HW is not only a burning topic with me but many of you as well. I mean burning in a good way. We are passionate about what we do and homework is a central issue.

    Typically I have assigned HW 2-3 times a week, graded it in class, but given effort credit for it. Homework is generally 15% of the student's final average. I use the category percentage method. This way of doing homework assignments is not the best way because of cheating in various forms such as having an incorrect assignment out (faking the funk), copied answers, nonsense answers, so forth and so on. I want students to complete homework because it is essential not only for practice, but to have them thinking and working with science outside of school.

    I have been toying with the idea about assigning homework for practice and discovery, and checking it in class. Notice that I said checking and not grading. The bad part is what some of you stated, if there are no grades attached to it, there will be many that do not complete it. So I have a delimma. But since reading your posts, I may have come up with a solution (for me). What if homework is assigned and discussed/checked in class and a Brain Check (thanks Brendan) is used to evaluate their practice and discovery at the end of the week? The students could use any self generated work or homework they have completed on the Brain Check. Hopefully this might encourage students to do the homework (and maybe extra notes) and I can assess (hopefully) what they have gained from it. The big thing would be to make the Brain Check question or questions appropriate or thorough and not just repetitive or exact copies of the homework. The Brain Checks would be used for the grade in the grade book. Okay guys, give me some feedback......I know you guys will find some holes.....Teachers are the best at finding student loop holes.

    Science Mike
     
  36. muinteoir

    muinteoir Companion

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    Jul 13, 2008

    What I have done in my middle school science classes, and it's working well (for now):

    All homework is not created equal.

    • Sometimes homework is to finish part of a lab or other class activity.
    This is non-negotiable. A grade for the lab or activity is given and if it is not completed, the grade reflects that.

    • Sometimes homework is a review, a way to reinforce what we did in class, a way to practice vocabulary, etc. Usually this is "worksheet" work.
    This is negotiable.

    I tell the kids on the first day of school that not all homework will be graded, but that I will let them know if it will be or not.
    I give everyone the homework. It is their job to decide if the homework will help them learn the material or not. If they think they need more practice with the topic or concept, then they need to do it.
    If they feel they know the material, they do not have to do it.

    HOWEVER, they are accountable for the material whether they do the homework or not. The choice is theirs.

    When I do give this kind of homework, we go over it the next day. Students check their own work and correct any errors, add to the information, whatever they need.
    Sometimes I see kids frantically writing down all the answers.
    Sometimes kids do nothing.
    All of this is their choice.

    We have a very short quiz every week that we don't have a test. I like the term "brain check" - I may steal that :)
    The quizzes are for a grade.

    This does two things for students:

    • It gives them a break' when they have a lot of work in another class, or baseball practice, or something that takes up their evening
    • It gives them some control over their learning, It helps them take responsibility for what they need to do to be successful.
     
  37. Science Mike

    Science Mike New Member

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    Jul 13, 2008

    I really like your "All homework is not created equal" idea and may try to incorporate it....because it is true.
     

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