Friday, September 26, 2014

Homework! We're talkin' 'bout homework!

An ode to one of my favorite sports rants of all time, Allen Iverson, as he proclaimed, "Practice!  We're talkin' 'bout practice!" 

I wanted to talk about an often dreaded, always opinionated topic in the world of education: homework.

Over the past several weeks I have come across a significant amount of Facebook and Twitter posts, blogs, and articles that debate the amount of homework given by teachers, the long-term, detrimental effects on the child's well-being, and how homework stemming from the Common Core is ruining America.

This blog post will not be addressing any of this.  That discussion is for another time, another place, and most likely another person (because it's a debate that no one wins).

Instead, I want to focus on something that has been irking me a bit.  Two words.  Two simple words.  Two words that we use multiple times a day.  The words has and gave.

Why you ask?  Why are such small words causing me such distress?  In the context of discussing homework, I have come across these sentences too many times now: My child has (fill in the number) hours of homework tonight.  My child's teacher gave (fill in the number) hours of homework tonight.

These sentences are often followed with general concerns over the child not being able to be a kid, lack of family time, going to bed late, etc.

So why the concern about such small words?  For one, by using "has," this is promoting the assumption that each child in the class is spending the exact amount of time on homework, which is highly unlikely.  This would be metaphorically equivalent to saying my child has twenty-two minutes to run a 5k (which would personally be a pipe dream for me these days).  Some people can complete a 5k much quicker, while other, like myself, are going to need some extra minutes.  Though the assignments are the same, we are going to work at our own pace, accomplishing the task in our own amount of time.  Next, by using the word "gave," one is assuming that the teacher has the power to assign times to homework, which would be a pretty awesome super power to have if it were feasible. [Before anyone tries to argue here, I know teachers do assign x amount of minutes of reading each night, so I concede in that scenario.]

So instead, I want to offer the alternative wording that would be much more appropriate: My child has worked on homework for (fill in the blank) hours.  [add in general concerns afterwards]

I don't want to just leave the conversation ending like this though, because it is not addressing the problem that the general parenting public faces.  What about the child who is taking three, four, or five hours to complete homework, and you think it's too much?  Is it possible to become a better homeworker?  In many cases, yes.  Oftentimes, it takes reflection and subtle changes to make it happen.  If this problem is ruining your household, here are some questions to consider:

1) Is your child in a distraction free environment when doing the homework?  The television, computer, cell phone, siblings, and video games are all distractions that can take away from a consistent focus on their assignment.  So an assignment that may have taken 10 or 15 minutes all of a sudden is taking 30 minutes to complete.

2) Does your child have a good working space?  While some children can work efficiently on the couch or the floor, some need to have a working space that is more conducive to a "work environment," like a desk or table.

3) Is your child asking the right questions?  It's been a long time since some parents stepped into a school, so they are not able to necessarily help with homework like they want to.  It is the child's responsibility to ask questions when they are confused.  If the child is coming home from school without an understanding of what to do, teach them to ask questions, either for clarification or misunderstandings before they leave school.  This can prevent frustrations when the homework begins.

4) Do they have a network?  Questions certainly arise at home as well.  Does your child have a friend(s) or do you have a family friend who you can call upon when content questions arise if the content is beyond your realm?

5) Are you setting goals and time limits?  This is something I personally had to do a lot of, especially in high school because of my hectic sports and extra-curricular schedule.  Before I started my homework each night, I mapped out what assignments I had, the priority in which I needed to get them done (since some were not due the next day), and how much time I would spend on each.  This helped me stay on task and it created a checklist for me as I finished assignments.  It's always fun crossing things off when you finish them.

Good luck and feel free to add your own homework strategies below!  And don't forget to order your copy of Inside the Trenches for your favorite teacher!

Monday, September 15, 2014

First Day Activity Idea

It's been a while since I have had a chance to write a blog post, primarily due to the consumption of my life with the release of my book. [insert shameless plug for Inside the Trenches, out now on]

I wanted to write a quick post about a fun "get to know you activity" I was able to do with my Wake Forest students in one of my classes.  Traditionally, the first day of a college course may involve handing out the syllabus, going around the room saying your name, where you're from, and why you're taking the course, and leaving early.  In larger classes the professor may skip it all together and just start teaching.  In K-12 teaching you will see a variety of get to know each other activities, some of which are excellent.  I have been seeing a lot of people using Dave Burgess' Teach Like a Pirate idea using play-do on the first day, which I think is a wonderful one.  I have also used name games in the past, BINGO, scavenger hunts, and "find someone else who has ..." type games.

The one I used the other day I think went a bit deeper and had some rigor and self-reflection, but also fun involved (which I am all about).  First, the students watched a wonderful TED Talk video called "The Danger of a Single Story" by Chimamanda Adichie.  I'm not going to take the time to explain the details of it, but I strongly suggest watching the video.  It's powerful, and one that many can relate to.

The students watched the video before class, but watching it as a class would be just as, if not more, meaningful.  In class, I explained to the students that each of us, at some point in our lives, will be judged by our single story, for better or for worse, but logic tells us that there are many chapters that make up our lives.

To complete the activity, I used the program Padlet. is an interactive, real-time contribution-based platform.  Think of it as a poster board with a bunch of sticky notes on it, except it's all done electronically.  I created my pad for the activity and gave each student the URL, so they can access the pad.  (Of course, each student would need to have an electronic device.)  I modeled what I was expecting by putting up the first three chapters of my book (which, of course, included bacon for those who know me).  They then had about five minutes to add the first three or four chapters of their "book."  Afterwards, I allowed each student to quickly share a couple of reasons why they had those chapter titles.  By the way, the creator of the Pad has administrative rights, so you can delete or edit anything that someone posts (if you're worried about what kids will put up). 

It was a far more engaging and insightful way for me to get to know the students than what is traditionally done.  We had some good laughs along the way, and it gave me an appreciation for many of the unique stories that make up my class.

If you'd like to check out our pad, click here.