Results Count: Homework That Really Works

This morning, I read that French President Francois Hollande has proposed that his country eliminate homework in elementary and junior high school. From the article on NPR’s website, it appears that members of the French government believe homework places too great a burden on children, especially children with difficult home lives. And because of the centralized nature of the French school system, there is little room for teachers to innovate and try new strategies.

I wouldn’t presume to offer an opinion on the French approach to education. However, here in the United States, we have the same debate: what is the real value of homework for young children? Is is possible to design homework that increases student learning and motivates kids after a long school day?

My answer is yes, and I have results to back it up.
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Creating Google Presentations with Elementary Students

Today, I want to talk about one of the most powerful and versatile technologies to use with students: Google presentations. For anyone who just groaned and thought, “That’s all? Google’s version of PowerPoint?” don’t count me out yet! It’s true, Google presentations are a lot like PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.  Except, they allow for seamless collaboration and sharing between students, teachers, parents, and the rest of the world.

That power turns a simple technology — a digital slideshow — into a way for students to teach an engaged, authentic audience as they synthesize ideas, pursue independent studies, compare conclusions from experiments, jigsaw small group learning, and even publish e-books. Continue reading

Good Questions: How do you motivate students?

I was recently asked how I motivate my students.  Immediately, I thought, what don’t I do to motivate students?  I do everything short of standing on my head… no, wait a minute — I do that too, along with cartwheels, Captain’s Coming, Indian dances, and “old school” 4-Square.

Motivating students is at the very heart of being an effective teacher.  It’s a huge topic that encompasses just about everything we do, so let’s break it down. Continue reading

Homework That Changes Lives

love homework.  But I didn’t always.  I used to hate homework.  I hated it as a student, and I hated it as a teacher.  I hated it for all the reasons it is now questioned by education researchers.  Homework at the elementary level is usually:

  • Busywork (for teachers and students)
  • If un-differentiated: too easy for some students, too hard for others
  • If differentiated: unbearably complicated and time-consuming for teachers
  • Stressful for families
  • Graded too slowly or infrequently to give students valuable feedback
  • A poor form of assessment
  • Something we (and I mean all of us: teachers and students and families) do only because we have to, or because we think we should, or because other people think we should.

I am also really skeptical of the idea that homework at the elementary level teaches study skills in and of itself.  Now, if you put into place a real system for programmatically teaching children to study at home and at school and use homework strategically to reinforce that system, well, ok then.  But usually, people expect that just by giving kids homework, they will learn study skills.  Instead, I think kids learn how to procrastinate, how to put up a good fight with their parents, and how to put as little effort into their work as possible in order to get it done quickly.

I tried all kinds of traditional homework systems: weekly packets, daily assignments, even differentiated homework that involved making different packets for several different groups of students (which, by the way, is insane).  And then I went to the Skillful Teacher, learned about effective effort, and decided there had to be a better way.

I asked myself, what if homework was really valuable?  Better yet, what if homework was life-changing?  What if it could teach students — prove to students — that with effective effort and time, they could achieve anything? Continue reading

Mastering Math Facts (At Home)

I see parents as my partners in their children’s education.  The obvious reason is that parents are absolutely the most important people in their children’s lives.  They know their children better than anyone else, and they are an essential resource for information and problem solving.

And philosophically, I think it matters to kids when they see their parents and teachers working as a team, supporting them.  When I was a kid, my mom and my teachers were friends.  My mom was always involved — president of the PTA one year, making talent show sets the next — and school felt like an extension of home, a place where I belonged and was cared for.

There’s a practical component to this partnership, too. Continue reading

Effective Effort: Key to Girls’ Success in Math

It seems every year, I have at least one girl in my class who says, “I can’t do it.  I’m no good at math.”  These students believe that math comes “naturally” to other people (and not to them) and that there is little they can do to become strong math students.

Nowadays, the words “I’m no good at math,” just get me fired up.  I hear them, and I think, “that’s a student who is going to have a transformative year.”  Because I know that effective effort + time = success, and soon, she will, too.

I’m far from the only one who thinks this way.  Check out this research summarized in the most recent Marshall Memo (9/14/09): Continue reading

Homework, Week 1: Our First Reflections

I am really pleased by how smoothly homework choice went this week. I followed my plan and had students set a simple class goal on Monday: “to have a good homework routine and have fun.” Then, students brainstormed how they could achieve that goal. Students wrote plans like “find a quiet spot,” “start immediately when I get home,” “do my homework at ____ [name of after school program],” and “set a timer.”

Instead of assigning the Thursday Night Reflection for homework, we did our reflecting as a class Friday morning. Before we began, I brought us back to the equation, “effective effort + ____ = _____.”

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