Within days, close to a million students will attend their first class in some developmental math course; some have already started. The vast majority of their teachers want every student to succeed, though this may not be the students’ perception. Therefore, one phrase is likely to be heard by close to a million students in a short period of time: “Do your homework!”
I do not tell my students to do their homework. Why? Well, think of this metaphor:
My cousin Alfred walks in to his doctor’s office; being astute, the doctor notices that Alfred is obese (the only question is ‘how obese’).
After letting Alfred share his health concerns, the doctor makes two statements to him:
1) Do you think that you are overweight or obese?
Alfred’s answer: Well, yes … that is kind of obvious.
2) Okay, your first step is to eat right and exercise?
Alfred’s response: Yes, I’d like that.
What do you think Alfred is going to do? Will he eat right? Will he exercise?
Our students, especially in developmental math courses, do not know how to operationalize “do your homework”. The vast majority of students believe that ‘doing homework’ means completing the assigned exercises, whether online or on paper. We sometimes reinforce this perception by “collecting homework”, where we make sure that the student has ‘done it’. However, the basic purpose of homework is to learn the most possible for that content for that student.
Instead of telling my students to ‘do homework’, I tell them to follow the learning cycles. These ‘learning cycles’ are simply stated components of doing homework with a focus on the purpose (learning). Here are the phrases I am using for the 3 cycles I talk about with my students:
- Study and Learn
Read the explanations and information, study the examples, re-work the examples.
Try every problem assigned, and check your answer. Look at what is going well for you, and look for areas that you did not understand yet; figure those out.
- Get Help
After you examine areas you did not understand, get help on anything you still don’t get.
You can probably come up with different phrases and a different set of ‘cycles’. I like to use the word ‘cycles’ because of the implications that the process is repeated and that cycles are related. My intent is to create an impression that learning involves deliberate work, as well as an impression that answers (right or wrong) are just a step in the process. It is likely that my students do not see most of what I am trying to say — though indications are that listing these learning cycles helps most students do a better job.
I never collect ‘homework’, because homework is something that happens in the brain while doing the learning. I would love to be able to directly measure all aspects of learning at the biological level; the world is probably a better place since I can not do so. Instead, I use assessments in class (like a simple quiz on about half of the class days) along with discussions with students.
Students should not ‘do homework’. Students should learn math, which involves discrete activities that work together to help that student do the best they can do.
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