9 Homework Assumptions to Scrutinize

1. Reducing or eliminating homework would further put poorer kids at a disadvantage. Though this might seem to be an equity issue, it is, in fact, a very presumptuous position. Asserting that these families require supplementation assumes current at-home learning experiences are insufficient. Working instead to ask, listen, and respond to what the needs are is a much more equitable approach.

2. Homework encourages families to come together for education. I have come to be suspicious of programs and approaches that view families as an appendage to the school rather than school as an appendage to the family. We should be wary of the idea that only by the school’s intervention will a family come together in support of a child’s education.

3. Homework is the only way for parents to know what’s happening in school. If parents don’t know what’s going on at school, the solution is not to burden students. Rather, it tells me the school needs to work on building stronger partnerships, starting with cultivating student ownership for better communication.

4. Homework develops study skills and responsibility. Actually, no studies have proven that homework improves non-academic skills. [read more here]

5. Homework prepares students for the next level. It is irresponsible to allow possible future demands to ignore the current developmental needs of a child. Excessive focus on the future robs us of today’s opportunities. Consider the effects of preschool becoming more focused on drilling ABC’s than on gross motor skills: more kids enter kindergarten unable to sit up in their chairs due to lack of core strength and balance.

6. Other countries assign more homework and their students perform better than ours. Finland, anyone?

7. Homework → good grades → success. Quite aside from the shaky-at-best claims that homework does actually improve grades, this assumption leaves student well-being out of the equation. Which always makes me think of this profound tweet from Amy Fast last year:

8. Students won’t practice at home unless we assign homework. Maybe this is true if we never give them the chance to practice without our personal intervention. But anecdotal experience has proven otherwise: my 8 year-old loves making math books, writing stories, and crafting scientific models, all without any official assignments. Just this morning over breakfast, we had a casual chat about the difference between multiplication and division.

9. There is no choice but to assign homework because of… There are a lot of reasons that might make us think we have no choice if we want to accomplish our learning goals, but the truth is that there are many alternatives available. See for example 7 Ways to Communicate We Care About At-Home Reading — Without Reading Logs.

Less assuming and mandating. More listening and connecting!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

7 Ways to Communicate We Care About At-Home Reading–Without Reading Logs

Last week, I wrote about my experience in which my 8 year-old questioned my ethics of signing off on her reading log all at once each week. Olwen, a friend in my PLN, responded,

To me, this really captures what most of us hope to convey about reading at home. But, as Olwen states, having them track their reading in a log at home can send the wrong message. Others commented describing how reading logs encouraged their children to read for the required time — and then not a minute after.

This post is about finding better ways to send the important message that you care about at-home reading — without the unpleasant side-effects reading logs can bring.

#1: Share your Goodreads lists: Post it on your class social media accounts, send texts with Remind with the link, send home the shortened link in a paper flyer. Many parents want your recommendations anyway. But if you really publicize books you love, families will definitely receive the message that you care about reading.

#2: Post a “What I’m reading” outside your door (and periodically share on class blog or social media). Great way to help with your own reading accountability, too! Perhaps you can even see if a student will accept a classroom job of reminding you and updating the title for you.

#3: Participate in #ClassroomBookADay (and periodically post a photo on class blog or social media). This is one of the top 5 ideas I’m dying to implement when I return to the classroom. Click the photo below for details!

via Nerdy Book Club

#4: Participate in Global Read AloudWorld Read Aloud Day, and similar events. And invite parents! I still remember the mom who would come every year on our school’s annual read-a-thon day to tell us the story of Brer Rabbit.

#5: Connect your students to local library resources. Does your library offer services through apps like Hoopla or Libby? Does it host special events that will be of interest to your students? Do they hold storytimes available for younger siblings? Do a little research and help make your students’ families aware of opportunities and updates.

#6: Connect them to audiobooks! Share your recommendations for apps and resources to help them get stories on devices at home. Some current favorites include:

  • Storyline Online is a big favorite around here since it shows the pictures of our favorite picture books while a celebrity reads. Free app on Apple, Android, and Chrome.
  • Khan Academy Kids offers their own line of stories, readers, animal books, and more. Free on Apple, Android, and Amazon appstore.
  • Fairy Tales is a free app, but you have to buy coins to access most of the books. Might be worth investigating, however, as they are fun interactive versions of beloved fairy tales.
  • Libby & Hoopla are especially wonderful options if your library pays for the subscription.

#7: Make reading the only homework. There is substantial evidence that there is little positive effect (and possibly negative effect) of homework for elementary ages. In lieu of worksheets and papier-mâché projects, make your only “assignment” to read. DO avoid attaching a minimum number of minutes required, but DON’T be afraid to inform parents of the effects of consistent reading. If you share information like the one below, be sure to assure parents that it’s really less about the 20 minutes and more about cultivating a lifelong reader (and that holding a hard line on reading can be counter-productive). 

There are many other ways to help convey to students’ families that you value reading at home. Maybe if you already do a monthly newsletter, maybe start including a reading highlight with a simple tip or recommendation. If you already have a class Facebook account, maybe set reminders to yourself to share what you’re reading there every couple weeks. Keep it simple, find what works best for you, and center the message on the reading itself.

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In Which the 8 Year-Old Questions My Reading Log Ethics #TeacherMom

Pernille Ripp’s recent revisit on reading logs reminded me about a conversation I recently had with my 8 year-old. She watched me sign the reading log like I always do: scribbling 20 minutes for each day all at once and adding my signature.

Her: “Is that cheating?”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Her: “Like, we don’t write down exactly how many minutes I read each day.”

Me: “No, it’s not cheating. You read at least this much every week.”

This was the end of my rushed explanation that morning, but I knew it wouldn’t satisfy her for long. Sure enough, the next time I went to sign, she inquired again. This time, I turned it back to her:

Me: “Right now, you love to read. We read during breakfast, at bedtime, and lots in between. How do you think it would effect how you feel about reading if we were always tracking every minute you read? If I was always asking whether you’d gotten up to 20 yet? If I was always telling you to set a timer and write it down?”

Her: “I don’t think I would enjoy that. I just want to read!”

She just wants to read. And don’t want to get in the way of that!

We further discussed how in the rare event that she does read fewer than 20 minutes in a day, it is not worth discouraging her overall love of reading. She now understands that my scribbled 20 minutes a day actually is, in fact, about maximizing her reading — both the quantity and the quality of her time spent.

At this point, some teachers might be thinking, “Well, that works fine if they actually read. What if they don’t?” To this, I would definitely recommend reading Pernille’s post to which I linked at the top — she has a great list of accountability strategies that help her know whether her kids are reading.

I myself used to think that reading logs were a great way to remind kids to read at home. Now I know that they can create obstacles that stand in the way of reading itself. I’m grateful for the lesson, and hope it will help me more thoroughly assess future strategies.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Slowing Down Time #TeacherMom

One of the puzzled responses I’ve gotten from riding my bike or taking transit around town with my kids is why I would spend that time when driving is so much quicker.

The more I’ve considered this, the more I realize: the slowing down is a large part of the point for me.

I tend to pack too much into my days, trying to move through my to-do list as quickly as I can, working not to feel to frantic when plans fall through. I know that it is in my own best interest to deliberately build into my day blocks of time when I am forced to slow down. 

As much as I miss being in the classroom (another few years to go until our youngest is in school & I’ll resume), I can see that this time is a precious gift that I am privileged to have. I have the choice to slow down, and I intend to take advantage of it, hoping to learn as much as I can from the experience. Not only is this self-care; it is also a way for me to enjoy the time I have with my kids.

With that, I want to share a poem that has been forming in my mind for a while regarding ways I’m learning to intentionally slow down my time with my children.

“Slowing Down Time”

Where does the time go flying by?

Why must they grow so fast?

How can we slow the pace of life

and make these moments last?

I search for ways to cup the time;

it sifts between my fingers.

But over time I start to find

some ways to make it linger.

We first have seen the love of books,

their words hold time spellbound.

When stories help to weave our day, 

More togetherness is found. 

We’ve also learned to walk outside,

or bike, or skip, or glide,

The destination takes back seat

to memories made wayside.

The ways are varied, small, unique

to cherish what we hold.

They may seem strange, but they are ours

to guard and to be bold.

Featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Creating Flexible Yet Significant Parent Volunteer Opportunities

Here’s the catch 22 of parent volunteers: you want them in your classroom, so you provide meaningful opportunities. They want to volunteer, but with other children, sicknesses, and other commitments, they don’t necessarily show up as planned. So teachers make their volunteer opportunities a bit less consequential — or even give up on providing opportunities altogether — so that no-shows won’t cause too much trouble.  And then when parents do come, they feel disappointed at the lackluster opportunity.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are some suggestions:

1) First, stick with meaningful opportunities. Keep those one-on-one reading slots, small group math work, and science stations. Focus instead on finding a system featuring built-in reminders for parents — with everything else going on, most teachers really don’t have time to send reminders, let alone coordinate cancellations! Keep reading to find an option that might work for you!

2) Rely on room parents. If you have a room parent, leave it up to him or her to coordinate opportunities with volunteers. This might include sending text reminders to parents who have signed up or helping to arrange subs.

3) Leverage Google appointments. Google appointments only work with school or business accounts, and they are wonderfully simple to use! You can add a single slot, or multiple slots with the duration you’ve set. You can also add a description so parents know exactly what they are signing up for! Then, simply give parents the link to your school’s “calendar appointment page” (which will be built in with your school account), and let them sign up. There are even instructions for cancellation. Full details here.

Bonus: use a URL shortener to get a short-link for your calendar appointment page and print it out on a handout to go home to reach parents that don’t check email. Do this throughout the year to remind them of opportunities you’ve added!

4) Use the Remind app. Send texts to all your students’ parents to let them know about volunteer opportunities, whatever your platform.

5) Pick a volunteer sign-up platform. I’ve seen SignUp.com and VolunteerSignUp.org. I’m especially impressed with the simplicity of VolunteerSignUp.org — it is very quick to add opportunities, and it automatically generates an email and a shortened URL to share with parents on social media or on flyers.

6) Work with your working parents. A post in Edutopia gave some great ideas here, including:

  • Scheduling reading circles and volunteer shifts at the start of the day so that parents can help before work
  • Using telecommunication platforms like Skype or Google Hangouts so that parents can read to the class or help with pre-scheduled assignments without being physically present in the classroom
  • Inviting parents to update the class website and social media
  • Preparing learning center materials from home
  • Helping in the school garden on the weekends

7) Solicit for special skills. Perhaps you have a graphics-savvy parent that might be willing to help with logos and posters. Maybe some even have connections with community members that might enhance your students’ unit of study.

8) Focus on cultivating genuine relationships with families. This goes beyond just sending an email when we need volunteers or when a child is struggling with behavior. As eloquently summarized by Larry Ferlazzo on ASCD:

“A school striving for family involvement often leads with its mouth—identifying projects, needs, and goals and then telling parents how they can contribute. A school striving for parent engagement, on the other hand, tends to lead with its ears—listening to what parents think, dream, and worry about. The goal of family engagement is not to serve clients but to gain partners.”

The above article describes possibilities like home visits and doing more listening than talking. I also wrote a few months ago about 10 ways we can partner with parents.

Above all else, we need to remember that we exist to support families, not the other way around. Volunteer work and all other aspects of the home-school relationship will be enhanced when we bear this in mind.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On A Sustainable School Year: An Open Letter to Parents I Wish I’d Sent

Dear Parents,

The year is still shiny and new. We’re feeling refreshed after the summer break, and ready to tackle a new year. In your renewal, you may be feeling tempted to sign up for all the programs and pack all the cute lunches and be all the things.

As teachers, we get it. We feel determined to apply for all the grants and find all the flexible seating and be all the buzz words.

And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do our best for those kids, especially when we feel like we have energy to spare.

But the truth for us all is, as any long distance runner will tell you, starting off at a sprint is just not sustainable. The crash will come, and if you’ve poured in all the energy at the beginning of the year, the crash will be swift and complete.

My personal favorite illustration of this burn-out effect was Jen Hatmaker’s hilarious blog post a few years back:

“[husband] Brandon: “You don’t have to do all that, you know. Just blow it off.”

Me, staring blankly:

“Well, what a lovely thought you’re having there in your brain. How nice for you to be thinking that thought. I want to live in your imaginary world where my failure to do the School Stuff doesn’t mean our kid is the only one not wearing a purple shirt or didn’t have his pictures in the slideshow or didn’t bring in a handmade card for his teacher like every other student. I’ll just ‘blow it off’ and our kids can work it out with their therapists later.”

If we start out feeling like we have to do it all, and do it all perfectly, I will be astonished if any of us make it to the New Year.

This year, let’s set a more sustainable pace from the start. The same blogger posted last Christmas about “Big Day Sabotage,” with suggestions on how to return to a calmer, healthier holiday season, like lowering stimulation, avoiding over-scheduling, casting a simple, manageable vision, and talking about big feelings. These tips absolutely apply to sustainability here as well. Here are a few more to consider:

Be mindful of pace, for your child, for yourself, and for your family. Talk with your students about how they are feeling, talk to them about how you are feeling, and share those feelings with me. While I can’t be all things to all people, I am happy to accommodate your needs the best I can.

Don’t be afraid to opt out. It’s not laziness to opt out of a program or event that doesn’t work for your child or your family. Read about the time I opted out of what I’m sure was a lovely home reading program here.

Work more on your culture of agency than on perfecting details. Instead of trying “keep up” with the level of involvement you might perceive from other kids and their families, focus your energy on letting your child take the reins. If it’s important to her to look like an amazing Amelia Earhart for the wax museum, don’t make it the default for you to do all the work — teach skills like sewing, planning shopping lists, or calling the school office to check for available butcher paper or old cardboard boxes. And be ok with what will inevitably be a messy rendition. (other ideas for a culture of agency at home here).

Stay in touch regarding your needs! I remember when a parent told me that her child had been spending hours on math homework each night. By the time she talked to me, they had clearly been maxed out for some time, and my heart sank — new teacher that I was, it never occurred to me that any of my students would be pouring in that much time on the work I had assigned. I was happy to have the chance to set it straight then, and I learned for the future that I need to consult parents much more thoroughly regarding homework moving forward.

Meanwhile, I will work toward greater sustainability as well by seeking out student voice, putting learning in students hands, and managing self-care.

Let’s work together, not just to “make it,” but to approach learning at a pace and tone that will be sustainable this year, and for many joyful years to come.

Thanks,

Mary Wade

Questions When You Join a PTA Board #TeacherMom

I decided to sign up to help with our local school’s PTA this year as secretary. Especially because I only have a few years left before I return to the classroom, I am excited to dig deeper into the parent side of school.

I’m hoping that because it’s an entirely new board, my continual question-asking will be seen as constructive rather than just annoying. But even as I have started to consider my role, I felt that writing a post might help me synthesize my thinking, as well as to share ideas for others.

  • What makes your school unique? What challenges does the community face, and what are some advantages it possesses? How can you find out more first-hand?
  • What are ways the school already fosters relationships between teachers, parents, and students? What are ways the PTA can facilitate even stronger connections?
  • How might inventorying past and potential events/programs benefit your school?
  • What are the ways parents prefer communication? How might you find out?
  • In what ways can you convey to parents that all their voices matter, even if they can’t attend meetings?
  • In what ways might you be responsive to the needs of parents, teachers, admin, and students as a PTA?
  • How might the PTA collaborate with the administration?

I am hopeful that we can find opportunities to strengthen connections among parents, teachers, and students!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto