Successful homework is about quality not quantity. I’m a big believer in the value of homework but not the “drill and kill” type that makes a student do 100 problems that are basically the same. What I like is homework that develops core math skills without “burning” the student out with too much busy work.
There has been so much debate about homework to include how much time it should be to talk of getting rid of it all together. Nevertheless for most students homework is a reality so as a homeschooling parent you want to make sure your child does a good job on their assignments. As a math teacher I have seen a massive amount of homework and could quickly judge if a student really tried the assignment. Moreover I saw a strong correlation to students that did excellent homework and their test scores- they were almost always 90% or above. Likewise the reverse was true, those students that turned in poor homework or no homework consistently did poor on exams. As a parent/teacher you should never accept “sloppy” homework because if you do it sends the message “it’s ok to not make an effort”. Here is an easy checklist to determine if your child’s homework is up to par.
Your first homework check should be a quick scan to see if all assigned problems were completed. If a student turns in great work but only 50% of it is done there is a problem. How can a student get 100% on a test if they only get half correct? Homework is an exercise in time management so you have to explore why a student didn’t finish. Often when a student is taking a long time to do problems it’s because they are still confused about something in the lesson. Excellence is the combination of efficiency and effectiveness and if you want your child to be excellent at math they have to be able to do problems correctly in a reasonable amount of time. So if your child is “skipping” way too many homework questions and can’t complete assignments there is a break down in learning. The best way to see if a child truly understands how to do a math skill is to ask them to “teach” you how to do a problem. If they have mastered and comprehended the concepts you will be surprised how well they can teach a topic. If however they struggle explaining the steps involved you can correct misunderstanding.
Homework is proof that a student knows all the steps to solve problems. When students turn in homework with only answers and no work you should immediately become suspect. Most of the time a student just copied the answers and is trying to sneak by under the radar. However there are times those students do understand how to solve a problem and just wrote their answer with no work- this is often the case with short simple problems. In both cases your policy should be the same, no work = no credit. The rule is designed not to be harsh rather its purpose it to teach/force the student to write out the entire problem solving steps. Math is a language and the specific steps involved in a solution are like sentences in a story. Moreover if a student gets a problem wrong you can review their steps to detect where the error occurred.
Structure and Neatness
Neatness does count especially in mathematics. When I was a young student I had terrible hand writing. I just decided that I was “sloppy” and I never tried to be neater. My lack of neatness and structure really hit me when I went to college. I found out fast that I had to write at least neat enough where my professors could understand. Knowing that I needed to improve my writing I slowed down and really focused on being neat. After a year or so I completely changed my sloppy habits and became a certified academic “neat freak”. My new found “neatness” and organization helped me think and solve problems much better. Unfortunately I see too many young math students struggle with neatness like I did. If your child is not neat you need to work on improving their writing by having them slow down how fast they write out steps. Also I strongly suggest all work be done in pencil- not pen. If a student is using pen they will usually “scribble” out their errors making their solution sloppy. To avoid this just make your child use pencil so they can erase and keep their work neat and structured.
Homework is important on so many levels. Yes the purpose of homework is to check if your child understands concepts but it’s also an exercise in work standards and habits. If you don’t like what you are seeing in your child’s homework raise your standards of what is acceptable. Children will rise to the level you set for them so expect a lot from your child- they can do it with effort and support. Lastly, remember that math is made up of details and how students practice it will determine their ultimate success in the subject.