Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why my students should do assignments

I want students to put in significant intellectual effort into assignments outside of class. It would be nice if they choose to do so for one or more of the following reasons:
  • They have come to feel a sense of responsibility to the classroom as a learning community.
  • They have found out that their own personal experience in class is greatly enhanced when they put in work outside of class.
  • They are intrigued, interested, or excited about some substantive aspect of the assignment, the topic, or the class.
  • They have come to trust (based on their experience with me) that what I ask them to do has or will have value, even if that value isn't immediately obvious to them.
  • They have come to value the attention and feedback they will receive from me and how this feedback contributes to their growth as a person
  • They value the learning and awareness of self that comes with doing the work
I want them to be driven by a sense of responsibility to community (not to authority)–one that comes with a sense of excitement (not punishment). I want there to be a willingness to engage based on trust (not fear) and a willingness to persevere because of the promise of growth (not rewards).

Tis the season for classroom planning...


  1. I would love to move even an inch in this direction. I'm interested to hear about your plans.

  2. This is for my inquiry into physical science course for future elementary teachers, and I have a lot of freedom in terms of everything–coverage, pedagogy, and learning goals.

    Right now, a lot of the course will involve student self-assessment to guide my professional judgment about grades. I'll ask students to self-assess on participation in the classroom community, using a rubric, 4 times during the semester. On the first day, we will also develop a rubric for assessing their science notebooks, using the activity from SGSI. Using rubric, they have to evaluate on a range of criteria and give me a page number to highlight an example of each. They do this 3 times.

    For homework, I am 'grading' on a 0,1,2 scale. 0 is for not submitted or rejected outright, 1 is for feedback provided and returned, and 2 is for accepted in full. Homework is writing intensive and feedback intensive. They submit homework to me and to their "writing group", which is different form their 'research group". They get feedback, and almost always have to rewrite. Points are accumulated for homework, and homework is worth 20% of their grade.

    The real driver (I think) for homework is that it is always continuous with what we are discussing in class and where we are likely going, and I try to keep it going in a very personal way. I try to write homework that concern the specific ideas that were authored in class, and I give names in the writing on those assignments. In, homework I refer to our class discussions, our experiments, the people in class, and to myself as part of that community. Students are asked to articulate their own ideas and to support them--they are asked to articulate and work through competing ideas and to offer arguments for and against.

    I try to convey in feedback how much I want to understand their ideas, and what they can do to better express, develop, and refine those ideas. In the beginning my feedback is always geared toward clarity in expressing and arguing for ideas, with little or no pressure on accountability to correctness. As the class develops commitments to ideas, students become increasingly accountable to each other, to evidence, and to those ideas.

    I've written a lot, I'm going to stop now...

  3. Hi Brian,

    I look forward to hearing how this particular mix of student+community focused "homework" goes for you. And which pieces you feel you could introduce in a calc-based intro course or even upper-year course for majors.