"There is no one way"

Friday, January 30, 2009

Showing Work

From a correspondent:

"I recently came across a math teacher that has a policy of providing a "zero" on any math homework assignment where the student does not show his/her work. The math teacher has informed the building principal that showing the work, i.e., the process is required for the student to learn math. This was in response to a parent complaint about the zero grade. The particular student is in the 130 range of cognitive functioning. The student does not want to show the teacher the logic used to solve the problem.

Does any one know of any research that would support the teacher position, or not, regarding the requirement that math students show work. Any suggestions regarding dealing the teacher/principal/ parent, would be appreciated.

thank you."

My response:

I'm not familiar with any research on this. My own view is:

* Teachers need to be flexible. Understanding of math cannot be assessed by measuring student obedience! Unless there is suspicion of cheating, a zero seems like overkill. I myself am tolerant of a wide range of showing work, but in any case I never count showing work as more than half the points. (Exception: a student who may have copied the answers, and shows no work, should be able to explain their logic verbally, or risk a zero.)

* The student is wrong to refuse to cooperate on this. That is just silly. There is no human endeavor where giving an answer with no justification for it is acceptable. Contractors need to document their bid. Scientists needs to justify their results, as do mathematicians. And so on. Ability to communicate about math is as important as getting correct answers. Not more important, not the only thing, but certainly it is part of what one should learn in school.

I would hope the principal would talk to the teacher, and the parent to the student, in the hope the two can move off of their extreme positions.



  1. I am former math teacher. If you just write the answers, you may be cheating!

  2. You may be cheating in any case. But yes, that's a consideration, as I mentioned above.