Article – Homework in Maths


I’ll be honest – I hate marking. It is by far the least enjoyable part of my job. Give me a lesson  on compound measures to prepare, a classroom to tidy, or even an angry parent to phone, but just please don’t sit me down at a desk with a red pen and a pile of books.

It is not that I do not see the importance of gauging my students’ understanding of a given topic, or their general progress over the course of a year, it is just that I feel I am completely wasting my time ticking, crossing and correcting work when in the end the students will just glance at the final mark, see how it compares to the person sitting next to them, and move on. Three hours of my life dismissed in three seconds of theirs. Three hours that could have been spent preparing better lessons, researching resources, reflecting on my practice, all of which will make me a better teacher and make a more positive impact on my students’ learning.

Of course, I am talking here about one particular type of homework, and the type of homework that can be marked by ticks, crosses and corrections is perfectly conducive to peer-to-peer marking, or getting students to mark it themselves, and there are many benefits to the students of this reflective style of practice. But by going down this route, it is undoubtedly more difficult to pick up on any misconceptions or difficulties, and then you have the problem of students (and parents, in particular) wanting feedback solely from the teacher.

For many, the solution to this problem lies with MyMaths, which is an online service that sets students homework, immediately marks it for them, and allows them to attempt the homework again (the questions are different every time). This certainly saves teachers hours and gives conscientious students a fantastic opportunity to learn independently and consolidate understanding. But aside from the issues of access to the internet, we are back to the glaring problem of the teacher not having a full grasp on students’ understanding. Moreover, MyMaths simply does not lend itself to open-ended, unstructured questions.

So, what is the solution? I feel that MyMaths, and similar services, do have a role to play. When students need to consolidate understanding of a given topic and ensure they have the basic tools in place to be able to solve equations, add fractions and find the median of a set of numbers, I do not think there is anything wrong with them doing it on a computer and having it automatically marked.

I feel my time is better served preparing and marking other homeworks – homeworks that test whether students can apply these basic skills and hence have a greater impact on their learning. For these homeworks I turn towards unstructured past exam paper questions, UKMT Maths Challenge questions, or homeworks with a twist such as Convinced from Kenny’s Pouch. Better still, I feel there is great merit in setting students the task of preparing for the next topic, or writing a set of revision notes, or using mark schemes to mark exam answers, or coming up with mark schemes of their own. And of course, I save money on red pens.

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