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.

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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.  

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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.  



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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

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

10 Ways Teachers Can Support Principals

This blog post was co-written with Todd Nesloney.  You can find Todd's website and blog here.


Together we recently wrote a blog post called “Top 10 Tips for First Year Principals”.  The post got a great reception and lots of conversations were started.


One of the comments that was made on Twitter was from Mr C and it said “Great post guys! I often wonder how I as a teacher can support my principal better?  Any ideas?”  And right away that got us thinking…..


As a principal, it’s our job to steer the ship.  To lead the way. Did you know that nearly 30% of Principals who lead troubled schools quit each year? And that by year 3, half leave their job? You can read more about it here.


But a school runs as a team.  As a family.  It takes every single one of us.  There are ways that we could all support each other.  But we wanted to write a post with a few ideas on how teachers can best support school principals! (Do you have your own ideas? Share in the comments below!)


1. Ask your principal how they are doing or how things are going
As principals it is our job to check in with people and build relationships with everyone in
the building.  However, it is great when a teacher stops by in the morning or comes up to us during recess and asks how we are doing.  It might not seem like much, but we can both remember the people who have taken the time out of their schedule to come say hello and check in on us.
2.  Talk to them when there is an issue
There will be times you will disagree with our actions or decisions.  Always come to your principal first when there is an issue.  We have to work together and trust each other.  For example, some states like California have a union.  If you go to the union before talking to your principal first that immediately breaks trust.  Same goes for going to the district office with an issue before talking to your principal.  We are both lucky that we have never had a problem with this at our school sites.  Our teachers have come to us anytime there is a concern.  There might be times you need to get others involved, but always talk to your principal first.  
3.  We don’t mind complaints, but bring solutions too
As leaders of the school, we don’t mind hearing complaints at all!  We all need to grow and continually get better.  But one thing that everyone can do is when you bring complaints to the table, be prepared to bring potential solutions as well.  There’s nothing worse than hearing someone tell you how much they don’t like something, while offering no ideas on how to make it better.  Share your frustrations but also share ideas on how to make it better!
4.  Help promote your school
One thing that everyone wants to do is promoting the great things happening at your school.  School administrators should be leading this charge in sharing your school story, but we need help!  As teachers, any time that you can share the story of your classroom, students, and school, it benefits all!  Share, share, share!
5.  Connect with other teachers to bring new ideas to your school
The principal is only one person.  No matter how connected they are, how many conferences they go to, how many books they read, they still need your help bringing new ideas to the school.  The more connected you are with other teachers, the more great ideas you can bring to your campus.  You will also have a different perspective than they will.  So connect with other teachers either in person, or on social media like Twitter and Voxer and bring those great ideas to your principal.  
6.  Do your best to understand all the directions they are pulled in
Teachers understand how hard it is to meet the needs of all the students in their classroom.  As a principal it feels the exact same way but instead of let’s say 30 kids in a class you have the needs of all of your teachers, secretaries, librarian, custodians, aides, psychologist, resource teacher, nurse and those are just the members of your staff.  You then have usually over 1,000 parents that have different ideas of what needs to be happening at a school.  There are so many people who need the principal and we are pulled in so many different directions.  Just doing your best to understand that helps out your principal a lot.
7.  Understand they are not the previous principal
This could be a good or bad thing depending on what you thought of the previous principal.  We have no problem letting us know of traditions or great things the previous principal did but just know we are not them.
8.  Never talk bad about your principal (or any staff) to members of the community
There might be frustrations with what is happening with your principal or a different teacher at your site.  This goes back to the trust we talked about earlier.  As soon as you talk about about a staff member to someone in the community you are breaking the trust we are working on building at our school.  There are enough other people that like to bash educators, we need to be the ones being positive to the public about what is happening at our school and all of our staff members.
9.  Let them know when something is going well
As a principal, a large portion of our day is spent dealing with upset staff, upset parents, upset central office, or disciplining students.  Sometimes it can feel like we’re doing everything wrong and that everyone is angry or frustrated with us and we begin to lose sight of the great things going on.  One way teachers can help with that is by letting us know when something is going well.  When you had a great day, when you like an activity, when you just want to tell someone ‘thank you’.  We want to celebrate with you.  We need those moments so we can feel like every decision we’re making isn’t a terrible one.
10.  Invite them
As principals, we’re constantly being pulled a million different directions (just like teachers!) and when that happens we forget or don’t know about every event going on on campus.  We love being invited into classrooms.  Whether that is to a class party, science experiment, to read to class, to team teach, whatever!  We know it’s our responsibility to be seen and actively involved, but we also like when we’re invited too.
BONUS: If you have a first year principal just know they are going through a lot adjusting to their new job (especially the first two months)
There is definitely an adjustment when you become a principal.  It doesn’t matter if your principal is coming from an assistant principal job or straight from the classroom.  By doing your best to try and understand this adjustment will help them.  It is especially important that you ask them how they are doing (tip number 1) the first month or two.  They might not tell you, but it will mean the world!


This list is just a start.  Everyone wants to feel needed, valued, supported.  We may have been able to come up with a few ideas on how teachers can best support principals, but really this list could fit any position on a campus.  The whole motivation and ideals behind this post was that we wanted to provide ideas for all of us to best support and build up those we work with.  


Both of us love the ways our campus staff make us feel.  We know we’re at the campus we were meant to be at.  But we’ve heard so many stories from other leaders who don’t feel that way (for a variety of reasons).  It’s going to take all of us, but together we can build a school where every individual feels valued and important.  

In the end we know it is on the principal to support teachers and staff.  But anything you can do as a teacher to help support them as well will help them be a better leader, and in turn will make your school a better place for our students.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Is This Real Life?

If you would like to check out other blogs about #NAESP16, please read these great posts by Todd SchmidtLiz GardenLindsy StumpenhorstNick ProudMark FrenchJen Kloczko, and Lynn Colon.



David after Dentist is a Youtube video showing a kid who is still feeling the effects of medication and isn't really sure what is happening right after he left the dentist.  The video has over 133 million views on Youtube.  If you have never seen it, here is the two minute video:



Why am I leading my blog post about #NAESP16 with this video clip?  I had so much fun, laughed so hard, met so many amazing people, did so many cools things, that the one question that kept coming to my mind was, "Is this real life?"  

So in honor of David After Dentist here are my top moments using some quotes from the video:

"Is this real life?"
I got to present with someone I greatly admire in Jennifer Kloczko.  I was able to write a blog post with #KidsDeserveIt author Todd Nesloney (we actually wrote two blog posts, second one coming next week).  I was able to get video editing tips from Brad Gustafson.  I was able to talk and hangout with the authors of #HackingLeader Tony Sinanis and Joe Sanfelippo.  I learned and laughed with Todd Schmidt on our very long water taxi ride to and from the baseball game.  I got to talk writing and blogging with Ross Cooper.  I was able to hangout and connect with everyone in our amazing PLN: Andy Jacks, Jessica Cabeen, Julie Vincentsen, Kas Nelson, Kathy Melton, Kyle Hoopes, Lindsy Stumpenhorst, Liz Garden, Lynn Colon, Mark French, Nick Proud, and Theresa Stager.  Forget just being some of the best educators I know, these people are some of the best people I know.


"Don't touch it!"
Sometimes you have to just go for it.  After our PLN all first met in person at the keynote we had the idea that we should go up on the stage and get a picture.  Were we supposed to get up on that stage?  Probably not, but it did lead to this awesome picture.

Connected leaders on stage at NAESP

"Stay in your seat."
Not sure how to explain the ferris wheel right other than my stomach hurt the next stay from laughing so hard.  This is the power of being connected.  To have so many laughs with people you just met cannot happen without being connected in someway beforehand.

"You have four eyes."
I tried writing this about 20 different times and still not sure what to say about the picture below.  Sometimes at a conference you just have to have some fun.

"I can't see anything.  Yes, you can."
As much as I love learning and making new connections, I also love to explore new places.  Our nation's Capitol is an amazing place, one I hope to be able to take my family to soon.  Between the Monuments at Moonlight tour and getting to explore the last day, I was able to see more of D.C. than I thought I was going to be able to see.



"Why is this happening to me?"
All of the opportunities to present, write, and hangout are due to the fact that I decided to become connected.  Obviously if you are reading this you are probably connected in someway.  If you are not connected, it is amazing the opportunities and friend you can meet just by deciding to connect on Voxer and Twitter. 



"Is this going to be forever?"
Obviously the conference is over so that doesn't last forever.  But what I am always amazed about is how these connections start on Twitter and Voxer and turn into so much more.  I didn't even know Jennifer Kloczko or Todd Nesloney a year and half ago and now they are very good friends.  Todd Schmidt is coming up to visit in September.  I also have no doubt that these connections and friendships will last a long time.  We will be there to support each other, ask advice, and hopefully create more memories.  So while the conference is only 3 days, the laughs and memories will be forever.