Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Homework - And an Educational Experiment

I teach Spanish. I work in a small town that has very few Spanish speakers. So where will my students get their connection to my subject area outside of school? The answer is homework. I have been teaching for nearly 12 years now and I have always assigned homework. I have always felt justified in assigning homework and I have never assigned work that should take more than about 10 minutes. But as my own children grow older I find that homework has become a nuisance. Homework has become a chore that is never-ending. It would be like taking out the trash only to come back inside and see the trash is full again.

I have had the teachers of my children tell me that they are going to assign a certain amount of homework so that the students feel prepared for all of the homework they will receive the following year. Is this a reasonable justification for working at home? I think not. A brief reminder of what was learned during the school day would be an ideal description of homework.

While there are likely many reasons or justifications for why teachers assign a seemingly endless supply of handouts, worksheets or projects to do at home, I am not here today to explore those. Rather, I would like to tell you about a short experiment I am doing with my Spanish 1 high school classes. An experiment I decided to carry out because of what my children are experiencing. As I said earlier, I always assign homework. So what's the experiment? Homework will not be required for one chapter. But wait! There's a catch. I am still going to assign the usual assignments that I would have assigned otherwise, but students that don't do the work won't lose points. I will, however, still go over the homework at the beginning of class like I usually do.

So what is the motivation to do the homework now that it is not required? Well, there are two factors that should influence my students to choose to do the work. The first factor is by doing the homework outside of class they will be stronger students. They will understand the material better than those who would otherwise choose to not have that quick connection to the material outside of class. The second reason is their participation grade. When I review the work at the beginning of class I ask students to raise their hand and participate by giving the answers to the various questions on the homework. If a student has not done the homework, then participation is not possible.

Perhaps you are thinking "so?" Would you no longer do the "optional" homework assignments? Well, here's why this is hugely important. Participation in my class is worth 20% of the student's grade. And, I base my participation grades on averages. Basically, if you have an average amount of participation points you get an A for the chapter. Being well above average gets you extra credit and below is of course a lower grade. While the students around you are participating the average grade is increasing while your grade is remaining stagnant. Also, participation is indirectly worth so much more. Much like everything you learn, the more you practice the better you become.

I am only a few days in to a two week chapter. There will be about six optional homework assignments. So far, I would say that less homework is being completed than usual. Once the chapter is over I will come back with exact numbers and compare not only homework grades, but test, quiz and participation grades as well with a previous unit that did require homework. I will then decide whether or not I will continue to assign homework as optional or not. Best of luck and good decision making to my students!

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