Switching Gears: pre-Lectures at home, homework at school

October 9, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 2 Comments

(authored by Russina Eltoum)

When thinking about reading in the content area the only question that worries most of the teachers is how to get enough time to cover the materials that at least prepare the kids for the test, and at the same time to incorporate teaching how to read.

Curriculum standards and high stakes testing have focused our attention on the following matter: more kids need more proficiency in more subjects, and reading plays a part in every one. With several years of test scores to reflect on, it has become clear that what kids don’t get about a particular subject often has to do with what they can’t read about it.

I think the next ten years are going to see a radical shift in the ways we teach and learn. I read an interesting post last week, What’s the Value Added? In this post, I have watched a video and read about how some teachers record mini lectures in videos and send their students home to watch them in their I phones to get the basic idea or concepts, and when they come to school they practice certain skills in class. I think this is a good example to The Next- Gen Teachers and their smart use of technology

This video made me think about the nature of homework today; it is so clear that what we call homework is actually addition schoolwork, and if it’s just schoolwork done at home, then what makes it more valuable than schoolwork done at school? The issue is more complex than that pat answer and deals with what I perceive to be a common failing even of effective educators.

So what can we do to make the homework really a fruitful practice that can enhance our students’ understanding of what they have been studying? What could the teachers do to make the time they spend in class with the students more valuable and productive?

I really believe that homework should be used to reinforce content that students have already worked with, or to introduce them to new concepts they are about to work with. and I also believe that one of the possible solutions to the common teachers’ complaint about not having enough time could be shifting the activities between the classroom and home; I mean that instead of assigning more problems for the kids to practice at home, we can send them home with some reading materials, or links to certain websites with, of course, some reading activities to do like think along, think markers, or any pre, during, or post reading activities. And then when students come to class, a discussion about what they have read and how it is connected to the concepts which they have been studying in the class would be essential. Students could also practice some problems and new skills that related to the topic in class with the teacher ‘s and peers’ help, which would be more fruitful than doing that alone at home because when students collaborate, they learn a lot from each other. Students benefit for these kinds of interaction. And the teacher is also there to provide needed assistance.

I believe this practice will deepen students understanding to content and at as the same time it will help them to be better readers, it will also help students recognizing that learning time happens both in school/class, and out of school/class. This way students will actually make some of the earlier steps of the learning process at home — making work done at home even more critical for classroom success than it has been.

There’s no question this idea is disruptive to current ways of school – that’s actually the point. The point of this entry is to think about how we do it now. I’m not suggesting that the individual teacher in a larger system could easily implement it, but I’m asking people to imagine what is possible… and what would be best for kids. The only way we’re going to ever change the status quo is to imagine better ways to do it. Don’t you think so?



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  1. Russina touched on a very good point about how there just is never enough time in school to get everything accomplished that we (teachers) need to get accomplished. Depending on the setup of the school, teachers only have about 40-80 minutes to get their subjects taught each day. It’s simply not enough time for students to fully develop their understanding. By sending students home with homework, we are asking them to think back to the lessons taught during school and apply them. Unfortunately, many teachers give homework that is just busy-work. Homework, as Russina pointed out, needs to be worthwhile for the students. If the students view their homework as busy-work they will be less apt to complete it. The article “What’s the Value Added” suggested sending students home with a mini-lecture video. The contents of this video would then be explored during class the next day. Although it may work in some cases, I do not believe this is the way to go. I actually had a class in college that had us watching videos at home. I’ll be honest, I only watched the videos on occasion, like many of my other classmates. Although they were informative and beneficial, we knew we would just get the same information in the class the following day. So, if a teacher is to implement this practice, there needs to be some sort of format the students have to follow so that they are accountable for watching the videos.
    So, how do we make homework more meaningful? First, it has to enhance and enrich the content being taught. And second, it must be relevant to the students lives. They need to see a connection between what they are being taught and how it applies to their lives. Students are definitely not used to this. In the science classroom I am in, after every lab we have the students fill out a V-form. The form requires the students to go through the lab they just did, pick out the important parts and state why this is relevant or how it applies to their lives. I cannot tell you how many times students come up to me asking how is this related to my life. I think by integrating content with real world applications in the homework students will see the bigger picture and be much more apt to complete their homework. It will be more meaningful to them. I truly believe this will only be effective if ALL of the classes do this. I guess what I struggle with is how do we go about changing this to a school-wide or district-wide plan? Most districts are only concerned about the high stakes testing scores which do not test if they students can apply this to the real world, they only want students to regurgitate information. How can we implement this in all classrooms?

    • I agree with Russina that tackling Content Area Reading is something we must focus on for the future outside the classroom as well. Often times in high school when I was required to do a reading for homework, I would only truly read the entire thing if I knew it was going to be tested. If I was asked to complete a question set regarding the reading I would typically just skim for the answers. This is the only problem that I could see arising with students required to do readings outside of class. If they are not interested in all the details, then most likely they won’t spend as much time doing the work, and likely won’t retain much if any of the information. In a scenario such as this, it seems as though there is a catch-22. If additional time I spent inside the classroom, it may take away from being able to proceed on to the next unit. If additional time is spent by the students outside the classroom, how can we guarantee that they are actually being actively engaged readers? Not all students are motivated to get good grades, and sometimes academic incentives might not be enough to interest them. I agree with Russina that this presents a great challenge to the current format of school. It will take lots of time and effort in order to make and implement the changes necessary for this to be successful, but if done correctly, how wonderful would it be to have students interested in reading about the subjects we teach both in and outside the classroom?

      Mary’s comment seems to echo some of my sentiments, in terms of not always watching the videos required for her class. I agree with the fact here that homework needs to engage and have some relevance to students outside of the classroom. I remember taking AP Physics my junior year of high school and being stumped on almost every single homework problem for the first half of the year. I naturally thought this was a result of not being taught how to do these types of problems in class. Well, it turns out that it was, and that was the point. If I was told how to apply a specific formula to every type of Physics problem imaginable, I would have been sitting in class for quite a while. Part of the investigation is developing your own sense of how to apply what you know in order to cement an understanding of the topic at hand. Give students homework that challenges their traditional thought processes and requires them to go beyond just applying what is taught in class. Again, I am just as curious as to how we will be able to implement tools that will engage students outside of the classroom and make them want to spend time investigating a subject further. The means of contacting these students outside of the classroom is now available to us with all of the technological advancements, but isn’t there is a difference between just communicating with the students and actually reaching them?

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