Thursday, November 16, 2017

6 Don'ts When It Comes to Homework


My last post was on my 6 Do's for Homework.  Here are my top 6 Don'ts:


Don’t Say You Are Preparing Them for the Next Level
Let’s stop pretending that students aren’t flexible and can’t adjust when given a new challenge.  In my previous blog post, I wrote about how if another level has a bad policy that it is not our job to match bad policy.  If you teach elementary students, then do what is right for elementary students.  If you teach middle school students, do what is right for middle school students.  
At middle school they don’t have recess, does that mean we should take away recess so we can “prepare them” for middle school?  No, of course not.  The high schools in our area start around 7:45 and most of our elementary and middle schools start closer to 8:45.  Does that mean that high school students don’t make it to class their first year because our elementary schools didn’t prepare them to wake up earlier?  Of course not.  
Also, a lot of times you will hear middle school or high school teachers say they are preparing their students for all the homework they will have in college.  In college, you go to class 15 hours a week.  In middle school and high school, you go to class over 30 hours a week.  In college, you get to choose your classes and possibly even choose which days and times those classes are scheduled.  Do we do that in middle school and high school?  No, we do not.  Usually, when a student starts college they are 18 years old.  Let’s stop pretending an 11-year old (or worse, a 5-year-old)  should have the same responsibilities as an 18-year-old.

Don’t Punish Students For Not Doing Homework
I usually like to hear what people have to say on different topics because I know I am not always correct in my beliefs.  However, if a school or teacher is not allowing a student to go out to recess because they did not do their homework, it is wrong.  In elementary school, this is usually called putting the kid on a bench. Kids need recess. If they didn’t do their homework more than likely they don’t know how to do it, have other activities that are important for that child and family, or don’t have a parent that is able to help them.
For middle school, punishment usually comes in two forms: lunch detention and taking away enrichment periods.    If a student doesn’t have their homework, teachers may have them sit in a room to work on it during lunch.  Some schools have built in time during the day for enrichment and intervention. Sometimes the enrichment will be taken away for not completing their work.   If they don’t understand a standard and you want to reteach, or if it is an assignment that they need to complete to show understanding, that is one thing.  But don’t make students come to intervention just because they didn’t do homework.

As Stanford Professor Jo Boaler states, “When we assign homework to students, we provide barriers to the students who need our support.  This fact, alone, makes homework indefensible to me.”  
Don’t Make Homework Part of a Grade
If you do give homework it should be for students to practice something they already know, reflect on their learning, or give them suggestions on ways to improve to meet a certain learning target.  
Assessments or projects that are assigned to see how students are doing on specific learning targets should be done in a controlled environment like the classroom.  When students are doing assignments for grades outside of the classroom you are more likely to cheat or have a parent do the work. We also know students’ home environments are not the same and it is not fair to have them showing their learning in an environment that is not the same as their peers.  If you are truly measuring student learning, then the work needs to be done in the classroom.
Don’t Say You Are Teaching Students Responsibility
There is no research to back this thought up.  A student completing the exact work a teacher assigned falls more under the category of compliance than responsibility.  As a teacher, I had plenty of students who did their homework that were far from responsible and I had plenty of students who never did homework who were plenty responsible.  
Don’t Worry What Parents Will Say
One other thing that comes up with teachers anytime I talk homework is that they are worried what parents will say.  If you give parents the research, explain why you are changing your homework policy, and show you have a plan for communicating, a lot more parents will be happy with the change.  At Stoneridge, we had around 575 students.  I only had three parents that were adamant that their child needed more homework.  I gave them websites and other resources and told them they are more than welcome to work on any additional work with their child, we just would not count it for points or punish their child for not doing it.

Don’t Give Homework That is Due the Next Day (or to be done over a break)
If you give a student an assignment on Tuesday and expect it back on Wednesday you are dictating how that family needs to spend time that night.  As a father of two girls who have sports and other activities, there are some nights where we do not get home until 9:00.  If we are going to have homework it is better if there is a window.  And for all those math teachers thinking they need to practice what they learned in class that night, learning is not so fragile that if it doesn’t happen right then it will be gone forever.  In college, you never have homework that is due the next day.  If we don’t do that to college students we probably shouldn’t do that to our youngest students.
If you feel you do need to give homework here are some guidelines I would recommend:
-It needs to be something they can do independently if it is for practice.
- The hardest thing you do is done in class.  Kids shouldn't be assigned independent practice problems that they’ve never seen in class and be expected to do them successfully or held accountable for those problems.
- If you are using it as a check for understanding, make it short (and definitely do not count it as a grade).
- There is no point in reviewing the homework answers in class as a whole class. You only get so much time in class with your students, use it wisely.
- It is not new learning.
Do your students see you as an advocate or an adversary? If you are doing any of the don'ts above, they will see you as an adversary. We have to have high expectations for our students and demand a lot from them, but that should be done in the classroom. The classroom is where you can give them feedback, not at home where you as an educator have no control over their environment. We should all be advocates for our students and change old homework practices.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

6 Do's When It Comes to Homework

Before school started in August 2015 I wrote a blog post to the Stoneridge staff discussing my thoughts about homework.  I shared with them that I wanted to have a conversation about homework as the year progressed and by the end of the year I wanted to see if we could come to some common agreements.  You can read the post here: Let's Talk Homework.
After reading over research and discussing throughout the year, we came to common agreements for our staff and to share with our parents.  At that time, I wrote another post that was shared with the entire school community:  If We're Going to Have Homework, Let's Do It Better 

It was a great experience leading a school site through changing homework practices. I have continued my learning on homework through attending conferences such as the Assessment Institute by Corwin, read Ditch that Homework by Alice Keeler and Matt Miller, read Hacking Homework by Starr Sackstein and Connie Hamilton, and also presented about the research on homework and alternatives to current practices with Kristina Allison at Fall CUE

Through my learning, here is what I consider 6 Do’s when it comes to homework. Tomorrow I will post 6 Don'ts when it comes to homework.


Do Look at the Research
It’s common knowledge that homework causes stress for students, parents and even teachers.  It takes away time that our students can be playing or doing other extracurricular activities.  A lot of times it decreases a student's love of learning.  We also know it takes up a lot of teacher time to think about homework, grade homework, and worry about students that do not do their homework.  That time could be spent working on lesson design or giving students actionable feedback on work that was done in class.  For all the stress, time, and potential harm that homework can do, you would think that doing homework would have a strong impact on learning for teachers to continue doing it right?

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, it states 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.
For students in grades 7-9, the effect size is .31, still below the hinge point.  Student-teacher relationships have a larger impact than homework for students in those grades.  Even for students in grades 10-12 where there is more of an impact on learning, there is danger in giving too much homework (where learning can actually decrease).   And feedback has an even higher impact size than homework.  Could you imagine if teachers took the time they usually spend on homework (thinking about what to assign, grading it, and going over it in class) and put that time into how they could build student-teacher relationships and give them specific and actionable feedback on how they could improve?  If this change happened, student learning would improve a lot more than it is right now by giving homework. Do Put Reading First
I am a former math teacher and would never have imaged this would have been one of my most important Do's when it comes to homework. However, the research behind reading is clear.  Children between the ages of 10 and 16 who read for pleasure make more progress in vocabulary, spelling, and math than those who rarely read (Sullivan and Brown, 2013).  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.” Not only are there academic benefits but studies have shown that both parents and children find reading together as a special time.
We want our students to seek out reading on their own and read for pleasure.  We need to provide them books they want to read if they don’t have those books at home.  And no, this does not mean making them read for points like AR.  If a student wants to read a science book, comic book, or poetry book, let them read!
Do Give Yourself Permission to Stop Giving Homework (Or At Least Assign Less)
It was interesting when we were presenting at Fall CUE to see how many educators were just looking for someone to give them permission to stop giving homework or to give less.  Yes, it is ok to not give homework.  
I know some teachers feel they are “fitting in more of the curriculum” by assigning homework.  You might be assigning more of the curriculum but it doesn’t mean students are learning more.  Find the key standards that need to be taught and teach those in class.  If it is that important, it needs to be done in class.
Every year I worked at Stoneridge less and less homework was given.  Here are our scores over the past three years:  


Year
ELA
Math
2015
72% (38% exceeding)
65% (31% exceeding)
2016
73% (40% exceeding)
67% (31% exceeding)
2017
73% (45% exceeding)
71%(33% exceeding)
I cannot stand that we make so many judgments about learning and schools based on a single end of year exam given by the state, but people do look at that data.  My point in showing this data is not to say that whatever gains we had was because we gave less homework. Some might say if we gave more homework scores would have gone up more, but anyone making that claim would be doing so to provide evidence to support that more homework would have made the gains even higher.  Based on the effect size data above, there's no evidence in support of that being the case. Do Give Specific Things that Parents Can Work On With Their Child If They Ask
If you lessen homework or get rid of it, you will have some parents that still want their child to do work.  I know some students are behind and their parents want to help.  It is ok to tell parents what their child needs to work on to improve and share resources that are available.  It is important though to not just give a student work to do if they do not have the support at home to do it.  Instead, focus on what interventions you can put in place when they are at school.

Do Make Sure You Are Still Communicating With Parents
I also know some parents say that homework was their way of knowing what was happening in the classroom.  In this case, homework is a form of communication.  There are many ways to let parents know what is happening in the classroom without sending home homework.  It could be an assessment binder, using a tool like Bloomz, a class blog, website, sharing on Twitter, or emailing parents what is being covered.   Do Know That Homework Takes Longer Than What You Think
I came across this interesting survey of teachers asking how much homework they assign.  My problem with surveys like this is that teachers are reporting how many minutes of homework they think they are giving, not how long it is actually taking the student.  We also know that an assignment that takes one student 10 minutes might take another student 50 minutes.
One rule we implemented when I was principal was that if an assignment was taking too long, a parent could just write a note to the teacher.  Parents didn’t abuse it and multiple parents commented to me how much they appreciated being able to communicate with the teacher that their child did not know how to do the work without worrying if they would be punished for not finishing.   This obviously isn't an exhaustive list, but hopefully, it helps educators, parents, and students. Tomorrow I will post 6 Don'ts when it comes to homework.

Friday, October 6, 2017

My Role Model and Mentor

Last year Adam Welcome and Todd Schmidt wrote about the need for mentors in education. It was a great post and I definitely agree that we all need mentors to help push us and get better. I was lucky enough to work for principals and assistant superintendents that helped me grow as a leader and taught me a lot about running a school and being a better educator.  I also have learned from some of the best educators in our country. However, none of these people are my role model. That title belongs to my dad, Dr. Hendrik Blom.


Riding bikes, one of our favorite things to do back in the day and still today.
So far all of my blog posts have been about education and my career, nothing about my personal life. Although this post is more personal, it’s impossible to think about where I am as an educator, without thinking about my dad. A little background about my dad. He was born in Indonesia, moved to the Netherlands, and then to America. He didn’t know a word of English. His dad, my grandfather, worked two or three jobs at a time to help them get by in their new country. My dad would also work, whether it was as a paperboy (riding his sister’s pink bike) or at McDonald’s, he was always doing something. My dad likes to tell the story of how his high school counselor told him he was junior college material and shouldn’t waste his time applying to four-year universities. He didn’t listen and applied to UC Davis anyway and got in.  He ended up going to dental school and orthodontic school and eventually opened up his own orthodontic practice in the Sacramento area.

Coming to America from the Netherlands, July 26, 1961.

When I was in high school people that knew my dad would constantly tell me that we were so similar. We looked the same, had some of the same mannerisms and also had the same temperament and personality. I thought they were crazy. Like many kids in high school, I felt being compared to your parents was not a compliment. How could they say I was just like him or we were even somewhat similar? I was fun, he was boring. I liked to have a good time, he only liked to work. I was always happy, he could be so grumpy. Obviously, those people comparing us didn’t know either of us very well.

Traveling with my mom.

Even though I thought we were very different, I did know that I could learn from him. Looking back, there are many important lessons he taught me growing up.

-Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, hold onto the affirmative
Not sure if this is his favorite saying but he definitely said it a lot growing up. He wanted to look
at the positive in each situation.

-Don’t Complain
We went on a trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail. He hurt his knee toward the end of the trip
and his knee swelled up to the size of a volleyball. (This is not an exaggeration, it was crazy
what his knee looked like!) I told him he should just stay in for the night and try to ice his knee.  Not my dad.  He wanted to see as much of Peru as possible so he finished the trip doing as much as he could, never complaining once.

-Go!
The only thing I can ever remember my dad saying at my sporting events growing up was “Go!” He just wanted to see me hustle and always moving forward.

-Be a Learner
My dad always wanted to see new places and learn new things.  Although he was always so busy, he found time to read and keep learning.  Even after retiring he is taking classes on Google drive so he can use those tools better.

-Do Whatever Needs to Be Done
When you run your own small business you have to do anything and everything to succeed.  Custodian didn’t show up to clean the bathrooms?  Better get on your hands and knees and start cleaning.  Nothing was beneath him and he would do whatever it took for his patients to have a successful experience at his office.

-Work Hard
I have never seen anyone work as hard as he worked.  

-"Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things and say why not."
One of his favorite quotes and a great way to look at the world.

-Find what you are passionate about
My dad always encouraged my brother, sister, and me to find what we were passionate about in life.  That is probably why all three of us went into very different fields and are all passionate about very different things.

-Strive for greatness
He modeled this all the time by going above and beyond for his patients.

-Your biggest competition should always be yourself
Worry less about what others think and more about what you can control.

-If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well
My dad believed that if you were going to do something then you give it your all.

I am sure there are more lessons that I am missing but these are just some that stick out.  All of these lessons have helped me as an educator.  As a principal, it was helpful to be able to talk to him about how he would deal with different personnel issues or work-life balance.  He truly pushed me to be better and embrace challenges and see them as opportunities.  



Being an orthodontist meant checking his granddaughter's teeth early in life.

My dad is approaching 70 years old.  Although he has retired he is still following a lot of the same lessons he taught me as a kid.  He is still learning.  Anything he does he wants to do it well.  He is still willing to do whatever it takes.  And most importantly he is still “going”.  Like anyone that gets close to 70 different medical issues have come up.  And yet he can still ride his bike 25 miles no problem (although the times might be a little slower).  He can still get out and play pickleball.  He can still take his grandkids around.  

As I mentioned earlier, when I was in high school I used to hate that people would compare us.  Now I realize that is the highest compliment anyone has ever given me.  Thanks old man, you have been a great mentor and I am glad I get to keep learning from you.

Celebrating Dad's birthday with all of his grandkids.

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