Over vacation (remember vacation? How far away it seems!), I spent some time reading Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn by Mike Anderson. In the section titled “Teaching Honest Self-Assessment,” the author offers some suggestions for ways to help students improve their skills with self-assessment. One that spoke to me was “[c]oach students individually” (pg. 66), a practice I try to incorporate into my practice as much as possible. Although it is not the only place/time I try to coach, a lot of the coaching begins when I am checking homework at the start of class.
We all enjoy positive attention in our lives; it’s a way to connect with others. However, making time for providing that feedback to our students in our daily school lives is tough. When we establish class routines where students are directly responsible for managing their own learning for chunks of the class, it helps us to find that time. When I call each student to my desk each day to talk to me about their homework, it takes time, but I believe it is time well spent. First, it’s face-time with me and a chance to skim student work briefly. I might not be able to address the content concerns I see, but I can note them for later (and tell the student that I have seen and want to follow up with them, that I want to give them more of my time to meet their needs). I can also let them know that I will be addressing this concern with a group in class, there by reducing the sense of “everyone else understands this except me.”
Second, I can directly address individual trends I see, such as a lack of homework completion multiple nights in a row. Because I have built in the time to interface with each student, I can quickly discuss some solutions. Does the student want to come and do work during Flex Block and get it checked off before he/she leaves the room? Does the student need an alternative way of turning in the work, such as sending me a picture in email of the completed work, because she/he is doing it, but it’s not making it to school (which is different than not doing it at all)? Does the student need to consider trying different types of homework to increase engagement? Is this a longer-term trend or is this a blip on the radar, which can indicate concerns at home that might be worth exploring further with support adults in the school?
One person who observed my class last year suggested that I might consider having students report on their homework to me via a Google Form the night before, as a way of cutting down on the time it takes to meet with students. I have shifted the focus of my practice more since then, putting the burden of self-starting more on the students (another recommendation from the same observation) and reducing teacher-led, full-class instruction, but even before I made those changes, I knew I didn’t want to lose my homework checkin time with the students. It feels like a small practice, but, for me, checking homework is a chance to have time face-to-face with my kids and to strengthen the academic and personal relationships that lead to a stronger working environment.