Things I’ve Learned – Tell Them Why

February 4, 2010 at 4:06 pm Leave a comment

I hear instructors talking about how their students lack motivation and display little to no effort. They can’t figure out why, so there’s usually a shrug of the shoulders followed by a sigh. In the last few years I’ve made a concentrated effort to tell my students “why” – why they should take notes in class, why they should try to solve the problem instead of waiting for the instructor to do it, why they should do homework, etc.

Students will do the work if they know why they are doing it. This is especially crucial for developmental students. Based on their high school experience homework is just a task – it’s our job to let them know that the purpose of doing homework is to increase their understanding and that it’s not just some task that will be checked off. They need to know that we take notes in class not just to keep busy, but instead to keep a transcript that they can use outside of class. So I tell them why.

A perfect example is my new MyMathLab homework/quizzing policy. Can you imagine developmental math students doing homework that is worth 0% of their grade? My students do. (In my class homework is worth 0%, and serves as a prerequisite for the quizzes in MyMathLab.) On the first day of class I explained to them that the homework is there for them to gain understanding while using any resources available to them, and that the homework is intended to prepare them for the quizzes. That made so much sense that they were willing to accept this, and they have been doing their homework faithfully.

“Tell Them Why” does not just apply to getting students to work, but also to helping students understand mathematics. Telling them why we use a certain procedure, rather than just saying “Here are the steps”, will help your students to gain conceptual understanding and be more likely to buy in.

Tell them why.

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there are topics you’d like me to address in future articles, or if there’s something you would like to share, send in your requests through the contact page on my web site. Be sure to check out next Wednesday’s article.  – George

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Entry filed under: Math, Potpourri. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

General Teaching – New Statistics Approach Creating MyMathLab Homework (for Beginners)

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