Homework? To give or not give

The majority of parents I come across are advocates of homework. They feel that homework is good practice, it will improve their student's understanding and mastery of skills, and that it gives students something constructive to do when they come home rather than grabbing their cell phone or playing video games all evening. A few months ago, a teacher caused much controversy after she made headlines when she relinquished homework so students could enjoy family, fun, and being a kid instead. Was she on to something, or was she not maximizing an independent learning opportunity to reinforce skills and concepts learned in class? Was she stirring up trouble and making other teachers around the nation look like the bad guys? Would no homework become the new tren? 

I've encountered teachers who don't like assigning homework while others are consistently handing out assignments like it is going out of style. Teachers have opposed homework because of the irritation of students simply not submitting it, except for those A and B students, the extra headache of finding meaningful material that students can take on at home, and the frustration of  more paper work. Other teachers assign it to fulfill school policy and/or parental request. Truthfully, teachers hate assigning it and students hate doing it.

We must keep in mind that homework is almost always the least weighted category; it comes last to tests, quizzes, classwork, and participation. Many school districts have banned grading the actual homework assignment, as it should be, but grade it as a pass (submitting it) or fail (not submitting it). Students are not penalized for wrong answers but receive credit for completing it. So is it really important?

Some teachers use homework as time management in keeping the pace. How many times have teaches run out of instructional time and needed students to do a portion at home in order to stay on pace with the lesson? But, how many students fail to complete the assignment? So let's get to the nitty-gritty. What do studies show? After researching, this topic has many pros and cons, but a common factor is that if homework has to be assigned, it should have purpose, relevance and benefit, "and it should be designed to cultivate learning and development."

Here are some points to ponder as you reevaluate why and what you are assigning.

    •    Economically disadvantaged students are unintentionally penalized because their environments often make it almost impossible to complete assignments at home.

    •    Too much homework harms students' health and family time.

    •    Teachers are not well trained in how to assign homework.

    •    Teachers should only assign homework when they can justify that the assignments are “beneficial”, ideally involving students in activities appropriate for the home, such as performing an experiment in the kitchen, cooking, doing crossword puzzles with the family, watching good TV shows, or reading. 

    •    Assign homework that is beneficial to student learning instead of assigning homework as a matter of policy.

My suggestion would be to not eradicate homework, but give it a facelift. Homework shouldn't be complete a chapter inWorld History, or write vocabulary words and the definition. This is busy work. Instead, follow these suggestions:

  1. Assign work with purpose. If you have to think about what to assign, assign nothing. 
  2. Make it doable. Five problems of practice are all that is needed, not 50!
  3. Make it meaningful and engaging. Allow students to conduct a mini lab.
    • If students are discussing conflict, have them watch a 30 minute sitcom and identify the conflict, the parts of plot, character traits, etc. 
  4. Involve others. Allow students to read an assigned magazine, article, comic book for 15-30m and have them summarize their readings to a family member.
    • In math, have the students complete a math problem and encourage them to try to teach it to a parent, older brother/sister. Let them record the teaching and send it to you via email.

Assigning homework every night has no impact if it has no purpose. Reevaluate your practices and develop more effective techniques. 

I hope these word find you well,

Dr. E

 

 

 

 

 

Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987–2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1–62

Kohn, A. (2006a). The homework myth: Why our kids get too much of a bad thing. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

 

 

 

(Student Blog) Honor thy flag...or not?

Colin Kaepernick, who is a quarterback for San Francisco 49ers,  has caused much controversy  by refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem. His defense is that he is in protest of what he considers are wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States.

Kaepernick states,"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

Kaepernick’s actions have generated much attention and prompted other players around the NFL to protest. Some players from several teams took a knee during the anthem, raised a fist, or, in the case of the Seattle Seahawks, stood with arms interlinked.

However, the protests have also enraged many who feel that refusing to stand for the anthem in a typical manner before games is a sign of disrespect. One commentator has stated "Kaepernick is a backup QB whose job is to be quiet and sit in the shadows." He stated that this controversy has "torn the fabric of the team apart."  

Other critics have stated, "Football fans tune in to watch the NFL, not social justice protests." "In the "ultimate" team game, Kaepernick should put the interests of the team above his personal political beliefs."

According to the Washington Post, Kaepernick’s choice not to stand during the national anthem has caused much attention, both positive and negative, that may ultimately cost him millions in future endorsements and affect his value as a player on his team, reducing salary earnings or even jeopardizing his job. If team ticket sales seriously dipped as a result, he would pay for his stance.

What are your thoughts?

 

 

 

Accusations of selfishness

(Student Blog): Can parents go too far in supporting their children's dreams?

Early Show special contributor Ayla Brown spent time with a 13-year-old Jordan Romero hopes to be the youngest person to climb Mt. Everest

Jordan Romero, a teenage mountain climber, had already climbed the highest mountain on every continent by the age of 15! By the age of 13, he became the youngest climber to reach the top of Mount Everest! "Every step I take is finally toward the biggest goal of my life, to stand on top of the world," Jordan said on his blog. Jordan had the support of his father and stepmother who decided to climb with him. It took much training and discipline.

However, although many people supported Jordan and his family, it caused great controversy. Many argued that he was too young to take such a huge risk. They argued that climbing the high altitudes could be physically harming his young, growing body. One psychologist and expert even noted, “Most 13 year olds don’t have the wiring to make cognitive life-and-death decisions and are not truly able to understand what they’re signing up for.”  Other critics argued that he has his whole life to climb Mount Everest; the risks are so great that he could even die trying.

However, Jordan’s dad argued that they are fully aware of all the risks. " I feel good about what my parents taught me about setting goals," Jordan says. Now, he wants to spread that message to others.

Whose side are you on? Did Jordan's parents go too far in supporting his dream? What are your thoughts?

 

Mountains Conquered by Jordan Romero:

• Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak at 19, 340 ft. (age 10); 

• Mt. Kosciuszko, Australia's highest peak at 7,310 ft. (age 10)

• Mt. Elbrus, Europe's highest peak at 18,510 ft. (age 11)

• Mt. Aconcagua, South America's highest peak at 22,841 ft. (age 11)

• Mt. McKinley, North America's highest peak at 20,320 ft. (age 11)

• Carstensz Pyramid, Oceania's highest peak at 16,024 ft. (age 13)

• Mt. Everest, Asia's highest peak at 29,035 ft. (age 13)

 

 

Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room

It is impossible to ignore current events of this great nation. Not only is it impossible, but it would be a disservice to students to not address the issues that are occurring in our classrooms. Whether you teach in a predominately white or black school, or one where the demographics are evenly distributed, conversations must occur. To ignore it is to sweep it under the rug as if nothing is happening. School is real life, and the situations between police, black lives, and all lives, is real. Teachers are trained to bring community into school, to make lessons meaningful, engaging, and relevant for students. It can't get any realer than this! These are truly trying times for many. Educators may be faced with students' frustration, confusion, sadness, anger, and many questions. Are students engaging in deep conversations at home? Maybe yes, or no, but you are the conductor of your train. Have tough conversations with students. How do you do this?

Create the forum and facilitate deep, rich conversations for students. Help them understand key terms such as racism, discrimination, and prejudice. This is a difficult thing to do, but pretending as if their are no issues taking place is crazy. Many students also believe these words all have the same meaning. Although they are similar, they have their distinct characteristics.

Teach students how to respect others' opinions even if it is different from their own. Allow students to share their thoughts and feelings respectively. It is a touchy subject but keeping the environment calm and open is imperative. Everyone's perspective is important to hear so make sure to review class norms so voices are heard.

Allow students to engage with each other. Let them to ask questions to each other and prompt thoughts with their peers. This mimics a student-centered classroom.

Allow students to do the talking and only chime in when necessary. Sure, it's ok to make the closing statements, but make sure you remain unbiased. Clear up misconceptions and misunderstanding. You may also "piggy back" off someones question or statement with another thought provoking question to get those minds working. 

Make this a recurring discussion. As verdicts are announced in the news and while events continue to take place daily, have more discussions. The "buck should not stop here".

Create lessons from current events. Assign articles, research projects, and writing assignments. Students can debate by using evidence from their readings; they may write an argumentative piece, or present a speech that expresses their thoughts. Incorporate a history lesson or allow them to research events such as the history of the KKK, Black Panthers Movement,  Police brutality, etc. You may want to assign a novel to read as a class.

However you incorporate the elephant in the room is up to you, but please don't ignore what is going on. This is part of being a culturally responsive teacher. 

...and I hope these few words find you well...

Dr. E

Summer Learning Loss and Poverty

NBC's Brian Williams discusses how summer learning loss puts students at a disadvantage academically. For more information, go to gradelevelreading.net.

Summer break is a time for kids to relax, go on vacation, sleep late, attend fun summer camps, play video games, and do absolutely anything they want. Besides, there is no homework and assignments to worry about completing; however, summer break brings concerns in academics for students who live in impoverished areas. Summer learning loss is where students lose skills over the summer break. As a result, the achievement gap between low and high income students widen and continues to stretch each school year. How does this problem continue to worsen as the student progresses each year? Students perform below those from higher income homes in classwork and such assessments as standardized tests, the SAT, and ACT. Students' preparation for college and beyond is also threatened. 

There are opportunities for students in low income areas to get involved in summer programs, so seek those in your area. GET INVOLVED! It has been said that effective summer reading programs provide families with meaningful strategies and resources that can be carried over and implemented in their home, which ensures continuity of summer reading programs throughout the year. What can you do to avoid summer learning loss? 

  • SET READING GOALS- (1 book weekly or bi weekly) Attend your local library OFTEN. They offer suggested readings and activities you can do along with the book.
  • CREATE A BOOK CLUB WITH SIBLINGS- Allow students to select the book and talk about it. Encourage them to converse and ask each other questions.
  • CHOOSE A BOOK WITH A MOVIE- Allow students to read the book; the movie will be a good incentive to see afterwards and will allow them to compare and contrast the book to the movie. 
  • FIND A GOOD SUMMER PROGRAM- Look for a well balanced program filled with learning and fun activities.
  • CHOOSE ONLINE READINGS, WITH AUDIO-There are many online books that may engage students more than a hard cover book. 
  • BE A GOOD EXAMPLE AND READ YOURSELF! The best encouragement and motivation is being the example. Model the expectation! Set out times where you read together!

After you've watched the video, I hope you have better insight to the importance of using your summer break wisely. As an educator, I have many experiences with students who return to school from the summer break and forget critical skills, concepts, and strategies that were taught just a few months back. It takes up much time to reteach these skills, but it has to be done in order for teachers to continue to build students' knowledge base. Keep learning ongoing. Just because school is out doesn't mean leaning has to be as well. Whether in a low income area or high income area, your learning should always be in.

I hope these few words find you well,

-Dr. E. 

Equity before Equality

Graphic: http://indianfunnypicture.com/img/2013/01/Equality-Doesnt-Means-Justice-Facebook-Pics.jpg

Graphic: http://indianfunnypicture.com/img/2013/01/Equality-Doesnt-Means-Justice-Facebook-Pics.jpg

Equity and equality are words that are used interchangeably; however, they have unique characteristics from each other, but how can we bring these two words together? The above illustration gives a vivid example of the distinctions of the two. Equity gives you what you need. Equality ensures that everyone gets their equal share.

                       Equality= Sameness            Equity=Fairness

Now that we understand the words, let's apply this to education while we look more deeply.

I worked in a large urban school district, particularly in a Title I school, where 99% of students qualified to eat free or reduced lunch. Who usually lives in these areas? Low-income minorities. When I would go across town to more affluent areas, it always irritated me to see the resources they had that my school didn't. Let me say that some resources, such as Promethean (Smart boards, textbooks) were similar, but we did not have all the bells and whistles that came along with it.

However, why did my side of town have a school in the hood and have to have resource officers frequent the staff parking lot throughout the day? Why were their demolished and abandoned buildings as our window view. Why did teachers have to scurry to leave campus before dark to avoid being a possible victim of criminal activity? Why did we not have high interest reading material for students to enjoy? Therefore, funding should not be the same. Some schools may need more than other schools.

Making resources available for every child and teacher, even if it means giving more to one over the other in order to equal the playing field is necessary--that is, only if we expect to provide a high-quality education. Many times teachers are playing catch up because students are not performing on grade level and are often several grade levels below. So should those schools receive equal funding as other schools who are more target and are excelling? No! This may mean hiring more teachers or keeping the ones we have and not sending them to other schools to even out the student: teacher ratio to fulfill some calculation guidelines. It doesn't make sense. I am a master teacher; however, there are difficulties in having 30 students in one class setting who are at different academic abilities. Some don't want to be there and behave as such which hinders instruction from flowing smoothly and others who are on grade level and/or high achievers mixed in with students who are struggling learners and/or several levels below their grade. We can't forget about our ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) learners, and we can't forget the students with social and emotional challenges--- all in one class setting! What am I going to do with that? How do I effectively teach and expect to reach all? 

Is this equality? Hecks no! It's a disadvantage and we are only hurting ourselves because our children are our future, or so I thought....

It is a true misconception that these two words are twins. The truth about equality is that it's only right if we all start from the same place. Equity must be established before equality can stand a chance. Only then can equity be synonymous with equality.

I hope these few words find you well,

Dr. E

Summer off or on?

We are almost there! Hold on! The end of the school year is a joyous occasion for teachers. It is a well deserved and much needed break. Some people think we spend the summer sipping mimosas and sleeping in. Although that may occur a few times, ok, more than a few times, teachers are still at work preparing for the upcoming year. We are attending summer workshops and trainings, teaching summer school, creating new and better lessons, reviewing the previous years do and don't's, looking at the curriculum, learning new technologies, and forming our classroom themes, to name a few. The summer can become busy.

Teaching kids for nine months straight is tiring and to be honest, if another month or even week was added to the school year, I'm not sure how many would make it. I would really have to look into my personal days and begin to schedule some!

Teachers, I know we always want to be prepared for our upcoming students, but take some time for yourself, and enjoy your break. Choose a couple of days out each week to focus on the new year, but make sure to take time for yourself. Some teachers teach summer school or have second jobs. Take it as easy as possible. There is nothing worse than teacher burnout.

Some people think teachers get the summer off; however, the green light is always on for us. We are real deal life long teachers and learners. I can see something on television, in a store, or online and an idea may spark. I'll write it down to revisit it later. Learning never stops, especially when trying to perfect your craft.

So cheers to my fellow educators on a job well done. You have gone through another year and have molded the minds of tomorrow's children. 

Don't have any shame taking advantage of your "break." You deserve it. 

I hope these few words find you well!

-Dr. E

 

 

 

 

Parents are teachers, too!

Watching television with kids can be frustrating. They like to talk through the show, ad-lib, and ask questions! Sometimes, too many questions. I may answer one or two, but when they start disturbing the flow of my show, I turn it around on them. (Thank God for DVR's; that pause button is the best thing since sliced bread!)

Teach children to use their reasoning skills; they won't even realize they are actually learning. Comprehension and inferential skills are an invaluable skill to have. When they ask "what just happened" or make statements such as "I must have missed something,"  turn it around on them and ask them to verbalize their thoughts. Beat them to the punch by asking them questions. Listen to what they are saying. Are they right on, or right off? Use that as a teaching moment. Here are some ways that can be done.

Pause the show and ask them to make predictions on what will happen while using clues. After a show, have them summarize it making sure to include relevant details. Do this orally or in written expression. Allow them to use adjectives to describe the characters, or ask them if any of the characters remind them of anyone they know and why. This is making a connection. Have them use a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast characters, events, or shows in detail. Ask them to infer, or read between the lines, how the character felt when....Or, ask them to formulate, or come up with an opinion about the issue and come up with a solution.

Use these moments to teach and this will encourage discussions. Even at bedtime, if their is a story time ask them questions so they can think deeply about a text.

I hope these few words find you well!

Dr. E

Are Students More College and Career Ready? (Part 1)

Argosy University, Sarasota, Florida 

Argosy University, Sarasota, Florida 

For the last few years, teachers from states that have adopted the Common Core standards, have had to adjust their teaching, get a deeper understanding of what and how to teach the standard, and do a complete overhaul of our pedagogical knowledge; there was an obvious shift that came with Common Core that was felt by teachers, students, and parents alike. A much needed one at that!

When I started teaching over a decade ago, ELA standards were grammar soiled and fiction filled. Looking back at Georgia's CRCT, the state did a disservice to our students. No wonder Georgia was at the bottom of other states when it came to education. No wonder colleges fussed about so many students not being up to par for their college classes. I, for one, fell victimized by Georgia's educational system. I graduated high school in Atlanta in 2000. I, and my teachers considered myself a novice writer until I entered my English course. My teacher killed my submitted writings. My papers were blood soaked with corrections and comments. I begged my professor's pardon! But, after attending many sessions with her and hiring a tutor,ironically, my writing actually sucked! Some of the skills and concept that I was presented with in college was so new to me. Georgia dropped the ball. Some of my classmates from other states seemed more advanced; however, I can say that I never had to enroll in any developmental, or remedial courses. But, I always felt like my learning was not maximized.

With Common Core, students in return gain deeper knowledge, interact with content rich complex text regularly, and reading and writing is a shared goal in more than just the English/Language Arts class! Students don't just learn the skills, they analyze and synthesize concepts and are taught to apply their understanding in a variety of ways.

The students I teach are definitely on the right track. I am teaching students curriculum that I didn't learn about until high school and beyond. Citing textual evidence, MLA, reading complex text--there is so much more rigor than before.

So do I think my students are on the track to being college and career ready? Absolutely. If we continue to understand the curriculum and discover engaging ways to teach them, they will be more prepared than I  ever was.

I hope these few words find you well!

Dr. E!

Increasing Test Scores with 12 Power Words

Based on Larry Bell's 12 Powerful Words - An orignal parody and musical cover of Pink's "Perfect".

Let's help close the achievement gap by teaching the 12 Power Words! It doesn't matter the grade or content area; these are the common words that cause students to crumble if students are not familiar with these terms and the ways in which we use them. Knowing these words can in fact cause students to answer questions correctly. Teach these words to your students by familiarizing the words with them on a DAILY BASIS. A one time lesson will cause a temporary understanding. Common Core encourages academic rigor; therefore by incorporating these words daily, it will in return increase test scores, cognitive abilities, and the child's over all academic achievement!

To help students feel better acquainted with the words, implement them into tests, class assignment, and homework assignments. Model these words through various instructional techniques.

  1. Trace - List in Steps
  2. Analyze- Break apart
  3. Infer-Read between the lines
  4. Evaluate- Judge
  5. Formulate-Create
  6. Describe-Tell about    
  7. Support- Back up with details
  8. Explain-Tell How
  9. Summarize- Give me a short version    
  10. Compare-All the ways they are alike      
  11. Contrast-All the ways they are different  
  12. Predict- What will happen next

 

I hope these few words find you well!

Dr. E

Building Positive Relationships with Students

As an educator of more than 10 years, I have experienced some of the most challenging students as I have the best behaved students. Regardless of my interactions with them, the most important thing we as teachers can do is to show students we care. Like really care. Genuinely. How do you mend a broken relationship or how do you ensure a good foundation is built initially?

There are several strategies I have used throughout my professional career that I have deemed successful. Not only have I experienced its success but so have colleagues, parents, administration, and students.

Students really latch themselves to me.  I find students who have been labeled as the "bad kids"running to me as if  I'm their safety net, and in some cases, I am their safe place; they know I genuinely love and care for them, but when necessary, I'll "tell them like it is." They need that balance. Students know my intentions are good and my chastisement comes from the heart. 

To build relationships with students

  1. Talk to them about their outside lives. (Family, sports, the latest movie, the current trends). Show interest.
  2. Show your personality. Let them see that your role is not only teacher. Laugh a little at a joke a student might make. Loosen up!
  3. Share a little of your life when teaching. As a teacher of literacy, I am quick to add a part of my personal life when discussing terms. For example, when discussing conflicts, themes, figurative language, or even citing sources, I embed personal stories as examples to get my point across and to maintain interest.
  4. Visit students outside of school. Do students participate in ballet, recreational sports and games, or other extracurricular activities? Show up. This is also a good way to build relationships with parents. They really open up and will appreciate you being there. The student will remember it forever.
  5. Attend school related games and cheer them on. Shout them out in class whether they were part of the winning team or losing team.
  6. Incorporate them into lessons. On assessments,students loved seeing their names in a writing prompt or in a question. It will bring humor. The quietest student, who you can sometimes forget is there will take great appreciation; the small things matter.
  7. Don't sweat the small stuff. Being a petty teacher will cause opposition. Choose your battles. Something as small as allowing a student to finish their drink, get the flavor out their gum, or eat the last chip before you make them throw it away goes a long way. However, make your expectations known in that moment. They are not to do it again.
  8. Greet students as they enter the classroom. I never understood how people could see students and not even speak! Give them a handshake or a "pound" as they enter. Greet them by name. Smile!
  9. Incorporate incentives. Many times we focus on the negative students and negate the positive. Focus on the good and let that overshadow the bad. Whether it's recognition, a phone call home, computer time, a healthy snack, a piece of candy. Reward students.
  10. Be happy with your life inside and outside of school. Miserable teacher execute their miserableness to all those around. Enjoy your weekends and your time away from the school grounds so you stay a happy camper!

 

I hope these few words find you well!

-Dr. Edwards