As a learning community, we have a plethora of information on the best methods of teaching students, yet these ideas have yet to trickle down to the foundation of the education system: our teachers themselves. Ideas, such as watching video lectures at home (Sal Khan) and instilling grit through teaching growth mindset (Angela Lee Duckworth), are perspective changing, but what are some specific ways educators can take these larger concepts and implement them on the classroom level? I want to propose why I stopped assigning homework and other strategies that are directly applicable in the classroom.
I started teaching high school math at the ripe age of 22 and did things the same way they were done when I was in school. Lecture, make students sit quietly and take notes, assign homework, give tests... And if they did poorly on their tests, I assumed that I needed to assign more homework. About halfway through that first year, I gave my students an anonymous survey which revealed that more than half of my students were copying their homework from someone else. I thought about how I could fix this problem, and I decided to stop assigning mandatory homework. My students were thrilled when I announced that previously graded homework was now optional practice, and, as I expected, most of them failed the following test. But as the weeks went on, I noticed the motivation to complete the practice work had shifted, and my students were asking for help understanding the material.
By the time my second year of teaching came around, I had made the necessary tweaks to my class routine to completely shift my students' motivation from getting a "good grade" to actually learning the concepts. I continued to assign optional practice instead of graded homework assignments. I limited my lectures to 20 minutes and harnessed the power of peer tutoring, group work, and independent practice. I gave daily 2 question quizzes for the sole purpose of giving feedback on mistakes. I created an environment that rewarded students for trying, even if they didn't get the correct answer. I allowed students to retake tests because it doesn't matter when a student learns the material- their only deadline is the end of the semester. I even held study sessions after school the day before tests to eliminate excuses.
After all of this, my class not only held letter grades that actually represented their knowledge, but they collectively earned the highest state standardized test scores in the school. I was so proud of my students, and I was happy that they were able to experience the sense of accomplishment that only comes from hard work and dedication.
I realize that not all classrooms or subject areas are the same, but I truly believe that every classroom can make similar changes to give their students the same opportunity to learn. All of these exercises work together to change students’ motivation from getting a “good grade” to actually learning. We can’t reform the education system overnight, but we can start by taking meaningful steps in the right direction.