Saturday, October 13, 2018

Home-Thinking Works Too: Giving Students Time to Think

"I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework." Lily Tomlin

I read this quote, for the first time, a few weeks ago. It resonated. I mean it really attached itself. I rarely give homework, although classwork sometimes needs to be finished at home. But, this quote, having hooked on, made me rethink classwork these last few weeks. When students get home at night, do I want them pondering and problem-solving, perplexed and premising, playful and productive- Or, sitting at a desk rushing through a worksheet that feels pointless?

So I asked myself, how can I get my students to go home and visualize, surmise and analyze, without having to produce anything? Is it possible to inspire students to take the time to just sit and consider what they learned in my class? To determine its relevance and importance to the real world, without having to create or write something? To just imagine and mentally assemble, as Lily Tomlin so eloquently said it, “give them something to take home to think about besides homework?”

It sounds crazy right? I had one teacher I was talking about this with say “That’s ridiculous how are you going to grade them?” “Does it have to be a grade?” I replied. “I don’t see the point of having students go home and just think, they need to produce something measurable, gradable,” she replied. “Homework is important,” she continued, “Homework has always been a part of learning, they need to reflect on their lesson of the day with practice.” “I agree,” I nodded, letting her know I was hearing her argument. “But, why does this practice need to be physical, why can’t it me mental?” Let’s just say the conversation ended there. We agreed to disagree.

So, here I am with this idea, mental homework, without a grade? Would any student complete homework that wasn’t a tangible, gradable, product? I had full faith that they would. So the next day, I asked my gifted classes these questions:

1-Why do you think homework is important?
2- Does homework have to be graded, or is merely practice and reflection?”
3- Do you think home-thinking is it just as important as homework?
4-Do you spend more time writing and completing assignments or pondering over notes and ideas you heard in class, when you get home?
5-If you were assigned home-thinking rather than homework, would you do it? Or, would you just pretend you did?

Their responses were surprising. Most students felt that purposeful homework was important but that a lot of the time, they feel it is just a way for teachers to collect grades. They feel homework, when relevant should be for practice and reflection not necessarily for a grade. One student said, “When homework helps me learn, then I want to do it, it needs to be relevant- when it is I choose to complete it for myself, not for a grade.”

When it came to home-thinking rather than homework, these answers made me smile, these answers were honest. Many students expressed that even when they don’t have homework per se, they still think about what they learned. “If you assigned home-thinking, even if I didn’t want to do it, the idea of not doing it would actually make me do it. I would think about not thinking about it and then ultimately, I would have thought about it- genius.” 

About 70% of students said they already review notes and think about all their classes when they get home. The rest of the students, feel they would prefer home-thinking mostly because they can do this in the car between extra-curricular activities and on the bus etc. “I remember more when I can just think about it for a little while and not have to stress about writing a paper or answering a bunch of questions on a worksheet.”

So, I gave home-thinking and cut back on some classwork, ensuring that they would be able to complete it in class. Opening them up to just think. After a few days- the purposeful talk in class became more purposeful. I even discovered that students were researching and trying to come up with cool facts to lead the conversations. Home-thinking lead to more motivation for many students. While some, I am sure didn’t think about science for long- partook in more collaborative chats. I heard them giving their two cents worth. This made me happy. I had nothing to grade. I only had to listen and observe.

I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework. Lily Tomlin. 

You can learn a lot from not writing down a single word. Just mulling over things in your head. When you can let concepts simmer, percolate it stirs up questions and these questions need answers. These answers need clarification and before you know it. Home-thinking has worked- you are learning not because you were assigned a reading or a worksheet but because science came to life, words became visual, history became another piece in the big puzzle of knowledge.

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