Method 3: Consistent Assignments Only (April 2 – 5)

6 Apr

As I have written about in earlier posts, a typical homework day before I began this project looked like this:

1. Practice multiplication flashcards

2. Math Worksheet

3. R.I.S.E.

4. Langauge Arts Worksheet

5. Practice spelling and vocabulary words

I have already determined that no matter what, team homework or team no homework, I absolutely agree that students should read every day for at least twenty minutes no matter what.  There are a couple other things that need consistent practice as well.  It is also good that these things be done at home too so that parents know where their children stand.

In third grade, arguably the most important aspect of math is learning the times tables.  Students must know these before they get to fourth grade or they will be lost.  This year, I had students practice their fact drills at the beginning of every math period for five minutes. For the most part, they knew them pretty well.  However, by when I student-taught in fourth grade at the beginning of the school year, the majority of students did not remember them anymore.  These must be practiced on a regular basis or they will be lost.  To help my students study,  created multiplication flashcards from zeros through twelves for every student.

Another important skill in any grade is spelling and vocabulary words.  We had spelling and vocabulary tests every two weeks.  This gives students at least fourteen days to learn twenty words.  Every two weeks, it was obvious who had been practicing and who had not.

For this week, I tried giving students only these homework assignments:

1. Practice multiplication flashcards

2. R.I.S.E.

3. Practice spelling and vocabulary words

My Part-Time Teacher, Ms. Chelsie, took data on who completed homework this week using this method.  Of course, practicing flashcards, spelling words, and vocabulary words cannot be monitored.  So, the following data consists of who did R.I.S.E. for the week:

Homework Method 3

Looking at this data, I can see that the majority of R.I.S.E. assignments were completed during this method.  This is probably due to the fact that homework time was shorter.  Perhaps students are more willing to do their homework when they only anticipate that it will take a short amount of time.

Pros:

  • Students have more free time to spend with family or enjoy extracurricular activities.
  • Students are more likely to practice these rote drills since they do not have to spend their time doing worksheets or other assignments.
  • Parents are still able to see where their child performs on some of the most essential elementary level tasks.

Cons:

  • Parents are only seeing these skills and not the benchmark skills that are being learned in class.
  • Students have lost the flashcards over time and do not bother to replace them.
  • It is hard to monitor whether or not the students are studying the multiplication facts, spelling words, or fact drills until it is the time of the test.
  • Students are only concerned with completing the assignments that have to be handed in such as worksheets.

Would I be willing to use this method in my future classes?

Absolutely!  At this point in my research, I am leaning towards feeling that homework is not necessarily beneficial to my students.  It is somewhat pointless and I seem to only give it sometimes just to follow the routine of giving it.  However, I do strongly agree that each of these things (reading daily for twenty minutes, practicing fact drills, practicing spelling words, and practicing vocabulary words) are assignments that come with several benefits.

Project-Based Learning Only High School

4 Apr

Check out this video of a public school in Texas, Manor New Technology High School, that teaches 100% through project-based learning.

http://youtu.be/-OWX6KZQDoE

“Students at this school not only get the knowledge, but they learn the application.  So, the knowledge then becomes relavent when they have to apply it to a real-world situation.” -Steven Zipkes, Principal

Students who live in this school zone are chosed at random to attend this school.

98% of these students graduate.

100% of those students ar accepted to college.

For each project, students give presentations which are taken very seriously.  They work in groups to prepare the projects and then present them to the teachers and their classmates.  By the time they graduate, they have given two hundred presentations!  These students can articulate what they know!

So, what about state testing??  Manor high school outperformed Texas state standards in three out of four subjects: science, English, and social studies.

Steps to a Successful Project

  • Start with state standards.
  • Entry Event: Define learning goals.
  • Assess and adjust throughout.
  • Critical Friends: Peer feedback
  • Assess on multiple learning outcomes.

Method 2: Project-Based Assignments (March 12 – 16)

3 Apr

This method is one that I actually did over spring break a couple of weeks ago.  Students were given the following assignment where they had to answer questions about their lives, make a timeline on a poster including pictures and sentences, and prepare a three to five minute speech giving us their autobiography:

Autobiography Speech Project Directions

Autobiography Worksheet

The last day of school before the intersession was March 9th and we came back on March 19th.  This gave them well over a week to work on the project.  Of eighteen students, only seven completed the project and were ready to give their speech when they returned to school.  Here is the gradebook of students who turned in their assignment.

Autobiography Timeline Poster

I’m not sure if the rest of the students just chose not to do it.  Maybe they were too busy over the break.  Maybe they didn’t even take the assignment home or write it down in their agendas.  I gave them the assignment sheet a few days early and I also gave them poster board rolled up in a rubber band so their parents wouldn’t have to go buy any.  Still, I had a very low return rate which is not unusual for this group.  Over the winter intersession, I had assigned a cereal box book report and only about half of the students completed that one.

Pros:

  • Students enjoyed the assignment.
  • Some students only did the worksheet and not the poster, but they were still able to get up and give their speech.
  • Students were able to spend time with their parents working on their assignment.
  • Students learned interesting facts about themselves.
  • Students learn oral communication and become more comfortable with public speaking.

Cons:

  • Project-based assignments are time consuming.
  • With the stress of state assessments, little time is left to use projects in or outside of the classroom.
  • Prep time for the teacher is huge with project-based learning.
  • Some areas, such as math, are difficult to implement in projects.
This poll reflects that fellow educators do not feel that complete project-based homework would not be beneficial to students.
Joseph said, “Because of the block scheduling I have at this school, and the pressure of getting those test scores higher for the Hawaii State Assessment Tests (HSA) and the Algebra II-End-of-the-Year tests, I don’t have too much time for projects.  Students need to learn more procedural things on how to do problems and after that, see those problems as a whole.  If we didn’t have HSAs and the AlgII End of the Year, then yes I would incorporate more projects and Physics labs.”
I could not agree more.  I feel that project-based learning has so many excellent qualities.  The problem is that we are already rushed as it is to get to every minute standard that is required.  There is literally no classtime left to incorporate projects.

Jana said, “Projects are good for older students.  However, parents either don’t have enough money or time to get the necessary items for the projects or the parents complete the entire project without the student helping.”

I agree that a lot of times, parents end up just doing the project for the student.

Would I be willing to use this method in my future classes?

Absolutely!  Hopefully within the next few years I’ll have all the kinks worked out with my curriculum mapping and I’ll be able to include several projects throughout the year.  I think if I were to use project-based learning more often, I would have check points where students would have to show there work to date to make sure they were progressing as expected.

Method 1: The Question Method (March 27 – 30)

30 Mar

I began my homework active research with an idea I got from my vice principal.  During the faculty meeting which initially began my questioning on the purpose of homework, he told me about his homework assignments as a university professor.  For each class, he assigns a reading from the texts.  Students have to come up with a question that they bring to the next class.  Class opens with a discussion based off of these questions from their reading.  I came up with the idea to adapt this to my third graders.  For each lesson I taught students were to do the following:

  • Take notes as I am teaching the lesson (They’re used to this already).
  • Take their notebooks home.
  • Teach the lesson to someone at their house (Mom, Dad, Auntie, Uncle, Cousin, the dog, etc.)
  • As they are teaching the lesson and come across questions, write the question down and have the person initial it.
  • Bring it to class and be ready to share it during the opening discussion.

In my mind, this was a great idea for several reasons.  For starters, they are not having to do rote practice drills.  In my experience, I have realized that I learn something so much better once I have to explain it to someone else.  As I’m explaining and come across something that I do not understand, I discover holes.  These would be the parts where students would write down the questions to bring back to the discussion.  Additionally, it is beneficial in that parents will know exactly what their students are learning.

I began this week by writing a letter to parents to explain the homework change to them.  I printed it out and stapled it in each student’s agenda where they write their homework assignments.  I then had a whole class discussion about the new assignment.  The students seemed excited.

After the first night, I only had roughly five out go eighteen students who brought in their questions.  None of these were initialed by the parents.  Throughout the rest of the week, less and even less brought in their questions.  By today,  no one brought in a question.

Students’ desks are arranged into tables of fours.  I started each day having each table chose one question which they were going to contribute to the conversation.  We would then all write down the four questions and discuss the questions.  This is an example of the notes and questions that came from Wednesday’s discussion:

Questions and Discussion Notes

Pros:

  • Discussions were actually successful.
Cons:
  • Some students aren’t so great at taking notes as this is their first year to do it.
  • Most students forget to take their notebooks home.  Sometimes I literally have to go through each homework assignment and tell them exactly what to put in their bags and we’re already in the third quarter.
  • Most students did not bring in their questions.
  • Some students pretended like they came in with a question when in reality they just made it up on the spot.
  • Not one single question had a set of initials on it.
  • I’d be willing to bet that no one actually even taught the lesson like the were supposed to do.

Would I be willing to use this method in my future classes?

I feel like the only way this method may be successful is if I set it in place from the very beginning and explain it to the parents on Open House night face to face.  This method would probably only work in a school / community that has a lot of parental support (which mine did not).  If parents were more willing make their children comply with this method, I feel like it could be extremely beneficial.  Trying to start something new in the middle of the year is typically not successful.  Take R.I.S.E. for example.  The students and parents have been reading and initialing every night since Kindergarten.  R.I.S.E. is a common household phrase within the entire community.  They know exactly what they’re supposed to do and for the most part, they do it.  A new method such as this one would have to be explained in detail to all parties involved before they were able to make it a routine.

R.I.S.E.

29 Mar

Imagine if every student read for at least twenty minutes every night…

(The following was found at: http://www.tooter4kids.com/classroom/why_read_for_20_minutes_every_da.htm)

LET’S FIGURE IT OUT — MATHEMATICALLY!



Student A reads 20 minutes five nights of every week
.

Student B reads only 4 minutes a night…or not at all!



Step 1: Multiply minutes a night x 5 times each week.


Student A reads 20 min. x 5 times a week = 100 mins./week.


Student B reads 4 minutes x 5 times a week = 20 minutes

.

Step 2: Multiply minutes a week x 4 weeks each month.


Student A reads 400 minutes a month.


Student B reads 80 minutes a month.



Step 3: Multiply minutes a month x 9 months/school year
.

Student A reads 3600 min. in a school year.


Student B reads 720 min. in a school year.



Student A practices reading the equivalent of ten whole school days a year.


Student B gets the equivalent of only two school days of reading practice.

By the end of 6th grade if Student A and Student B maintain
 these same reading habits,


Student A will have read the equivalent of 60 whole school days
.

Student B will have read the equivalent of only 12 school days.


One would expect the gap of information retained will have widened considerably and so, undoubtedly, will school performance.

How do you think Student B will feel about him/herself as a student?



Some questions to ponder:



Which student would you expect to read better?


Which student would you expect to know more?


Which student would you expect to write better?


Which student would you expect to have a better vocabulary?


Which student would you expect to be more successful in school….and in life?

WHY READ 30 MINUTES A DAY?



*If daily reading begins in infancy, by the time the child is five years old, he or she has been fed roughly 900 hours of brain food!



*Reduce that experience to just 30 minutes a week, and the child’s hungry mind lose 770 hours of nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and stories.



*A kindergarten student who has not been read aloud to could enter school with less than 60 hours of literacy nutrition. No teacher, no matter how talented, can make up for those lost hours of mental nourishment.



*Therefore…30 minutes daily = 900 hours


30 minutes weekly = 130 hours


Less than 30 minutes weekly = 60 hours


Guess you now understand why reading daily is so very important.  Why not have family night reading?  It is great to just shut off the television for 20-30 minutes and read… and share.

(Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, America Reads Challenge. (1999) “Start Early, Finish Strong: How to Help Every Child Become a Reader.” Washington, D.C.)

Our school has a reading program called Reading is Simply Essential, or R.I.S.E.  Students are allowed to choose any book and they have to read for a certain amount of time every night depending on grade level.  Then, they log what they read on the monthly R.I.S.E. log sheet:

RISE Log Sheet

Students log the title, minutes read, and genre.  Parents then initial to add accountability.  At the end of every quarter, students who have logged at least forty-five reading periods with initials get to go to the R.I.S.E. celebration.  This could be a movie, water play day, or a school dance.

While I haven’t quite taken a solid stance on the homework debate, I do completely agree with daily reading.  Based on the teacher survey a couple posts ago, I heard some interesting thoughts from current classroom teachers.

Heather said: “Our school requires that our kids read at least 20 minutes each night. I try not to give much more than that. As a parent, I really appreciate when my kids do not have an excessive amount.”

I think this is awesome!  Students still know they have responsibility every night.  Parents can still read with their child which helps in two ways: 1) They get to spend quality time together reading a book that they enjoy and 2) Parents are made aware of the level on which their child is reading and comprehending.  This is all accomplished in just twenty minutes which leaves plenty of time for other evening routines.

Lauren said: “My high school also does Accelerated Reader where students have to read books and take quizzes to get points. So I typically assign them to read their AR books for 30 minutes and write a summary about what they read. That let’s me know what’s “cool” and popular with the students too!”

I would be interested in finding out what types of programs are available for elementary school students.  I think this is a great idea in that students practice summarization as well.  Our school uses a program called KidBiz which the students love.  They get to chose articles, read them, and then answer comprehension questions.  The problem with this is that most of my students do not have internet access at home.

Regardless of what I determine regarding homework amounts, I definitely believe that students HAVE to read on a daily basis in order to succeed in their education!

School Wide Homework Policy

27 Mar

So, this whole idea came about one day during a faculty meeting when the vice principal announced a committee comprised of parents, teachers, students, and administration who would be collaborating to develop a school wide homework policy.  This spawned a debate over whether or not homework should exist and if so how much is necessary.  In our school, families have multiple children living in one household who are spread out among many different grades.  In addition to that, many of them have children who are in the same grade with different teachers.  Parents were complaining that one child would have a lot more homework that the others or the ones in the same grade would be learning totally different concepts.  This is the policy which was created by the committee:

Homework Policy

Now, some of this criteria was already being met by my typical homework assignments.  However, some were not.  This really got me thinking about whether or not I agree with all of it.  At the point when this was given to me, a typical day of homework looked like this:

1. Practice multiplication flashcards

2. Math Worksheet

3. R.I.S.E.

4. Langauge Arts Worksheet

5. Practice spelling and vocabulary words

For my average third grade student, this would have probably taken around an hour to complete (That’s if they decided to do their homework that day.)  The worksheets were usually very similar to something they had seen in class during the lesson.  Going off of the Homework Policy criteria, here’s how my assignments measured up: (Beside each criteria in parenthesis, I will write whether I agree or disagree and why)

Homework IS:

  • an assignment in any curriculum that is reviewed before being sent home, and limited to 1 page per subject area that should be completed within the suggested time below. (Agree – Sometimes it is easy to plan a homework assignment that goes with a lesson yet when the lesson changes, you may forget to change the homework assignment.  I write the homework on the board every morning, so if I don’t end up getting to something that I had planned and it’s on the homework, the student will be confused when he or she gets home.)
  • assigned daily except the last day of the week.  (Agree – I have always given homework every day of the week, even weekends.  I did this in imitation of my mentor teacher who will be the teacher of my current students next year.  I try to do things similar to the way she does so that the students can have consistency for next year.  Personally, I do think that homework over the weekend is unnecessary.  Students need time to relax and recuperate from the busy week.)

When I polled teachers to see how many of them give homework over the weekends, these were the results:

 

This data makes it appear half and half.

Candace said, “I teach third grade with an average of hw 2-3 nights a week averaging 30 mins to an hour. It’s hard enough to get the kids to complete he during the week, which is why I would never assign hw on the weekends. There is not much parent support in the community where I work.”

This is also true at the school where I teach.  I also like that she does give homework, but only a few nights per week.

Virma said, “I feel my kids still need time to relax and enjoy the weekends. I do advise parents to review the high frequency word flash cards daily with their child, so that is something they could do on weekends.”

Good point!  Students need time to be kids and enjoy themselves.

Lauren said, “I voted yes, but it actually just depends. If I need to, then I do. I don’t base my homework on the day of the week. It is based on what needs done and what they need more practice on” and Joseph said, “It depends also. On usual weeks, my Algbera II class has HW over the weekend because the curriculum is more intense than my Geometry class.”

I like that these teachers assign the homework only as it is necessary and not just to give it.

  • challenging, yet can be done independently.  (Totally agree!)
  • corrected on the same scale for all students, monitored for understanding, retaught, and returned.  (Disagree – Of course it makes sense that all of these criteria should be met.  However, it is unrealistic.  There is not enough time in the day to correct, record, reteach, and return every homework assignment.)
  • the same within the grade level classes.  (Disagree – Once again, this is unrealistic.  We would literally have to meet everyday to discuss homework assignments.)
  • a review for a test or quiz.  (Agree)

Homework is NOT:

  • work that hasn’t been completed in class
, graded
, or done by parents.  (Indifferent – While many of my couleagues feel that homework should not be unfinished classwork, I think that it is alright on occasion.  Since I do feel like it should not be finished during recess, this could be a motivation for students to complete assignments in a timely manner.
  • entirely different within the grade level classes
.  (Agree – As stated before, it would be impossible to meet as a grade level and align homework every single day, I do feel that it should be as consistent as possible.)
  • more than what the child can do within the suggested time below.  (Agree)

I polled teachers to see how long their students spend on homework each night.  These were the results:

 

This data shows that students are spending somewhere in the ballpark of thirty minutes to an hour each night.

Virma said, “I teach Kindergarten and give my students a packet every Monday to be turned in on Fridays. Some parents will have their child do 1 or 2 pages a night; others will finish it in one sitting.”

I really like this idea, because students still have to complete the homework, but they don’t have to do it on a certain night.  Some may do it all just to get it over with.  Some may space it out over the week.  Some may wait until the last possible minute.

Tiffany said, “On a typical Monday-Thursday night I would assign the following:
-30 minutes of reading (student choice, recorded on a reading log and initialed by parents daily)
-a spelling assignment- a preparation activity for the weekly spelling test
-math assignment – OPTIONAL (most nights the only math homework the students would have would be the classwork assignment they had if they were unable to complete the classwork in class).”

I like the way that Tiffany makes the assignments optional.  This constructivist approach makes students and / or parents responsible for their own learning.

  • more than 1 page per subject area
 or assigned if it has not been taught that day.  (Agree-ish)

After analyzing this, I started wondering just what is the purpose of homework?  Am I assigning too much?  Am I giving it just for the sake of giving it?  After speaking with the vice principal, it became clear to me that I was only doing it because that’s what I had seen every teacher before me do.  I really began to wonder if the daily hour of homework I was assigning to my students was even necessary.  I decided that I will explore different methods of homework assignments over the next few weeks and see what is most beneficial for my students.  Wish me luck!

Let’s Hear from the Teachers

25 Mar

Hello, my fellow educators!  As you can see in my earlier blogs, I am trying to determine the purpose of homework and the best practices for efficiently using it in my classroom.  One of my big struggles is that my students do not seem to benefit from homework and in some cases it seems to confuse them.  I personally feel that homework is beneficial in that it provides extra practice, it connects the parents directly to classroom, and it instills important study habits.  However, when you teach in a school and community where most people do not go past high school, students come in well below grade level, and most homework is completed in an afterschool program where only a couple adults are monitoring several students, homework can actually be more harm than help.  Perhaps it all depends on these factors of community, type of school, parental involvement, etc.  That’s why I’d love to hear from you and the experiences you have had in your classroom.  Any input is greatly appreciated!

(Some questions ask that you explain you answer in the comments section of this poll.  After you answer, click on View Results.  Then, click on Comments.  Here, you can add your comments.  Also, if necessary, you may select more than one answer.)