Coming up in a few weeks we’ll be running our annual Year 10 English Day. Unlike our Year 9 English Day, where we’ll be focusing on how to make the curriculum relevant and rigorous by centering it around critical literacy, our Year 10 Day will look at how to build the independence of our students as they move into the senior years. One of the ways we can build independence is by setting effective homework tasks. Here are a few ideas:
Raise expectations about students reading texts
Perhaps the most frequent question we’re asked at Ticking Mind is ‘how do you get students to read the book’. The answer is to create a culture of high expectations around reading the novel from Year 7. Teachers will often read through huge chunks (or all) of a book in class and students will quickly learn that they do not need to read it themselves. Rather than this, we can:
- Run text response units in Terms 2, 3 or 4 and in the previous term set the expectation that students have read the book before the text response unit starts. Explain to students that a text response unit is about re-reading and analysing textual elements, not reading a book for the first time.
- Survey students a term before a text response unit starts to make sure they all have copies of the book. If they don’t, you’ll need to communicate with parents or have an agreed upon procedure as a faculty about how to support students who find it difficult to buy books.
- Get students organised with how they are going to read the book before the text response unit. This can involve getting students to set goals about how many pages to read each week, or working out if they’d benefit from accessing a talking book.
- Hold students accountable for progressing through the book before the text response unit starts. This might involve weekly quizzes.
While the steps above work best if instituted and carried our consistently by the whole faculty from Year 7 onwards, at Year 10 we can ramp up expectations. This might include accountability measures such as:
- If you haven’t read the book, you don’t come into class until you have (you have to read it in the co-ords office)
- If you haven’t read the book, there’s communication with parents about it
- If you haven’t read the book, you have to go to lunch time ‘read the book’ classes
Set writing practice procedures which students can use themselves for study
As students enter the senior years of schooling, they must develop study skills for English where they set their own goals and come up with strategies to achieve these goals. One of the ways we can help students do this is by setting homework tasks that they can subsequently adopt for study. We know that frequent micro writing practice, such as writing a few sentences every night, makes much more impact than infrequent ‘mass’ writing practice, such as writing an essay every few weeks. Throughout the start of a unit, set students frequent brief writing tasks (5-10 mins) where they do things like:
- Finish sentence starters
- Use specific vocabulary in sentences
- Write sentences with different structures
Over the second half of the unit, move away from you setting the tasks, to students reflecting on what type of writing skills they need to improve, and which short writing activities they can do a couple of times each week to improve.
Put aside time for students to create goals, organise study and monitor progress
The homework/study strategy above works best when we regularly put aside dedicated time in class for students to set study goals, work out a strategy to achieve the goals and think about or get advice on their progress. In other words: developing English study skills needs to be taught and practiced and we need to set aside time in class for students to do this. One of the basic ways we can do this is by saying to students something like this:
For the next three weeks, your homework will be to set your own study goals and work out a strategy you can use to achieve these goals. I’m giving out a list of writing skills you need to have for the upcoming assessment. Look through it and work out which you most need to improve in. This is your study goal. On the back of the sheet is a list of micro writing activities you can do. Pick out one which will most help you with your goal. After this, I need to see you use or planners/diaries/devices to work out when you are going to do this.
To begin with, you’ll need to model and heavily scaffold students to develop specific goals (like ‘I need to get better at using quotes’) and giving them strategies to facilitate this. But over time we want students to develop the ability to do this more and more independently.