Rethinking Homework ~SOL#16

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image from Death the Kid

Homework.

Ugh.

Just thinking about homework brings me dread.

And, I’m the teacher.

I’m taking some time to rethink how we “do” homework in my third grade classroom. The math home links, worksheets, correcting, papers all over the place.  Let’s be honest. In the elementary classroom, we should not be spending instructional time going over homework papers every day.  There are not enough minutes in the day.  If you are like me, homework gets turned in and piles up.  Not good, I confess.

Homework is a hot topic right now with all the research now surfacing about its lack of benefits.  Especially, in elementary school.  Google research for or against it and you’ll find both, but current research is stating that it doesn’t help in achievement.

But, like everything else, this is not one of those all or nothing concepts.  I don’t believe homework is either good or bad.  It can be both.  And, it depends.  I hesitate to throw it all out based upon the idea that “research doesn’t support it”.

Here is what research does not support:

*mindless worksheets of 30 problems focused on the same concept (double-digit addition, grammar sheets, long division, writing the same spelling words over and over)

*concepts that students have not been taught in class

*a large amount of homework, especially for elementary students

I know that the prescribed home links that come with our provided curriculum series in both reading and math are too much.  An 8-year-old should not have to spend an hour on a math home link.  Yes, we have spelling words and math facts and yes, these are simple practices that students could practice at home with parents.  Perhaps this is all the homework requirements a third graders should have – along with reading – for pleasure.

I don’t know.  I wonder more than I actually know.

As a parent, although my four children are all grown and out in the world, but when they were in school, I liked to have an idea of how they were doing in school.  Observing how they performed on their homework was one way of monitoring that.

As a teacher, I do not use many worksheets in my classroom so papers do not fly home every night that blare, “See what I did!”  We use an app on our ipads called SeeSaw where students can take photos of their accomplishments during the day and parents can peek in on this.

As a parent, I know how busy home life is.  There are sports and parents working nights and daycare and meals and for Pete’s sake, kids just need to play and parents need to have the time to play with them.  But, I know the reality is:  Parent Are Tired.

I know I was.

So, I sit here and ponder some more.

Here are the questions I’m hanging on:

*How can homework be more of a communication tool from home to school so parents know what their child is doing?

*How can we illuminate all the bless-ed papers that go home and come back to school begging to be corrected?

*How can homework be quick, beneficial and interest the student?

*How can homework be something that parents do not have to police?

I still think it is important to begin to add responsibility to students, such as, finding a quiet place to work, focusing out distractions, and managing time (some kids do their homework on the bus because they know they have hockey practice when they get home).

I wonder if I could try some of these things?

1. Eliminate Paper/Reduce Problems

*Have a homework notebook (no papers).  In this notebook, students would glue in a half sheet of paper (from the teacher) that has perhaps 3-5 math problems that demonstrate evidence of what was taught that day.  Eventually, students could just write these problems into the notebook, copying them off of the white board/smart board.  Copying from white board to paper is an important skill students need to learn.  It also teaches independence.  These problems would show parents what students are learning and they could see evidence of their child’s performance.

2. Time Homework Takes Students To Do

*I’m also curious about how long it takes students to do the work.  I want to make sure I am assigning homework that takes minimal time away from family time.

Could we add a spot like this?

Beginning Time:_____ Ending Time: ______  Total Time to Do Homework:_______

This would also help to teach elapsed time, a difficult skill in third grade.

3. Effort?

*Could we have students show the effort it took to do the work by also including a rating scale or face that demonstrates this?  As a teacher, I want to know if they needed help.  As a parent, I want my child’s teacher to know if it was easy or hard.  Could it look like this?

How did you feel doing this homework?

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Yes, it’s a pain chart.  But, I think it’s appropriate.

We could start out the year with these two added parts on the homework sheet, but eventually, students would just write them into the notebook.

 

4. Homework is not always math.

Sometimes, homework might be literacy related, or science, or social studies, rather than math.  Some examples might be:

*Find a photo to put in your writer’s notebook. Why? Because writers can write stories from a photo.

*Bring an object to school that tells something about who you are.  Be ready to tell the story behind the object.  Why? So we can all learn a little more about who you are and writers can write stories about objects, or poems.

*Draw a sketch of your reading nook at home.  Why?  Because it is important to have your own quiet reading spot free from distractions.  A special spot to read gets your body and mind ready to read and teaches rituals that adult readers do.

*Sit outside for 5 minutes and write a poem about something you hear, see, smell of feel. Why?  Because writers write about their surroundings using their senses.

These are homework activities that hopefully, students enjoy doing. When they are excited about a homework activity, the idea of homework changes and their belief shifts from drudgery to one of engagement.

Again, I say hopefully.

There are no “one size fits all” ideas in education.

What are your thoughts about homework and what might you try differently this year?

 

 

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Rethinking Readers Notebooks #SOL16

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Books and people inspire me to rethink the practices I hold on to in my reading and writing workshops. The Readers Notebook is a tool my students and I use that I do not think I will ever let go of.  However, my thinking is changing on how to best use this tool.

Last year, I discovered that most of the third graders in my classroom were extremely creative.  They loved to draw.  So, I taught them how to Zentangle.  We scoured You Tube videos and Pinterest on our ipads to find new patterns to learn and practice. We made anchor charts of the designs we wanted to remember.

I then realized that we are all, including myself, are drawn to visual learning.

I wanted some of that in my Readers Notebooks.

My burning question became:

“How can I make the Readers Notebooks more engaging, user-friendly and fun?  And, enhance our learning at the same time?”

My third graders were not always that excited about writing down their thoughts in the notebook at the end of our reading workshop – if only for 5 minutes.  They worked diligently on their weekly letters to me – but honestly, they were doing this for me.

We looked at other options to share their evidence of understandings from the books they read.  Fountas and Pinnell’s Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency suggests many ways to teach students to do this, of course, each strategy needs to be explicitly modeled first.  A few ideas are: webs, character trait charts, chapter summary grids, T-charts, etc.  We added these to our repertoire of options, yet I still did not see the enthusiasm I wished for.

But this summer, I followed Debby Ridpath Ohi  (@inkyelbows on Twitter) and anxiously awaited her visual displays of the books she was reading for Donalyn Miller’s Book A day Challenge.  I’d read some of the books she shared, so I was excited to see what elements she decided to jot down and put on the page.  Here are some of her examples:

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and. . .

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Here are some things Debbie did:

*She added an image of the book and the author.  Visual Stuff. Artsy. A collage kind of thing. I like this because I art journal and cutting and glueing and arranging things on paper are a love of mine.

*She adds what she’d like to find out more about by going to an author’s blog. She notes the blog.

*She drew a few sketches about how the book changed her life – just one thing!

Another inspirationalist I follow on Twitter is Leah O’ Donnell.  Oh, I can’t keep up with this lady!  I sizzle with energy every time I see what she is up to. She also does some doodling of the books she reads.  Here are a couple of examples:

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What did Leah do?

*She lifted quotes from the book that she felt were important.

*She wrote down some questions that prompted her to think more deeply about her own life.

*She added some of her own thoughts about the book.

*Of course, she added her own little doodles and sketches and used lots of color.

I’ve also been following a few people who post their visual sketchnotes on Twitter under the hashtag #sketchnotes The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown and One Zentangle A Day books have also  influenced me here – just a bit.  And if you have time, you have to take a field trip to The Sketchnote Army and  Brain Doodles.

“Could I do this? Could I integrate this into our Readers Notebooks?” I wondered.

Surely, it’s been done in some shape or form.  But, I wondered what it might look like in third grade – the integrating of doodles, zentangles, collage and words to share our understandings about the books we read.

Now, you may be thinking, as I often do,

“But, I don’t want my kids spending so much time drawing and wasting time doodling.  They need to be reading and writing!”

This kind of work supports so many standards and best practices about teaching, I can’t even begin to list them all.  But, I have to, because I am a “Why should I do this?” and “Where is the research in this?” kind of  person.  We need to know our “Whys”.  Our practice purposes can never be, “Because the kids like it,” or “It’s the new shiny sparkly thing.” Even though the kids probably will like it and ultimately that’s what we hope to achieve.

Here are a couple of Big Why’s:

  1.  “A doodler is engaging in a deep and necessary information processing. A doodler is connecting neurological pathways with previously disconnected pathways.  A doodler is concentrating intently, sifting through information, conscious and otherwise generating insights.” ~Sonni Brown The Doodle Revolution
  2. “By using repetitive patterns with deliberate strokes, one becomes engrossed in each stroke and a shift of focus, a heightened awareness in which your mind, instincts, and knowledge all work together  quickly, effortlessly and accurately can occur.” ~Roberts and Thomas (the orgins of Zentangle) One Zentangle A Day by Beckah Krahula

If you want to read more research, go here, or here (under Research Links).  And, here are some visual literacy standards on Edutopia.

And, if you’d like a visual:

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from page 17 of The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown.

A personal thought is also that we rush kids through books and do not give them enough time to let a book marinate in their souls long enough. We need to let books linger for a while, just like soup.  It always tastes better after it’s been simmering all day.  New thoughts and ideas keep bubbling up the longer we allow a book to stay with us.

Like anything new we teach to students, we’d need to start small and with what students already know.  I’m thinking we’ll do some visual notes on a couple of class read alouds first and go from there – adding various doodles and sketch note strategies little by little. Or perhaps they could do a visual page of who they are, an identy project to help us all learn more about one another.  However we choose to introduce this, anchor charts will be a must.

And most importantly, if we are expecting our kids to do it, we need to walk the walk alongside of them, and do it as well.

So, I had a go. . .

Here are a couple of my attempts from some of my summer reads:

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I knew I could do better. . .

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Oh yes ~~~~ this one was much more fun. 🙂

The possiblities are endless here.  And, I love to live in a classroom where anything is possible.

Shari 🙂