It’s depressing to see students making poor decisions about learning. They don’t come to class, or come unprepared. They miss deadlines and make excuses. Many of us teachers try to prevent these behaviors with policies that punish the offenses. Is punishment the best option. Today’s post is part of a series dealing with unproductive student behaviors. So often we focus on what students are or aren’t doing, ignoring what teachers can and should be doing to help students become more mature learners. Here are some things I’ve discovered (through reading and the school of hard knocks):
- Less is More
When it comes to assignments, less may indeed be more. I am a firm believer in working hard. Assigning numerous small assignments can mean students are routinely engaging in course content. But, many small assignments can also become so “routine” that they are drowned out and possibly ignored. When was the last time you thought about the number of assignments in your course? I am guilty of not really thinking about this for quite a while. A “less is more” review of assignments may mean assigning fewer, but more meaningful assessments. The result: less to grade for teachers, and more focused attention from students.
- Make assignments count in class, and I don’t mean with points!
Maybe the quantity of assignments isn’t the issue. Perhaps it’s the kind of assignments and what’s being done with that work in class that needs to be reconsidered. If you ask students to read before class, but then lecture on the reading during class, it shouldn’t be a surprise that students will just wait for the lecture instead of reading the material.
Instead, after students are asked to read and complete a few questions as homework, have students use their responses to those questions and their notes from the reading to complete a follow up assignment, small group discussion or activity that digs deeper into the issues during class. If students have done the work, they get through the classwork. If they haven’t done the reading or other prep work- DO NOT go over the material in class. That just reinforces the negative behavior. Instead, allow sufficient time for the prepared students to address the class work- then MOVE ON to new material. Peers will help unprepared students, once or twice. But they will not let classmates free-ride indefinitely. If students don’t get the material from you, they will have greater incentive to get the material from the readings/homework.
- Connect assignments with exams, projects, papers
Why have I assigned this? Have you ever asked students that question? Showing students the importance and purpose of the assignments is a powerful strategy that links homework to learning. One way to do this, early in the course, is to provide clear connections that relate the reading (s) or assignment(s) to higher-stakes requirements like a paper or exam.
What are your strategies to help students take responsibility for their learning?
How do you encourage students to arrive to class prepared?