Homework-Centered Classroom or Bellwork-Centered Classroom
It’s been an interesting week since I posted my first quarter reflections – I’m glad people have found meaning in my brief unloading of first-year mistakes and wisdom. Jason Buell was grateful enough to mention me in his ‘Needs more Traffic’ post, alongside another new teacher: Molly Kate, who blogs at Mathemagical Molly. Reading Molly’s blog is like looking into a time machine of where I was six months ago as I was student teaching as well – it’s crazy. You should check her out too.
Anyway – I was reading the backlogs of Mathemagical Molly’s blog and found a post regarding the relationship between Homework and Warm-Ups (what I tend to call bellwork). This is something I’ve thought a lot about as well – going into my own classroom, the biggest pressure I felt was creating a system of homework that was efficient and fair to my students, as well as a grading scale that held them accountable but let them recover from mistakes. You can see some of this in a comment I made on the Building our Classroom website way back in July about how grading scales affect a student’s perception of homework (scroll to the bottom for my comment). Reading her post made me revisit a reflection I wrote earlier but never posted (although I can’t remember why I didn’t).
In my own observations and reflections, I get the feeling that there are teachers who are bellwork/classwork-centered and teachers who are homework centered. About a month ago, I was struggling with figuring out what kind of teacher I was. I still haven’t quiet figured it out, but I’ve struck some sort of balance that I’m comfortable with. What follows are thoughts I had a while ago about this relationship between homework and bellwork in the classroom and how it affects a student’s motivation in and out of the classroom:
New Teacher Homework Pressure: I should assign homework because it gives students extra practice and every teacher does it (remember: I’m a new teacher, so I still sometimes feel that ‘every teacher does it’ pressure). Students need to get used to viewing homework as practice because beyond high school, homework is for the students benefit, not the teachers. They need to develop self-discipline and a sense of work-ethic outside of the classroom. They need to take responsibility and ownership of their learning, which means doing the homework I assign them and recognizing that the homework helps prepare them for their exams, which is where the real points are. Also, homework is practice and every student needs practice.
Other New Teacher Bellwork Pressure: I should have bellwork because it gives students a structure when class starts so I can take attendance, take control of the class, do formative assessment, and every teacher does it. Students need consistency and a routine in their classes – they need to know that the class they walk into will start the same way most days (and if it doesn’t, it means something special is happening). For me, it is a form of formative assessment – I can accurately measure the things my students do in my presence in my classroom. It can also be an activator/’anticipatory set’ for whatever it is we’re about to learn – maybe I throw a question on their about fractions to refresh their memory because they’ll need fractions in today’s lesson (this, however, means I will spend 5 minutes refreshing their memory on fractions as a result of a single bellwork problem). Also, bellwork is practice and every student needs practice.
I feel pressure to have these things not really from any tangible external source – more like an internal struggle in trying to compare my classroom to the typical math classroom (which may not always be what I should be doing). I’ve also seen both of these methods work well in certain classrooms, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen both methods executed well in the same classroom.
If you emphasize homework, the checking of homework, and the asking questions of homework – does that means your bellwork is short and sweet and straight-forward? Do you even have bellwork, or does checking homework replace that? If you emphasize bellwork and talking about bellwork, using it as a segue into the lesson, or as a way to spiral back in the curriculum – does that mean you just have students check their answers to the homework without necessarily talking about them? Are your homework assignments short and straight-forward?
If you emphasize homework, does that mean you grade bellwork for completeness? Maybe at the end of the week? If you emphasize bellwork, does that mean you quickly grade homework for completeness? Maybe at the end of the unit?
If you emphasize homework, does that mean your lessons are short and concise so you can use homework as that practice and a place for feedback? Are your lessons bookended by homework – checking it at the beginning of class, then using it as practice at the end of class? Does that mean some of your homework problems require your students to ‘reach’ a little bit, and you usually end up talking about them the next day (and maybe even leading into that day’s lesson)? If you emphasize bellwork/classwork, do you pepper example problems and time to practice throughout the lesson instead of putting them all on the homework? Do your lessons run all the way to the bell and sometimes have an inquisitive/guided practice aspect to them? Is homework seen as ‘extra practice’ rather than a necessity to pass the course?
Does every teacher eventually fall into doing one or the other? Maybe it’s just every new teacher? Does checking the homework become the first 10-15 minutes of class instead of bellwork? Or if bellwork is a consistent 10-15 minute activity (as it is for me, which may be one of my problems), does that mean homework becomes sporadic and short and sweet? If homework is direct and straightforward and based on the examples from the class period, does that mean the bellwork the next day has that higher-level thinking problem/reflective problem/word problem/real-world application problem? Or is homework the stretch for the student while the bellwork is the quick and dirty check from the previous day?
I’m still tweaking my classroom routines and policies regarding homework, but they’ve definitely changed several times already (whatever it is I’m doing, it doesn’t match up verbatim with the procedure I outlined in my syllabus). I know that I need to really be on top of my bellwork problems, since they’re my most accurate form of formative assessment – if I don’t have those problems aligned precisely to my curriculum, my students could have procedural or conceptual holes that I’m not catching. I also know I have a bellwork-centered class and my kids see their homework as that extra practice and a place to get free points, but not something that is absolutely mandatory to pass my class, nor as something that they need to do every night. I still haven’t decided if I like that aspect of my classroom, but I also don’t know how to change it without sacrificing the emphasis on bellwork and without killing myself with grading. So… I dunno. Anyway – things to think about…
Again, another long post. Thanks for stickin’ with me.