Emphasizing Practice of Skills

Running Head: Emphasizing Practice of Skills

Emphasizing Practice of Skills in Mathematics Classes

University of New England

Action Research Course

Spring 2010

Dr. Grania Gothard Holman

Sara Levitov

April 11, 2010

Statement of Academic Honesty: I have read and understand that plagiarism policy as outlined in the “Student Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct” document relating to the Honesty/Cheating Policy. By attaching this statement to the title page of my paper, I certify that the work submitted is my original work developed specifically for this course and to the MSED program. If it is found that cheating and/or plagiarism did take place in the writing of this paper, I acknowledge the possible consequences of the act/s, which could include expulsion from the University of New England.


The purpose of homework and classwork is to have the students practice the material learned during class so that they are prepared for assessments. Many students do not complete the assignments and the results are low quiz and test scores. The participants of this study were fifty Algebra II students and twenty-four Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry students. Two different homework strategies were implemented during the study to increase the completion rate of assignments. Various activities were also incorporated into the lessons that focused on different learning styles. The results of the study showed that the students completed more homework when given time at the end of class to start their assignment than when allowed to turn homework in late. The students also completed more classwork assignments when learning style activities were incorporated into the lessons.

Table of Contents


Table of Contents3


Rationale for Study5

Statement of the Problem5

Primary Research Questions6


Review of Literature7


Benefits of Homework7

Motivation and Homework8

Assigning Homework10



Research Design12

Data Collection Plan13

Sample Selection13



Data Presentation15

Discussion of Findings28

Limitations of Study30


Further Research31

Action Plan32




Figure A Data Matrix37

Figure B Homework Survey38

Figure C Learning Style Inventory40

Figure 1-1: Homework Effort Questionnaire Question 143

Figure 1-2: Homework Effort Questionnaire Question 244

Figure 1-3: Homework Effort Questionnaire Question 345

Figure 1-4: Homework Effort Questionnaire Question 446

Figure 1-5: Homework Effort Questionnaire Question 547

Figure 1-6: Homework Effort Questionnaire Question 648

Figure 1-7: Homework Effort Questionnaire Question 749

Figure 1-8: Homework Effort Questionnaire Question 850

Figure 1-9: Learning Styles Inventory Graph51

Figure 1-10: Block 1 Algebra II Homework Completion52

Figure 1-11: Block 2 Algebra II Homework Completion53

Figure 1-12: Block 3 Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry Homework54 Completion


Rationale for Study

There is an expectation that students in mathematics classes at Churchland High School complete independent practice assignments both in class and for homework. Students are given time to practice the skills they have learned during class with guidance from the teacher and the help of their peers. Each day the students are given warm up problems to complete which are taken from the material learned in previous classes and are practice for assessments. Throughout the lesson the students are given guided practice examples that are similar to the class examples and the homework so they will be prepared for their independent assignments. The students are given the opportunity to ask questions about the examples and work with their peers during the guided practice. There are times when the warm up problems and the guided practice problems are collected and counted toward a weekly classwork grade.

The students are given homework five nights a week and the assignments are checked daily for completeness, not for accuracy. The students are expected to write down the problem, draw any diagrams or graphs, show all work and have a final answer. The concern is that although students are given ample time to practice the skills learned in class, many students do not do the assigned work. On a daily basis there are students who are not engaged during the lesson and do not complete the classwork and many weeks only half of the students do all of the work for the week.

Statement of the Problem

Homework and classwork are essential components in succeeding in a high school mathematics class. When students complete assignments with the intentions of learning and understanding the material, they are more likely to experience success. Many of the students in the high school mathematics classes at Churchland High School complete little to no homework and classwork assignment. There are also some students who do the practice to receive a grade on the assignment and are not invested in learning and understanding the material. According to previous semesters, a majority of students received lower grades due to incomplete practice assignments. The students’ low grades are both due to the fact that homework and classwork are a part of the quarterly average and also without practice they are not prepared for the assessments which are a majority of their grade.

For many students who do not complete the homework and classwork, they fail to see the important connection between practicing and success in the class while others may only strive to receive a passing grade. The objective of the action research project is to engage and motivate students to actively participate in practice of the mathematic and improve student homework completion. The goal is to focus on student learning styles and use multiple strategies for homework assignments to motivate students to complete their work. Focusing on different learning styles during the lesson can build students’ confidence while learning the material which may lead to increased participation in completion of assignments and improved students’ grades.

Primary Research Questions

  1. How much time and effort are students spending on completing their homework?
  2. What strategies for assignments would best motivate the students to complete the homework more regularly?
  3. What activities and instructional strategies help motivate students to complete practice assignments?


The students need to practice the material learned during a lesson both during class and at home in order to be successful on assessments. With a focus on student learning styles and the structure that is used for assigning homework, students are more motivated to complete their homework and classwork assignments.

Support Needed

Administration, colleagues and lesson planning team will be informed of this research and will be used as a support system and to help generate ideas.

Review of Literature


Homework is a controversial topic in education. Researchers have studied whether homework is directly linked to student achievement along with the types of assignments that foster intrinsic motivation and engage students in learning outside of the classroom. Coutts (2004) believes that “there is tremendous variety in its practices, in the type and amount of work assigned, where and when it is completed (with or without parental involvement), and whether or not it is graded by teachers” (p. 182).

Benefits of Homework

Research has been conducted on whether homework is beneficial for student success and studies suggest that homework and success on assessments are positively correlated at all grade levels (Cooper, 2006). The main purpose of homework is to give the students the opportunity to process the material covered during class time (Beresford & Milner, 2008). Practice of the skills learned during class is essential to processing the material. “Homework assignments give the students an opportunity to gain a broader understanding of the topic and the concepts taught in class and also give them a structure for deeper analysis of the subject matter” (Posamentier & Stepleman, 2002, p. 482). Cooper (2006) believes that there are benefits to students completing homework beyond academic achievement. It can also foster learning outside of the classroom. Homework also gives students the opportunity to learn responsibility and gain good study habits (Cooper, 2006).

Although researchers, teachers and parents understand there is a direct relationship between homework and success, some students do not feel there is a connection (Coutts, 2004). In study conducted by three middle school teachers, some of the students did not agree that homework is an essential component of the learning process (Amerine, Pender & Schuler, 2009).

Motivation and Homework

The classroom teacher makes the decisions about what the students will learn, how the material will be presented and what tasks the students will perform in order to practice the skills. Students have very little control over their learning experience in the classroom, but once students leave they make the decisions. Outside of the classroom students determine whether they will complete the assignment, where to do their work, and the amount of time and effort they will put into completing the assignment (Hong, 2004). Learners are motivated to complete homework for different reasons. Some students are self motivated, while others complete homework to gain the approval of their parents or teacher (Hong, 2004). The research conducted by Amerine et. al. (2009) found that students were more inclined to complete their homeworkwhen offered rewards or given extrinsic motivators. “Many of the reasons for completing homework are extrinsic, but if students are to develop attributes such as responsibility through completing homework, there must also be an intrinsic component” (Coutts, 2004, p. 184). Students who are extrinsically motivated tend to complete the work in order to receive the desired grade or reward, and may complete the work without much academic progress.

There are a many different reasons why students do not complete their homework. Students in high school have obligations after school such as jobs or caring for siblings, lack of parental guidance and unstable homes. These are only a few of the reasons students are not completing their homework (Darling – Hammond & Ifill-Lynch, 2009). Other reasons such as the difficulty of the assignment, student lack of motivation and not seeing the meaning in the assignment are also factors in whether students will do their homework. According to Shumow, Schmidt, & Kackar (2008) some students confess that they get bored with their homework and often do not attempt the assignment. Posamentier et. al. believe that monotonous assignments are a majors reason that students do not do or complete their homework (2002).

Students who struggle in school or have difficulty grasping the material during class time may not feel inclined to do their homework. Those students whocomplete their work and are still unsuccessful may get discouraged about their failures and give up trying. “Unfortunately struggling students know what the experience of failure is like, and they have learned to survive in it. In many cases accepting failure has becoming a strategy for not having to try” (Darling-Hammond et. al., 2009, p. 9).

Assigning Homework

Darling-Hammond et. al. (2009) state that “unless homework is a clear continuation of well – taught classwork, it can actually exacerbate inequalities in learning instead of closing the gap” (p 11). Students need to be aware of the expectations of homework and assignment due dates. In knowing what the expectations are, the students can be aware of their weaknesses and know where they are making mistakes and where they need help (Darling-Hammond et. al., 2009). Typically the purpose of homework is to practice the skills learned in class. However, in some instances homework is assigned to prepare students for a new lesson or as an extension of mastered material (Heitzmann, 2007). In math classes the assigned homework should contain a varied set of examples including practice of basic skills, word problems and discovery exercises (Posamentier et. al., 2002). Homework assignments should also vary in length, difficulty and the assignments should apply to the material that is being covered during class (Heitzmann, 2007).

To maintain motivation and engagement in their work, students should be completing their homework in a manner that is most preferable to them. “There is a wide array of individual differences in homework performance among learners – both in the source and strength of motivation to do homework and in preference about what, where, when, how and with whom they like to do it” (Hong, 2004, p. 198). This includes the best time of day for the student, the environment in which they complete work and study including lighting, noise level and placement in the room (Hong, 2004). Students are capable of multitasking while doing their homework. Research conducted by Shumow et. al. (2008) determined that there were many students who completed their school work while watching television or listening to music and were still productive.

Teachers need to create assignments that are engaging in order to motivate students to complete the work. This means knowing the students in the classroom, their strengths, weaknesses, learning styles and interests in order to determine activities and assignments that engage and motivate students to learn. Students who complete their homework in a manner that is similar to their learning style have higher achievement on their homework as well as in the class and on assessments (Hong, 2004). According to Heitzmann (2007), teachers should assign work that is targeted to “student needs, learning styles, and abilities while individualizing some assignments” (p. 42). Cooper (2008) believes that allowing students to make choices about their homework assignments can increase their interest in and motivation to complete the homework.

The manner in which homework is assigned, reviewed and graded in a class also affects whether students complete the work. Homework assignments should be well thought out and not be a last minute decision to keep the students busy or used as a punishment (Darling- Hammond et. al. (2009). “The way that teachers assign homework has the ability to affect how engages student will be with that particular assignment” (Beresford et. al., 2008, p. 14). The directions and expectations for homework assignments need to be clear. A study conducted by Beresford et. al. (2008) determined that assignments presented both verbally and visually with sufficient time for students to ask questions is more likely to be completed by the students. Cooper (2009) also suggest that if there is an allotted time during class for students to begin their assignment they will be more motivated to finish the work on their own time. Students are more likely to complete the homework when they know it will be used in class the next day (Darling-Hammond et. al., 2009). Many researchers express their belief that teachers should provide immediate feedback on homework assignments and Heitzmann (2007) expresses the need for teachers to “assess the student’s completion and performance” (p. 43).


There are many studies that suggest the amount of time that students should be working on homework a night according to their grade level. Cooper (2008) explains that “studies hint at the possibility that shorter, but more frequent homework assignments may be most effective” and teachers should take this into consideration determining the type and amount of homework they assign. Specific strategies such as considering student learning styles, extrinsic motivators, student choice and time during class can encourage homework completion.


Research Design

The purpose of this Action Research Project was to determine what strategies would best motivate students to complete homework. The strategies implemented to improve student effort and homework completion were: homework collection at the end of the week to allow for late assignments and fifteen minutes allotted at the end of class to begin homework. Instruction during class based on learning styles was also implemented to encourage engagement in the material and involvement in classwork assignments. The objective of the homework strategies was to determine which strategy was the most effective in promoting homework completion. Another objective was to engage all of the students in the lessons by incorporating assignments that accommodate their different learning styles.

Data Collection Plan

In order to determine whether the strategies implemented to improve homework completion were effective, both qualitative and quantitative data were collected from a variety of sources. The data sources include a pre study questionnaire, learning styles profile, homework completion log, classwork completion log, teacher observations and field notes, and a post study questionnaire.

Each strategy for homework completion was implemented for a two week period, while the lessons and classwork that involved student learning styles were implemented for a four week period. Data was collected before, during and after the homework strategies and learning styles lessons were implemented into three different mathematics classes. The data that was collected was then analyzed to determine whether focusing on learning styles and the homework strategies had a positive effect on students’ completion of practice work.