Motivating students to do their homework, to read

Today, I had this tweet about my students not doing their homework and reading. A little background: it’s a college in the high school classroom. So, basically, students are expected to do the college amount of reading (say, on average, about 7 pages, single-spaced on printer paper) 3-4 nights per week. Then, the class is supposed to hop into good, informative discussion that promotes high-level thinking for the students. You know, like those good literature classes you had in college.

And right now, the students are in the classics. They just finished Homer’s Odyssey and are now working on the Iliad.

That discussion, then, where students are complicating their thoughts and clashing and sharing ideas with other students doesn’t happen often. If they don’t read, then there is nothing to push them to think about the text. And if they’re not thinking about that text because they didn’t read, then they’re not going to be able to complicate their classmates’ ideas. It’s a sad cause-and-effect that I’m sure tortures many teachers who run into this problem.

But what is the solution?

I shouldn’t discount all of my students, however. There are some who read, and there are some who analyze and even a few who make the deep connections within the text (and to other texts). But when a handful of students carry the discussion for the whole class, it feels like a struggle.

I guess the issue is motivation. Are they disinterested because it’s boring? Does it not relate to them? Or are they just seniors and they’re already checking out? Maybe they just need to see the reason behind reading, analyzing and gaining a strong, deep understanding of a text. But how do you do that?

A few students who “hated” reading the Odyssey actually realized that some of the ideas we talked about as a class (the idea that Homer’s view of a hero may transcend into modern Western civilization) made sense and became “interesting” after connecting it to more contemporary pieces. It was cool to hear that, especially from those who struggled to find any reason to read the classics.

And while I’ll get into what I did to help those students who previously “hated” what they were reading later, I think this just goes to show the importance of connecting what students are reading to their surroundings, to modern times. Whenever that happens, students seem more interested and engaged.

But, still, how do you get past that first step of just reading the text – as homework – to begin with so discussion can lead to more realizations for students?


1 Comment

Filed under Class assignment, Classroom management, Education, English, Lesson, Lesson planning, Literacy community, Motivation, Personal, Reading, Students

One response to “Motivating students to do their homework, to read

  1. Thomas Fanelli

    My man, even though we teach in completely different age levels, you teaching high school seniors and myself molding the young minds of 7th graders, the issue of getting students to do their homework is one that resides over at my school as well. Actually, the issue isn’t in getting them to do their work (well, some kids have that problem) but getting them to spend the necessary time producing quality material. There’s a good percentage of students who you can just tell completed the assignment for the sake of completion. I think motivation is a key struggle hear as well, however we both have our own challenges. Your students have put the hard work into 3 and some odd years of high school and are ready for the next step. A well deserved break and senior week are at the forefront of their minds. Unfortunately, they have keep it going for another few months until the acceptance letters start rolling in the mail. By the way, I’m fairly jealous that you’ll get to experience that awesome moment with them in a few months.

    My issue, however, lies in the fact that at the age my students are right now, the type of work ethic that trains you to think about a few years down the line has not be engrained to them yet. Let’s face it, unless your goal is to be accepted into a new mortgage payment of a high school, grades only matter to them as much as they matter to their parents. I am going to try and not sound like a typical teacher and blame the parents (hey, I haven’t been in the field long enough to take that route) but at the age of 13 and 14, these students are more interested in sports and video games and make up than picking up a book they are going to be quizzed on the next day. Fortunately, after having the opportunity to meet a bunch of parents the other night at the open house, I know that their are some that want to push their children to reach their maximum potential. However, I also fear that same attitude does not span across the entire population of parents.

    This is not to say that they do not like reading; some don’t like it at all and some can’t get enough of it. One girl in my class, every day I see her reading a different book. Makes me wish I had time to do some recreational reading and check out these “Hunger Game” books everyone is raving about. My point is, at this age interest in reading and writing only is as strong as their motivation to get into a good college. I’m sure if you asked any of them they would all say an aspiration was to be accepted into a great college, but they don’t have the understanding to consider how the school work now will effect them in the future. Only being in school and month, and also mostly drawing from my own memories and experiences as a student not so long ago, I want to make a conscious effort to not only teach this lesson, but model it to my students as well.

    Love what your doing with the blog, keep it up man. Keep pushing with those seniors; I’m starting to see that respect level and motivation level are oddly connected.

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