Here’s the prompt for the week:
What do you think are some of the contributing factors to students who struggle to complete homework in your class (besides “they’re lazy”). What have you done that has helped/not helped in this regard?
I’ve written on my philosophy on homework in the past. This will be a bit of an extension to that of that reflection.
SO WHO HAS HOMEWORK?
Students will only have homework if they don’t finish the assignment during class. Assignments almost always include 3-5 meatier problems that we’ll discuss as a group (discussion problems) and some Khan Academy exercises. Typically, the students who are struggling are the ones with the homework because they can’t get through it during class as quickly (not to say that all students who work slow are doing so because they don’t understand).
SO WHAT IF THEY DON’T COMPLETE THE DISCUSSION PROBLEMS
In the past, I would sporadically check the homework for completion of the discussion problems and if students didn’t have it completed, they would get a fine, but I was really inconsistent with that last year. Since they did their work in their journals in years past, it was harder for me to really see if it was all done, especially if they wrote sloppily. Now that all the discussion problems are printed out, it’s easier for me to see which are done and which aren’t.
This year I’ve been checking & giving fines a bit more; actually having my TA’s go around and mark the fines while I engage with students and listen to them discuss their answer with each other. After that, we go through them as a class. Depending on the number of problems, I may go quickly through the more straightforward ones and then have students share ideas and methods on the more challenging ones.
If students don’t have those problems completed, they don’t really get much from the discussion because they don’t have a starting point of comparing what they did to the way other students approached the problem. I tell students to email me or come to office hours if they find themselves stuck on a problem, but most students don’t. Of those who don’t complete the discussion problems, most of them just don’t know how to do it and don’t take the time to give it some attempt. For some it’s an organizational problem; they don’t look at their planners to see what homework they have, even though I make sure everyone writes it in there at the end of class.
SO WHAT IF THEY DON’T COMPLETE THE KHAN ACADEMY
The Khan Academy is for a small homework grade but the discussion problems are not graded. If you get seven Khan Academy exercises right, that’s a 100 for the homework; if you can get seven right, that’s a good measure that you’re on your way to mastery. The assignments are graded but I don’t check them on the day they’re due. If they’re due on a Thursday, since my assistant grader doesn’t come in until Mondays to grade all of last week’s Khan assignments, there isn’t an immediate consequence of not completing the Khan on the day it’s due. As I’m writing it out, I’m kind of seeing how complicated it all is, but as I’m already checking the discussion problem completion, I don’t want to use up any more class time to check Khan Academy…and really does “checking it” actually motivate anyone to complete it on time? It’s likely that if they didn’t finish the discussion problems, they probably didn’t do the Khan Academy either.
I remember having to do a ton of problems when I was in grade school even though I understood the content which was annoying. I’ve tried to avoid that; if you can get 7 right away on the Khan Academy, you’re done. If you need more practice though, you keep going until you get 7. Some students can do that with class time. Others can’t. So perhaps homework is just a recalibration so we’re all on the same page when we get back together next class. I don’t know how to get students to complete homework if they’re not. I could nix it and have them come in and demonstrate mastery by doing a few problems with me…but these are generally students who won’t come in for office hours. What about doing it in class? Well, that’s what I’m trying to do; they get class time to work on it while I go around and see what they’re doing. Not sure what direction to really go from here except put the zeros in the gradebook and have them finish it later for up a 90%.
And honestly, most of this is all just 10% of their final grade; it’s really about getting the practice so they can feel comfortable with the content when I give them a summative assessment where it’s up to them to demonstrate mastery of the content. Ideally you want all your students to have gotten the ample practice that they need to be able to demonstrate that mastery. What do you do when class time isn’t enough for some to get that practice but they’re not taking time out of class to do so either.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH MANDARIN
I’m taking Mandarin this year during my free period. I’m in a class with juniors and have put the pressure on myself to be the model student (because how lame if I was showing up late and not doing homework). We have homework every night, usually involving a lot of writing. Writing characters takes time and most of our class time is spent speaking, which I’m glad for. The homework is necessary if we want to optimize speaking time in class and make time to become familiar with writing. Our teacher does go around and check and has the TA take it up and give feedback, so if you don’t have it, it will naturally be public knowledge, which I know can be motivation for some.
I don’t just complete the homework because I have to; I’m not getting a grade since I’m not even officially on the roster. While I do look like a lazy student if I don’t do it, I mainly do it because I want to; I want to get that practice. I’ve elected to take this class because it was something I wanted to learn. I wonder what homework would look like if every class was elected by the student? Would students WANT homework? But if they chose whatever classes they took then some would never learn ____________ or _____________!? And some may elect to take nothing it all! Probably. But I guess that’s another conversation for another blog.