Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why there are no homework answer keys in EngageNY

Why there are no homework answer keys in EngageNY

Although homework is a great way to reinforce the mathematics that was learned in class, correcting it in class can be time consuming and can take away precious instructional minutes. Nevertheless, many teachers are desperately wondering why EngageNY does not come with an answer key for the homework. Without becoming an EngageNY apologetic, here are my thoughts on why having a homework answer key is unnecessary.

I maintain that reviewing homework - while it may have some benefits - is an extremely inefficient use of our precious classroom minutes. There are many other effective and efficient uses of our time: in-depth instruction, cooperative learning, project-based learning, formative assessment, etc. But before coming up with ideas for reviewing homework, we need to ask ourselves the prerequisite question: What is the purpose of reviewing homework?

To hold students accountable? If reviewing homework is primarily to hold students accountable, then the teacher can simply ask students to take out their work and place it on their desk. Without taking any class minutes, it is easy for the teacher to see who has or has not completed the homework. Once that is done, the teacher can get to the important task of teaching. Holding students accountable does not necessarily require an answer key.

To assess which students understand? While this is a great goal for the teacher to have, using class time for the teacher to drone answer after answer as the students put stars or checkmarks next to each problem is a horribly inefficient way to assess student understanding. Perhaps a better way to accomplish this is to have students compare their work with a partner. This fosters cooperative learning and places a bit of the responsibility on the shoulders of the students to explain their answers and to ask questions on their own. As this is going on, the teacher can collect formative assessment data by listening in on the conversations that the student pairs are having. No answer key necessary!

To briefly review yesterday’s topic before learning today’s topic? Merely rattling off the answer key does nothing to accomplish this. If this is the teacher’s goal, instead ask student volunteers to do selected problems on the whiteboard. Although not every problem from the homework will be posted on the board, enough problems will be on the board to allow students to ask clarifying questions. Essentially, students are creating the answer key for you. If you REALLY want an answer key, take a picture of the solved problems on the board. 

Here are three methods for dealing with homework WITHOUT requiring an answer key:
  1. Don't correct the homework, just ask students to take out the homework and leave it on their desk. During math time, the teacher can walk around and scan the work to identify which students understand and which do not.
  2. Ask students to compare their work with a partner. Then they can ask the teacher questions about any disagreements.
  3. At the start of math time ask several students to each do a problem (of their choosing or the teacher’s choosing) from last night’s homework on the whiteboard. Although not every problem from the homework will be solved on the board, it is enough to allow students to ask questions.

The method I use for any particular day depends on a variety of factors:
  • how difficult or easy the homework was;
  • how much math time I have available for the day;
  • the math topic I plan to teach today;

In a nutshell...Use class time wisely. Spending your time teaching in innovative and effective ways is paramount. Rattling off the answer key to a bunch of bored students? Not so much.

Anyone else with better suggestions?