Matching Homework to Student

As I have said assigning homework is about process not product – an attempt to help students change their brains, i.e. learn the material.  Unfortunately matching homework to individual students is nearly impossible in a classroom setting with thirty-odd students.  A short article in the New York Times‘ science section, “Babies’ Hunger to Learn Has a Goldilocks Effect,”  reminded me of this difficulty.  The gist of the article is that babies are eager to learn but lose interest if the learning experience is too hard or too easy.  Likewise assigned homework can be too hard or too easy or just right for particular students.  For instructors to match homework problem difficulty with any given student is nearly impossible – too many variables including student background, motivation, campus and personal events, state of distraction, and learning habits.  Generally I aim for the middle of the class as best as I can determine.  I use written problems that I compose myself to challenge the more accomplished students and some sort of make-up opportunity to help alleviate the frustration of students having a hard time.  This system is imperfect and I really feel for struggling students.  This is one of the reasons I think teaching is hard – emotionally hard.


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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