Meet Ulysses: a high school freshman who is charismatic, thoughtful, and funny. He’s been struggling with a constant stream of zeroes in his classes.
He’s often loopy during our Skype sessions, which occur when he’s exhausted after Lacrosse practice. As a result, we often veer off into crazy tangents, though lately I have grown to trust the wisdom in our seemingly random deviations.
Today there was another zero in the online grade book. Sigh. A Spanish assignment this time. According to Ulysses, he had done his homework, albeit incorrectly, and thankfully his teacher would allow him to resubmit it.
I suspected a deeper learning issue and inquired further. It became clear that Ulysses had completed this homework assignment in class while everyone else was watching a video. Aha!
Wanting to be diplomatic, I observed: “There was something good about you choosing to do the homework in class, and also something problematic. Can you guess what was what?”
“Yeah, I was being proactive about getting my homework done. That was the good part,” he said and I agreed.
“The problematic part was that I was not paying attention, and I didn’t read the instructions correctly.” True, yes, although I wanted him to think more deeply about how his learning was impacted by his choice to multi-task.
Suddenly, a strange analogy popped to mind. At first, I didn’t trust it, but Ulysses cajoled with a twinkle in his eye, “Just say it, Gretchen. Just say it!”
Encouraged, I asked, “What if this homework assignment was actually a cute girl you were taking out on a date?”
Ulysses took the analogy and ran with it. “I get it! I rushed the date, not paying any attention to her, trying to get it over with as fast as possible. Instead, I should have taken her to a nice dinner, bought her flowers, asked lots of questions, and really gotten to know her.”
“Yes! So, what does all this have to do with your Spanish homework?”
It took some back-and-forth, but Ulysses finally understood that he had not been respecting his own learning. He was doing his homework just to get it done, without any attention to using the assignment as a legitimate learning tool. As it turns out, he really struggles with Spanish. He’s not going to learn it well unless he slows down and commits to being in an active, intimate relationship with his own learning.
Practically speaking, what does it look like to be in active, intimate relationship with one’s own learning?
(And this is where I’m afraid I must leave the analogy of dating, lest I extend the metaphor way too far).
1. Read the instructions to fully understand what is being asked.
2. Take a moment to reflect: Does this assignment teach me something new? Or is it asking me to practice something to which I have already been introduced? How much do I already know? What needs more practice?
3. Complete the assignment. Notice what tasks come easily, and what don’t. Take extra time with the ones that don’t.
4. After completing the assignment, reflect: What do I know now that I didn’t know a moment ago? What have I not yet mastered?
5. If there is anything that needs more mastery, make a plan. Will you ask the teacher for help? Go to peer tutoring? Consult the textbook?
OK. So maybe doing your homework isn’t quite as exciting as a hot date.
However, the skills you can practice while doing your homework mindfully — noticing the details, being curious, asking good questions, paying close attention to what is (and is not) working, adjusting accordingly, and being clear about next steps — are pretty sexy. And might just earn you another date!
What is/was your relationship with homework or other work like? How can you treat your work more like a hot date? Let me know in the comments!
P.S. Do you know students who could afford to treat their homework more like a hot date? Be sure to forward this article to them!
Photo Credit: Image by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons license.