Homework Magic

The ideas I penned in this blog back in 2017 are now part of my book Doable DifferentiationYes, I finished that novel, and yes the same strategies work to motivate students of all ages!

Homework wand.001

Imagine giving a homework assignment that your students can’t wait to start. Sounds like you’d need to wave a magic wand, doesn’t it? But I just received such an assignment:

Examine in detail the opening to Joss Whedon’s science-fiction move Serenity, which contains an excellent example of how to introduce a lot of world building and character detail in a very short time span.

Why am I receiving homework assignments? Because I’m reading Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer (this assignment is on page 167) in preparation for my personal development goal of finishing a novel during National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, an annual November event. I wrote one in 2015 but want to be off to a much better running start this time.

Why is this magical homework for me?

  • Because I need what I will learn from it–I want my readers immersed in the real world my character inhabits from page 1, even though that world is our world and not a fantasy setting. And–after publishing over 20 nonfiction books–I need a lot of work on character development.
  • Because I love Serenity–I’ll be immersed in something already of interest to me while engaged in what for me will be a high-level cognitive task. That makes both persevering and finding flow much easier.
  • Because I’ll be learning new skills with content that is already familiar. Too often we ask students to do both–learn content AND process or skills.
    • Have you asked students to engage in a new writing form–persuasion, compare/contrast, etc.–while also asking them to focus on new content, such as a book that is new to them? Why not have them compare/contrast something they’re already familiar with? One thing at a time!
    • Have you asked students to research information for a speech? Ask yourself, how often are you asked to speak on topics that aren’t within your expertise? Again, set the category–informational, persuasive, humorous, narrative, etc.–and let the students provide the content as they learn the form. One thing at  time!

Think about it. Meanwhile, I’m off to watch Serenity. To watch and learn. I won’t be spending any mental energy trying to stay on task, or trying to ignore the lure of Facebook or email, or wondering why this assignment is important. All my energy will be directed toward this magical task.

Four Magical Homework Motivators

I’m not saying homework always needs to entertain or to match with student passions. But are you tapping any of these other motivators?

  • Curiosity
  • The motivating kind of competition described in Po Bronson’s Top Dog
  • The trio of having autonomy, confidence in mastery, and a sense of purpose that Daniel Pink outlines in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  • Choice. Ask, “Here’s the learning intention and success criteria. Here’s my idea. How else could you reach these goals?” Choice is often the biggest motivator of all.

These are all intrinsic motivators. My choice to write a novel has me slicing out time from my other work to make room to prepare for November. Creating “homework magic” can help your students develop the motivation they’ll need to succeed long after they leave your classroom.

What other motivators work for your students?

Are some of your teachers resisting proven strategies such as choice and curiosity for differentiating instruction, or struggling to implement them well?

Check out Differentiated Coaching so that you’re adjusting your coaching strategies to meet teacher needs, just as teachers are to differentiate instruction to meet student needs.

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Jane Kise

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.