Engaging students with homework … a developmental approach

In a prior post, I provided you with a link for homework assignments I, along with Hal Kiess, and Josh Sandry, put together for our students and yours.

My homework sheets were created out of necessity. When I was a graduate student, I spent a year as a research assistant, I spent a year on a fellowship, I even spent a year as a statistical/ research consultant for medical residents. The other two years I spent as the teaching assistant for a research methods class. As such, I never even saw statistics being taught except when I was a student in the class.

 My first year out of graduate school, I wasn’t surprised when I was assigned to teach behavioral statistics. What I was shocked at, however, is that though my students were delightful, they were terrified of mathematics. I had heard of math anxiety, but never really thought much of it, until that first year teaching. However, nothing prepared me for a visit from one of my students. Now, I had already had her in research methods (as it was taught before statistics … a discussion for a future blog). She was an exceptional student: attentive, hard working, asked great questions. Not surprising, she earned an A in research methods. Now it was time for statistics. She met me in my office trying to convince me she had something akin to dyslexia. Well, as a former elementary school teacher, I knew what dyslexia looked like, and I said to her flat out that she did not show signs of dyslexia. She looked sad, and said, well, it’s dyslexia but with math. Before I could control my comments, I asked if she had dyscalculia, she responded that she did, and a very inappropriate phase came out of my mouth, as I wondered, how I was going to teach … this student!

Dyscalculia http://www.dyscalculia.org/ is a mathematical learning disorder. Fortunately for the student, I had been formally trained in how to teach students with learning disabilities. However, even if you haven’t been what I did for this student is outlined, more or less, in “A Letter to my Math Teacher” which can be found at http://www.dyscalculia.org/teacher.html . To aid this student, I made up the homework sheets. The focus was on keeping the work simple. I laid everything out so that the student could have a fair amount of practice, without being overwhelming. Now, this first time through I did everything by hand. However, when the student asked me to make copies for members of her study group, I began giving it to all of the students in the class.

 I noticed that the homework assignments decreased the students’ anxiety, especially when I included the answers. In the last several years, I have added to the homework assignments, making sure that the questions are set up to help students to focus on the statistical concepts (as they often seem prone to want to switch over to a step 1, step 2, etc. approach to statistics).

When I survey my students, they report that they study 5 – 8 hours every week and that most of that time is spent on the homework assignments, which they also report helps them in mastering the material. In fact, my next year’s class will have three more homework assignments than this past year’s class, because students asked for more homework of a very specific kind to help them in further understanding concepts.  

For you … the good news is, you don’t even have to make up the assignments, just print them out for your students by following the link http://www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/product/Assignments-and-Exercises-for-Students-for-Statistical-Concepts-for-the-Behavioral-Sciences-4E/9780205797509.page. Of course, as always, I look forward to hearing about how you handle homework with your students and how you think it is working toward helping your students to truly master the concepts of statistics.

Until the next time –  happy thinking!

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