Negative Reinforcement

From Function of Time:

The big “intervention” (the psychologist’s word of choice these days, it seems) was: Each day before class, I write on the whiteboard the list of the problem numbers assigned for homework that night. While class is going on, I am looking for positive learning behaviors (taking out materials without being asked, attempting practice problems, volunteering to answer questions, asking questions, etc). If all goes well for 5-10 minutes, I quietly X out one of the homework problems. By the end of the period they may have 3 or 4 less problems to do that night.

Clever; I’ve never heard of this trick before. I don’t have any classes this year that need it, though.

Also, my classes from early in my career that needed extreme measures never did homework anyway, so this wouldn’t have worked.


3 Responses

  1. Yeah this would probably work but it also sends the message that homework is just a punishment for bad behavior (or not doing it a reward for good behavior). If homework is going to be assigned at all it should be for a more important reason than this.

  2. I think the subtle difference of subtraction for good behavior rather than addition for bad behavior makes the association at an extra meta-level, at least.

    However, regarding homework given for an important reason, that does touch on the other reason this wouldn’t work for me — I don’t give much homework. I assign exactly the amount I believe they need.

  3. Sure, I think that it would also be okay to legitimately get to the end of the lesson and change around the homework assignment based on what happened in class, “gee you guys really understand the product rule I guess you don’t have to do 1-27 odd after all” -and maybe this is authentically because you were able to get through more material in class than normal or whatever…
    I don’t give too much homework either and since reading Alfie Kohn’s “The Homework Myth” a few weeks back I am trying to give even less.
    I think my main issue with the idea is that it tries to use homework to manipulate the kids behavior, I try to get kids to behave by creating engaging lessons and connecting with them.
    Thanks for an always good blog.

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