Friday, September 7, 2012

The exercise of homework at the beginning of the year

Pop quiz time.

What do exercising, the new school year, and doing homework have in common?

For those of you who exercise regularly, probably not too much.  However, for those of us (like me) who take “regular and extended” breaks from exercising, I think there is much in common.

1.  Soreness

When you begin a new exercise routine or try to get started on an old one again, the first few days are the worst.  It is those days that your body screams, “Why are you doing this to me?” with every move you make.  You are reminded with each still joint and sore muscle that you have been inactive, and are now paying the price.  The payoff is that if you stick to a good plan, the soreness goes away and you begin to be much more efficient in your workouts.

The start of school and homework can bring on a similar response.  After a few months of summer relaxation, trips around the country (or world), hours of TV and video games, students’ brains and work habits are seriously out of shape.  Beginning the new school routine is going to bring some soreness.  Homework may take longer to complete as the academic “muscles” are put through their exercises.  The payoff is the same.  Have a good plan and stick to it.  The soreness will go away and students will begin to work more efficiently.  Soon, that assignment that took 30 minutes in week one or two will only take 20 minutes to complete once students get back into school year condition.

2.  Record keeping

One of the best ways to effectively exercise is to keep a record of what you are doing and track progress.  Homework benefits from this also.  Keeping a good record of what students are doing in an assignment book or journal will not only help them figure out area in which they may need some extra help, but also help them track progress.  

Research also suggests that people who know what to do AND when and where they are going to do it are more likely to actually do the task on time and with better quality.  Keeping good records in an assignment book will help students do this.  

3.  Take breaks

When exercising, frequent breaks allow you to put forth your best effort.  Sure, you are supposed to get tired, but if you want to to do your best, mixing up the routines and including some breaks works better than trying to work straight through for hours.

With homework, the same principle applies.  Students need breaks to recharge their mental batteries and help focus on the task at hand.  Working diligently for 15-20 minutes and then taking a short break is usually better than trying to go the full steam without a rest because the quality of work done while tired could be less than their best.  A distraction free place and a kitchen timer are great tools to help with this.

4.  Adjust as needed

Just as a coach keeps an eye on the effort of the team and makes adjustments, teachers should keep an eye (and ear) open to how students are responding to their work.  Feedback from students and parents is an important part of this process.  If you, as a teacher, realize something may be off track, look for ways to make necessary adjustments while keeping students moving forward. Coaches sometimes give lighter workouts to help players recover from a particularly intense period. Teachers should be prepared to do the same.

5.   Celebrate milestones

Finally, reaching your goals and celebrating milestones is a critical piece to any exercise program.  Your reward may be as simple as a cookie or as complex as a new wardrobe.  Either way, working through the pain to meet (or exceed) your goal deserves a little recognition.

Sure, doing your homework will help students’ grades and those grades, as well as the intrinsic reward of learning, are important.  However, if a goal is to complete the homework (completely and with satisfactory quality) in 90 minutes and the student finishes in 70, then a reward may be in order.  Also, if a student finishes a long term project or assignment, congratulate them.  When it is finally done, they have reached a milestone.  Recognize their hard work and congratulate them on their efforts.
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