Getting Past the Stink: Yes. Where. No. When.

Homework stinks for some of my freshmen. When not in the presence of a teacher, the smelly homework is kept at a distance only to be shouldered the next morning in route to school.

I have spent years trying to move beyond the obvious and understand this aversion at a level that can change it . . . or at least febreze it.

I created a framework for school success called T.O.P.A. These four areas are the necessary domains for every successful student: Think, Organize, Plan, and Act.

If a student is strategic in these four areas, homework can smell better.

Each is required.

Thinking requires “Saying yes.”

Organizing requires “Saying where.”

Planning requires “Saying No.”

Action requires “Saying when.”

Let me explain each.

Think – Freshmen need to “Say yes” to thinking about school. This sounds so obvious but so many students go home and strategically avoid thinking about school. For those that do the homework, it’s only about getting it done. They strategically avoid thinking, studying, or reflecting on their learning.

We need to be coy in finding ways for students to think about school. We need to make it smell better, make it even appetizing. The taste of success is a great motivator.

To encourage thinking, I am presently using this graphic organizer. I set a timer for five minutes and have students complete the sheet.

Organize -Freshmen need to say where to stuff. In other words, if a student has no place for homework, they likely have no purpose for it either. It piles in tattered stacks and starts to stink.

I start with encouraging students to throw nothing away. Keep it all! The papers are either in their backpack or in a box at home to store graded paper and completed classroom work. It is the Google Drive in the real world. It’s all there. If needed, students just need to find it.

Valuing the where and creating a system a student can utilize efficiently leads to less frustration, less redoing, and less time hunting and gathering.

The systems for organizing are varied and must be created with and by the student at the backpack level in order to find traction and longevity. I presently use a two-pocket folder for each class with DO and DONE written on opposing pockets. DO for anything that needs doing including turning an assignment into the teacher. An assignment is not DONE until it is graded.

Plan – I could talk about all the great plans I have for freshmen success, but at the end of the day it comes down to them saying no. It’s not saying yes. Students must realize that even stinky homework has to be prioritized. They are going to have to say no to other things for a least a period of time. Raising this awareness seems to grant permission especially when introduced with setting specific time goals. I encourage students to complete timed rounds lasting 15-20 minutes of total focus on homework. Students are to have a scrap piece of paper next to them to write down any random tasks that come to mind that could pull them away from their studying. When the round is over, take a break, take care of a random task, and then start again. It sets good boundaries and helps focus.

Acting – Plans are great, but it’s still all about action. Talk is cheap. Habits make actions easier. I talk to students about transitions. The transition from bed to school and from school to home are critical. Without a plan for these two windows of time, the ability to take action that generates great results can be compromised.

I believe these four simple domains contain the solution to what stinks up a lot of homework. We pay a lot of lip service to the need for students to master the art of being a student but so often all we serve up is content. These four spices, if you will, of Thinking, Organizing, Planning and Acting could make the whole meal we call learning a little bit more palatable.


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