Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What Do YOU think About Homework?

Homework....can be an issue that teachers have to deal with especially at the middle school and high school level. How much to assign? What to assign? How to monitor homework? How to make homework meaningful? What if the kids don't do the homework? Is homework included in the student's grade? What if a student never turns in their homework, but does well on all their assessments?

It is time to take a look at homework again. There are many research studies on homework and the effectiveness on student achievement. Homework should not be just answering the questions at the end of the chapter.

Here are some key ideas for you to think about:

"There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students. There is only a moderate correlation between homework and achievement in middle school. Even in high school too much homework may diminish its effectiveness and becomes counterproductive." (Cooper, Harris, Jorgianne Civey and Erice A. Patall, "Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research 1987-2003." Review of Educational Research, 76, 2006, 1-62).

Students need feedback on their homework and they need it in a timely manner. Doing homework and then putting it in a bin in the classroom and receiving the homework back with a check mark on it serves NO purpose for student learning. That type of homework is simply making students comply rather than using homework as a learning or assessment tool. Design the homework so that you can provide meaningful feedback to the student, acknowledge student understanding and point out any issues that need reteaching.

Teachers need to develop homework that focuses on smaller pieces of learning so that students can practice the skills at a deeper level. How about homework developed around the instructional target that you are focusing on in the essential outcome of your unit? Having students practice more on focused concepts will increase learning. "Mastery requires focused practice over days or weeks. After only four practice session students reach a halfway point to mastery. It takes more than 24 more practice sessions before students reach 80% mastery."(Anderson, 1995; Newel & Rosenbloom, 1981).

How do you develop homework so that students will DO the homework? Homework should not be too easy or too hard, it needs to be at the appropriate level that ensures learning with some challenge. How can you design the homework so that it is relevant and meaningful and that the students see the benefit of the practice?

Look at your grading practices. How much does homework count in the quarter or semester grade? Think about the impact of one low homework grade on a student's total grade? Is the "grade" about doing the homework, or about the student's mastery of learning?

Happy Homework!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Start Preparing for Parent-Teacher-Student Conferences

It seems like school has just started, in fact school has been in session about 5 to 6 weeks. In about another 5 to 6 weeks, your school will be holding parent-teacher conferences, an annual fall event. I would like to talk to you about parent-teacher conferences and how you can make them more meaningful for parents, students and YOU, as the teacher.

• As you prepare for conferences, review the learning outcomes you have developed for each unit, the instructional targets and assessments that demonstrate student learning. Using the Common Core standards now should allow you to assess students on each standard and know exactly where they are!
• Tell parents how their student is doing on the learning outcomes. Use your assessments to demonstrate their learning. It means nothing to say that the student has a grade of an A, B, or C…that does not tell how the student is doing. Be concise, develop an agenda that you can use in your conferences to share information effectively. Use language the parents can understand; with the educational jargon we use, that can put parents on the defensive.
• Have samples of student work to demonstrate progress. YOU do not need to compile all of the student’s work; have the students select work that demonstrates their progress and put in a folder to share. This engages students in understanding their current level of performance and how they are progressing. You should start this at the beginning of the year with students; if you haven’t, start at the next unit.
• Involve students in the conferences. Even little bitty Kindergarteners know what is easy and hard for them. By having students a part of their conferences, there is no hidden agenda, they understand how they are doing and they should be able to communicate that to their parents. Can you imagine your principal doing your evaluation with your husband or mother?!!!! Students are the learners and should be part of the process in understanding their progress and achievement.
• Some conferences with parents and students might be difficult. If you anticipate that, ask the principal, department chair, or another support staff to participate in the conference with you. Remember to communicate regularly with parents on student issues and not have conferences be the first place to discuss student difficulties or significant issues.
• Listen to what the parents have to say. Most parents are genuinely concerned about their student and if you listen to what they have to say, you will

build a better partnership with them. If there are issues that need to be addressed, have two or three solutions that you and the parents can work on together.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Making Targets Meaningful for Students

Teachers need to do more than just list the targets on the board. Making the target meaningful for students involves a student knowing what the target is, when they accomplished it and how working on and mastering the target will assist in their understanding of the essential outcome. Each lesson builds student learning to the bullseye, the mastery of the essential outcome.

Students will understand the criteria for the targets by how the targets are presented. For younger students, "I can" or "I will" statements can be used.

Older students can have a list of the essential outcomes and all the targets that students will need to know and be able to do.

Students need to know the steps to mastery, what they need to KNOW and DO, how will they know that they are successful and lastly, why do they need to learn it.

Students can use a variety of tools to monitor where they are in the learning process. Rubrics can be used to see how students are progressing and the level of learning for each student. Older students can use a notebook or an electronic list with targets outlined in order to monitor their learning progress.

Homework and assessments should all include the targets being listed on them so that the students can always connect their learning. This makes all learning explicit and students actively engaged in their own learning.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Instructional Targets

As a teacher, you want students to be engaged and accountable for their learning. Teachers design their units, based on the Common Core Standards, and then begin to break that standard down into small teachable, learnable and assessable parts.

Take a look at the photo I have attached. This chapter/unit overview is from an Algebra I class. The essential outcomes are outlined for the chapter/unit as well as the targeted learning that will help students master the essential outcomes.

The teacher starts each lesson with the overall goals of mastery of the knowledge and skills. Students can see what knowledge and skills are necessary to master each essential outcome, can assess what they DO know and ARE able to do, and what they will have to demonstrate to show their learning. There is no hidden agenda; there are no "gotcha's"; the learning outcomes are specific and explicit to all.

Based on the essential outcomes and the learning targets, teachers are better able to monitor student learning. It is more than a grade-- A, C, or F --- it helps teachers know where EACH student is in the learning process and what their students need; to be able to differentiate, remediate and enrich. Students are better to monitor their own learning as well! THEY KNOW what they know and can do!

Try this with your next unit. The next step is to have students review the process for the essential outcomes and targets at the beginning of the lesson, rather than the teacher.