Teachers all over the country (and world too I guess) constantly struggle to get their students to engage in that dreadful component of the learner’s life: homework. From the students’ perspective, after being at school all day, the last thing they want to do is more work. After school is time for hanging out with friends, going to baseball practice, or messing around online.
Wait. What was that last one? Messing around online? It’s true. Even though the internet is continually restructuring the neural pathways in the developing brains of students, taxing their working memory, and arguably compromising their ability to engage in sustained thought, they still insist on using the Web to follow their favorite team, check out new music, and connect with friends. Teachers ought to seize on this connectivity and try to channel it into homework assignments that students are more likely to complete.
Stacy M. Kitsis discusses this option in her article, “The Facebook Generation: Homework as Social Networking.” The idea is to provide students with an online discussion arena (email, blog, wiki) where they can interact with each other using issues and topics from classroom texts.
There are many benefits to employing such a strategy, not the least of which is shifting the paradigm of homework in general. Students can be paired up into dialogue groups and email back and forth about what they are reading in class, generating their own feedback while developing their critical thinking and communication skills. In the article, Kitsis quotes a student who remarks, “Conversing with someone [through email] made the book seem more practical and enjoyable, and less like a forced assignment” (31). Utilizing students’ interests in this way transforms homework into something not quite as burdensome that they can invest themselves in on a personal level.
That notion of personal investment and interaction is at the heart of what is most appealing about Kitsis’s strategy. Students begin to make meaningful connections with one another. In sharing their reactions to a particular text, two kids who didn’t really know each other before have the opportunity to discover each other and grow socially as well as academically. Sharing thoughts and feeling with classmates creates a sense of community in the classroom that could have benefits far beyond learning the subject matter.