A Sandwich!

As part of the summer reading from the math department in my middle school, I was given an article by D. Bruce Jackson called, Algebra Homework: A Sandwich! which caused me to think of a few potential changes to make in my classroom.   This article sets the stage, indicating that math homework done in this way focuses on two aspects: the process of solving problems and being aware of what you do not understand and where you might need additional help.

The homework involves fewer problems and the students are given the correct answers before hand.  Success in this system came from creating a classroom culture where mistakes and not knowing is acceptable.  Students eventually self-evaluate and use a system that shows their understanding or a lack of an understanding.  Homework that is partially complete, where students have not found solutions to all of the problems, can be finished within two weeks for full credit.

I think that this homework system is one where students can think of homework more as practice and as ways to improve.  It seems to be able to reduce the daily pressure for immediate success and be able to help stimulate a growth mindset for the students.

In order to further increase motivation for the daily homework, students are given quizzes every other week.  These quizzes are comprised of problems that come directly from the homework, which is designed to help increase motivation on homework.  In addition, after tests, students can raise scores to a C- by working with tutors or other students to correct the missed problems.

Looking at the bigger picture, this kind of homework system is one that can “encourage the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that lead to long-run success in mathematics” (Jackson, 2014, p. 532).  Developing this mindset for students in math, especially those who previously thought of themselves as individuals that would not ever be successful at math or suffered from anxiety, is critical for many students.  By using effective homework strategies the achievement gap can be narrowed, especially for students who lack support at home.

This low-stakes homework system reduces the pressure of nightly homework and can limit cheating by students because their best effort is viewed as worthwhile and they can seek additional help when necessary.  “To make a homework system productive for all students, it must encourage mathematical thinking and skill development; provide useful, nonjudgemental feedback; enhance student responsibility for learning; help students self-assess without advertising weakness; and promote student self-confidence and motivation for learning” (Jackson, 2014, p. 532).

This type of homework system is used in middle school algebra, but I am thinking about ways I can adapt it to my 6th grade classroom.  It does not seem like providing the answers will work well for arithmetic and shorter, one- or two-step problems, but I like the methodology of extended/soft homework deadlines and self-correction because of the culture it helps to create in the classroom.  If students can begin to understand that it is okay to have questions and need help, they will be better able to learn as the progress.

Jackson, D. B. (2014).  Algebra homework: a sandwich!  Mathematics Teacher 107(7): pp. 528-533