Study Guides & Homework ... I Wonder

By returning to the classroom there were a number of ideas I wanted to try. One of my ideas dealt with teaching students the importance of study guides while addressing late work.

How often do teachers find giving students assignments and on due date discovering a handful not turning them in. Why do students not turn in their work? I think there are a number of reasons: 1) They don't care, 2) They don't see the importance of the assignment in the process of their learning, 3) They see it as a waste of time and 4) They are to busy and simply forget about the due date.

To address couple of these, I started the fall semester with the following study guide policy.

"Students had the option to do the study guide or not."

If they wanted to complete the study guide and submit it - I would grade it and give them the grade in the gradebook. This way they benefited from their work by earning points. Plus they had a graded study guide they could use for the upcoming test. Students who choose not to turn in their study guide simply were excused from that assignment.

At first, I had only one student complete a study guide prior to the test. On that first test I had only couple of students qualify for a retake (score below a 70%). Oh bye the way ... for students who wish to retake the test they first had to complete a study guide and submit it to me. I would grade it and if they did well on the study guide I allowed them to retake the test. If the study guide was done poorly they would then need to meet with me in person where we would cover the study guide question by question. Then they could retake the test. My goal here was to show them how the study guide would help them in preparation for the test.

By the third test I had eleven students who qualified for a retake (most the whole semester) with again only one student doing the study guide prior to the test. All eleven completed the study guide and passed the retake. From this moment over half my class started to understand the importance of completing the study guide. With the remaining test at least half my students submitted a study guide before the test. .

I also witness another third work on the study at times without submitting it and what little was left at least glanced at it at times.

At no time during the semester did a student who completed a study guide fail to meet the standard of passing a test (70%). At the conclusion of the class I surveyed the students and almost to a student they spoke positive about the study guide approach. Comments included:

* I learned I had to complete the study guide to be prepared for the test.
* Even when I didn't have time to complete the whole study guide I could use it to review and determine areas I needed to spend time on in preparing for the test.
* It was nice not to have a lot of busy work in class. I could focus on what I needed to in my understanding of the concepts.
*There were many times I didn't submit the study guide but believe me I was doing them.

Having to complete the study guide before doing the retake also caused an interesting reaction. I even had one student who told me that she didn't have time to do the study guide therefore took the lower test score. But then for many of the students having to complete the study guide they saw a much higher score on the retake.

As for the teacher ... I didn't have to deal with late work. I believe this could apply to other assignments as well. I really don't assign a lot of homework in my college class. I try to focus on what is really important as part of the building block of the students learning.


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Comment by Kate Fanelli on January 5, 2009 at 8:10pm
That was a great idea.

In my experience, relevance is a much more powerful motivator than a grade, and you found a way to capture that. I remember my college statistics class because we were allowed to take in notes. It was a half a page of notes (as many as you could fit, so if you wrote small, you could take more notes in). For the second test it was a full page of notes, but the tests were cumulative, so it was smart to just keep your first set and add another half page for the new stuff. By the 5th test, we had a lot of notes and a really great summary of the class.

Just making the notes was all I needed to study, but that was the whole point: to give focus to your studying and to give you a reward/incentive to study. I wasn't an education major at the time, but now as a teacher I realize how smart that approach was. As a student I just thought it was a really nice thing for our professor to let us do.

I'm requiring my high school students to make "foldable" notes (a note taking technique made famous by Dinah Zike). They can use these notes on their tests. I'm hoping for a similar effect that you got from your students and that my stats prof got from us.
Comment by Alan Beam on January 5, 2009 at 8:41pm
Thanks for sharing on my blog about study guides. Your professor had an interesting approach to getting students to take notes. I could see how focus on developing the notes would assist students in understanding the material. You mention you are using foldable notes. I spent some time at the beginning of class showing how students take notes on the front of a page and then fold to cover what they wrote. Then they wrote questions related to the notes on the blank side showing. This way they could go back and quiz themselves. When in doubt just open the fold and see the notes. Is this the same method? Like to hear how your approach works.

I also have another challenge (which is a good challenge) but we have a 1 to 1 computer program for students. So students tend to use their computer to either type notes (which means they can print them out and do what i was talking about). But many of them just use the ppt I provide and type in the note section.

Anyway thats again for sharing look forward to hearing more of your ideas.
Comment by Kate Fanelli on January 6, 2009 at 2:42pm
I teach in a special education day treatment center. My students are emotionally impaired, so there's nothing in their diagnosis to say that they can't do the work, but for a variety of reasons they haven't done the work. I find, like Matt, that they don't know how to take good notes. I am very explicit with them on making their foldable notes and I check in frequently to make sure they are doing them correctly. Even that hasn't seemed to guarantee that they will learn from them or use them as reference, so next year (and for some classes, this year), I am going to give them a chance to practice referring back to their notes on a subsequent assignment. I'm also going to ask them to create a digital project that explains the content of the notes. We'll see if that helps.

The hands on aspect of making foldable notes is also good. Students who normally wouldn't attempt a note taking activity are better at foldables because the first step of the assignment isn't writing (it's folding and stapling), and because the notes are already organized for them. They don't have to decide what's important or how to organize things, they just have to figure exactly what to write.
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