Is It Because We Call It Homework?

Homework – that dreaded word….. Is it important?  Is it useless?  I’ve always felt that homework was an integral part of the a child’s education.  I still do.  After seeing this article published by Edutopia (Homework vs. No Homework Is The Wrong Question), I’ve grown ever more confident of my opinion.

When I was able to teach English for 90 minutes a day, I didn’t stress much over homework.  For me it’s always been some form of independent reading, reading comprehension practice, and vocabulary practice.  When I moved to a new school and I only had 60 minutes (if I’m lucky), I began to depend heavily on homework to make sure that we are able to cover everything.

I love how the author of the Edutopia article asks, “What do we believe should happen after the end of the school day to help ensure that students retain what they have learned and are primed to learn more?”  How many of us have seen the image below?

Credit: Nagy, W. E., R. C. Anderson, and P. A. Herman. 1987. Learning word meanings from context during normal reading. American Educational Research Journal 24: 237–70.


I just don’t have the minutes during my class time, so it becomes a staple of my homework.

My homework definitely varies.  In the beginning of the school year, students had two days of basal reading and two days of independent reading.  But, it was really difficult the next day in class when students hadn’t read the text! After a few weeks of seeing my students struggle with the reading, I began creating videos of the reading to assist them.  Most of my videos are done in class, and the homework is an extension of the concept.

About halfway through, I changed it up…..again!  Ss would read, listen to, or watch the text video in class on Monday (first read) and then they watch the “concept” video at home.  That worked a whole lot better, because they’d get a “second read” in class and then we could discuss it, because I knew EVERYONE had had at least one read.

With vocabulary I began alternating roots and affixes with vocabulary units that would help improve students written vocabulary (a way to improve the “voice” in their writing). The first few weeks, most of the kids were bombing the test!  So I began adding a vocabulary homework component – just a way for them to practice.  It helped…..scores drastically improved!

In addition to assigned homework, other activities are totally optional.  I just provide incentives for those students who complete them.  What they are able to come to terms with themselves is that if they take the initiative to do the work, they see an improvement in their grades which makes them more likely to continue to do them.

I do like this question that the author’s poses, “Maybe what we need is a new word for all this. Instead of “homework,” how about “continued learning” or “ongoing growth activities?”  I’m going to try it out next week (no homework this week because of standardized testing) and let you know how it goes!

Until the next time,



Innovative Classrooms

To look up innovate in the dictionary your find:  to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.  What does that look like in the classroom?  It can look like so many different things.  Technology is a great way to innovate the classroom, but it’s not the ONLY way.  I’ve been using technology for years to innovate my classroom.  Years ago, I was the first of the teachers in my school to allow students to use my classroom computer to create content.  Back in the late 90’s my students created PowerPoints to showcase research.  I created Jeopardy games that engaged my students.   I purchased computer software with my own money that would help students to deepen their learning.  And it worked! Students were excited about learning and it showed!

For me, the Flipped Classroom would definitely be considered innovation in my classroom.  In recent years, I have continued to use technology.  We had access to netbooks and my students were able blog and connect with other students.  We also used ActivExpression devices which allowed me keep all students engaged; but once I heard about the Flipped Classroom I felt that was the game changer for me.

Now students are actively engaged, but they do so at their own pace.  If they didn’t understand the information, they can always rewind the video or go back and review their materials without hindering another student.  This time of year, I get really proud because they have learned to be pretty much self-sufficient.  They spend the majority of their time figuring out their problems on their own; they don’t come to me until they’ve exhausted their own repertoire.  Plus it really frees up my time to work with students in small groups and on an individual basis.

Since there are only a few of us flipping in our district, I think that would be a great way to change instruction.  It’s definitely where I plan on starting!

Until the next time,



Planning – It’s in the Eye of the Beholder

I’m what you would call spontaneous.  I’m sure my ADHD has something to do with that.  I do my best thinking in the shower.  Because of this, my plans change constantly.  I make someone with OCD pull their hair out.  Luckily, I work with amazing people who accept me as I am – and kids who love to go with the flow!

When I first started teaching, I feverishly worked on lesson plans (because that’s what we’re taught to do, right?) but after I got my final evaluation as a new teacher – the lesson plans pretty much stopped.  When I started at my new school 5 years ago, I looked a my principal and said, “You know I haven’t done lesson plans since probably around 1999, right?”  He thought I was joking – I wasn’t.  Those first few years were rough.  I would get glowing observations from admin, but would constantly see the words, “It’s obvious you’ve planned your lesson, but where are your lesson plans?”

It’s not that I don’t always have a plan in place – but my plans are fluid.  If something doesn’t work right for my first class – there’s no way in the world I’m killing that dead horse three more times.  So I struggled…..with highlighting what I was doing in my classroom on this 2D sheet of paper.  I actually still do.

Flipping my classroom has helped with that; but I’ve still struggled.  When I started flipping my classroom, we were towards the end of the school year.  My kiddos were able to work well in unsupervised small groups, because they already knew how mean and crazy I was.  The DID NOT want the face “the wrath”.

How that looks at the beginning of the school year is completely different.  They don’t know me yet.  I don’t know them yet.  So I had to change the way I wanted my classroom to look.  With new standards and a new textbook that we were expected to use and I’ve had to change they way my classroom looks many, many times.

Some things remain consistent.  Making sure students have time to read independently, write through blogging, and practice skills that I know they’ll be assessed on.  For me, it’s also imperative that they have time to think critically and create based on their learning.  And I also need that time that I can work with small groups or students on an individual basis – this has helped me add another dimension to my relationship building.

The best thing that I could have done it put everything on the board for the kids.  Objective….check!  Step by step instructions…check!  No more do they ask me, “What’re we supposed to be doing?”  They look at the board and keep it moving – and that frees me up to work with kids without interruption AND helps me not to flip out on them.

These last few months have been difficult for me.  For the first time…..EVER!…..we’ve covered all the standards….super EARLY.  So I’ve had all this extra time that I want to make sure is used effectively.  It’s still trial and error but isn’t everything.  In this world, by the time you get the hang of something – it all changes again.

So if you ask me is planning necessary, you’ll hear a resounding “Yes!”  But what that looks like to me may not be what you think.  What I’ve come to realize is that what the kids have to follow is much more important than anything any adult that comes into my classroom has to follow.  And if they have a questions….hey…..ask a kid.

Until the next time,