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Going Over Homework in Mathematics Classrooms: An Unexamined Activity

by Samuel Otten, Beth A. Herbel-Eisenmann & Michelle Cirillo — August 22, 2012

Background: Homework is a key component of students’ school mathematics experiences, especially at the secondary level. Past studies have shown that because a substantial portion of class time is spent going over homework assignments, homework does not remain an at-home activity. Yet, little is known about what takes place during the classroom activity of going over homework.

Purpose: Drawing on systemic functional linguistics, this research note describes the discourse structures of homework review in eight secondary mathematics classrooms. Particular attention is given to the ways in which students participate in this discourse.

Participants: The 8 teachers involved in the study come from various districts in a Midwestern state. Their certifications range from elementary to middle school to secondary mathematics, and their years of teaching experience range from 2 to greater than 20. The students, in Grades 6–10, are racially diverse in some districts and socioeconomically diverse in all participating districts.

Research Design: This study is a qualitative discourse analysis of episodes of classroom interaction.

Data Collection and Analysis: Video recordings of lessons from the 8 participating teachers were made in 1-week segments at four different time points throughout an academic year, yielding 148 such recordings. These videos were transcribed, and all instances of homework review were identified for further analysis. Descriptive statistics (e.g., durations, turn lengths) were compiled, and themes in the structure of the discourse were identified.

Conclusions: Nearly 20% of class time was spent going over homework, with some variation between teachers in how they organized this activity. A commonality, however, was that the discourse in all eight classrooms tended to be structured in a problem-by-problem manner. Implications of this structure are discussed in light of curricular recommendations and past research, which suggests that it may also be beneficial to engage students in discourse that looks across sets of problems for regularities, connections, or key ideas.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 22, 2012
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16851, Date Accessed: 10/19/2017 12:32:17 PM

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About the Author
  • Samuel Otten
    University of Missouri
    E-mail Author
    SAMUEL OTTEN is an assistant professor of mathematics education in the College of Education at the University of Missouri. He earned a Ph.D. in mathematics education and a master’s degree in mathematics from Michigan State University. His research interests center on mathematical practices, such as reasoning-and-proving and expressing structure, with connections to student discourse in mathematics classrooms. He has authored or coauthored articles appearing in journals such as Mathematics Teacher, Mathematics Magazine, Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, and Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. He also contributed to a forthcoming book published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics focusing on the standards for mathematical practice from the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.
  • Beth Herbel-Eisenmann
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    BETH A. HERBEL-EISENMANN is an associate professor in teacher education at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on examining written, enacted, and hidden curriculum by drawing on ideas from sociolinguistics and discourse literatures. She spent five years doing collaborative research with eight secondary mathematics teachers who used action research to align more closely their discourse practices with their professed beliefs. This work was published in Promoting Purposeful Discourse: Teacher Research in Mathematics Classrooms. Some of her authored or coauthored articles appear in Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Educational Studies in Mathematics, Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, and Teaching and Teacher Education. She has coedited two other books related to curriculum, discourse, and equity and coauthored a book on algebra for middle school teachers.
  • Michelle Cirillo
    University of Delaware
    E-mail Author
    MICHELLE CIRILLO is an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Delaware. She received her Ph.D. in mathematics education from Iowa State University. Her research interests include studying classroom discourse, mathematical proof in secondary classrooms, teachers’ use of curriculum materials, and the intersection of these three areas. Michelle was a coeditor and contributor to Promoting Purposeful Discourse and has authored or coauthored pieces for Teaching and Teacher Education, School Science and Mathematics, The Mathematics Educator, Mathematics Teacher, Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, and Teaching Children Mathematics.
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