It was a typical day in the English classroom. We checked the previous night's homework. I taught a lesson on the next concept. We did some sample sentences together. I answered questions. Homework — three practice pages of sentences — was assigned.
There were 12 minutes left in class. The students began working. A few came up to my desk to ask further questions. In between, I checked papers.
Overall, it was quiet and pleasant.
We could almost hear the clock ticking on the wall.
I looked up to check the time, and noticed one of my students doing the same. He was on the third page. He looked at the clock. He looked at his book. He put his pencil down.
I caught his eye and mouthed the words, "You can do it."
Knowing that he had a basketball game that night, I wanted to encourage him to do the majority of his work in class. No need to stay up late after the game. What if he had a question that his parents couldn't answer? This work should be done in the presence of the teacher while help is available.
I knew why he was hesitating. The last page was the most challenging one of the three. The students had to read a paragraph, find 10 errors and rewrite the paragraph with the errors corrected. My students don't like doing this last part of a grammar exercise, but I contend that it is good for them.
"If you are on a sports team, how could you play in a game if you didn't show up for practice?"
They've heard me ask that question so many times that they've started to ask it of each other.
The message is this: Grammar exercises prepare students for writing assignments. The paragraph at the end of the homework is similar to the conditioning that coaches schedule at the end of practice. It takes discipline to accomplish, but it is well worth the effort. In a game situation, every player should feel prepared.
Why do we have students practice the concepts we teach? We want to encourage mastery of the skill.
We also want them to use some of their classroom time to do this, but we can't force them to do the work.
They need to see the benefit, own the work and accept the responsibility.
The sooner they learn to make the most of their time, the better off they'll be.
Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.