Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Because Students Might Learn

About a hundred years ago (at least it feels that way) I was a 7th grader in Mr. Munson's math class. Each night's homework was always posted on the chalkboard. It would look something like...
Whatever the page, we ALWAYS did the even numbered problems. Particularly vexing was that we seventh graders knew the answers to the odd problems were in the back of the book. "Is today the day he going to assign the odds?", we would ask each other as we waited outside for Mr Munson to let us in to class. Each day, however, it was the evens. ALWAYS the evens.

Finally one day I worked up the nerve to ask Mr. Munson, "Why is it always the evens? Don't you know the odds are in the back of the book?"

"Yep," he said, "that's why I assign the evens. I don't want give you the answers. You have to work for it." "But how do we know if we are doing it right?", I replied. "The odds would help us do it right."

"I assign the evens", he said, and it was clear the conversation was over.

I was 12 and knew that having the answers in the back of the book was an invaluable tool for learning. The answers were the feedback I needed in order to know I was on the right track.

This sort of stuff still goes on. For some reason teachers intentionally prevent students from accessing useful learning tools:
  • Our Eureka Math curriculum did not initially come with answers. So, I created solution manuals for many of the modules in Grades 3 through 5. Teachers, while grateful to have the solution manual, were not happy that I posted the answers on the district web site. "Students might look at the answers while doing their homework," the teachers said. "Right," I said, "and looking at the answers might help a struggling student learn the math."
  • I have created tutorial videos for every lesson in Eureka Math. Initially the purpose was to help teachers understand the math they were supposed to teach, but students started watching the videos too. I made the videos on selected Homework problems, so that parents could also watch the videos in an effort to understand the math and help their child. My goal: no more homework fights. Teachers, however, suggested that students might copy from the videos. "You mean students might receive help on the exact problems they are struggling with?", I answered with mock concern.
  • During a districtwide assessment meeting a teacher voiced her concern that if students were allowed to retake tests, students would continually retake the test until they mastered the concept.
I've got an idea: Let's give students MORE tools to assist with their learning...not less!

Answer keys, tutorial videos, and test re-takes might be just the thing that students need to help them get over the hump and learn whatever concept you are teaching. 

Why should we do this? Because students might learn.

Are there other things teachers do to PREVENT students from learning? Chime in below...