Awakening Your Inner Bruce Lee: Homework without Homework

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Bruce Lee
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In Enter the Dragon, a classic martial arts movie, the legendary Bruce Lee is asked about his self-defense style. “I call it fighting without fighting,” Lee’s character answers, and moments later he defeats his would-be opponent without throwing a punch or breaking a sweat. Lee does, indeed, win by fighting without fighting.

I recently watched Enter the Dragon again (I’ve seen it at least 20 times), and it struck me that Lee’s philosophy can be applied to teaching and learning.

No matter how much I write about what a monumental waste of time traditional homework is, some teachers continue to argue its merits and, sadly, they continue assigning it to their students. They can’t escape the outdated notion that students need traditional homework.

Like Lee’s unsuspecting opponent, some teachers struggle to comprehend the philosophy of homework without homework.

Summoning your inner Bruce Lee

What if I told you that you can easily inspire students to learn at home without assigning homework? No more workbook activities or worksheets needed. No copying spelling lists or textbook questions. No research outlines and no study guides. When principals or parents ask, “What is the homework policy,” you can amaze them by channeling the legend himself: “That’s easy,” you’ll say. “My policy is Homework without Homework.

“How does that work?” will certainly follow. Now, you’ve got them. As Lee did in Enter the Dragon, you can captivate them with your answer.

5 ways to inspire out-of-class work without assigning homework

1-Create a yearlong project: The best way to motivate students to work on their own is to help them create a project that they build all year. In the social sciences, this is remarkably easy. Use the Reading All Year project, or RAY. Give students an exhaustive reading list (hint: allow them to add and choose what they read). Read in class as often as possible, and use the reading as a springboard for everything else you teach. Meanwhile, explain that reading and writing outside of class nightly will help projects grow, while creating an ongoing conversation about learning. Set goals. For 100 students, try the 2,500-book challenge; this means all 100 students combined will read 2,500 books by the end of the year. Be sure to celebrate reading.

2-Introduce the Information Treasure Hunt: I just made up this name; you can call it anything. In some cases, it could be a web quest. The idea is to make knowledge a valued treasure that all students want to find. Build incentives for locating treasure, which is nothing more than extension of your in-class lessons and activities. For example, in math, the treasure hunt might involve finding real-world examples of weekly math lessons. Students can interview engineers, accountants or bankers. They can build something at home and design a blueprint of what they’ve built. They can take pictures of math activities or make a library of resources they find on the web, related to class activities. The challenge is always to improve the treasure.

3-Make it social: Create a class Facebook page, Twitter account, Pinterest page or other social network, dedicated to extending learning in your class. Challenge students to teach you, parents and their peers by constructing a social network about class lessons. Emphasize that learning goes on 24/7, and they can create, locate and share information to the learning community anytime, using their mobile devices. They’re using them, anyway, so why not learn with them?

4-Make out-of-class learning fun: Banish the word homework from your vocabulary. Homework is work, and most work is not fun. Convince students that there is no homework in your class ever. You run an exciting, adventurous learning community, and its members will want to contribute to the community, as long as learning is fun.

5-Never grade out of class work: Learning can’t be measured, so nothing should ever be graded. You may be stuck in the traditional grades world, but you don’t have to grade everything. I can’t emphasize enough that if you grade out-of-class work, students will see it as homework, and they’ll hate it. And many won’t do it. If you make it an adventure, a treasure hunt, and a chance to use social media, your students will love it. Best of all, they will choose to do it. Learning will become a 24/7 endeavor, and you will amaze everyone by inspiring learning without homework. Students, parents, and administrators will love you.

Assign homework without homework, and some place in the cosmos, the late legend, Bruce Lee, will smile.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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