How do you get high school students to do their homework?
October 7, 2005 9:15 AM   Subscribe

How do you get high school students to do their homework?

My friend has just started teaching in public high school. She has 126 sophomores in her English class, and half of them are failing. They all come in with excuses, and her teaching partner says the students are just trying to pull the wool over her eyes. I agree, since they're not frankly admitting that they just don't care, but I don't have any advice on how to get through to them.

A particular assignment, outlining, the students haven't learned since all their past teachers have let it slide, and she's not about to do that. She could send them all to detention but there's no penalty for not going to detention; there's no outside structure for enforcing punishment. This is extremely frustrating for her, she feels responsible, she wants them to know that there is the potential for them to go to college if they do well, she just wants them to please god try. She doesn't know how to get into their heads. And needs advice.

I know mefites are good at talking about when they were in high school, many have children themselves, maybe some are still in high school. Tricks, lectures, punishments, persuasion, give me your ideas.
posted by scazza to Human Relations (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My experience with high school students is that you have to hold them accountable if you want something done -- otherwise, their lives are just too busy, and they'll let slide anything they feel they can skip without consequence.

Tie completion of homework to grades. She can give one grade per week; 5 complete assignments = A. One day missed = B Two missed = C etcetera. She'll have to walk around checking homework, or have them turn it in -- both of which can be tedious -- but it should help a good bit. I think it's perfectly fair to grade completion of homework -- and not content -- but her school officials may disagree. If so, she may have to reduce her number of assignments, and devote time to grading each one.

In addition to tying homework completion to grades, she can offer a bonus to any student who completes every assignment; say, an extra 10 points added to their final exam grade.

If her students don't care about grades, and aren't motivated to do well in any of their courses -- well, that's another matter entirely. That speaks to a school-wide level of student apathy for which she is not wholely responsible, and which may be tolerated at the highest levels of the administration. In which case, she may be fighting a losing battle, and can only do so much.
posted by junkbox at 9:33 AM on October 7, 2005

A little more background on the kids might help. What's their social status? Are they (to raise some stereotypes) poor, inner-city kids who don't think education has anything to offer them, or are they all rich suburbanites who figure they can mooch off mommy and daddy for the rest of their lives? The specific origin of their reluctance would seem to dictate the appropriate response.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:34 AM on October 7, 2005

High School was so utterly irrelevant to my adult life that I regret putting in as much effort as I did--which wasn't much. I could see its irrelevance pretty clearly when I was there, too.

Maybe her kids are the same.

In which case, I would say, give them all A's and make sure they take something away from the class.

Unless she really wants to change things.
posted by trevyn at 9:48 AM on October 7, 2005

This is a recurring issue in teaching. One approach to it is to question the assumptions. For example, is homework worthwhile? In some circumstances, it is possible to switch to a project-oriented curriculum with a clear rubric rather than a homework/test-based curriculum. Foxfire came to be under similar circumstances. What makes that work is when the students buy into what they're being sold. If they don't buy in, there's not a lot you can do for that particular curriculum.

I taught classes that were very hands-on, but there were some concepts that I needed them to have mastered and the most effective way was practice, practice, practice. I've had students that blew through that portion because they knew what was coming ahead. I've had other students who, as a class, just plain did not do the work and refused to do the work. I reported as best I could and sent home progress reports for nearly the entire class and instead of, say, getting support from the parents, I was required by the principal to grant extensions and make-up work. And even with that and personal letters home, I still flunked half the class. It was beyond frustrating because I was going slower than I ever had to before. To establish motivation, I tried offering the biggest carrots I could with clear requirements ("If you (as a class) can do x, y, and z then we will do...") and this class consistently chose to not succeed. I did get some shadenfreude when I saw their state achievement test scores and saw that 1/3 of the class failed in core subjects (not mine).

In addition, your friend is a first year teacher and you can bet that the students are running her through the ringer because she's new and because they can.

For her own benefit, she should document what she does, make her requirements and consequences perfectly clear, and follow through and make sure the administration is behind her.

For a specific thing for outlining, she could try wrapping outlining in HTML. For that, the students need computer access, a text editor, and a web browser. I taught a group of students how to do HTML lists by using outlines, but you could just as easily teach students outlines through HTML lists. For my kids (who were sophomores), I had them formulate a plan for taking over the world a la Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. They had to come up with three plans and for each plan have three milestones and for each milestone three resources for each. The rubric, I think, was essentially 1/3 for complete, 1/3 for good outline structure and 1/3 for correct HTML. Knowing me, I probably threw in a point for creativity.
posted by plinth at 9:51 AM on October 7, 2005

A letter home--with the old "effective study habits" pitch and course expectations--asking for a signature and/or response.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:51 AM on October 7, 2005

Best answer: There are only two ways to get someone to do something he doesn't want to do: punishments and rewards. Punishments include guilt treatments; rewards include helping them visualize who they will personally benefit from engaging in the activity. (Of course, punishments and rewards also include spankings and candy.) So if your friends is willing to punish and/or reward, she should get out a sheet of paper and list all the punishments and rewards she can think of. Then she should take a guess as to which of these would be most effective (making sure it is legal) and go for it.

If she's NOT willing to punish and reward, then she can't make them participate. She can't, because the only way to make someone do something he doesn't want to do is to use punishments and rewards. So if she doesn't want to use them, she should give up trying to make them participate.

Instead, she can work on making the assignments interesting and then INVITE them to participate. Sure, they may choose not to participate, but she must accept that or get out the stick and the carrot. If they are invited to participate and choose not to, then she should take a deep look at the activity. Is it compelling? Is there a way to make it more compelling?

The WORST thing your friend can do is to be dishonest. Kids have excellent bullshit detectors. They will know. Unfortunately, teachers are dishonest all the time. They claim that things are fun when they're not fun. They teach subjects because they are forced to teach them, and then, rather than admit that this is why they are teaching those subjects, they make up bogus reasons about why the subjects are "good for" the students. They play power games and try to pretend that they are not playing power games. These tactics don't work.

Teachers shouldn't judge students. Is your friend sending them a message that they are bad or stupid because they don't want to participate? MAYBE that's true, but sending them this message will enforce an us-vs.-them attitude, with your friend on the "them" side. It won't help.

Teachers should hold students to the same standards that they expect to be held to by their bosses. Too many students expect students to respect them because "one SHOULD respect teachers" and to follow the rules of the classroom because "one SHOULD follow the rules of the classroom." We only respect our bosses if they respect us; we only follow rules at work if they are fair and if they benefit us. AND we can quit our jobs if we want. Students are FORCED to be in school.

So, when a student asks, "Why should I?" there are two correct response. (A) It's not that you SHOULD, it's that I'd like to you to... or (b) Because I have the power in this classroom and I making you do it.

I've been teaching for almost 20 years. When my students don't want to participate, I view that as MY problem. I need to rethink my lesson plan. I need to make it compelling. If I do this (and this may take hours of work) and they still don't participate, I need to decide whether I'm willing to accept that or whether I'm willing to start punishing/rewarding. As soon as I start doing this, I need to be clear about the fact that I am doing it.

And ultimately I'm against forcing. More often than not it backfires in the longrun even if it succeeds in the short term. Sure, they may do the assignment, but they'll probably (naturally) balk at being forced and avoid the subject of the assignment for the rest of their lives. The world is full of people who hate Shakespeare because they were forced to read him in high school. Better for them to have never read Shakespeare at all. Then there's still hope that they may one day discover him on their own and like him.

The example you bring up, making an outline, is useless as a stand-alone assignment. Who makes outlines unless they are making an outline as step one in a more compelling assignment? I PRAY that your friend has linked "outlining" to something interesting to the students. If you're going to reward, then the reward should be -- when possible -- connected to the subject (a natural outcome of participating). So while it's okay to give someone candy for writing a poem, it's MUCH more meaningful to PUBLISH the poem on a website: the reward is an outcome for good participation in the subject.

So what will the students win by spending their time working on outlines? If the reward is completing step one of a worse assignment -- writing a term paper on a subject that doesn't interest them -- then of course they will avoid outlining.
posted by grumblebee at 10:00 AM on October 7, 2005

My husband's (private) school has a policy that if a student misses three homework assignments in a marking period they fail the class. They get a chance to make it up, and I don't know how much of a penalty there is for turning it in late.
posted by leapingsheep at 10:00 AM on October 7, 2005

Response by poster: By the way it's 126 students in 6 classes.

junkbox, I think your last paragraph may be the crux of the issue, however she still feels responsible to try and get them to do well. These are kids whose parents never went to college, so I think they are in an environment of discouragement, they can't see potential in their futures. Your idea of tying their progress to immediate results seems good, weekly grades instead of the giant looming, elusive overall grade. That ties into the "ecstacy generation" thing that I find myself suceptible to and probably they are as well: the need for immediate gratification or else it doesn't seem worth it.

Faint of Butt, the kids are in a far suburb of a big city, probably lower middle class. However I think demographics doesn't really speak to the "specific origin of their reluctance." I don't really think they see the importance, the values of education.

trevyn, doing well in high school is important to those who want the chance to go to college, to those who need scholarships and aid. She wants them to have a chance at that, and to participate in their own lives. Not everyone takes nothing away from high school, those who do usually had teachers who didn't care as you're encouraging her to do, and for some high school is a chance at real advancement in society.
posted by scazza at 10:03 AM on October 7, 2005

My fiance's 10th grade son hates to do his homework. But he also hates it when his mother gets phone calls from the teachers, letting her know that he hasn't been doing his homework. Because when she gets those phone calls, his life gets unpleasant. (For one thing, his mobile phone is in jeopardy; for another, his internet access can be cut off; and so on.)

In his school, though, those calls are a matter of policy. It might be harder for your friend to make the calls if the administration doesn't have her back on it.

Junkbox's comment -- "tie homework to grades" -- seems to reflect a trend, as well. I gather it was out of fashion for a while, but in some schools, they count missing homework as a partial class absence. Too many of those and you flunk, regardless of your performance otherwise. Again, though, the administration has to be behind it, solidly, for that to work.

From the family perspective: One thing we'd discussed was asking him, explicitly, every night, what he had for homework that day. If he wants to get out of it, make him lie about it. If he did, we would catch him, and that would strengthen our hand. Again, though, that's something that she'd have to get the parents with her on.
posted by lodurr at 10:04 AM on October 7, 2005

I don't know if this is what's happening with your friend's students, but without more details it's hard to just in case:

I hardly ever did assigned homework in high school. It felt like busy work (because it was) and I resented it. We'd have a textbook, I would read the relevant chapter (I did do reading and mostly found it interesting and worthwhile), and then we were supposed to answer review questions at the end of the chapter or written by the teacher. What for? It didn't seem to me like there was a purpose to re-writing sentences from the textbook (what the questions generally asked for) in my notebook. Waste of paper, waste of time. I'd read the questions, make sure I knew the answer or understood how to calculate the answer and close the book.

Some of my teachers did include homework completion in the grade. and walk around checking to make sure it was done. I can't say I cared much. I figured I was getting As on the tests and papers and if I got a 0 on homework completion I could still get an A in the course. A lower A of course, but whatever. I figured particpation was only 10% of the grade, and homework completion was only part of participation. So I figured homework completion was maybe at most 3 or 4 percent of the final grade grade, and if there was homework every second day, any individual homework assignment wouldn't be worth more than a fifth of a percent. A fifth of a percent never seemed worth the trouble.

Oh, I was obsessive about keeping track of my grades and calculating them at any given moment and at the end of the semester.

In some classes we went over the answers to questions in class, either by going up and down the rows (next person, next answer) or by cold-calling, or calling on people who put up their hands (and yes, I did put up my hand). If I was called on, I would look down at my notebook (open to some random filled page) and "read" the answer.

The obvious place where "reading" the answer wouldn't work was math. (Well I guess I could "read" the answer from the back of the book, but in that class people usually went up to the board to put the solutions up). But my math teacher wasn't into wasting our time. He'd teach the concept and then point out where it was in the book and which sections covered the stuff we'd done. Then he'd tell us to do as many as we needed to to understand and make sure you did some from both the beginning and end since the difficulty varied.

Often teachers in class would teach the material in the textbook. Why? I have the book. I've read the book. Why should I have to sit here while someone essentially reads the book to me? I can read. So in addition to not doing the homework, I skipped a lot of classes.

The point being, nobody likes having their time wasted. If they feel like they're wasting time they're not going to do it. Even if they do feel like the homework assignments help them learn, if they feel like the learning is itself pointless, they're not going to bother no matter what you do to them.

And note: I still think it was busy work, and I still resent having my time wasted, and I have no regrets. And I did and do value education.
posted by duck at 10:15 AM on October 7, 2005

Best answer: demographics doesn't really speak to the "specific origin of their reluctance." I don't really think they see the importance, the values of education.

Well, that is demographically tied. People who don't know and don't grow up with many college graduates can't be expected to understand why formal education has direct benefit. It's not in their experience, and people in their families might even be defensive and/or dismissive about their lack of formal education, and thus not be particularly supportive of the teacher's goals.

As a first-generation degree earner, I can testify to the fact that parents who haven't gone to college don't understand the 'game' aspect of education -- that is, that you must 'play the game' and succeed at every level in order to compete well at the next level. For instance, you must do well enough in middle-school testing to get into AP classes in high school. You must do well in your AP classes to have more choices about which college you may attend. You must get involved in extra-curriculars, not to enjoy yourself, learn new skills, or become more physcially fir, but because it strengthens your college applications. All these ideas are part of the unwritten curriculum that allows children from successful families to achieve success in their own lives. It's a contributor to social inequality and it's self-replicating. People who grow up in communities with little higher education don't pick up on these ideas, and thus they have little hope of breaking the code. If your friend is going to be teaching this population for some time to come, she should think about the class implications, her own assumptions and recieved messages about formal education, and read some things like Savage Inequalites, which help to describe how America's public schools replicate its class system.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here. Your friend wants her kids to learn outlining, sure, but that's a secondary goal. Judging by her expression of frustration, she has an ulterior goal: for them to value learning and go on to higher education. Let's get that goal out in the open, because her students' failure to exhibit interest in school is what's really frustrating her.

In order for them to value education, they will need to see its value demonstrated. They need to meet who are actively engaged in careers that are compellingly interesting, and which require higher education. Perhaps your friend can conduct units which bring professionals into the classroom to work on interesting projects. People at a local museum or theatre; people who work in video, sound recording, or media; interesting professors from a nearby university; journalists for the alternative newspaper; city planners; I don't know -- whatever works. Kids need to see examples of interesting people and jobs which they can gain access to by excelling. They need to form strong networks outside their families.

Why not have her think of ways to demonstrate the value of pursuing an education, bring that into the classroom, and then help students 'break the code'. She could start a group for kids interested in college who don't have families who are going -- one of my friends did that in rural Vermont with great success. He helped kids parse college catalogs and applications, took them on walking tours of nearby colleges, invited college students like themselves in to talk about transitioning to college, etc. Basically, demystified it.

And as to outlining: She should maybe teach them how to do Songs in Outline Form. Who wouldn't have fun with that?
posted by Miko at 10:30 AM on October 7, 2005

Oh, and seconding the first year teacher thing. For the sake of doing something other than busy work, we'd do horrible things to first year teachers. That part I do regret, and I feel for them now. In fact, I woudl never ever teach high school specifically because I remember the things that we did to teachers and especially first year teachers and student teachers.
posted by duck at 10:31 AM on October 7, 2005

group for kids interested in college who don't have families who are going

One of the worst sentences I ever let slip by. Should be "A group for kids interested in college who don't have other college graduates in their families".
posted by Miko at 10:33 AM on October 7, 2005

Homework is useless in high school. School should be 4 hours longer and there should be specialty labs from 3 - 7 where kids meet with different students and do work, and have fun.

Georgetown was like a kick in the balls my freshman year, and I even went to private school.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 10:44 AM on October 7, 2005

duck's answer is right on.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 10:46 AM on October 7, 2005

The one suggestion I have is to treat the class like a college class, although there are several ways you can do it. I know that when I was in high school, I was more inclined to take something seriously when it was clear from the teacher's approach to the course that he or she took it seriously, too.

One way you can do this is to give the kids a real syllabus, including a breakdown of how their final grades will be calculated. At NYU, this was generally something like 30% to big papers, 30% to exams, 20% to homework or lesser papers, 20% to class participation. Obviously the exact numbers are at the teacher's discretion, and some classes don't even have homework or lesser papers, etc.

What this will do, though, is force the kids to understand that not staying on top of the reading and the work will mean that they fail the class, or just barely pass it. Even if they don't particularly care about the class, they'd probably rather avoid having to take it again and/or getting in trouble with their parents.

Another way to encourage them to stay on top of the material is with weekly quizzes, either in addition to or instead of regular homework. If the quizzes have a real impact on the final grade (and the students understand that they do), they're less likely to be blown off, and it's a good way to make sure that most people will catch up with most of the reading/homework at least once a week.

Looking back at my own high school experience, the best teacher I had was perhaps not my favorite in a personal sense, but he made it very clear what his expectations were and that he wouldn't put up with the standard bullshit excuses. We did the work because we knew that it was not possible to get out of it without a great deal of unpleasantness, and as a result we learned quite a bit.
posted by emmastory at 10:50 AM on October 7, 2005

One of the things that did the most towards getting me to do work I thought was nonsense was when it was explained to me, yeah, it's baloney. But life will be filled with baloney, either because someone feels like they had to do it so others should too (a la hazing) or because someone really thought it was worth it. But just like "life isn't fair," life is full of baloney work and learning to deal with it expediently so you can get what you want is valuable.

Maybe your friend can tie some of this into the day to day crap these kids have to accomplish in order to get what they want; not just doing her crap so they can get what they need from her but also other people's. Maybe she can piggyback on other class's homework? Outlines, as in your example, certainly are useful in almost any subject.
posted by phearlez at 10:55 AM on October 7, 2005

First off -- outlines? Why? I know high school teachers love to have their students do their papers as these huge projects with color-coded note cards and in-depth outlines and all that, but you know what? Not everyone works that way. When I sit down and write an essay, I sit down and write an essay. I prepare by reading and thinking, but if I'm writing, I might as well be writing the essay. So maybe the reason why they're not doing their homework is because they see it for the exercise in pointlessness that it is.

And sure, there are exercises in pointlessness outside of high school, but they are chosen, and they have real rewards. High school students are forced by the state and by their parents to be at one specific school which chooses through its own arcane measures who will order the students around. While adults may effectively have limited choice as to their employment and other hurdles, high school students effectively have zero.

A third problem is that high schoolers have little respect for teachers largely because teachers don't deserve it. I've yet to find a high school teacher about whom I can say "You know, that person really as a lot of interesting things to say about her subject". Generally they're not really interested in their subject -- if they were, they'd be in a university or out in the field. If the teachers don't care, why should the students?
posted by dagnyscott at 11:23 AM on October 7, 2005

Generally they're not really interested in their subject -- if they were, they'd be in a university or out in the field.

Slight derail, but that attitude- "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach"- is so wrong. Maybe you were just unlucky- I went to a high school chock full of amazing teachers, who had incredible influence on my life, in part because of their knowledge of their fields.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:22 PM on October 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Duck, it's funny you brought up your "just in case" story since I am just like you. That's mostly why I don't have any good advice. However, I kind of regret not doing my homework, the benefit of trying something and seeing where it goes without knowing it's value in advance. It was erroneous for me to assume that I knew of everything that would interest me in life. I hate busy work which is why I think I don't learn languages well, since I don't have that trained diligence. Just as phearlez said, "One of the things that did the most towards getting me to do work I thought was nonsense was when it was explained to me, yeah, it's baloney. But life will be filled with baloney."

They probably do think the assignment is worthless. On that note I think gumblebee, that is an awesome post. Why outlines dagnyscott? That is the heart of the matter. I think the idea of making it relevant to them is important.

And as to outlining: She should maybe teach them how to do Songs in Outline Form. Who wouldn't have fun with that?
Miko, how awesome. And I wasn't trying to mask the college element, I just didn't see it clearly myself.

Generally they're not really interested in their subject -- if they were, they'd be in a university or out in the field.
So trying to express their love for a subject by trying to inspire others doesn't count? As if teaching in a university is really so great. While I understand where this thought comes from, it doesn't help; just pointing out the problems without a solution only encourages that she should stop caring, and teachers who don't care are definitely the problem in high school. Anyway, this doesn't apply to this situation since my friend the teacher is a writer and teaches English. So she teaches as well as walking the walk.
posted by scazza at 1:05 PM on October 7, 2005

Not everyone works that way. When I sit down and write an essay, I sit down and write an essay.

Yes, but imagine a world in which this doesn't come to you naturally, and yet no one ever bothers to teach you general study skills that do work, when applied. Outline forms, note cards, filing systems, and stuff like that may seem 'off the point' to people whose minds are naturally gifted at absorbing and organizing information. But not to teach it all would leave many students utterly stranded, with no natural skills, and no one giving them the tools to figure it out.

My education exposed me to a number of ways to get things done. Many different ways to take notes, and types of notes to take (verbatim, charted, outline); many different ways to present information (video, writing, multimedia, powerpoint, spoken-word); many different ways to find information (library research, computer research, interviewing, polling); just to give a few examples. The aim of k-12 education is exposure in breadth, so that when specific skills are needed later, the groundwork has been laid.

That being said, it is frustrating to sit through education that you don't need because of your natural abilities or giftedness; but the other side of the coin is that to tell students that do need it "if you can't figure this out on your own, too bad - you'll fail in life". Which is why individualized instruction is the only way to go, which is why class sizes should be smaller, which is why schools should get more money. But that isn't happening in this climate.

Anyway, teenagers don't really know yet what they need and don't need, so even when they want to declare that they don't need to know any math because they're going to be a writer, it's the job of adults not to listen to them. It's good for people to be asked to try new and different things, ways of thinking and organizing. It grows the mind.
posted by Miko at 3:10 PM on October 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm student-teaching elementary students right now, but this situation crosses age lines to some extent.

The question could be rephrased: how do you motivate students?

0) Kids don't want to do stuff if they do not believe they will succeed. Getting them to believe they will succeed is tricky - the assignment needs to seem manageable to them and they have to be given encouragement and support.

1) Get them to actually care about what they are doing for themselves. This works better than any other trick, but it's hard to pull off. Students need to know why what they are studying is important, and they need to find it interesting. What is interesting to kids is sometimes non-obvious - it is not the same as what you or I find interesting.

2) Their relationship with school matters. This encompasses:
a) their respect for their teacher,
b) how much they care about external factors like grades,
c) whether success in school is important to their self-concept.
I would say a) and c) are generally more important than b).

a)Respecting their teacher start to happen with their teacher having high expectations and communicating the message that he or she believes students can do it, and it grows when the teacher builds relationships with students.

[some relationship builders in an English class: conferences one-on-one, writing letters back and forth in response to what students are reading, creative writing, writing and performing poetry - basically anything that lets students and teacher get to know each other]

b) grades can motivate some students but not all. They work best if expectations are clear: you will get an A if you do. . .

c) A student whose self-concept includes success in school is an easy child to have in class. A teacher can encourage this by talking about role models who were successful in school, reminding the kids that they all have the potential to be strong readers and writers, etc.

Okay, maybe a really long answer for a question about homework, but I wanted to be thorough.
posted by mai at 3:10 PM on October 7, 2005

Thank goodness I teach an elective with a required credit.
I LOVE what I teach and I feel that I have plenty of interesting things to say about it.
There are plenty of reasons not to teach at a university. Those jobs can be few and far between. They are often not where I want to live. The pay at a public school (after a few years and with an advanced degree) can often times be better.

as for homework... yuck. Try to do as much of it in class as possible. I think that you have been given some really great answers so far. Respect is key. Talk to other teachers that teach the same subject. Get out and go to workshops and conferences on your subject. It will get better.

I teach 10th - 12th grade students. I give them a syllabus and I have a website with the entire list of assignments on it. If they don't finish in class then they can work on it at home. Most of my students have a computer or access to one. With the assignments online there is no excuse for leaving the assignment at school or not knowing what it was. BTW.. I also teach in a "far suburb of a big city, probably lower middle class"
posted by nimsey lou at 6:15 PM on October 7, 2005

Perhaps assign homework in groups of 3 or 4. Have the students divide the tasks up among themselves, but grade each student based on the work of the whole group. This might be a little less feasible in high school, but I believe what you'll find is that the social pressures tend to keep the large majority of groups from slacking. One person is a lot less likely to not do something if it means that their friends are going to suffer. Not only that, but talking about a thing with others is almost always the best way to learn about the thing. Each of the students will only be doing a third or a fourth of the work, but this means you can assign three or four times as much.

Grading based on completion rather than correctness might be the best option here, too, as you don't want to foster resentment between the "smart" and "dumb" students within groups.
posted by dsword at 8:37 PM on October 7, 2005

Scazza, just to be clear, I didn't think that the stuff we were learning had no value or that I couldn't see the value. In fact, I think even when I couldn't see the value, I assumed there was some. I just thought homework often had no value.

So for example, I think learning to outline is important for exactly the reasons that Miko provides. And I think it is of value to everyone, even people who never again produce an outline, see an outline, or think the word "outline." Understanding outlining implicitly teaches that ideas have structure. That's an important think to know.

So I don't think learning to outline is non-valuable or that it is busy work. However, I do think that "Here are three short essays. Produce an outline of each" or "Using an outline form, describe the process baking a cake." etc. etc. is busy work. I felt like if you explained an outline to me, and showed me some outlines, that would be great and very helpful. If you gave me "here's an essay, outline it", I would have read the essay, figured out what the major divisions were, maybe drawn some lines or stuck some numbers in the margins. If I then figured based on that, that I could write an outline, then obviously I didn't need to write an outline.

So to me: learning about outlines, good. Writing up a bunch of outlines, bad.
posted by duck at 10:55 PM on October 7, 2005

Best answer: Generally they're not really interested in their subject -- if they were, they'd be in a university or out in the field. If the teachers don't care, why should the students?

Whoa...I have taught at university and I was out in the field, but I'm always drawn to teaching younger students. Sorry if this was your experience but I grew up with some really cool teachers who were wicked smart and who genuinely liked teaching. I always found that, if I wanted to excite other people about the topics I loved, teaching was the best way to do that. In consulting, I always ended up managing projects and minutiae. At university, it was dealing with faculty politics and funding issues. In schools I had some PITA administrators, but that classroom was all mine.

First off -- outlines? Why?

Outlining doesn't just apply to writing and authors. Journalists outline. So do television writers, playwrights, movie directors, songwriters, website developers, video game developers, instructional designers...the list goes on. Many creative types have to outline if they are working with others in order to get their ideas across. Others have to know what an outline is and how to read one. Learning how to outline isn't only learning about the structure of an outline. It's learning how to organize, rearrange, and make ideas/concepts more clear to your receiver. Some people have to do it on paper or online. Others can do it in their heads.

I like the previous idea about outlining a song. You also might have them outline a TV show and "mess around with it"...mixing up the order of the major points and having them come up with something different, even if it is nonsensical (that's a useful "ah ha" moment about the importance of outlining to help clarity of a story). I would give them an example with this one first. Or working in groups, outlining something, put the different "chunks" in the outline on separate pieces of paper, and then have another team try to put it together the right way on a wall. See how close they get.
posted by jeanmari at 8:43 AM on October 8, 2005

I just thought homework often had no value.

This isn't just a feeling. There is quite a bit of educational research that shows that homework really doesn't have value, at least if your measure is whether it increases retention or improves performance on skills assessments. It just doesn't seem to do anything. The very idea is so contradictory to what we have always been led to believe that to say "Abolish homework!" is a really hard sell. But it has not been shown to be effective.

Many people don't know that there was really no such thing as homework in the U.S. until the late 1950s. At that time, the Sputnik anxiety fueled a number of education reforms and updates, including the New Math, increased emphasis on math and science, pushes for more standardized testing, and, you guessed it, homework. The fear was that American students were going to be too dumb to compete in the international space-age future, and we'd better get cracking and pile on the work. It's the kind of thing that seems to make sense on a gut level -- give kids more practice, keep them on task longer, more work = better work. But it's just not so. Homework has not been shown to increase learning by most accepted measures. Yet, schools are reluctant to abolish it for fear of appearing 'soft on standards', and parents largely believe that it works somehow. I think that what it teaches, primarily, is just how to jump through hoops and demonstrate your interest in success. A lot of things at school teach that -- it's the game I mentioned before. I'm not saying it's good, it's just another hoop.

I should clarify my point a bit by distinguishing 'homework' from 'studying'. Studying is indeed an important skill that college students need to have. Dedicating time outside class to going over notes, reading and re-reading texts, and memorizing important ideas is absolutely necessary to good scholarship of any kind. The difficulty is, most 'homework' models teach nothing about studying. Since studying is different for everyone and can't be quantified, it's hard to assign. So homework ends up being short, rather pointless paper-and-pencil work that does not really encourage greater depth of understanding. Even when I was teaching primary grades, parents would ask me for homework for their kids (yes they would), and I would respond that I would far rather have the kids read, just read, a book of their choice for 20-30 minutes a night. That was the best possible use of their time at that age. Doing pages of 'math facts' was not providing any benefit --certainly not to the families who struggled over how and when to squeeze homework in to an already stressfully busy day. In addition, time spent as a teacher preparing, copying, collecting, and grading homework came directly out of time available to spend planning and delivering valuable in-class lessons.

So those who say homework is useless -- you're absolutely right. Too bad we seem to be stuck with it.
posted by Miko at 10:43 AM on October 8, 2005

Highschool is useless. Really. If you want to learn at that age, you'll be doing it anyway, and the hours you while away listening to some well-intentioned education major are more or less wasted.

Have grades entirely dependent on tests. Make it clear that the homework will cover the same material as the test. This gives incentive to students to go about learning *gasp* however they want to.

After all, her goal isn't for them to do homework is it? It is (or, rather, should be) for them to take something away from the class.

High School teachers should:

1) Inspire students to care about their subject.
2) Be available for questioning.
3) Write and administer tests that hold the student to [insert standard here].
4) Get the hell out of the way.

end rant.
posted by phrontist at 10:56 AM on October 8, 2005

That would work great if their economic future didn't largely depend on what happens to them in high school.
posted by Miko at 1:05 PM on October 8, 2005

1) Inspire students to care about their subject.
2) Be available for questioning.
3) Write and administer tests that hold the student to [insert standard here].
4) Get the hell out of the way.

Gee phrontist, I'd better change my way of teaching, then. I never knew I had it all wrong.

I teach the kind of kids for whom turning up to class with a book and pen is a daily challenge. I threw homework out the door a long time ago with them, and even with most of my classes. I know they're not going to do it. At the most (and this is for my more reliable, academically-minded classes) I will get my students to finish off the work we did in class.

I also find the US system of constant assignments and tests quite amusing. (I'm an Aus teacher, so my knowledge of the US system is brief at best). Many assignments or papers that I've seen (specifically in English subjects) are irrelevant and a waste of time. Where's the context?

Don't you guys spend time during actual lessons working with the students on their assignments? If we set assignments (and I rarely set tests), we give the students around 2 weeks in class to draft and consult as much as possible. That means we can even prompt the laziest of students to get some work done in class.

We also have really good relationships with the parents here. A quick phone call home is sometimes all we need. At no point have we ever tied a students' overall mark to their homework. We may give feedback in a report card that mentions how little they're doing at home, but if they're getting average marks why should I drop the grade (or raise it) merely because of their homework?

I also resent the command to get out of the students' way. I find I get far better results when I involve myself more deeply with the students. I don't just teach my subject, I teach kids. I don't give a damn if they have learnt anything about the novel I just taught; I just want to teach them how to be better people.
posted by chronic sublime at 6:49 PM on October 8, 2005

Response by poster: Duck, I understand that you think education has value. I was trying to say that I understand since I am the same. I didn't do my homework but I still got into a very good University with my passion for education. You need not explain further.

And anyway I said values plural, not value. It's not respect for education that they lack even though some may as Miko has discussed, but the greater, many uses, that include getting into college, societal advancement, the doors it opens, and on and on and on.
posted by scazza at 7:48 AM on October 14, 2005

« Older Bittorrent: Good option for missed TV shows?   |   Swap motherboard - Will Windows work ok? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.