Monday, October 12, 2015

Day 27: Responsibility

This weekend, Alice Keeler tossed out a tweet.
This sparked a discussion among many teachers about the purpose and value of homework.  I, like many teachers, have mixed feelings about homework.  I won't say what it does or doesn't do because I have nothing more than anecdotal evidence to support my claims.  What I WILL say is that I, like Ms. Keeler, have not seen any evidence of homework teaching responsibility.

What I have seen is that well-designed homework can provide students who wish to use it with extra practice on a topic.  It gives distance from classroom discussions and environments that can allow ideas to percolate.

I have also seen students who completely understand a topic wasting their time on homework, driving their interest in a subject into the ground.  I have seen students who completely understand a topic have their grades knocked down because they didn't do unnecessary work.

I have seen students who have no idea what's going on get their grades boosted because they slogged their way through assignments that were graded for completion rather than accuracy.

I think there are both up sides and down sides to homework.

I do not, however, understand how it can teach responsibility.

I've written several times about the trade-off of responsibility between parents, teachers and students for learning.  I believe that in Kindergarten, the onus is almost entirely on the teacher and parents.  At that age, we are still teaching kids what it means to be responsible.

In college, the onus is entirely on the student.

At some point, the role of a teacher, in my opinion, slowly shifts to support, gradually handing off the responsibility for education to the student, helping them to become more and more independent before we release them into the world.

I struggle regularly with finding that balance.  This year, with juniors and seniors, I am much more inclined to leave the responsibility up to them.  I make myself available and do my best to support them, but the responsibility for learning and decision making is on them.

I needed to remind myself of this constantly this weekend as I was grading the Astronomy tests.  There were 3 students who earned A's, 7 who earned B's and 6 who earned C's.

Around 120 students took the test.

When going over it today, I asked if they felt any of the questions were unfair, if there were any that were not covered in the notes or in class.  They all agreed that the questions were fair.

That didn't, however, stop several of them from blaming me for their low grades.  The grades were unrelated to lack of attendance, or lack of attention.  They were unrelated to the number of times I have to ask them to pick their heads up or stop talking.

I am hearing the same complaints from 12th graders that I did from 8th graders. "You're not trying to teach me."

I've been told that a typical failure rate for Astronomy is close to 80%.  This isn't because the kids are mentally unprepared for the course, or because it's a particularly difficult course.

But even the easiest course can be failed if no work is done.

I wrestle with the idea that a great teacher can motivate kids to do work. I can stand behind them and encourage them to hold the pencil, but I can't do it for them.

At some point, it's out of the hands of the teacher.

I will still try.  I will continue to make an effort and support them however I can, but I'm left with questions:

Is it our job to make them a balanced, appetizing and beautiful meal, or is it our job to keep bringing out food until they find something they like?

Or is it a balance?  If so, where is it?  At what point is no longer fair to us and the rest of the students?

I honestly don't know.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I see the same attitude in my flipped classes from some of my students (after all, isn't it my JOB to TEACH them??). It usually takes them about a month to figure out that though I will support them as best I can, they have to take the initiative.

    I don't give homework in my classes. Instead, students have a series of tasks/projects that they need to complete in a given unit. As we approach the end of the unit, I encourage the students to look at where they are in the course, then look at where they need to be (say, to prepare for a unit test). Are they behind? "Then perhaps," I tell them, "you need to assign *yourself* some homework in order to get caught back up and meet your goals." And some of them do, though usually after receiving a progress report with a bunch of zeroes. :-O In this sense, looking at time and project management, I do believe that "homework" can help teach responsibility. But not the drill-and-kill we so often associate with homework.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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