How Teachers Can Help

Students can build good habits and break bad ones on their own, if they are determined. But success rates rise dramatically when they get support from teachers, parents, and friends.

So what can teachers do to help?

Require students to write their assignments in a homework diary.

This simple act works wonders. The key is for teachers to require it, not simply remind or nag. Teachers who have the bad habit of shouting out the homework assignment as the lesson is ending and students are packing up encourage students to develop the bad habit of not writing down their assignments. Students who don’t write down the assignment are much more likely to forget it, or to remember it incorrectly.

Instead, teachers should develop some good habits that will help their students develop good habits. Give out the homework assignment before the end of the lesson, and provide time for students to take out their diaries and copy it down. When students are working, move around the room and check homework diaries. Praise those who have written down the assignment; remind those who haven’t, and watch while they do it. Do this every day: daily repetition builds habits.

With a very small investment of class time, teachers can dramatically improve their students’ performance. Not only will students complete your homework assignments—they will develop an essential good habit that will serve them well for years.

Try it. Then, when you see what a difference one teacher’s efforts can make, enlist your colleagues and make this a school-wide initiative.

How to stop procrastinating

Lifehacker cites “the goal-setting web site 43 things“, where it appears that the Number 1 goal of their readers is to “Stop procrastinating.”

This is a nice idea, but it’s not a useful goal. It’s like saying, “My goal is to stop being lazy”, or “My goal is to do better in English”. Goals like these lead nowhere.

Instead, set goals that refer to specific activities that can be repeated daily. Activities that can be counted or measured. I agree that procrastination is a big problem, but when do you procrastinate? If you put off packing a lunch until morning and then oversleep, set a goal like “My goal is to pack my lunch before I go to bed.” If you put off doing homework, set a goal to “Start homework the day it’s assigned” or to “Hand in every assignment on time”.

Then keep a daily written record, and set alarms or reminders to keep on track. Find a partner, or ask your parents to help remind you—most of us do better if we’re not trying to build new habits all on our own.

But don’t get stuck trying to “stop procrastinating”!

Read every day [book excerpt]

Good students are readers.

Why? First, they have a large store of background knowledge. Second, they have large vocabularies. Third, they can read quickly with excellent comprehension.

Reading is a habit that can be acquired, like any other habit. The lucky people acquire the habit of reading when they are little children. They’re the ones who must be forced to put down their books to come to the dinner table; who stay up past their bedtime, reading by flashlight under their blankets; who sit in the backseat of the car with their nose in a book; and who long for summer, when they will have time to do nothing else but read.

If you are one of these people, skip the rest of this section and go on to other good habits that you may not have acquired.

If you’re not yet a habitual reader, begin now. Continue reading “Read every day [book excerpt]”

Essential: the homework diary

Whether you call it an agenda, a planner, or a homework diary, no single piece of equipment is more important to staying organized.

However, not all homework diaries are created equal.

To be most effective, a homework diary should remind you of essential daily tasks and make it quick and easy for you to check them off as they are completed.

For example, it’s not enough simply to provide space to write down homework assignments. There should be a blank for each subject that might assign homework that day, followed by a quick way to indicate that homework either was or was not assigned, followed by space for writing down the assignment and the due date.

Here’s a sample excerpted from the SSIS Homework Diary that I designed last spring. Middle-school students at SSIS have a maximum of three homework assignments per day.

Today’s Homework
1. ___________ HW/NHW
2. ___________ HW/NHW
3. ___________ HW/NHW

1. ____________________
Date Due ________

The students fill in the three subjects on their homework timetable for that day. For each class, they circle HW if they have homework, and NHW if they have no homework.

This “NHW” feature is important. Without it, no one can tell whether (a) no homework was assigned, or (b) the student forgot to write down the homework.

The key to forming habits is repetition, and a well-designed homework diary helps remind students to record their assignments, thus building one of the good habits essential to success.

How to make a new habit stick

Ryan at Learn4Liberty has a nice post about the importance of motivation when trying to break a bad habit or establish a good one. “Repetition helps,” he writes, “but repetition alone will not do it.” I would put this differently: repetition will form a new habit, but without motivation you are unlikely to repeat the action long enough to turn it into a new habit. Check it out, and then tell me what you think.

Practice Moral Courage (book excerpt)

Practice moral courage.
Moral courage enables you to stand up for what you believe in when others disagree. When others propose to do something they shouldn’t, the person with moral courage is able to make his or her own choice, instead of going along with the crowd. When others are saying things that are rude, or hurtful, or inappropriate, the person with moral courage calls them on it. When others are mistreating someone, the person with moral courage defends him.

This is the hardest habit to acquire. Continue reading “Practice Moral Courage (book excerpt)”