By Scott Sterling
Most teachers choose to use their in-class time to deliver new content. The thinking is that students will naturally struggle, productively or otherwise, when they encounter the unknown. When that struggle occurs, the teacher wants to be there.
In correlation, homework is reserved for practice. But isn’t a student just as likely to struggle during practice as they are when learning new content, unless your homework practice material is too easy? Meanwhile, the teacher has used up their class time delivering new content and putting out the fires of struggle, instead of allowing students to work collaboratively to better each other through their practice. As the old saying goes, the rising tide lifts all ships.
Here are some ways to present new content to students through their work outside of class without intimidating or frustrating them.
Delivering new content at home is the foundational principle of flipped learning. In this strategy, teachers create or use some sort of non-threatening delivery mechanism, like a video or slide show, to present the information that they would have delivered in class. The student is responsible for assimilating this information at home.
Then, for the next class, students work together with the teacher in practicing their new knowledge (usually in the form of some project-based learning). If a student struggled to grasp the concepts introduced at home the previous night, they can receive some remediation from their teammates or, in severe cases, the teacher.
Proponents feel as though this is a more efficient use of class time and that today’s modern student has so many tools at their disposal that any confusion at home can be mitigated themselves.
Say you like the idea of sending students home with new content, but are still not comfortable with leaving them completely alone. The modern, connected age has provided many simple solutions for that.
Using some sort of social media or approved texting method, make sure students know that they can ask questions while outside of class. In fact, if this occurs in some sort of group chat, the students can rally themselves and compare notes.
There are also ways to conduct quick formative assessments before the students even reenter the classroom. Many teachers have message boards as part of their class websites. Some require students to post a quick summary of what they learned to the message board. Then the teacher has a record of what was understood and by whom, making remediation easy.
Introducing new content in homework can be exactly that—an introduction. Nowhere is it written that students need to assimilate all of their knowledge at home. Instead, homework can be used as a preview for what will be coming during class the next day.
For example, many teachers highlight videos or TV shows for students to watch to get a broad understanding of a topic before they deepen their knowledge in class. Finding these sources is easier than ever. Of course, the timeless method is to have the students read the next chapter of their textbook to prepare themselves. They don’t even have to seriously read. Previewing (i.e. looking at the pictures/captions, the subheadings, and any graphs and data) goes a long way toward the greater understanding of the content.
Naturally, if students do not understand something they are trying to learn at home, they will first poll the nearest parent. This is fine, but the role of the parent is ambiguous. What if the student doesn’t want to approach their parent, or the parent is unavailable? What can parental involvement look like for this particular task?
Along with the instructions given to the students for their homework, set aside a bit about how the parent can specifically help their child acquire this new knowledge. A fun, engaging, and enriching task is preferable, as well as one that doesn’t require a specific set of knowledge from the parent.