Woes and Wonderings

An interesting thing happened yesterday at school. To start the day, I had a conversation with a frustrated colleague about students finding answers online for homework. I consoled my colleague and left feeling thankful I don’t have that issue to deal with this year. At the end of the day, I had a student tell me he was not going to do the assignment in class because he would just find the answers online at home and save time. It was a full circle day.

The internet holds a wealth of knowledge. Often the resources provided by that magical web inspire and impress me. Of course, not all of the information out there is reliable, but that’s not the problem in this post. The “problem” today is the availability of answers on the internet. Without much effort students can retrieve step by step guides to solving math problems, answers for online activities, and even textbook generated worksheet answer keys.

Is providing the answers to activities and homework actually a problem? Well, it depends on whose answering the question. Many teachers do not feel giving the students the answers to homework is a problem at all – it is a way for students to check their work and make sure they are on the right track. Having the answers also ensures the correct information is in their hands, especially when it comes time to prepare for an assessment. Other teachers disagree. Finding the answers online is the equivalent to cheating by copying your neighbors homework. The copier does not learn the information but simply writes letters or numbers on a paper in the right spot.

If this bothers you, there are a few solutions that have been thrown out there for consideration. First, if a student simply copies their work, the lack of understanding will become evident on assessments. Consider offering more pop quizzes or homework check assessments the next morning. Second, if the answers to the work you give are readily available online, find or create a different resource for classwork. By creating your own activities and worksheets, students may have to think through the process and engage in learning. Third, do not give homework. Make all work due at the end of class without access to devices during class. To be honest, I have concerns with all of these proposed solutions 😦

I want to offer a different conversation around all of this. It bothers me that students can find answers so easily online, from a classmate, or through a group chat (one person does the work and posts a picture of it while everyone else copies the answers). I am old school and shudder at the word “cheating.” To me, this is cheating. To our current students, this is using your resources – and there’s the problem. It seems there is a huge disconnect between the intent of an assignment and the perception of that assignment by the students. The intent is, or should be, always related to learning content or processes. The perception by some students is busy work, point accumulation, or something teachers are required to provide. These students do not perceive the activity as a means of learning.

So, how do we solve this? I think it has to begin with conversation. We need to understand why students are approaching their learning opportunities in this way. We also need to have open conversations with the students about the intent of the work we provide and the concerns about how they find their answers. I also think we need to work to reframe thinking about learning, particularly the work we ask of students to support that learning.

I also think bigger conversations need to happen. Students are hearing and accepting their arguments from somewhere. Homework has become taboo and the intent of homework as a learning tool has been lost. Some students have embraced this new perception by extending the “uselessness” of homework to all classwork. Sadly, this does not serve them well. Our students are not performing well on assessments. Why? Students have not made the connection between the work and learning.

All is not lost. Though I come across this sad state of affairs with some of my high school students, my middle school students are a different story. One difference is the kind of work we do in class. We do more projects, more hands-on, more energy. I also think they have not yet been exposed to, or embraced fully, the negative messaging about school work.

As you have probably picked up by reading my past posts, I like to teach through projects and problem-based learning. Though I cannot control what my students do outside of class, I can encourage them through the strategies I implement in the classroom to engage in the learning for the 45 minutes I see them each day. It would be nice, though, to one day have students appreciate the learning activity provided regardless of the packaging.

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