The Homework Round Table: Stop Correcting and Start Learning
Is there a bigger waste of time than spending the first half of class “going over homework?” Sure, standing at the front of the room giving the correct answers while students follow along is an efficient way to correct homework and correcting it helps ensure completion, but is any learning taking place? Will students who had incorrect answers really gain understanding? Probably not. Try the Homework Round Table activity as an active learning alternative that helps students actually learn and help each other while they go over homework.
- Form groups
- Alternate roles for each question (lead, differences, similarities)
- Give students a key
- Review difficulties
The teacher and students should know the Homework Round Table activity is for learning, helping each other, and finding out where more help is needed. It is not a hammer for making students complete homework and it is not a method to evaluate and rank students based on their homework scores.
The Homework Round Table works best when homework is used for practice, not evaluation. Practice means it’s OK to try and fail. Failure and incorrectness identify where students need more help. Students must feel safe and know you want their homework to reflect any gaps in their knowledge. This means they can’t be penalized for wrong answers and scores, if they are given, should be based on completion.
To get the most out of this activity, it must be modeled the first few times to demonstrate how students should communicate with each other. Examples help along with role play for different scenarios.
Groups and Roles
Groups of three students are needed for the activity. Each member will have a specific role—lead, differences, or similarities—that will rotate for each question. The group goals are comparing answers, making sure each member has a full understanding of each question, and identifying where they need more help.
To begin, the “lead” summarizes the question. This could involve simply stating the question or summarizing it’s expectation (e.g. “We were supposed to come up with a list of…”). Then, each student takes a turn giving their answer and identifying whether it was easy or challenging, and why.
Once each student responds, the student who has the role of “similarities” points out how each answer was similar. Then, the student who has the role of “differences” points out how answers were different. They can ask other members to repeat their answers if they forget.
At this point, the “lead” needs to make one of the following decisions:
- Move ahead to the next question because everyone agreed.
- Make improvements to one or more group members responses before moving ahead.
- Review the book/resources if nobody is certain of the correct answer.
If choice 2 or 3 is selected, a natural discussion should ensue to get everyone on the same page. The goal to help each other should be continually reinforced because it may often occur that one student regularly has incorrect answers. It is the responsibility of other group members to help them and the responsibility of that student to receive help. The teacher should be sure to model how students need to communicate with each other in this situation! Students should help each other learn the correct answer instead of just changing it.
A running list of the most difficult questions should be kept to share with the teacher at the end of the activity.
Give the Key
Once a group finishes reviewing all of their questions, the teacher can provide a key with correct answers (if appropriate for the type of assignment). It’s likely every student will have the correct answers by this point, but reviewing the key gives an additional comparison for learning and buttons up any random inconsistencies across groups.
First, the teacher should decide if the assignment even needs to be graded. With an activity like this, natural motivations encourage students to complete the assignments without having to use grades as a hammer. Students will quickly realize a complete assignment is necessary to participate with their group. It becomes clear that homework and the round table activity are for learning, which is a much better motivator than points.
The most effective thing a teacher can do is move around the room and talk with students who have not completed the assignment. The conversation should focus on concern for the student with questions like “Is there something I can do to help you get the homework done the next time?” or “Was something going on at home that kept you from the homework?” If a pattern of incomplete assignments develops with particular students, then the teacher should develop a bigger intervention.
Of course, aligning the homework with other class activities is also helpful. For example, homework questions can be used for assessments or students can be allowed to use them on quizzes and tests.
If grades are given, they should be low-stakes and only for completion. This can be checked while the teacher moves around the room during the activity.
A whole-class discussion can be used at the end of the activity to give additional instruction for challenging questions. Students could write their questions on the board or the teacher could simply ask the class about their difficulties. The teacher might explain the question and solution themselves or ask for explanations from other students who did understand.
The Homework Round Table activity could be altered in many ways to fit any class and all would be more effective than the traditional method of going over homework. It might take longer than just reading correct answers, but it ensures students actually learn what they were supposed to from completing homework. To minimize the extra time, fewer homework questions could be assigned especially since they would be examined in much greater depth during the activity.