Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Great Homework Debate

It seems like the debate on homework has been going on since the beginning of the organized education system.  In many schools, there is a policy (for or against) while in others, it is up to the teachers discretion.  In my district, they have set limits/guidelines, but not specific requirements.  I've heard of others that have nightly homework, beginning in kindergarten- usually math. 

When I taught kindergarten, the expectation was to read every night for 10-15 minutes, then I would also send home one page of math or literacy homework for the week.  The paper was mostly so that the parents could see what their child was doing, as the bulk of our work was hands-on (not paper/pencil) or in a workshop model with nothing coming home until the end of the unit of study.  In my heart, I felt that this was developmentally appropriate even though I had some parents asking for more.  My kinders were working so hard during the day, I only wanted them to read- developing the habit of nightly reading.

When I moved to first grade, my views largely stayed the same.  My focus has continued to be on creating a positive attitude toward school and at-home reading.  I still send home one page of home work per week (still math) and expect nightly reading (students check out books from our classroom).  However, more and more, my students are admitting that they do not read at home- or very rarely- leaving the book in their backpack for the week or longer.  They tell me that they are "too busy", but they can also tell me what episode of Austin & Ally was on the night before.  In many homes, priorities have changed, in just the last  five years.  Parents are no longer asking for additional homework.....  What happened?  What changed?

Our student population has changed.... the economy issues hit the Detroit area hard and recovery has been slow.  It's a challenge to focus on school when you are concerned with feeding and clothing your child.  I totally get it.  But, many low-income families have a strong drive for success and helping their child learn.  The families who do not appear to be struggling financially are also falling away from their dedication to education.  Students tell me about all of their after school activities and eating dinner in the car on the way to a siblings' activities.  Or, they are just watching TV or playing video games after dinner.  It seems like priorities have changed.  I can't change these things.  I can try to educate parents and support them with encouragement and resources, but I can't force them to show up for their child at conferences or information nights and remind their child to read.  What I can control is what happens in my classroom.  Philosophically, I don't believe in much homework (aside from reading) for lower elementary students.  Research is inconclusive.

With the implementation of the CCSS, the structure of my classroom has been changing.... I'm not sure how I feel about it yet.  I can definitely appreciate the rigor and deep thinking components.  We have bulked up and changed our math curriculum.  We are now teaching/ learning math for up to 1 1/2 hours each day.  Last year, it was an hour.  It may not seem like a big deal, but that 1/2 hour used to be science or social studies (never done on the same day!).  We are becoming increasingly creative with budgeting our time.  Our new math has a strong home work component.  I have been using it to extend the practice while in class.  However, I can't take two days on each lesson (even though many students need it!). 

I'm still researching the homework issue in general, but I have many questions:
  • Is the intent to have nearly 1/2 of the practice work done outside of class, at home? 
  • Can my students achieve mastery without the homework component in math?
  •  Will students be hindered if the parents are unclear or unable to support them at home (struggling students)-even with newsletters and tips sent home?
  • Should I make more stringent requirements for reading practice at home?
We have a PD on the math program Friday, so I may find out some of my answers then.    

If you are interested in reading about the research on homework, here is the summary compiled by the Center for Public Education: LINK

Tell me... what is your homework policy?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What I'm Reading Wedneday! - Reaching Struggling Readers

I have to admit.... Writers Workshop has been kicking my butt this year (and my students!).  Although we have followed the Calkins model of workshop for almost 10 years, we were using the mini-lessons provided by our ISD and supplementing with some of our favorite Teachers College authors.  This year, we began using the Units of Study for First Grade in order to better focus on the goals of the CCSS.  There is a set for each grade:
Link to Publisher & Resources
The expectations are REALLY high for my first graders.  One area that I've been struggling with is the assumptions that are made about what my class should already be doing.  Unfortunately, we do not have universal preschool in Michigan, so only about half of our in-coming kinders come in with that experience.  This trickles into first grade.  The gap is coming together, but it is a slow process at times.   Our kinder teachers are often starting with basic letter identification and student name recognition.  The bar is set high for those students who need to catch up.  They have been working harder than they have ever needed to.  Some are discouraged and need some serious motivation, in addition to the basic skills of writing.  The ranges of ability are very wide!  I'm close to our kinder teacher, so I knew that this was coming :(  I recently found this little gem in an effort to motivate my struggling littles: 

Amazon Link to Book

What I love about this whole series (there are others on many topics), is that they are all about 100 pages and they get TO THE POINT.  They are designed for teacher to use immediately in their classroom.

Here are some of my "a-ha" moments:
  • Childhood is one of the few times in our lives that we have to do things that we are not good at.
  • We need to share the emotions of the writing process in order to support the student,
  • Be on the lookout to be impressed by our students, especially the ones who do not feel very impressive.
  • Share the struggles of adult, published writers.  many will share this on their website/ blog.
  • Think about the physicality of writing (my hand hurts).
  • Resist the urge to give them a topic, but rather teach them where they can gather ideas for their writing.  Teach independence that will cross over in all types of writing.
  • Writing is one of the few times that students are never "done".  They still need that sense of closure and accomplishment.
There are MANY more, but it's best to just read the book your self :)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sale, sale, sale!

Wow!  I have been waiting and my cart is full!  Teachers Pat Teachers is starting their 10% of sale RIGHT NOW.  In celebration, I'm also putting everything in my store 20% off.

250 × 120

Check out my newest Word Work resources using Boggle.  Happy shopping!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Record-Setting January.... Ugh!

It's not a secret that I'm from Michigan... born in Detroit, bred just outside of the city.  Normally, I love Michigan- we get to see ALL four seasons and Detroiters are tough.  I'm officially calling "UNKLE!" on the weather around here.  I'm not this tough!  We have officially had the #1 snowiest January on record and the #5 coldest temps.  I like awards and distinctions like anyone else, but not this one. 

We just had "weather day" #8 on Friday.  I have to admit, I love me a good snow day!  However, I'm over it.  My students are suffering from some serious slide (3 weeks off around Christmas) and the inconsistency is reeking havoc on their workshop stamina and behavior.  What's a teacher to do?  Even I'm out of sorts!  I'm working on report card comments this weekend and it's really hard.  I don't think this quarter is a good picture of what my littles can do.  The quarter ended, but I still have a math test to give.... but we need to be in school for that :)

Full disclosure- I'm overwhelmed but I know that it will all be fine.  How have you been dealing with the crazy weather?  Hopefully, we will thaw out by June!

P.S.  On a positive note, we now live closer to school and my commute was cut in half.  On a snow-free day, it's only 23 minutes and there is no traffic.  This has relieved a LOT of stress for our family and my boys get their mommy after school.  The house is coming along.  One of these days I'll post some photos of our rehab work.  This old house needed some serious love!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

New Product, New Sale & a New Freebie!

I've been lounging with my family, enjoying the long weekend.... Guilt started setting in!  I should be doing something, right?  You know what they say about idle hands :)  So, I wanted to float out a new freebie in a gesture of thanks.  Even though we don't know each other, personally- I feel your warmth, encouragement and passion for teaching.  I am also grateful for the many emails that I get each week.  They always seem to come just when I need them! 

I'm a big Words Their Way kinda teacher, so here is an activity that we do to spice up our routine.  We use old magazines (child appropriate!) to hunt for words in print that match our spelling pattern.  We cut them out and paste them in the correct column.  You can get it HERE.

I also wanted to share a new product in my TPT store..... One of my teaching friends is a HUGE fan of Boggle for her word study groups.  She has beautiful displays for each group that changes each week to match the sorts.  She purchase a cute set from TPT last year.  She is in another building.... one that has big, beautiful walls!  I love the idea of Boggle to find words, but lack space.  I just can't give up a big chunk for an activity that is only used for about 20 minutes per week.  So, using Words Their Way as my inspiration for the words, I created activity pages that have the Boggle board right on the paper (which is also great for younger students who cannot transfer print from the wall effectively).  

Boggle inspired by Words Their Way


Here is some more fun news!

300 × 300
My entire store is now on sale for 20% off- use the above code for 10% on top of that :)