Thursday, March 16, 2017

20th Century Open House in the 21st Century? Let’s Rethink our Options. By Sheila Schue

This post was written by Sheila Schue, a 3rd grade teacher at Stoneridge Elementary School (@rcsdstoneridge). You can follow her on twitter @SchueSheila.

My parents went to my Open House in 1969, just like my students' parents attend my open house today, in 2017. Is Open House a thing of the past, or should we move forward with new technologies and ideas available?

Twitter has opened up a whole new way for us to communicate with parents easily and instantly. By sending an instant tweet of projects, parents can ask about what happened in school and avoid the “nothing” response given by many students when asked, “What did you do at school today?” Instead there is a picture and tweet from the teacher that can spur an instant conversation.

I am not a new teacher as evidenced by the date above.  Digging into something new, in the form of technology, is not always easy. When my principal asked if I would start tweeting I thought, “This is a ridiculous waste of my time!”, but I was willing to try something new. After all, we ask our students to try new things all the time, so why shouldn’t we do the same.

The first year I started tweeting felt weird;  How do I tweet? Who would read my tweets? Who would be interested? But my principal helped me, and by retweeting many of my posts, I noticed that others followed me.
They “liked” my tweets and, it feels good to be liked. I started following other educators, and guess what? I learned things. That was a bonus!

Twitter is such an easy way to show parents what is happening in our classrooms.

But, back to the topic at hand, how can you make parents feel connected with Twitter?
  1. Tell them your Twitter handle at Back to School Night. Explain that much of you and your classes’ “AWESOMENESS” will be shared via Twitter.
  2. Explain that you feel that if you share these things in real time, via Twitter, kids will remember them and GREAT conversations can be had at the moment instead of waiting until spring.
  3. Say that you will be sending home many projects that you shared on Twitter instead of saving them for Open House. This way students and parents can share the immediate joy of those projects, instead of waiting until Open House. (As an added bonus you won’t have to store those projects all year.)

Not only does sharing help parents have conversations with students, it is a great way for us to learn from one another as educators.
How can we still feel connected and welcome our parents on our campus besides inviting them to Open House?
  1. Say that you value parents that want to volunteer and be at school and that there will be opportunities for parents to participate.
  2. Have a few times throughout the year that your grade level welcomes parents to the classroom.  It can be as simple as Oral Presentations or the like. The parents who want to be there will be there. At my school we do a “Collection’s Day” and a “Community Market Day” in 3rd grade. Another example is in 2nd grade they do a “Comedy Corner” and “Grandparent’s Day” performance.
  3. Are there school-wide opportunities for parents to be on campus? Most schools host some kind of event. At my school we have an Ice Cream Social, Jog-A-Thon, Family Writing Night, Information Night, Casino Night, and Carnival.  Those are just some of the events our school has to help parents feel welcome on our campus.

An example of just one of the ways we invite parents onto our campus.

This is not a blog to end celebrating achievements, but rather a way to do something different.  I still want to invite parents onto our campus and into our classroom, but I don’t want to wait until May to show them all that is going on in my classroom.  After I started tweeting I went back and looked at all I tweeted and saw how many things my students and I did throughout the year. It was like a photo journal of our year together.  I loved seeing all of the things we had accomplished together. So, let’s consider eliminating Open House. We all do so much. Eliminating one thing from our plate is important.  Making parents feel connected all year long as compared to one night in the spring is a much better way to build community and have parents feel a part of their child’s education.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

THE Experience at Ron Clark Academy

Our staff with the most passionate and innovative educator ever, Mr. Ron Clark.

In August of last year I sent an email to my staff letting them know I wanted to take some teachers with me to visit the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. I told them I would tell them more about it at our next staff meeting but wanted to give them a heads up. Teachers didn’t want to wait to find out more. Immediately I received emails back asking more questions, teachers texting me letting me know they would do whatever they had to do to be able to go, and teachers stopping by my office wanting to know more.

Here are just some of the emails I received:

-This is a DREAM opportunity! I am in awe of the RCA. I have so always wanted to go - I've read most of his books as well as Kim Bearden's and they are truly amazing. Just wow! I cannot wait to apply!

-I just went from half asleep to so excited!!!! I love Ron Clark!!

-Seriously this is the best Monday news ever!!! I love Ron Clark and his theory on education. Wow! What a treat this would be for our staff. You know I will be applying! Thank you for arranging this amazing opportunity for our staff!
I surprised the six teachers that were going with a RCA Golden Ticket from me.

As you can see, teachers were excited. They love Ron Clark and wanted to meet him and see his school. After an application process and working out the details for fundraising, six teachers were chosen to come to RCA with me in February. The educator training is called The Ron Clark Academy Experience. Like all of my teachers going, I probably focused mostly on the name Ron Clark. I didn’t realize I should have been paying more attention to that last word, “experience.”

Fantastic writing workshop with Ms. Haskins.

When you go to RCA you are excited to meet Ron Clark. What I wasn’t fully prepared for was to have the most amazing educational “experience” I have ever had. The feeling you get when you walk through the door and Mr. Clark is there to shake your hand and welcome you is something I will never forget. There is music playing, kids cheering you on, and magic in the air. Our entire team that went was amazed as students welcomed us and asked us questions about our school, where we were from, and then answered our questions about their school. The students that welcomed the six teachers from Stoneridge and myself were 5th graders. I had never seen 5th graders who could carry on a conversation and ask meaningful questions the way these students did. They were better speakers than probably 75% of people I have interviewed. A lot of times when you are excited and build something up in your mind it doesn’t live up to what you were expecting. I could tell this Experience would be different.

Officially RCA Slide Certified

The Experience includes going into classrooms and watching some of the best teachers in our country teaching students. It includes getting to hear Kim Bearden and Ron Clark talk about everything from loving kids and how to work with staff to help move your bus forward. The Experience includes getting to talk with their amazing kids at lunch. You get to pick your house and feel part of their team as you learn new chants and cheers and take pride in wearing house colors. You get to talk to teachers about what they do at RCA and ask questions about how you can help implement some of that magic back at your school. You get to go down the slide. The Experience also includes getting to see room setups and how the walls are decorated to make students and families feel like it is about them. You do lessons with teachers, discuss how to require students to think deeper, and how they need to be more engaged, hear students do chants and cheers and sing songs about academic content. And if you are lucky like I was to go with people on your staff, you get to discuss and start figuring out how you are going to bring some of that same magic you see at RCA back to your school.

It doesn't take long to take pride in your House

Immediately after each day at RCA, my teachers and I started discussing all we had seen and learned. There was so much that they want to implement but they also know you can’t implement it all at once. Two things we agreed we should implement school wide are the House system and also having set rules around behavior and etiquette that we teach all students. The last thing we talked about is giving our students experiences that they will remember. Staff members at RCA talk about it, but that was my one challenge to my teachers when we left. Give your students at least on experience between now and the end of the school year that they will remember the rest of their lives. I’m sure some teachers might aim for more than one but at least give them one. That also goes for me, I challenge myself to give our staff at least one experience they will remember forever.

Learning from the wonderful Mrs. Barnes.  I might be a little biased but our thought our Blues performance was the best.  

I would like to thank all of the staff members at RCA for making it such an amazing trip. Your energy and passion is second to none. You open your classroom doors to thousands of educators every year and every single one of you is truly inspiring. Thank you to the students at RCA for welcoming us and showing us what students are capable of if we hold them to high expectations. Thank you Ron Clark for being such a wonderful person and starting a school where other educators can come and learn. Thank you to Melissa Oxenham, Sara Franco, Erin Roberts, Christi Robertson, Jill Reidt, and Dalen Pointer for going with me on this trip and being dedicated to bringing change to our school and students. My two days at the Ron Clark Academy is an experience I will never forget. It was life-changing and I will never look at anything in education the same way. I know it is called the Ron Clark Academy Experience, but for me I will think about it as THE Experience that changed my life in education forever.

All of us with Kim Bearden

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Flush With Cash


In Donald Trump’s inaugural address he stated that our education system is “flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Even if you feel there are problems with our current education system, both parts of that statement over exaggerations and potentially dangerous. Our school system is not depriving students of all knowledge. I could write a long post on all the great things that happen in our schools everyday (you can check out Stoneridge’s twitter @rcsdstoneridge to get a glimpse into what our school does on a daily basis), but for right now I want to tackle the school system being flush with cash.
First let’s talk about how money is spent at a district level. The way it works at most school districts is the district pays salaries, benefits, pays for building, professional development, programs like music, technology infrastructure, and big items. Then there is money given to the school site to spend. Every district will be different on how much they give their individual school sites to spend. I can’t speak for other educators realities when it comes to money but I will give you my reality as an elementary school principal.

At my school we have 574 students. I have 25 total teachers and 20 classified staff members. We have no assistant principal, no counselor, a nurse one day a week, and a school psychologist one day a week. My total school budget is right around $38,000 for the entire year. That is $38,000 to pay for things such as: paper, new books for students, supplemental curriculum, additional help for English Learner, Foster Youth, Student with Disabilities, sub costs if I want teachers to have time to plan or go to a training, training, replace projector bulbs, additional help like a crossing guard to keep kids safe at the crosswalk, bench for students to eat snacks, reading intervention program, and any additional technology. Does $38,000 sound like a lot of money to help take care of 574 students, a staff of 45 people, and a school campus that is around 80,000 square feet?
Our school is very lucky due to the fact we have a parent community that supports our students and school with generous donations. We are able to offer many extra programs thanks to our supportive families. Unfortunately most schools do not have that extra support. Should a school have to rely on fundraising and extra support from parents? And what if parents don’t have the resources to help the school?

I know people will say, well if you don’t get a lot of money as a site principal that must mean the money is being wasted elsewhere. I would strongly disagree with that statement. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about education budgets at the site, district, county, or state level; all of those budgets are tight. And these are good economic times in education as compared to five or six years ago. Some might say that money is going to teacher salaries since it isn’t going to the school sites. In a comparison of educator salaries in the United States as compared to other countries here is what the Brookings Institute says:

“While American salaries aren’t the lowest, many other countries not only pay better, but the gap is really, really big. The simple summary: Other countries make teaching a more financially attractive career for college graduates than we do.”

Other professions in our country usually make much more than their international counterparts. For example doctors in the US make around double the average salary when compared to doctors from other countries. And our healthcare ranking as a country (37th overall in 2015 according to World Health Organization) is actually lower than our education ranking (25th on the PISA) as a country. This isn’t an attack on our doctors, but my point is many professions in the US make much more money than their international counterparts. Teachers do not make more when compared internationally, and yet I see teachers attacked all the time for how much money they make.

The main thing that is usually cited when saying the United States school system has a lot of money is that we spend as much, if not more per student than any other country.

The fact is that America educates more poor students and students with disabilities than any other country. It costs more to educate these students. This is not mean, it is reality. And it is federal law, and rightfully so, that we must provide students with disabilities with a free and appropriate education. (By the way this is good information to know if you are ever in a Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education). Out of 35 economically advantaged countries we rank 34th in child poverty. We have a huge child poverty problem in this country.
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                                                        Image Credit:

So it makes sense that we spend more per student as compared to other countries because we have students that need more help. It does not mean the education system is flush with cash.

Every year I discuss with my staff how we want to spend money as a school site. We talk about making sure students have books and technology. We talk about how we need to make sure we put money aside for basic things like paper and recess equipment. There are reasonable wants like maybe a day to plan or additional teacher training. In the end we always have to play a game called “Would You Rather”. As a staff we discuss what we would like to spend money on and say would you rather. Would you rather have that reading intervention program or six extra laptops? Would you rather go to that training or get extra books for the reading room? Would you rather have that author visit or new rugs in your classroom? The would you rather game is not a game you play when you are flush with cash. There are many issues we need to work on in education. How to spend a bunch of extra cash is not one of them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

CHOICE- Are We Preparing our Students for Their Future? by Christi Robertson

This post was written by Christi Robertson, a 4th grade teacher at Stoneridge Elementary School (@rcsdstoneridge).  You can follow her on twitter @RobWolfpack. 

Choice. This idea can make even the most simple daily tasks frustrating. I am crippled by choice. Whether it’s where my best buddies and I want to meet up for our dinner dates or even as ridiculous as my family asking what’s for dinner. I am so fearful of choice, that my husband had to choose our wedding colors (I’m not joking). Google search quotes for choice. As if my own fear wasn’t disabling enough, I now see quotes such as, “You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequence of your choice” or even, “The choices you make in your life will make your life. Choose wisely.” I don’t need to wonder for long as to why it is that I can’t make a choice. I have come to believe its roots lie in my not wanting to make a “wrong” decision. When I finally do make a choice, that’s when the real chaos begins. Is this a “wise” choice? Will it negatively affect my life forever? Are people going to hate my choice?

When did the fear begin? I’m not entirely sure, but I do have some guesses. My goal is to make sure the students in my classroom, as well as my own two kiddos, will not be crippled by their own decision making, as I am.

Let’s Begin at the Source
Let’s start with the word choice. Six little letters that hold the key to my future happiness (according to several motivational posters hanging in many classrooms). Although the quotes are meant to enlighten our students, have we really taught them how to make choices? When I was in school, there were always right and wrong answers. Things were laid out in a specific format and our choices were limited. We were given an assignment, report, etc, and told how to do it. We were given the set of requirements, and a detailed description of the consequences of not following the requirements. Was I given a choice? Of course I was. It was to complete the assignment according to the guidelines or to not complete the assignment (okay, so really not much of a choice). Was this teaching me “how” to make choices? Are we, as teachers, really satisfied with this being the only opportunity for “choice” that we expose to our own students? I have decided that I am not.

When I look closer at this word, I see ideas stemming from its make up. I now see how this word is meant to be a foundational skill, nurtured and cultivated through multiple exposures. When we give students opportunity for choice, we build their ability to: Challenge themselves to be independent thinkers, be Honest about their understanding of the subject matter, take Ownership for their own learning, push their Imagination, develop their natural Curiosity, and show Enthusiasm for their new learning.

I believe that if we begin teaching our students HOW to make choices in a safe environment, we then are leading them to “choose wisely,” thus limiting the crippling fear that comes from making choices.

Are we challenging our students to be independent thinkers? Are we challenging them in their understanding of the content that they are learning? I find that when WE create the guidelines and specifics of the project, assessment, or assignment, instead of challenging students in the classroom, WE are limiting their understanding by not providing them choice. When we provide an opportunity for our students to choose how they want to show their learning, we no longer need to worry about meeting the needs of every student by designing something ourselves. Choice provides a natural differentiation for each and every student. Our job now is to be there to guide them through the decision-making process. More opportunities for choice in the classroom allows students to challenge their own potential, to think outside of the box, and to push the limits that may have existed by our own limited ideas of what they can or cannot do. Are we limiting the challenges of our students by not providing choice, or are we allowing them to challenge the limits through making choices?
Students sharing the pattern that they came up with in our math challenges.

Are the assessments we are providing students an honest example of their understanding of the standards? I can remember studying for tests as a student and being worried about getting the answers wrong. I vividly remember making notecards, rewriting my already meticulously written notes, repeating ideas in my head, so that I would be able to answer the test questions correctly. If you were to ask me today to take those same tests, chances are, I would fail. Let’s be honest, I would fail miserably. I also recall an assessment that I took in college that provided an opportunity for choice. My First Aid and CPR class at Westmont provided my first honest assessment and gave an opportunity for choice. Our final was a hands-on simulation. We began by waiting in a room and being called out for an “accident” that had taken place on campus. As we rounded the corner, my partner and I were faced with a car that had “crashed” into a tree. The driver was unconscious and the passenger had also sustained severe injuries. My partner and I had to make choices based on what we had learned to “save” the lives of the victims. How do I know that this assessment, with many opportunities to make choices, was honest? I later became an athletic trainer at the school and followed that up with working for the Portland Trailblazers as a trainer. When students are provided choices in projects or assessments, we are given an honest look into their understanding and their capabilities. We are able to see the honesty they bring from their experiences and schema. Choice also allows me to be honest about the proficiency of my students.

Students choose how they want show remainders.
I feel lucky to be part of a school district that is now providing opportunities for choice in our professional development. At our most recent PD day, one of the presenters mentioned that those who do the most work in the classroom are doing the most learning. Are we doing more work than our students? Are we giving them the opportunity to take ownership for their understanding through choice? Who is really owning the learning in our classrooms? If we can give students the chance to choose their output, we are giving them the ability to own their learning. It has been said that we take care of what we take ownership of… can our students say that they are given the choice to own what we are expecting of them? The most frustrating question I get in my classroom is, “Is this good enough?” I tell my students that if you are asking this question, chances are, you know it is not your best work. What I should be telling myself is, “Clearly, this assignment is limiting their choice, or they wouldn’t feel the need to minimize their effort.”

In the book, “Beyond Basketball” by Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Duke Men’s Basketball Coach (basically, my idol)), he tells the story of his working-class mother coming home for her job in Chicago. When she got off the bus, she was attacked by three teenage boys who were trying to steal her purse. She hung on to her purse with everything she had. When the boys realized that she was not giving up her purse, they ran off. When asked why she didn’t just give them the purse, she said because it was hers. Do you feel that your students are hanging on to their learning with a vice grip because it is theirs? Are we giving them the opportunity of choice to own their learning so that they will?

Some examples of student choices for their Mission projects.

Imagination knows no limits. It pushes what “we know” into what “can be possible.” It’s what drives our passions. It pushes our boundaries. Where are we giving our students the choice to use their imagination in the classroom? Coach K says, “Imagination gives you destination.” Do our students possibly already possess the tools necessary to be who they will become? How will we know if we never give them the choice to use their imagination to explore their potential?

Students presenting their Genius Hour Projects to Mr. Blom that they chose would improve our already amazing school.

Curiosity, to me, is the cousin of imagination. “Curiosity is the spark behind the spark of every great idea. The future belongs to the curious.” If we are leading our future, are we allowing them to show their curiosity through choice? Are we giving them a safe place to be curious, and cultivate their curiosity with guidance and support? Curiosity leads to a child’s investment of their learning. Giving students a choice to invest in their curiosity invites uniqueness and therefore, provides a natural differentiation in their learning. Dorothy Parker says, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” Let’s give our students the opportunity to take risks and be curious. Teach them to not be afraid, to try new things, to question the world around them, and turn those ideas inside out through choice.
Students created a “Biome Museum” to share what they learned about their favorite biome.
Have you ever found yourself exhausted at the end of the day from feeling like you need to show enthusiasm in everything you teach? Case in point: There I am, teaching static electricity, with an excitement that matches the last few seconds of a nail-bitter at Cameron Indoor Stadium, as if they are one in the same. I chant. I shout. I throw my hands around with wild abandon. As I end my lesson with, what I refer to as, “the grand finale,” I look across my room for those big eyes, wide with equal excitement. Instead, I find one student using their personal pencil sharpener as a shot glass (no joke), sitting next to a kiddo half asleep. In hopes that the third time’s the charm, I look to one more student, hoping that they were with me, only to find them attempting to hide a novel they are reading underneath their desk. At this moment, the buzzer in my head sounds, and even with all of my excitement for a win, Duke loses (and therefore, my lesson is a complete bust). Did I lack the appropriate amount of enthusiasm? As I wipe my damp brow, defeated from the effort required to make static electricity as interesting as possible, I conclude that it must be that I didn’t bring my full effort in this. I feel defeated thinking the hours of preparation did not meet my desired expectation. You see, static electricity is not what excites me, yet I feel the pressure to bring the enthusiasm for the students I teach.

When was the last time I was excited? I can tell you when it was. It was just today. It was watching my husband coach my kiddos in their basketball games. Even though I was tired from a long week of teaching, and the Advil I had taken in the morning to ease the back pain I was in wasn’t working, it didn’t hinder my enthusiasm. I cheered, I shouted positive praise, I even kept detailed notes in my head of great moments my kiddos had on the court to share with them later. My enthusiasm for this experience was not hindered by the “problems” I brought with me to the event. If we give our students the opportunity to make choices in their learning or output, there is a chance that the ever so popular bathroom trip, might not be as interesting as what they are learning or working on. Think about a time when you have been told what to do and how to do it. Maybe it was that last staff meeting, where your principal gave the new requirements handed down by the district office (not my principal, of course). How did you feel about it? Was it so exciting and you jumped on the opportunity to get started? If you’re anything like me, chances are, you rolled your eyes, and thought of 5,000 other things you could do that were more important than what was expected of you. Are we putting our students in this same predicament with their learning?

Students created a miniature golf course using any materials they wanted.

In no way am I saying that I have any or all of the answers on how to provide choice in your classroom. My goal is for all of us to create together a chance for our students to live a life that allows them to feel confident in the choices they will be forced to make. Let’s motivate ourselves to inspire our students through choice. Let’s teach them how to choose. Let’s let them: be Challenged, be Honest, Own, be Imaginative, Curious, and Enthusiastic about their learning. I challenge all of us to create a collaborative movement where we share the choices we are giving our students, because they deserve it. Let’s call it #choice.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Leaders Must Also Teach #leadupnow Guest Post

Here is the link to my most recent post, "Leaders Must Also Teach" that was posted on the website.  Our educational leaders need to know what it is like to be a teacher and stay connected to the classroom.  The best way to stay connected is to teach
Leaders Must Also Teach- LeadUpNow guest blog post

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

No AR, No Big Deal

This post was co-written with Rachael Peck (@rachaelpeck23, you can check out her blog here).  Rachael and I are both elementary school principals in the Roseville City School District.  

Last year when the decision was made to stop using Accelerated Reader.  Since we posted our blog post Why We Are Moving on from AR, we keep getting the same two questions: What are you doing now that AR is gone? How are teachers and students feeling without it?

As principals we get the opportunity to be in classes and talk to students and teachers on a daily basis.  We have the opportunity to see kids in all grade levels reading and engaged in activities with their reading.  So what have we seen?  There has definitely been a shift in how students show their understanding of what they are reading.   Teachers have been creative with their activities allowing kids choice and a chance to share what they are learning in multiple ways.  We are both seeing things that weren’t in our classrooms a year ago when we relied on AR quizzes.  

Some of the things we see include:

Book Conferences - Teachers are meeting with kids one on one to talk about the books they are reading.  Teachers are asking questions.  Kids are talking.  Conversations are taking place not only about the book, but also about if the books are a good fit, and recommendations are being made for other books to read.

Book Talks - Kids are sharing their book with others.  They’re talking with partners, small groups, and in front of the whole class. This not only shows their understanding, but also generates an excitement for other students to read the book.  

Book Reviews - There are a variety of formats on how this looks in classes.  Some teachers are incorporating technology and using Padlet or Bookopolis for their reviews.  Others are using traditional paper and pencil for kids to write a review.


Keeping Track of Books Read - Some teachers have created graphs or Google forms to log the book genres.  Others have students make their own Google sites for students to log books they read and their overall rating of the book.  


Reader’s Notebooks - Some classes have created personal notebooks where kids get to respond in writing or pictures about their reading.  The kids get to choose what they want to write about and/or draw.  The kids loves these books!  They love that they get to choose.

Sharing what we see is important, but we also feel it is important to hear from our teachers.  After talking with them there is a mixed response.  For those that had their students take AR quizzes on a regular basis, some miss the accountability they feel that they quizzes gave them. Others however love that their kids are talking more about books and not having the pressure around reaching a goal.  

“I love the Reading Response Notebook and how I've seen the students take pride in them. The only negative for me without AR is not having the ease of looking online to see how many books a student has read and their comprehension (on details at least) of them.”
Jill Padilla, 2nd Grade Teacher, Sargeant Elementary

“No longer the stress of taking test and wondering if a student should read a book because of its point value. Kids are reading a book because they want to.”
Erin Roberts, 3rd Grade Teacher, Stoneridge

“Negative-AR is a quick way to check in with student reading. I liked that it was an option for kids to take a quiz if they wanted. Some kids really liked it.
Positive- Some kids got stressed out with goals/points. Parents also felt this, so it's a positive to not have ‘worry’ as a part of reading.”
Sheila Schue, 3rd Grade Teacher, Stoneridge

Mr. J, a 4th grade teacher as Sargeant put it best, “I really didn't look for something to replace it. I have been blessed with a group of students that truly love reading and we make time to read (for pleasure) everyday.”

That is exactly what we want for all of our kids.  We want them to find time to read every day and truly love it now and for years to come.  

Not only are we seeing differences in what kids are doing, but we also see teachers sharing ideas with others.   Two of the teachers from Stoneridge Elementary are even providing professional development to other K-5 teachers in our district at upcoming professional development.  Here is their session description:

If you’re looking for some engaging, practical, and motivating strategies to track your students’ reading, then look no further! Our techniques will help your students fall in love with reading and books and we will you help build a classroom community of readers.  We will be discussing some electronic tools such as Padlet and Bookopolis, as well as some good old fashioned paper and pencil strategies.  We will share best practices that incorporate writing, speaking & listening, and more. Your students will be begging for time to read and you will be amazed with their growth and love of reading.  

That description sounds a lot better than teaching teachers how to give an online multiple choice test.  
When we asked students if they missed AR, there were a variety of responses.  Some students mentioned that they miss the rewards aspect of it.  This isn’t hard to believe since most kids like a reward if one is offered.  However, once again the research is clear on rewards for students and that they produce short-term gains but not long-term results. We want the long-term results.  It was interesting to us that when we talked to students, even the ones that liked AR, not a single student said they read less because AR is gone.  We could find many students who did not like the pressure of meeting their AR goals and are enjoying reading more than ever.  

At the end of the day, take away AR, and your school will survive.  We can’t say for sure that kids are reading more without AR, but we know they are not reading less.  Without a doubt, kids are talking more about what they are reading than ever before.  Kids are sharing books with others and getting excited about new ones they hope to read.  Teachers are coming up with creative ways for their kids to share their reading and understanding with others; something that a multiple choice quiz doesn’t do.  There is also the cost.  Our school combined are saving over $7,000 by not having AR.  So yes, some students miss the point rewards.  Some teachers miss the accountability piece they felt the quizzes provided.  If students are talking more about books, reading just as much (if not more than ever), and teachers are coming up with more creative ways to know what kids are reading, then there is no reason to go back to AR.  


Thursday, August 4, 2016

If We're Going to Have Homework, Let's Do It Better

Homework has always been a controversial subject for teachers and parents, and there are all sorts of opinions: We have parents that want more homework, parents that want less homework, and parents that think that the more homework that is given the more rigorous a class must be.  This past year our staff looked at best researched-based homework practices for students.

Many parents noticed that in the 2015-2016 school year there seemed to be less homework at our school.  There was no mandate from me to have less homework.  As a staff we had great discussions around homework and what we could all agree on for every teacher in TK-5th grade. Instead of a mandate on less homework, as a staff, we came up with the common agreements around homework.

Staff Agreements on Homework:
-We do not consider reading homework.  We recommend that students should read 20-30 minutes on average a night.  We also encourage our staff to read 20-30 minutes as well.
-Being intentional about how many problems we give including mixing some new problems and spiral review.
-If parents say it is taking too long, they can write a note.
-We will not take away recess for not doing homework.
-Homework is work they understand and can practice, it is not a new skill they are working on or did not show mastery in class.
-We use a standards based report card so homework will never count against a student's grade.  Homework is for practice, not for summative assessment.  

What Does Research Say About Homework?
I personally have read many articles on homework and two books specifically on homework.  I have truly tried to look and see if there is a benefit to elementary school students doing homework.  I have yet to find one study or research that can link elementary level students doing homework and their achievement levels going up.  There does seem to be research that shows a benefit for high school students.  Even the benefit for middle school students is not as much as you would think.  

John Hattie is a leading educational researcher.  He has looked at 195 different influences on student achievement.  An effect size of .40 is what he calls the "hinge point".  Anything above the hinge point is considered something that has a greater than average influence on achievement.  Homework comes in with an effect size of .29 which would rank it 120th out of the 195 influences on student achievement.  Now .29 might not seem that far off from .40 but that is for all students, not just elementary students.  In the book Visible Learning for Literacy, they state the the effect size of homework for elementary students is only .10, which would rank it 171st out of the 195 influences.  In fact Hattie himself says that homework for students in K-3 has an effect of zero.  Harris Cooper, researcher and professor from Duke University has done many studies on the effects on homework.  He found in elementary school, homework had no association with achievement gains.  He states, “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”

There is plenty of research though to back reading on student achievement.   The School Media Library Research Journal states in their article, School Achievement and School Achievement, “students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not.”  As Donalyn Miller points out in her blog post, I’ve Got Research. Yes, I Do. I’ve Got Research. How About You?, “Stephen Krashen found that the single greatest factor in reading achievement (even above socio-economics) was reading volume—how much reading people do.”

What Parents and Teachers Say (or have said in the past):
Here are probably the most common things I have heard as a principal in regards to parents who want homework:

How can I prepare them for middle school or high school if they don't have homework now?  
First off, we are an elementary school.  It is not our job to match the high school or middle school homework policy.  We have recess at elementary school, as they get older they do not.  We would never think of getting rid of recess to match their policy of no recess as they get older.  Second, I talk to tons of previous students who are now in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.  All of them have said that they do not do tons of homework in middle school.  They have reading, some projects, and usually 8-10 math problems a night.  Congrats to the school we feed into for being reasonable about homework.

How will I know what my student is learning at school?
This comes down to the question, is homework about communication with parents or for learning?  A lot of times homework is used as communication and there are other ways to communicate what is happening in class.  Some teachers send home assessment binders, others post updates on their websites, and some take pictures of the math steps and email to parents.  If you are not comfortable with the level of communication and understanding what is happening in class you can always contact your child’s teacher.

Homework teaches them responsibility and time management.
There is zero evidence of this claim.  Plus there are many other ways to teach students responsibility.  They can help around the house, help cook or clean.  They can play team sports or join programs like Destination Imagination.  There are many ways to teach students about responsibility and time management besides assigning homework.

I need something for my child to do when they get home from school.
We know some students are very busy with activities after school.  We know some are not.  Being 6 years old and going to school all day can be tiring.  We want them to have time to play, read, be with friends and family. Homework should not be assigned to keep children busy at home.

What can Stoneridge parents expect in regards to homework next year?
So if research is against homework why even give it?  We know that homework does provide parents with some communication around what is happening in the classroom.  There are other ways that teachers can get parents that information, but homework has been part of how parents receive communication for a long time.  Another reason is despite the research, many parents and teachers still believe that homework helps students.  For many people it is too large of a shift to go from nightly homework to optional homework for students.  Our TK and Kinder teachers went with all optional homework last year.  We did not see any difference in achievement.  In grades 1-5 there will still be homework assignments.  While there will be homework, our staff will stay committed to the agreements that are listed at the beginning of this post.  Our teachers will still let parents know if there are certain skills that students are lacking and need more practice.  As a parent, if you have questions about what is going on in the classroom or your child seems to need more help with something, please reach out to the teacher.  We are here to help.  We want our students to succeed just as much as you do.    

To summarize, we are not getting rid of homework.  At the same time, as we start being more purposeful about homework, there seems to be less of it.  As a parent, if you want to continue working on academics at home there are an endless amount of free resources.  Our teachers can give recommendations as well.  We know homework can be a controversial topic because both parents and teachers want what is best for students.  But while we all care about our children, let's look at what research says and what we know vs. our own experiences as children.  Research is pretty clear around the lack of academic benefits around homework.  Research is clear about the importance of reading every night, and as parents, we know that reading seems to go away first if there is too much homework.  

If you ever have any questions about our homework policy or anything in regards to academics at Stoneridge please feel free to contact me at anytime.  I look forward to this upcoming school year and helping provide your child with the best education possible.

Here are more resources if you are interested in reading more about homework:

Balanced Articles

Articles Against Homework

Pro Homework Articles
A Teacher's Defense of Homework- The Atlantic