Homework and The Hook

Still encouraging students to complete their homework using behaviourism? I switched to The Hook a couple of years ago and started having far fewer discipline issues.

The HookBehaviourism uses positive and negative reinforcement, as well as punishment, to shape
behaviour. The Hook goes one step further by convincing the individual that their actions are part of who they are. It pushes the individual from extrinsically to intrinsically motivating a set of behaviours.

When I started teaching, behaviourism was the flavour of the day. Not that I knew what I was doing! Homework completion was positively reinforced daily, poor homework negatively reinforced (by ignoring it) and no homework punished. There were plenty of conflicts and unhappy students.

Later came the homework contract, where the class would draft a contract that agreed upon a set of rules governing the completion and standard of homework produced. Slight improvements, but still a large cohort of poorly completed assignments and still plenty of standing students being punished for their empty homework-less pages!

Three years ago I began implementing a new system, whereby students without homework on a particular day needed to complete the work twice for the following day. My reasoning was that homework was a means to check your understanding of material covered in class. Attempting the homework was essential to identify if you actually understood the material, it was a form of continuous assessment. If homework was not presented on the due date then the student was denying themselves a learning opportunity by correcting their work. The consequence was that the homework had to be completed an additional time, and presented to me the next day, in order to make up for this lost learning opportunity.

This resulted in more improvements, but not enough.

The breakthrough however came about via a change in my attitude towards teaching and learning, and it was inspired by Carol Dweck’s growth mindset concept.

For anyone not familiar with Dweck’s work, it states that kids who believe they can improve and become smarter as a result of effort and practice achieve higher grades than students who believe their intelligences are fixed. These students are more resilient when faced with difficult problems and fear of failure decreases because students understand that mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process. They also come to understand the importance of assessing your work and how it is an integral part of your growth in learning.

I had re-framed the idea of homework for students by making it a necessary part of the learning process. But I had also unintentionally created a new identity for the students, one that they began to subscribe to and believe in. Students started to own their learning as they began to see themselves as lifelong learners in the classroom.

As a result, homework problems became a Hook to reinforce their behaviour (in a way that is more involved than classical or operant conditioning).

If students were posed a problem they didn’t solve a question correctly (trigger), it encouraged them to check for a solution and the cause of the misunderstanding (action), which they immediately fixed. The reward for this action was entirely intrinsic, because their competency in the subject improved. Because this structure of homework completion became the socially acceptable way to behave in the class students became invested in the process and consequently self-assessment and the growth-based mindset became a part of who they were. Given that this process repeated when correcting all homework sets throughout the year meant that issues related to homework completion and their related discipline problems decreased dramatically.

To finish, I need to say that not all students have changed their mindset and it hasn’t eliminated all of the problems. But there has been a marked improvement.

So why not give it a try and let me know how successful it was?