Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Grading Smarter, Not Harder! Homework Freebie!

I have linked up with Jen Bradshaw of Teaching, Life, and Everything in Between and others to do a book study on "Grading Smarter, Not Harder" by Myron Dueck.  What an interesting book!  Chapter two focuses on "uniform homework" which the author notes is homework that requires the same answers from every student as follow up or review to something that's been introduced in class.  He is not referring to projects or more in depth assignments that require work from home time.  Dueck proposes eliminating ALL "uniform homework."
Benefits of eliminating uniform homework:
  • More "you" time
  • More authentic planning time
  • Student data is more accurate as you've removed the behavioral/compliance component
Problems with uniform homework:
  • Confuses completion with understanding
  • Decreases intrinsic motivation- Why do it if it's not graded?
  • Inflated grades for students with parents who help
  • Deflated grades for struggling learners and students with challenging home environments
Suggestions for making homework meaningful:
  • In class quizzes that are a condensed form of optional homework the students can use for review.  Students are also provided options for retakes for improved mastery.
  • Homework profiles- Categorizing students in one of nine categories based on homework practice vs. classroom performance.
  • In-school assistance during ISS, lunch, or after school with administration.
  • Flipped classroom using technology to engage students in the basics and then extending these ideas in the classroom.

The barriers to homework completion are wide and varied!  In my personal experience, the environment was the greatest barrier.  Little brothers and sisters running around hootin' and hollerin', lack of parental routines, distractions from video games and other fun techy stuff, and the million other things that are way more fun than reading that silly old book for 20 minutes!  For my students with parents struggling financially, it was sometimes a food or electricity issue.  It's not much fun doing your homework in the driveway under the streetlight. 
In my fifteen years, it doesn't seem that there has ever been a set rule as to whether or not we should grade homework or even the quality/quantity of homework.  There are usual general guidelines per grade level which for my fourth and fifth graders was around 45 minutes to an hour.  This has always left me free to implement homework as I choose.  Generally, I provide a weekly newsletter that lays out our weekly expectations which includes reading at home every night, a short math practice (exit slip style), and I faithfully included National Geographic student magazine articles each week with close reading activities (before close reading became a buzz word!) to reinforce our reading strategies.  It was predictable and usually completed without much ado.  I did NOT generally grade these assignments.  They were meant to inform me of students' progress as I would conference with students each morning, or at least every other day.  Because parents/siblings can become involved in homework, which is FANTASTIC, it also alters the results, and I don't think it's fair to grade students because they may have more interaction at home than another student.  I also believe this is partially why I didn't have a lot of resistance, despite working in challenging schools!

This chapter focuses so intently on homework, it had my head spinning and thinking how I had never done enough!  Quite honestly, however, I think the perspective is also different from elementary school to middle/high school which is where this author is grounded.  From an elementary school teacher's perspective, really all of my questions revolved around one topic- TIME!
  • Where do you get the TIME to create the charts, compare homework practice to classroom performance, create the optional homework with mini quiz and secondary quizzes, grade these quizzes, and do your time in the cafeteria, ISS, or after school?  Again, from the elementary perspective, with multiple subjects on my plate, this all starts to sound overwhelming.  I can't imagine doing this for hundreds of students either and maintain your classroom instruction as well.  The implementation is probably tricky, but once you get it streamlined, the benefits are clear. 
Overall, I 98% agree with eliminating uniform homework, or at least the grading of uniform homework.  It does, in my experience, pad grades for the already successful kids and only serves to frustrate and deflate the grades of already struggling students.  I think I have created a system that works with my classes in my grade levels with my personality so that students, parents, and teachers are all satisfied and continuing to progress positively.  I have attached a copy of the form I use to track my conferences with students each morning as well as their progress in the homework concepts.  I generally use a simple scoring scale for my own reference  from 0-3.  I use these scale scores to pull groups, documentation for RTI meetings and/or ESE staffings, conferences with parents/students, and report card comments.  Stick a date on it, and file them for future reference!  It is totally editable for your use....I print mine out and keep it on a clipboard for the week.

This is definitely a book that makes you think about your practices and consider some alternatives that may really open students to more authentic learning experiences.  A worthy read!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

5 MORE books that will make your kids WANT to write!

1.The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
A truly fantastic compilation of 14 mysterious pictures each with a title and a simple caption (the newest portfolio edition has a 15th picture!). The pictures were supposedly left for Van Allsburg one day with a promise by Burdick to return the next day with the actual stories. Surprise…Burdick disappears and all that remains are these mysterious illustrations just begging for a story.

If you are working on fictional narratives, this is the book for you. No child can look at these photos and not have some fantastic ideas ready to go. I actually took one paperback edition, tore out the pages, laminated, them and made it part of our permanent writing center in a narrative writing ideas folder. We did complete the writing process for at least one idea, however. And now there’s a huge BONUS! Fourteen well-known authors wrote their own versions of each story in “The Chronicles of Harris Burdick” including Louis Sachar, Lois Lowry, Jon Scieszka, Stephen King, and an introduction by none other than Lemony Snicket. I saved these until the end of the year to share what these authors envisioned during our publishing party. The kids had fun comparing their creations to that of the “pros!”

2. The True Story of Three Little Pigs by Jon Sciesczka
I am totally biased as I think ALL of Sciesczka’s books are inspiring and hysterical, but this one in particular offers a great starting point for kids as writers. Told from the perspective of the wolf, he offers a tale that stretches what we know of the original three little pigs. After all, wouldn't YOU eat a hamburger just sitting there?

 It’s a simple story and idea but we analyzed this story to death as we compared it to the original. My students not only grasped the idea of perspective but also developed a better feel for voice and plot development as we picked each section apart. As a class, we brainstormed other well-known stories with antagonistic characters, and each student selected a story to rewrite from the antagonist’s perspective.

 3. Grimm’s Fairy Tales
My fifth graders absolutely loved the classic Grimm’s Fairy Tales, almost to the point of obsession! There are hundreds of tales to share with similar themes and patterns that run throughout. The tales are generally short and not so sweet like the newly revised fairy tales, which is what the kids just loved! There is even a fabulous app, Grimm, that includes a large number of the most popular tales for free.

This turned into another one of those “never-ending” projects. We analyzed dozens of tales (starting with Cinderella...fascinating story to compare to the Disney version!) whole group, small group, pairs, and individually for themes, patterns, character analysis, plot, and MORE. Students then compiled all of this information to create their own tales with specific requirements. We published these stories using the Student Treasures program and ended up with beautifully hard bound books for FREE which we then invited parents to share at a breakfast. The students were so proud!

 4. The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau by Jon Agee 
This book holds a special place in my heart thanks to Aaron from my fourth grade class about 10 years ago.  He brought this book to me in wretched condition and recommended it as our next writing project.  How could I resist?  Felix Clousseau is an unknown artist who enters his not so fancy duck painting in the kingdom’s premiere art contest.  After, being mocked and shamed, something mysterious happens and leads to an interesting change of events with a nice little twisty ending the kids get a kick out of.  It’s a very simple story and a super quick read but such a charming little story!

Aaron came armed with his writing idea already, but we found several ways to inspire writing as students actually brainstormed possible venues to explore.  This was a LOT of fun and something we did later in the year, making sure they were good and comfortable with exploring their creative sides!  (I have to keep the ideas somewhat vague to preserve the surprises you have in store for you when you read the book!)  Several students wanted to make themselves the lead character and create their own gallery in comic book form or a version of one of the mini books we had created earlier in the year (accordion/flap/index card).  Another group wanted to create one specific Clousseau painting as a springboard for an entire story.  Others wanted to rewrite Clousseau’s tale altogether, starting with the last page and moving forward.  However, you decide to use this little gem, your students’ will be sure to love it!

5. My Map Book by Sara Fanelli
An inspiring book Illustrated from the perspective of a child with two-page spreads of the stuff that is important to kids, mapped out. There are ordinary maps like the neighborhood and school, and then my favorites…a map of my heart and a map of my dog. LOVE IT! Each “map” points out the important aspects like mud, chocolate, and mommy and daddy.

This is such a perfect way for students to start brainstorming writing ideas. Anything can be mapped, and this is such a unique way to encourage kids to elaborate as well. Starting with a map of your heart might include your parents, your pets, school, books, etc. Each of these is a “seed” for a new map. As students draw their maps, they begin to naturally recount personal narratives.

Read about five OTHER books that have driven us to WRITE, WRITE, WRITE on Minds In Bloom and grab your freebie that correlates with "The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups," my #1 favorite book that inspires writing for kids!