A Young Teacher’s Guide To Homework In Mathematics In High School

Most of what appears below was the advice that I wrote for teachers who taught Mathematics in my department when I was its head. It appeared in my department’s handbook.

Homework was an accepted part of what we did as Mathematics teachers for all classes except those with special needs students.

How And When To Set Homework

• It should be set daily or after each lesson.

• Write the assigned homework on the board.

• Ensure the students write it in their school diaries at the end of the lesson. In junior classes, you may stand at the door checking the homework is written in their diary as they leave.

• Discuss how long the work should take and any necessary advice.

• Lastly, early in the school year, teach your students how to use their textbook to help them do their homework.

What Homework Should You Set?

For students to achieve their full potential in Mathematics at high school, homework must be done on a regular basis. Homework, based on current class work, is meant to be an extension of the lesson and is needed for the re-enforcement of concepts.

In high schools, homework in Mathematics may consist of:

• Written exercises set for practice of skills and concepts. These are based on classwork.

• Learning work, e.g. rules, vocabulary and theorems.

• Assessment tasks – these usually count towards Semester reports.

What About Students Who Don’t Do Their Homework?

Teachers should record in their diaries the names of defaulters. Parents must be advised when a pattern of missing homework becomes evident.

Teachers should develop a process for dealing with homework defaulters.

What If Students Can’t Do Their Homework?

As most homework is based on the work done in class that day, this is not usually a problem for most students. However, if a student has difficulty in beginning homework, teach these strategies:

• The student should look for a similar problem in the work done in class. This is usually all that is needed to jog the memory.

• The student should look for an example in the textbook prior to the exercise. Each different type is usually done in full with an explanation.

• If students still have difficulty, they should see their teacher the next day BEFORE CLASS and arrange a time for individual help. Most teachers are available for a “homework help” time at lunch time or before and after school. Your teacher will tell you when he/she is available.

What If A Student Tells His/Her Parents That They Never Have Homework?

Often, there are complaints from parents who tell us that their students never have homework. This is clearly not the case! If a student has no written homework, (which is unlikely) then we would suggest that the parents set one of the following to be done:

• Ask the student to write a summary of the rules for the current unit and to work an example of each type of problem. The textbook will be useful here. Look for chapter summaries.

• Look at the student’s exercise book and find an exercise that caused difficulty. Set this exercise to be done.

• In each textbook, there are chapters on basic skills. Students can do any of the exercises from this chapter.

• Often there are chapter reviews and practice tests. These can be done.

The Review Process

Homework should, wherever possible, be reviewed during the next lesson for the greatest impact on learning to occur. This learning may, in fact, be the basis of the next lesson. A full description of a review practice can be found in the Article “Reviewing Homework in High School Classes” to be found on this website.

Even though there is a continuing debate as to the merits of homework, the advice here will help the young Mathematics teacher deal with homework successfully.

Tutors and Advice to High School Students

As a teacher of Mathematics and, later in my career, as a head of Mathematics department, I was often asked to recommend a tutor by parents or their students.

This often occurred after a student had been absent for some time from class or when a student needed a pass in Mathematics to matriculate into a particular course at university.

These are the points I made to students:

• Maths tutors can’t do the Maths for you, especially homework and assignments. The tutor is there to guide you to build your understanding of Mathematics*.

• They can help improve your confidence; explain areas that you find difficult but they can’t guarantee success. You have to do the work if you are to improve and succeed.

• They may also be able to discover where you began to have problems and work to fix that. Your parents must make that a priority for the tutor.

• You must note down areas in class where you are failing to understand the concept and ask the tutor to go over those areas. The tutor’s explanation will often provide a different approach to the teacher’s approach to the topic that will help you understand the concept/procedure.

• However, success only comes when you work hard in class and works hard with your maths tutor. One doesn’t replace the other.

• You must continue to engage with your teacher, asking questions and seeking advice when it is needed.

• You must continue to work on set homework diligently and do any work set by the tutor.

• It is also important that you accept the idea of tuition and like or respect your tutor. If you don’t like the tutor or can’t follow his/her explanations, tell your parents and seek a replacement.

• Your parents should seek a report from the tutor on progress made and on the efforts of their student, regularly.

Above all, you must be proactive in seeking to improve your understanding of the subject.

*Mathematics here can be replaced by any subject that requires improvement.