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by Donna Raskin, M.S., M.Ed.
One of the things a great teacher does is to set great expectations for students. On a visit to “Room 203,” we notice a chart entitled: “Expectations for Our Classroom Community.” The citizens of Class 203 have decided that this is the way they want their classroom community to be:
• All members of the community will treat each other with respect, fairness and dignity.
• We will keep our community and ourselves safe.
• We will be responsible to our learning community by doing our classwork, homework and participating in class discussions.
The bottom of the chart has every student’s signature along with the teacher’s. This is a very different chart than “Class Rules.” This chart tells us that the students and the teacher see themselves as a community of learners and, as such, they have certain expectations for themselves and the group as a whole.
There is no doubt that this excellent teacher facilitated a discussion the first day of school about how the children wanted their class to be. He probably asked them what they wanted from each other and from him. This discussion probably took up most of the morning and I can almost guarantee the original list of community expectations was at least 30 items long. The teacher, while sharpening their critical thinking skills, had the students whittle it down to the three major tenets that all successful classrooms operate by: Be fair; Be Safe; Be Responsible.
Other charts on the walls spell out things like the criteria and expectations for a particular project, or simply how to participate in a group discussion. Rubrics are posted for each assignment so it is very clear what students have to produce in order to exceed expectations.
Knowing how to exceed expectations is very motivating for students when the exact criteria are there for them. Excellent teachers create rubrics with the students so they feel a sense of ownership in the process and internalize the notion of producing high-quality work.
However, you cannot expect students to produce high-quality, rigorous work unless the task the teacher assigns is of equal strength and challenge. What kind of work is the teacher asking the students to do?
The teacher in room 203 asked his students to solve five math problems for homework last night. The best teachers know that if a child can solve a rich, a multi-step problem, that shows the child is able to apply the mathematics he or she has learned. Let’s face it, no one is going to stop them on the street when they’re 50 years old and hand them a worksheet with 30 computational problems on it. That’s not to say there isn’t a need for practice, there certainly is. However, the true test of whether or not learning has taken place is in its application.
In the next homework assignment the teacher asked the students to find 10 examples of sentences in which the author of the book they’re reading has used commas, and why they thought that might be so. They were asked to place a sticky note under the sentence and write the reason they surmised for the comma.
My guess is, in class the next day they would compile their results and draw conclusions about the use of commas based on their observations. This is an example of a homework assignment geared toward introducing a new concept the following day while the mathematics task above is clearly based on material the children have learned. Homework should be purposeful and very thoughtful. It should never be about drill and kill. It should always be about new ideas, thinking, creating and applying.
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Donna Raskin is currently the President/CEO of Prestige Education, an in-home tutoring and talent development company (www.prestigeedu.com). She began her career as a teacher of the Gifted and Talented and went on to become Assistant District Administrator of Special Education for the largest school district in New York City. Donna went on to become the principal of two middle schools in New York and then relocated to Los Angeles to join her son. After a short stint as a principal in LA, Donna founded Prestige Education, which is a result of her core values as an educator, i.e. customized education that meets the needs of all learners.
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