At the close of our first quarter, my students spent some time reflecting on their performance and setting measurable goals for their future Spanish learning.
Before they completed their written reflections, we discussed the difference between class participation and class preparation. In my experience, my students usually have more difficulty defining class preparation. This makes sense because most middle schoolers are just beginning to develop an independent awareness of how they learn.
My students identified homework and studying as the two main elements of class preparation. When I asked them to compare and contrast these two aspects of preparation, one student raised his hand. “Well,” he said, “Homework is required. Studying is only encouraged.” The majority of students also felt that studying was more difficult than completing homework.
It was clear that students recognized studying as important, however they seemed to have difficulty with how to define and execute a self-directed academic task. In their experience, the teacher usually defines and checks homework. Studying was more nebulous.
As we talked further, however, it was clear that students had innovative, individualized ideas about what it meant to study. Some liked to study in a quiet, dark room while others preferred bright, busy spaces. Some students turned the target concepts into a song or taught them to a younger sibling or pet. Other students used drawings and photographs to create visual markers of their conceptual understanding.
Over the weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about our class discussion. The more I thought, the more I realized that “Studying required, homework encouraged,” might be a more effective instructional mantra in my classroom. What if I gave the students a suggested homework activity, but I encouraged them to work with the target concepts in a way that made sense to them? What if I asked students how they wanted to show they understood the concepts we were working with and had them design their own homework and review activities? It seems that these challenges will help them develop critical academic self-awareness in a way that my prescriptive homework cannot. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.