Help Needed! A Choice System for Independent Reading

I was thinking about homework choice this morning, wishing there were more times during the school day when kids could set, work towards, and achieve their own goals as learners.

The problem was that I almost always make the choices for kids, whether it’s during math, writing, or just about any other subject.

If only there was a time in the day when kids had a lot of choice… when they’d benefit from setting goals… when they need to be held accountable for putting in effective effort and not pretending to read a book while really staring into space…

That was it!  Independent reading!  Duh!

Why didn’t I think of it before?  I could marry the homework choice system with independent reading time! Continue reading


The Power of Professional Learning Communities

I think there’s a 99% chance that I’m the only one who wants to read this post. And if that’s true, I’m cool with it. I’ve been at a really exciting conference for two days, and I need to sort out everything I’ve learned.

On the other hand, I think there’s at least a 1% chance that you might want to read this post. Perhaps you went to the conference and want to reflect together. Or, maybe you’ll find what’s here interesting enough that you want to learn more. If either is true, please leave a comment! I’d be happy to hear from you.

PLC CoverSo, this week, I attended the Professional Learning Communities at Work Institute.

I did this because my district just hired me as one of the two Elementary Instructional Leaders for third grade.

Once upon a time, professional development in our district was organized top-down, and teachers in different elementary schools often did very different kinds of learning. Continue reading

Organization that Takes a Team

Thank goodness my school has tables instead of desks.  I remember my desk in elementary school.  Especially on the day when I was supposed to recite a poem, and I found it crumpled in the back, long forgotten.  Even if my classroom had desks, I’d still put them in clusters and prevent kids from putting anything inside them.

Silverware drawers are excellent school supply organizers.

Silverware drawers are excellent school supply organizers.

There are five tables in my room, and the kids at each table are a team that shares supplies.  We have the luxury of being able to provide school supplies for everyone, so no one is allowed to bring supplies from home.  We have what we need, and we’re all equal.  No one can argue they lost their favorite pencil because the pencils belong to all of us.

Every table organizes their supplies in a silverware drawer, which has a much lower profile than other classroom organizers I’ve seen.  The advantage: no one can hide behind a silverware drawer. Continue reading

The Paper Problem: Solved

It is downright scary how much paper is used in a third grade classroom.  I do my best to avoid unnecessary photocopying, but darn, those third graders do a lot of work!  And if you’re not careful, it piles up fast.

I don’t deserve any credit for the slick paperwork management system I’m about to share.  I just assembled pieces of it from colleagues wiser than me, and it has worked seamlessly in my room.

Here are its organization goals:

  1. Capture finished (often corrected) student work.
  2. Send the work home for parents to see.
  3. Get the best, most important work back so we can keep it for end-of-the-year portfolios.
  4. Store the portfolio work without requiring Mrs. Fox to do a whole lot of ANY filing.  (I hate filing!)

And its learning goal: help third graders pause and reflect on each week, taking the time to appreciate successes and challenges, set a goal for the following week, and share their learning with their families. Continue reading

Why Go it Alone?

Whenever I think of my homework in elementary school, I remember studying multiplication facts, alone, in my room.  I’m sure I was exhausted after a long day of school and frustrated by those stupid nines (no one taught me the nifty nines trick!), and I started crying.  But despite my tears, my mom told me I had to keep studying, probably feeling as many parents do that she needed to be hands-off when it came to homework.  So the argument goes: how else will children learn to work independently and develop study skills if not by doing homework?

Kids have all of middle school and high school to learn to work alone and develop study skills!  By insisting that children work alone on their homework after a long, full (exciting and stimulating) day of school, we’re setting them up for the kind of frustration I felt.  As teachers, we know how tired elementary students are at the end of the day, and not every home can provide the kind of structured, quiet atmosphere for study that we create in school. Continue reading

Empowered, Independent, Impressive

The beautiful thing about empowering kids to choose their homework is that they can do exactly the right work to help them achieve their goals.

For a student struggling with subtraction, that might mean practicing subtraction facts, playing mental math games, or doing subtraction story problems every night. After a few weeks (or maybe months), this approach can help students to close the achievement gap and take real pride in their success.

Future posts will describe the different homework options in my plan, but for this post, I want to talk about independent studies. They are the perfect choice for high fliers who really don’t need to practice subtraction facts or words they already know how to spell. Continue reading

Choose Your Own Adventure

I used to hate homework.

My school district requires third graders to do 30-45 minutes of homework/night, 2-4 nights/week.  I used to assign — and try to correct — traditional homework every night, with few results to show for all my effort.

My effort did earn me parents who complained that their child received too little/too much work, work that was too easy/too hard, and that it all ended in yelling/tears/slamming doors/a refusal to do anything except pout.

I started listening more closely to the national debate about the value of homework.  Some studies like Professor Harris Cooper’s work at Duke show that homework does benefit students (much more so older kids than elementary students) so long as the right work is assigned in the right amount.  Other sources argue from a parent’s perspective that homework is at best unnecessary, and at worst, hurtful to kids and families: The Case Against Homework (Bennett and Kalish) and The Homework Myth (Kohn). Continue reading