Thursday, October 18, 2012

Charles Adler Show - Discussion on Bullying (Updated)

(photo from http://audio.tutsplus.com/)
Join the show at 3:30pm EST here: http://charlesadler.com/

I am was delighted to be asked to contribute to the bullying discussion on the Charles Adler Show, a nationally syndicated radio show in Canada, today. (3:30-ish EST) http://charlesadler.com/

Unfortunately the segment got canceled, due to some breaking news. However, you might find the organizations, resources, and videos still helpful in your efforts to provide 'YourKids' a safe learning environment. 

Protecting our kids from bullying and its online counterpart (cyber-bullying) takes a complete effort from kids, home partners, teachers and school administrators. We should not wait until the next tragic story of a tormented and hopeless child to surface before we act.

Preventing harmful behavior is not an event. Its cessation requires constant attention and consistent effort. We cannot stand on the sidelines while a child is being harmed because it's inconvenient or because they are not 'YourKid'.

Every child deserves to live and learn in a safe environment. You have a part. You can positively impact a child's life. Don't stand in the shadows. Act.

Some of the resources I have found useful in our classroom and for my kid's home partners.

Organizations
Cyberbullying Research Center
National Education Association's Bully Free Initiative
Not in Our Town
The Bully Project
Robinson Community Center (University of Notre Dame)
Common Sense Media Curriculum and resources for Digital Citizenship

Resources
Cybraryman's Bullying Page
Free Technology for Teachers (Richard Byrne)
The Bully Project Resources for Parents, Educators, Students
Myths about bullying
NCTE  Lesson plans for creating a learning community in your classroom.
Learn Boost Digital Citizenship Resources

Videos I've Used in Lessons
The Price of Silence - PSA
Fight on NYC 6 Train
Stand Up, Stand Out
Jonah Mowry - What's Going On
Another useful one if only to watch how the teacher handles the conversation.
That's So Gay 

My post on what we did in my class to address the meanness.
Erasing Meanness

I would love if you took the time to comment and tell me what you think or what you have done to "Erase Meanness"
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Saturday, October 6, 2012

How I Use Social Media for My Students

Aside from our classroom and the daily interactions I have with my kids, and every other building kid within high-five reach, can you think of a more effective method than social media to inform, connect, and celebrate students?

I'm fortunate to work in a district that values teachers' judgement and allows them to balance the freedom of social media with their obligation to model a high level of professionalism. I am trusted to use the creativity that the various platforms offer and keep the student's best interests in mind.

If I taught in Missouri or NYC, I couldn't use social media  platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest to connect or celebrate with students and home partners. That's a shame. I understand the wariness of being online, I really do. Social media can be used to hurt and cause harm. It can be a dangerous and damaging forum. However, it's the user and how social media is used that's the real problem.

It's dangerous for children to cross the street, but we don't ban cars. It's important for adults to teach kids how to cross the street without getting hit. It's the same for social media.

If a teacher can't use social media in a responsible way with school aged children, then I don't think they should be a teacher. Move along Betty, I don't need you staining the profession with your poor choices.

Some of the ways that I've used social media with my students and their home partners.


Twitter
  • I often engage home partners and students with the question of the day answer. Fun, mostly meaningless, but usually tied to what we are doing or have talked about in class. Sometimes a little cyrptic to foster the question, "what does this mean?"
  • Updates and reminders. Picture day, assemblies, book orders, cookie money, whatever. There is a lot going on in my kid's homes, if a tweet can help my parents remember something, I send it.
  • Our class has a 'Twitter job' whose responsibility it is to send out 140 descriptions of exciting or interesting things we are doing in class. 
  • I tweet out photos from things that we might be doing in class that day. Reading on the lawn, Science investigations, or Math explorations. Donut parties included.
  • If one of our classmates accomplishes something special or receives recognition. It absolutely gets a tweet.
  • My kids and home partners get to see responsible tweeting on my timeline. I have a positive digital footprint and model how you can use Twitter, without being a jerk or hurtful to others. That's important to me and important for them.
  • Update 10/2014 This year I started our own classroom Twitter account @LaSalleElem216 We now hand the handle to our class Twitter job. It has been a great thing for us. The Twitterer sometimes pokes fun at me, tweets inside jokes, but is almost always student originated. 

Facebook

Facebook is an easy punching bag for the media when the forum is used to bully someone, inflict harm, or characterize it as the starting point for evil. Uninformed or non-involved parents  use the overblown danger as a reason to keep their children from the forum. That's a shame.

I use Facebook:
  • To share the great things we do in our classroom. From photos of student projects and mundane classroom going ons to school assemblies and events. Facebook makes it easy to post photos and give easy updates on what's going on in our classroom.
  • As another way to send out updates or reminders. The majority of my kid's households don't have internet access or email, but they do have Facebook. (smartphones). Facebook is just another communication conduit into my kids' homes.
  • To stay connected to my departing students and to establish a connection with next year's students. I created a page for Mr Johnson's gnome. The 'summer me' could be followed around as he moved through the summer. He kayaked, climbed mountains, ate donuts, helped Mr Johnson study, attended PD, and even walked his dog. Follow his exploits on Twitter as well @MrJohnsonsGnome
  • To share our school's first Science Fair and all of the great things the kids accomplished. I posted the events leading up to the exhibition, the exhibits, and the awards assembly.
  • To gauge the mood of my kids or gain an understanding of what is going on in their lives. I spend very little time 'crusing' my timeline, but if something comes across in a post that I can use to anticipate problems that might present themselves in my classroom or grade, I bank it. Friction between classmates usually show up on kids' timelines. Problems at home also show up and help me understand when I need to be a little more patient with outward expressions off frustrations that originate at home. Facebook statuses have helped me rearrange science partnerships, seating arrangements, or suggest trips to see our counselor.
  • To understand what's important to my students. Softball games, gymnastic meets, volleyball matches, football games, and family reunions. If it is an event that my kids love, they post it, and they love it when I ask them about what they love. I share the photos from those events as well.
  • To send a message to an absent student, that we missed them in class that day and that we need them back as soon as possible.
  • Share small inspirational quotes or thoughts. 
  • To let a student know that they are special and to let them know it's okay to feel bad about a broken heart or a failed athletic attempt. They need to know they matter.
Blogger
It can be scary to put yourself and your thoughts out there, but I've found my blog to be a tremendous way to share the great things about kids and the things that I love about teaching and challenges that the profession can provide.

My kids blog too and love knowing that administrators, parents, and friends are their audience.

I write a Science Blog for our kids participating in the Science Fair to help them understanding the phases and have another resource available to them.

Delicious
I share my Delicious bookmarks with students and home partners who might need information and resources to help their students in a particular area. I might not have everything that a student's home might need, but I may help them get started on the right path

Text Messaging









While not technically social media, I started using Remind 101 this year. It is an easy to use, easy sign up text messaging service that I use in combination with Twitter and FB to remind students and parents about important events and deadlines. Check 'em out.



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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Homework Stinks #4 - My Verdict


Really! My dog ate my homework.
( “Homework Evidence” Threadless t-shirt by Glenn Jones.)

In the first three (IIIIII) posts in this "Homework Stinks" series, I've tried to cover the major elements of homework and discuss the issues that impact home partners, teachers, and most importantly, students. I appreciate all of the support and encouragement that I have received through Twitter and comments on the posts during this series. Once I started the project, I almost immediately realized that it was probably more than I wanted to take on. However, I felt that I could add something to the long running, and often heated conversations that a great number of teachers have each year. Thanks for sticking with me.

I have read more about this topic than any other issue that affects my kids, and to be perfectly honest, I still don't have definitive advice on homework practices. I want to do what is best for my kids and I think that after reading close to 60 journal articles, innumerable blog posts, and having countless conversations with peers, the only thing I can say definitively is that I am closer to that goal than when I started. This blog series has allowed me to think deeply about the subject and challenged me to think differently, which is simultaneously exciting and confidence shaking. 

Student's Personal Time
I have my students in a facilitated work environment for 6-ish hours a day. Is is okay for me to claim more of their time? Am I using every minute of time that I have with my students effectively? Do I use homework as a 'catch-up' for the time I mismanaged? Is homework assigned to help or is its issuance simply a habit.

One educator that I respect wrote that he gives homework because he believes that learning should continue throughout the day, but that homework is not optional. The teacher tried to buffer their requirement by letting the students choose what  proof of their learning they could submit, but it was still required by the teacher. You can't say that you are respectful of your student's time away from your classroom, but still command their time away when they are away from your four walls. Sure, learning and the love of learning is something that should be nurtured, but I think requiring a student to prove they're learning outside of the classroom smacks of hypocrisy and arrogance. If I can't get a student excited about learning to the point where they want to share with me and our classmates, then that's on me, not a seven or twelve year old. I'm not going to be the one who prevents a kid from letting the figurative apple fall on their head, because they were inside doing a useless worksheet.

My Verdict for students: Pursue what's important to you, that's what's important to me.

District or Building Homework Requirements
Despite the shortsighted philosophies behind the ridiculous policies that require or mandate homework, teachers still have to do what is required of them. Fortunately, I do not live under such a dreadful leaking umbrella of mandated homework. There are many examples of how innovative teachers have effectively dealt with homework requirements, such as homework menus, creativity journals, multi-media, podcasting, and blogging. Do what you have to do, but do it with an understanding that for most students, homework is an unneeded burden that does not contribute to learning. Let your sphere of influence know that issuing homework because 'we've always done it that way' is nonsense. In a vigorous classroom debate I wouldn't accept that type answer from my students and I won't let administrators rest on their power and nameplate when they issue such a lazy leadership directives.

My Verdict: I'll comply, but I'll be creative and do what I believe is best for my kids. I don't think homework issuance can be a proxy for rigor and should not be used to create an illusion of learning. I'll let the learning exhibits that my kids produce impress the onlookers.

Grading
Research indicates that grading homework is an unwise practice, as it decreases student motivation and effort. Think about a homework grade from the student's perspective. You just learned a new skill, maybe you 'got it', maybe you didn't. You're sent home to practice, maybe you have support and have a productive work environment established. Maybe you are asked to learn in chaos. You do the assignment, turn it in, get it back and you receive a poor grade. What did you learn and what are you going to remember?

My Verdict: I think grading homework is destructive to student motivation and its negative impact hurts students who need the most encouragement the most. "Score the game, not the practice" -Tom Schimmer

Successful Homework
A significant of amount of research has shown that homework can improve student achievement. The issue for me, as an elementary classroom teacher is, can I consistently provide the conditions needed for homework to be meaningful? Some of those elements I can control, or have a direct influence on, but many of the things required for homework success are beyond my control.
  1. There has to be a classroom culture where assignments are valued by both the teacher and students. If the teacher does not view assignments as valuable learning exercises, by not assessing, commenting, or returning promptly, the exercises quickly become more about compliance than learning.
  2. Value alignment of parents, teacher, and students towards homework contribute to positive student efforts, emotion, and learning. When all of the partners agree on the value of the assignment and its completion, students learning and achievement increase, but when everyone is not on the same page, success is diminished. Parental alignment is especially difficult to achieve.
  3. The type, quality, variety, and difficulty of homework assignments have to strike a 'sweet spot' with the students. If assignments are too easy/difficult, are of one type (drill and practice for example), or are of low quality (mindless worksheets), student effort, motivation, and emotion plummet. Regardless of  whether these conditions are met, homework issued later in the year receive progressively less effort from most students.
  4. Most of the reasons (70%) for issuing homework is adult centered. For homework to be meaningful and effective, it should be focused on how the exercise can enhance student learning.
  5. Homework assignments should be  address the different learning needs of the students. Rarely will every student need to practice the same skill in the same way at the same time.  
  6. Students should receive prompt feedback on their homework assignments in order to effectively contribute to student learning. Assignments that are assessed & handed back beyond a two day window from the assignment's completion is fairly close to useless.
  7. The student should have a designated, clutter and distraction free homework area, that allows the student to become as self-regulating as possible. However, younger students are not developmentally ready to ignore distractions for extended periods of time and even with an ideal environment, cannot successfully focus on a singular task.
Even with all of these elements in place, student learning gains are modest, especially in elementary aged children. The amount of elements required for homework that contributes to student learning are significant. Also, homework is largely a solitary effort and is in contrast with almost everything we do collaboratively in our classroom. Most of my students don't have the technology or financial resources to even attempt collaborative efforts or constructing quality projects away from school.

My Verdict for homework practices: I think my time would be better spent on planning and executing engaging lesson plans that take advantage of the classroom setting where a number of the above elements are naturally in place. I'd like to assign work that is collaborative, meaningful, valuable, while allowing students to choose how they can demonstrate what they have learned. There are simply too many things required for homework to be successful and I cannot ensure that all of those things can be in place for every child. I don't think that homework can consistently meet the learning goals I have for my kids. I'm not a fan of saying never, but I hope that my students will never say "Homework Stinks".

Thanks for reading. Probably the last thing I have to say about homework, unless you would like to keep the conversation going by leaving a thoughtful comment. I'd actually love it.

Feel free to visit my Delicious bookmarks on homework. The collection is not comprehensive, but the articles/blogs I've collected here supported and challenged my thinking. You might find something that does the same for you.

I've updated my Homework Stinks reference page on this this blog. There has been a LOT of recent research on the issue. I encourage you to visit the ERIC database and explore what researchers are finding. Use their hard work to do what is best for 'YourKids'.

Here are some additional resources.
http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2009/09/14/the-best-resources-for-learning-about-homework-issues/
http://www.cybraryman.com/homework.html
http://www.endtherace.org/ 


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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Homework Stinks #3 - Teachers' Perspectives

"Really, the dog ate my homework"

My previous posts on homework discussed the history of homework, asked some questions to try and get  teachers thinking about their homework practices and its effect. The second post, although longer than I would have liked, discussed how homework impacted student learning, student motivation, and relationships at home. For this post I want to discuss homework from an elementary teacher's perspective. I would like to talk about why we as teachers, do what we do and  the reasons we issue homework. (As I've written before, many of the issues that involve elementary students transfer to grades 7-12 as well)  
 Let's start here.
  
Parental and Administration Pressures for Homework

Adult Centered
A study on homework conducted in 2001 (Epstein and Van Voorhis) outlined 10 categories for doing homework and found that 70% of those reasons were adult centered. Reasons included to improve student self-efficacy, student self-regulation, and to teach responsibility. This is not to say that Teachers do not always have the students' best interest in mind when assigning homework, but that their motivation might not be centered on student learning needs. There are several factions that put pressure on the classroom teacher to issue homework and most of them are focused on the 70% of the categories identified have little to do with student learning.

Helicopter Parenting & Pride
Parents often feel, based on their school experiences, that homework is necessarily a part of school. I've talked to numerous teachers who have related stories about parents expressing their concerns that their child isn't bringing homework home on a regular basis. The parents worry that their student is not telling them the truth, or for some, they express a feeling of panic that 'Bobby' or 'Susie' are falling behind other students, schools, and districts. I've personally had parents schedule conferences with school administration to discuss the fact that their student (1st grade) was not getting enough homework.  Parents feel that if their child is busy, they must be learning something. I've heard discussions among parents that use the amount of homework their child is receiving as a point of pride or use the quantity as a type of 'one upsmanship'. 

Teachers also hear the whisperings or intimations that if their students don't have a lot of homework that their instruction is not as rigorous, or that they are less than serious about educating children. 

Parental involvement in the completion of homework can be a "two edged sword" (Trautwein) When parental involvement was more direct and possibly interfered with a student's need for self determination, the results were mixed and had a negative correlation with student achievement. (especially with older students)

Policies and Mandates
District or building policies that mandate homework is another pressure on homework issuance. Usually part of a character building program or an effort to appear that the school system or curriculum is rigorous, homework is a outward signal to those outside the school that students are challenged. Not only do these policies have little to do with student learning, they make about as much sense as 'zero tolerance' policies on anything. The requirements don't take into account the students' needs and situations, and are more about appearances and compliance. Successful issuance or completion of a task does not equal learning.

Teacher's Homework Impact
Creativity
The media compose stories that lament the loss of creativity and innovation, while constantly comparing US students to other countries to try and hammer home that public school teachers are solely responsible for the country's 'poor showing' in the standings. Billionaires proudly point to the fact they never finished high school or college and their creations never arose from a textbook. Yet, time spent on homework has continued to rise. We celebrate people who create, but don't give our kids enough time to explore or create. 

Differentiation
Differentiation, personalization, customization or whatever providing students with instruction that meets the learning needs of individual students is called this week, runs contrary to most homework practices. Does it make sense that everyone needs the same practice on the same skill, at the same time?

Self-Regulation Skills
Development of student self regulation is an frequent reason to issue homework. The reasoning is that students need to learn how to eliminate distractions and improve their diligence towards school work, and that homework is the answer. The problem is that self-regulation is just not a skill they are ready for developmentally, especially in K-4. Cooper (2006) found that "younger children are less able to ignore irrelevant information or stimulation in their environment."

Teacher Support
Teacher support is critical to positive student motivation towards homework, including "support of autonomy, (&) competence...extends beyond the realms of the school walls. Perceived teachers' support is important to all students' " (Katz,2010) If students feel that their teacher has not put effort into creating a quality assignment, their efforts suffer.

Questions parents and administrators might want to think about:
  • Is academic activity better than any activity?
  • Is the homework a task or does it foster learning?
  • Can creativity be considered homework? 
  • Why is every student getting the same assignment?
  • Can we expect parents to provide an effective level of support for the learning activity in a home setting? Would the activity be better completed in the classroom?

Coming up next in my "Homework Stinks" series:
#4 (final) My Verdict - What I will try and do in my class for my students and what I have learned about homework through through this series. (Week of August 25th)

Research studies referenced in this series can be viewed on the Homework Stink References Page

Thanks for reading, please tell me what you think.


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Friday, August 17, 2012

Homework Stinks #2 - Student and Home Perspective


In part one of Homework Stinks I wanted to provide some background and ask some questions to get readers thinking about homework in their classrooms. This post will look at homework from the student and home partner's perspective and discuss how the homework practice  impacts them. I have tried to keep the focus on homework for elementary students, but I have found that many of the issues surrounding elementary homework also apply to 7-12 year students as well.

I think it would be useful to look at some research and see how the various studies addressed homework and its various components and their impact on students. Research on homework has increased dramatically since 2000 and with this increased study; we are beginning to understand how complex the issue is. Multiple disciplines have looked at homework, including Psychology, Sociology, Economics, and of course Education.

The research has addressed all of the major elements of homework, such as student motivation, parental involvement, impact on achievement, self regulation, self-efficacy, and effects on different student populations and levels. [A complete works cited section is included in the 'Homework Reference" page on this blog's sidebar. I'll be suggesting additional reading as well]

Student and Home Impact- How does homework impact student learning, motivation, relationships, and attitudes?

Assignments & Grading
Assignments - If students find that homework is too easy or over taxing (lengthy or difficult), there is a positive correlation to decreased effort and emotion towards homework. (Dettmers et al., 2010) Students who perceived their homework too difficult and too frequent, lead to negative thoughts about themselves. (Hong,2011) However, if students believed that homework was both beneficial and challenging, they performed better on standardized tests. Students need to feel that the work is meaningful and that its completion is valued by their teacher. (Bempchat, 2011) The difficulty lies in assigning homework that hits a 'sweet-spot', where the work is not too difficult to be perceived as challenging, but not too difficult that it discourages student effort.

Grading - If I can paraphrase Forrest Gump, grading is like whole 'nuther country and I'm trying to stay on homework with these posts, but grading homework is part of the picture.

The Dettmers study also concluded that grading of homework is an unwise practice and does not benefit student emotion or outcomes. Grading homework is more about grading an effort than assessing progress towards obtaining a skill. Grading an assignment is like getting a 'tick' mark on an auditor's worksheet, compliance not learning.

With most skills in the 'real world', practice is not a primary concern. Whether a high jumper practicing for a competition or a manager practicing for an important presentation, it is the mastery or final attempt that is important. We can assume that the high jumper practiced to obtain the skill, but we celebrate the achievement, not what he undertook to reach such heights.

Motivation, Relationships, & Learning
Motivation - Several studies have identified that "discrepancies exist between students' and teachers' perception of student behaviors and that these discrepancies are problematic in efforts to improve performance" (Hong,2011). The Hong study called for grading and feedback on student homework to improve student awareness of their behaviors. They felt that if the work was not graded, students would not take assigned work seriously. (many others as backed grading as well, Trautwein; Xu)

Student motivation towards homework is affected by the type of assignment. For instance, a teacher who puts a high value on drill and practice will discover that "student effort and achievement tended to suffer." (Dettmers, 2010) If homework is given, teachers should consider the interactive nature of assignment; ensure that the task focuses in on the lesson objective, and that the types of assignments should be varied.

One study highlighted the differences in student motivation towards completing academic activities at school and at home. "Homework involves different motivational processes than do school bound academic activities" adding that homework contains "fewer environmental cues and supports for focusing on task." (Katz,2010) Homework, the researchers said, "competes with activities that students engage in during their leisure time." Students and parents can minimize distractors that interfere with homework effort, but the learning environment is still very different from their classroom where they can readily receive teacher guidance/assistance or collaboration and cooperation with their peers.

In 'Motivations for Doing Homework', the authors found that homework has an especially negative impact on at risk students. Katz (2010) found that students completed homework not out of a sense of intrinsic motivation to learn and achieve, but from a "desire to please" or "avoidance punishment" (extrinsic motivators), and that this type of motivation is "undesired".


Intrinsic motivation towards school declines as a student gets older and starts to run up against their desire to do things on their own (aligning with self-determination theory), making homework more of a chore than a pursuit, especially in high school students.

In the column of I don't want to be in this researcher's class, this researcher concluded that "Pragmatically...homework is bound  to be boring at times" and that it parallels with the working world where you sometimes have to "endure boredom." Adding, that "lack of interest is a natural part of learning that must nonetheless be overcome through persistence." Cautioning that "Homework is largely a solitary activity associated with negative effects." The study did point out that "collaborative (homework) assignments seemed rare." (Bempechat,2011)

The findings of these studies and others, is that the influence a teacher has on student motivation is extremely high.


Learning -Despite Marzano (2003) stating that "homework is one important factor that increases achievement" and that Bembenutty (2011) concluded that "homework is an academic endeavor of paramount importance for students, parents, and teachers", there is no statistical significant achievement gains at the elementary level (K-6, Cooper,1989; Cooper et al.,1998). Despite these findings and in spite of low effect sizes (.15) that support benefits of homework for elementary students, Cooper (1989) still recommended  homework for elementary students.

Let's say for instance that during the school day a child is introduced to a new concept in a content area such as Language Arts or Mathematics. In a class where the teacher regularly assigns homework, the routine goes something like this, a new concept taught, in-class practice or work time is used to practice the new skill, and then additional practice is assigned to be completed for tomorrow's class. The child takes the task home and because it is a new skill, cannot complete the work, fostering frustration. Worse still would be a child, with limited understanding, attempts the practice and completes it totally wrong. The work is returned, maybe with feedback, possibly graded, and handed back. In this scenario, the student is either demoralized because of the grade/feedback or their lack of learning, re-taught the skill, or untaught the incorrect skill.

Skills practiced poorly in isolation, just build bad skills. I would rather a child have the insight and input that as a classroom teacher, I can provide them. While they are in my care and in my classroom, I can ensure that they are on the right track towards mastery and learning.

Relationships at Home - When parents are 'highly engaged' in student homework, students achieve at a higher level. (Voorhis, 2009) There is a price however, as 29% of parents report that their child's homework "is a major source of stress." (Markow,2007) Anecdotally and personally a child's homework has a major impact on evening  home activities. Parent's have their own homework, their job's work that comes home with them  demanding their attention. When kids bring their homework it increases everyone's time on stuff other than time together or time relaxing or pursuing personal interests.

The support of the student's home partner is a major factor in a students' success in completing homework. (Voorhis,2011; Trautwein,2009) It stands to reason that a child with a strong support system and solid routines at home will be better able to successfully complete a required assignment. Is it fair to, in essence punishing a student who does not have those critical supports in place? A child may have the will and the discipline to complete nightly homework, but if a child's home life is chaotic with sporadic mealtimes and interruptions that come with a low time sensitive households, not only is a child's grade sunk, but maybe  their motivation as well.

Class instructional time is owned by the teacher, but time outside of the class is not my domain. I create and control the atmosphere and culture of our classroom. It is a safe, nurturing environment. I simply cannot control the environment the child encounters once they leave the four walls of our classroom. I have no assurance that they will have a safe, productive, and distracted place to learn when they return home. Not to mention the support they might have. Sometimes, many of my students don't even know where they will be in the evening, due to split homes, parent work schedules, and different caregiver placements. I don't want  my students trying to learn in what may already be an overly stressful environment. How much, really, can I expect a child to learn and retain in chaos?

What right do teachers have to claim time away from their student's classroom? Is it okay to supplant the potential for family time or exploring a student's own interests? Does everyone get the same assignment? Those questions might get educators closer to the reasons why they assign homework.

Coming up next in this "Homework Stinks" series:
 Post #3 The Teacher's Role (week of August 19)
Post #4 My Verdict - What I will try and do in my class and what I have learned. (Week of August 25th)

Thanks for reading. Please tell me what you think.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Homework Stinks


"Homework stinks."
 If you're a teacher, you've heard this before. If you're a parent, you've heard, or maybe have even said, this before. As a student, you've almost certainly uttered this phrase in response to the workload assigned  by your teacher/s. Why is the phrase so universal among students and the practice so despised? While my thinking on homework continues to evolve, the phrase is approaching a truism for me. Even though my philosophy and practices are still not aligned, I am getting closer to the coherency that I would like to achieve.

I had the opportunity to complete my Masters Degree this summer and aside from that achievement, I was able to devote a significant amount of my classwork towards the role of homework in our classroom. I've had a draft post on the topic for some time now, but the topic is so complex that I just never could seem to commit the time needed to address in a way that I felt it deserved. So I'm going to 'eat the elephant' one post at a time, four in total.

What the posts will try and accomplish or address:
  1. Start the conversation. I'll try to get people thinking about homework and provide some background on homework, its issuance, tradition, and new thinking on the topic.
  2. Tackle the homework issue from a student and home partner perspective. Its impact on learning, personal interests, relationships, and motivation.
  3. Look at homework from an Teacher's perspective. What are teachers, administrators roles in homework and how do their attitudes and practices (issuance/grading) impact student learning and motivation.
  4. My verdict on the issue for my students. What I will try and do and maintain for the benefit of student learning and motivation.
Even as I write the outline for these posts, the task seems too large, but here I go. I'm an elementary teacher so my perspective on the topic addresses homework solely from that perspective. Feel free to visit my Delicious bookmarks on the subject (tag: homework)

Homework and its issuance have been a part of classrooms school culture since the one room classroom of Laura Ingalls. The issuance of homework is entrenched in not only teaching theory, but in the daily practice of the modern classroom. Homework has been considered the "job of childhood" (Cornos/Xu 2004) and just an assumed part of school life and learning. Many teachers assign homework as a way of helping the school-home connection, build responsibility (self regulation), to develop self-directed behavior, and as repetitive practice of concepts learned in the classroom. Some research has found that homework can develop student self efficacy, enhance learning, and improve performance on standardized tests. (Cooper 2001; Hong 2011; Ramdass 2011;Trautwein 2004, 2006)

Some however, have called homework 'the most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity" (Alfie Kohn.The Atlantic 2009) Many teachers are starting to understand that despite increasing pressure to cover multiple content standards, navigate sometimes competing direction from administrators, and loss of class time that homework is not an answer to student learning. There is a growing movement that seeks to either alter or eliminate the practice of homework issuance. Here is a prominent example http://www.endtherace.org/




"Break the legs of an old tradition" - Italian proverb

Some questions around homework.
  • Why do teachers assign homework?
  • What does homework contribute to student learning? Is it an effective practice and is it based in sound instructional theory?
  • What, if any, conditions need to be met for homework to be a productive practice?
  • Should homework be graded?
  • What is the social impact of homework?
  • Is the impact of homework the same for all students? Low income youth?
  • Can teachers claim or demand time outside of their classroom? And does homework take away from student creativity or the development of their personal interests?
  • Does homework facilitate deeper home partner relationships and involvement in student academics? Or does it add stress and frustration to students and their home partners?
  • Does homework improve the home-school connection?
  • What in terms of assessment or feedback does homework produce? Is the educational product valuable?
  • Is homework the result of poorly planned lessons or mismanaged class time?
Tell me what you think. I'd love to hear where your thinking is. Thanks for reading. The second post of this series is here. Homework Stinks #2 Students and Home Partners


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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Summer Me.


It's been a while since I posted something here, but please don't remind me that apologizing for not blogging is the first rule of blogging. I've been busy. Really busy. Actually, the next person who says that teachers "get the summer off" might just get punched in the face. No, not really, but it feels nice saying that for some reason. Maybe an overreaction to the overwhelmingly negative press teachers seem to getting far too much of recently. I will however, give them a quick lesson on what we do in summer. A post that covers that topic is already in draft mode.

Anyways, I thought I'd share one of the fun things I'm doing to stay connected to my former students and start building a relationship with my next class. I've written about how I felt about last year's class and how hard it was disconnecting from them towards the end of the year. So I thought I would try a novel idea that allowed me to interact with them a little longer.

I followed one teacher on Twitter last summer who let his students choose what stuffed animal would travel with him on adventures small and large throughout his summer. He posted pictures of him and his companion throughout the summer on his blog.I thought it was a very cool idea and I thought I would put my own spin on the idea, so I launched my version of 'Flat Stanley this summer.

  
I created the "summer me" in the form of a gnome. Of course I had to create his own Twitter handle (@MrJohnsonsGnome) and Facebook page. I threw in some history, geography, and guessing into the mix to keep it fun and fresh. The reactions have been terrific, albeit a little smaller than I would have liked, but the effort has been a lot of fun and certainly worth the time!

He's been clothes shopping.
Walked my dog
Studied and helped me write papers
and traveled the country

He'll be busy throughout the summer. Feel free to join in on the fun.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

An Open Letter to This Years's 6th Grade

Dear LaSalle's 6th Graders,

(I'm writing this to you now, because as most of you know that I'll probably be an emotional mess [read 'a big baby'] on the last day of school and will probably not be able to get out even a "goodbye" after the graduation ceremony. So here is what I would tell you if I could. Here you go)

There's a scene in a  movie that was made way before you were born (1989), 'When Harry Met Sally", when the wife of one of the main characters (Harry played by Billy Crystal) drops him off  and before she's even out of sight he says to her "I miss you already, I miss you already." As I write this letter with 10 instructional days left and while I watch you wearily take yet another standardized test in the computer lab, I know how Harry felt.

I didn't really know what to expect when I decided to make the change from a 1st grade class I taught last year, to the 6th grade of Room 216 this year. From the time I started moving in to the school, beginning with the summer custodial crew, I was being warned about "this incoming group of 6th graders." I have to be honest, I didn't really listen. I didn't need to know other people's ideas about you.

I was fortunate enough to talk one on one with John Maxwell once after his speech in which he said, "People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care." You should know by now that I do.

Turns out that there was nothing to worry about anyway. You have amazed me. You inspire me. I want to thank you for helping me become a better teacher. You won't get the benefit of my learnings, but next year class will thank you for what you have taught me. I will be a better teacher because of you. You have allowed me to mistakes,  accepted my apologies as I have accepted yours, and we've all moved forward together.

It has been a really interesting journey as I have gotten to know you all. You are all so very different, but have so many things in common. I'll thank once again, those of you who guessed my age as 20-ish during the "Nine Answers about Mr Johnson" scavenger hunt at the beginning of the year, but it has been a LOT longer than 15 years since I was in 6th grade. It's tough being twelve-ish isn't it?

Some things to consider as you move on:
  • Live your life with some regret. That's probably exactly opposite of what you will hear rich people or celebrities will tell you, but don't be afraid to look backwards and realize that you could have done some things better. Mistakes and the learning they provide you, make you who you are, but don't be so selfish or keep your world prism so small that you plow through life without realizing you're capable of more than you can possibly know.
  • Be humble. Barry Sanders never spiked the ball (Google him). "If and when you get into the end zone, act like you have been there a thousand times before" - The Tragically Hip. My only sports analogy and lyric quotation in this post are here to try and say that you should always be proud of what you accomplish, but realize that there will always be someone better, faster, prettier, stronger, or smarter than you. Be happy and proud of what you accomplish. Don't compare yourself to others. Be the best at what and who you are.
  • Take risks. Not the kind of risks that diminish your spirit, your sense of self or physically hurt you or others, but risks that help you grow and prosper. "Ships are safe in the harbor, but that's not what ships are built for." - Grace Murray Hopper
  • There is tremendous pain in the world, but also tremendous good.  It is easy to see the pain in the world and think that we cannot attain more, but we are all capable of great compassion and love. There are plenty of examples of hope and kindness, you just might have to look harder and remember longer. If you figure out a way to remember the compliments more than criticism, give me a call someday and tell me the secret.
  • Your friends today don't have to last you a lifetime. We all change and everyone have different paths we have to follow. Follow yours.Realize that the people in your life today don't have a ticket to ride along forever. Value and appreciate your time that you have together, but when you have reached the natural end of the friendship. Move along with grace.
  • Figure out who you are before you attach your identity to someone else.
  • Be kind, not mean.The boy or girl you're mad at because their holding someone else's hand or you heard that they said something bad about you, won't even remember your name in three years. They will however, remember the mean things that come from you if you take that path. Erase Meanness and replace it with kindness.
  • Practice my "Grandma Rule" PLEASE! If you wouldn't say it, show it, or write it to Grandma, don't type it, text it, post it, or take a photo of it. Be aware that YOU control your digital footprint and that it is forever. Make it a positive one.
  • Read a relevant book every six months. Not one assigned by a teacher, you'll get enough of those anyway. Read a book that interests you. A book that has made a difference in the world or tells you about someone who has lived an interesting life. I stole this advice from the head of the National Science Foundation who advised it at my college graduation and I have tried to heed it every year since. While I'm at it, write! Blog, journal, keep a notebook of your thoughts, whatever. Writing can unlock life. Choose great words. Get better at writing by doing. Reading good writers makes you a better writer. Read. Write.
  • Wear funny hats. Run for no reason at all, like a kindergartner. Laugh. Travel. Explore. Move out of your current zip code someday. Draw with chalk on the sidewalk. Do some of the things that the old people you know did, but don't want you to know about. Be careful. Be good to one another.
I hope that you realize the best that fortune can bring. I hope that I get a glimpse of what you will become someday. Thank you for spending the last ten months with me. I have learned more from you than you have from me. I miss you already.

All my best,

Mr Johnson
6th Grade 2011-2012
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