As a runner, one of the most difficult things to do is get out of bed for that morning run on a cold day. Clearly, there needs to be a certain amount of intrinsic motivation to do this, but some extrinsic motivation can be added by promising to meet a friend for the run: you don’t want to leave your friend hanging.
Often as not, though, these early morning runs are solo. So, one way I’ve learned to make this a little less difficult is to remove as many obstacles to the run happening: I lay out my shirt, jacket, shorts, hat, gloves, shoes, watch, iPod, headphones, water and nutrition the night before. In the morning, all I need to do is pull back the covers, pull on everything laid out on the floor, and get out the door before I even realize what is happening!
So, what are some of the obstacles to teenage boys completing assignments or even remembering them? Aside, perhaps from mild laziness or a lack of understanding of consequences of not doing their work, there are two main issues. Firstly, that they often just don’t care about homework assignments unless the stakes are high enough. And secondly, that they feel it is too much trouble to take notes (particularly at the end of the class when they are focussed on getting out the door), find the assignment in the backpack, or login to a system to look up the calendar: they’d rather wing it by trying to use their memory for everything.
This isn’t the place for a discussion of intrinsic motivation, authentic assessment, or choice and ownership in the learning process - all matters that address the first obstacle to student motivation and organization.
However, there are many opportunities opening up to educators to address the second obstacle which are perhaps analogous to laying out the running clothes the night before. Again smartphones offer many of these opportunities, but also more traditional interfaces do so too:
- Students can ‘follow’ a teacher’s Twitter feed to stay current on assignments, timelines, and homework;
- Students can add a course calendar to their own calendar through such clients as Gmail: all assignments posted on the calendar will automatically appear on their on calendars;
- Teachers can use a course management system to automatically email assignments updates to everyone enrolled in the class - even parents (enlisting parents to add some extrinsic motivation may be similar to making a running date with a friend);
- Even Facebook offers many opportunities for communication - students add a course’s Facebook page as a friend, and then receive class updates on their homepage.
Of course, these course management systems can be used to post information about assignments where students can sign in and look them up, but often students do not make the effort to do so. However, with little effort on the teacher’s part, this information can be available at the students’ fingertips.
Clearly, I’m not advocating that we pander to students’ laziness (“if they can’t be bothered to look up or just write down the homework, why should they pass my class?”), but rather that most classes have objectives that are of a higher priority than organization, and that if we can remove obstacles to students actually completing assignments for our class, then students are more likely to meet our learning objectives for a course.
That’s not to say, however, that these organizational skills are not important for teenagers with their developing executive functioning abilities and developing frontal lobes, just that it shouldn’t take a disproportionate amount of time or effort for teachers or students to communicate. Time can be usefully spent at the beginning of a course helping students to set up a Twitter feed, adding a Google calendar, making sure emails show up on the notifications center on their phones, or adding the course Facebook as a friend.
When assignments are popping up on their phones, students are more likely to remember and complete the assignment just as the runner who has laid out the clothes is more likely to get out of bed.