There have been many things that I have wanted to do in my fourth grade classroom. Some things I have been able to do, but others I have not. There is a piece of me that truly wishes that fourth grade was more developmentally appropriate. I wish my kids did not have to switch classes, and I wish that the Common Core Standards took their development more seriously when composing standards that they (and their teachers) must use as a guide.
A piece of my heart will always been in fourth grade, with 9s and 10s, but the time has come for me to take a break. The spark in the eyes of fourth graders is there. But so often, it is diminished as quickly as it arrives, by a teacher saying "hold that thought!" or "we can come back to that later," "maybe look into it at home!" I do not want to be this teacher anymore. I want to be able to run an inquiry based classroom, a tiny world filled with wonder without worrying about having to stop reading because I have to start word study.
If and when I possibly return to upper grades, I hope this new adventure will help with my own ability to cross the curriculum in more meaningful ways. My teaching life has been departmentalized from the beginning- and for seven years, I have worked in nice neat little boxes. For me to stay on my toes and keep learning in new ways- I need to get out of those tidy little boxes and find something new.
Next year, I am teaching Kindergarten. I could not be more excited about it! And I know this is an opportunity for me to truly take on a position following what I believe to be the best way that 4s, 5s and 6s learn. There are five other Kindergarten teachers in my district. They all are the experts in their classrooms, they all have been doing the same grade level for years. Only one other teacher will be new like me- and luckily for me, her and I see eye-to-eye on so much when it comes to learning and learning spaces. I am willing to learn from others around me, but also, I am willing and ready to take a chance on the learning I see in my mind. The kind I want for my own children.
There are so many great educators that I have followed and learned from for years. So many people that inspired me along the way. So many people that have encouraged me to try to implement Reggio based learning in my upper grades classrooms. I am thankful that these educators share their work, and I am eager to share my own work as I start this new journey. I understand that it will be filled with new obstacles and challenges, but I welcome them.
If you have any Kinder teachers that I must follow, please share their contact information below. I have included a slideshow of some accounts that I love so you can see the type of learning I am talking about here.
I have been finding a lot of inspiration from homeschooling accounts, educators and interior designers and the spaces they create. If you have any other recommendations, I welcome them.
I spend most of my day sitting next to kids on the carpet, on the floor.
I spend most of my day being hugged by kids that aren't as tall as me.
I spend most of my day having kids come up to me and touch my hair, my pretty skirt, or my shirt or my necklace because they are about to compliment me.
I spend most of my days being approached suddenly from behind with big hugs or arm casually laid on my shoulder- "Hey Mrs. Riedmiller!"
I spend most of my days letting my kids know that they have a voice and that they matter. Not just when they are older, but they matter now.
I spend most of my days helping children learn about the injustices of the world, helping them build empathy by humanizing groups of people that have continuously been dehumanized.
I have spent some of my days being physically threatened by children.
I have spent some of my days seeing children throw stools across my room. During those days, I see the looks on the faces of the other children in my class. Fear. Furniture can do that.
I have spent some of my days giving worry stones to some of my friends with anxiety- the ones who are a nervous wreck almost all of the time.
I have spent some of my days consoling nine and ten year olds who are hysterically crying because something is out of place. A paper, a pencil, something is not right and it feels like the world is over.
Sometimes my own children get to visit my classroom. My youngest runs through a carpet full of nine year olds to get to me quickly, she jumps in my lap suddenly.
You- do not get to tell me that I should carry or have a gun in my classroom.
Add a gun holstered to my waist or under my arm to any of these situations and perhaps you will see how dangerous that could possibly be. Add in the traumatic experiences that some kids have already had with guns in their short nine or ten years of life and perhaps you will see how dangerous that could possibly be.
You- do not get to tell me that I should carry or have a gun in my classroom.
You- do not get to suggest training me, arming me and then expecting me to shoot and kill a child, possibly a current or former student of mine, in the midst of a high-stress situation.
You- do not get to tell me that we all of a sudden have some money that we can find for guns and teacher training.
Where is this money when kids spend their weekends hungry, when they come to school with no supplies, when our kids sometimes don't have roofs over their heads, or when every teacher I know spends a small fortune of their own money on their work, in some capacity.
Where is this money when teachers need training and time to hone in on their craft? Where is it when we need books for our classroom libraries? Where is it when we need CERTIFIED FULL TIME LIBRARIANS IN EVERY BUILDING- but instead get NONE?
You- do not get to tell me that I should carry or have a gun in my classroom.
Do not try to compromise with me, do not try to open a discussion in which your objective is to change my mind. My post does not serve the purpose of civil discourse on this topic- not today, not ever.
Because I will not refuse to sit on the carpet, on the floor, next to my kids.
Because I will not give up the daily hugs.
Because I will not bring more worry into our space.
Because I will not stop talking to kids about how their voices can and will make change.
Because I will never point a gun at a child and pull the trigger.
In our fourth grade classroom we use TCRWP's Reading Units of Study. The units are broken down by grade level, each grade level has two literature and two informational units. The kits also come with If, Then units that help you add to your curriculum. I say all of this first to let you know what I currently use as my curriculum.
We just began our first informational reading unit and session three has us introducing text structures to students. Last year, my students struggled with this. I knew this session was coming and I was checking out the TCRWP Reading Units of Study Facebook Group and this great comment sparked the idea. A teacher shared how she helped show her students text structure by using a scene from The Sandlot.
I started thinking about some of my own favorite scenes from The Sandlot. Then, I created a post on my personal page asking friends to help throw out some movie ideas after I knew I wanted to use The Sandlot, Jumanji and Home Alone.
This work was perfect for today because yesterday we went over our pre-assessment (see The Units of Study) and one of the questions is always about how parts of a text fit in relation to the whole text, another asks students about the author's craft and technique. All of the student samples, student checklists, etc. have students using the language of text structure.
Here's how it went when I took it to my classes today.
"Alright readers. Do you remember how questions number two and three were super hard on that pre-assessment? Some of you were looking at me like 'Mrs. Riedmiller, what is technique?!'...
Readers nodded in agreement.
"As nonfiction readers, when we move from "waiting for the dentist" nonfiction reading to "reading to learn" nonfiction reading, we have to get the whole picture before we dig in. Wednesday we talked about previewing texts, and I told you that I needed to see the whole pizza before I decided which piece I was going to take.... well when we know how a text is organized we can take our previewing and ultimately understanding of the text to the next level, we read with the big picture in mind."
"Today I want to teach you that nonfiction readers think about how texts are organized. This helps us move from "waiting for the dentist" nonfiction reading to "reading to learn" nonfiction reading. Here are some of the ways that nonfiction texts can be organized: chronological order, cause & effect, compare & contrast or problem/solution."
I gave the students some keywords to look for in each category. Once I gave them the short handout it was time to watch the clips.
"I am going to show you four short videos and I want you to decide if you can figure out which videos pair up with the four text structures."
I showed the kids four videos, asking them to jot down which structure they thought each matched up with. Then I played each video a second time AFTER telling them the correct structure.
"Now I will tell you the structure that matched each video and this time as you watch the clip, I want you to see if any of the key words pop out. I want you to really pay attention and think about how that structure fits with each clip."
This is just an example of the language I use with my kids. Here are possible clips to use:
Ham Shows Smalls How to Make S'mores (The Sandlot)
I Suppose You're Gonna Fly (Space Jam)
Making Friends With a Dragon (How to Train Your Dragon)
Gotta Go (Spider-Man Miles Morales 2018)
Cause & Effect:
Roll the Dice (Jumanji, 2005)
Smart House (Annie, 2014) Thanks, Britt!
Dangerous Book (The Neverending Story)
Tra La La! (Captain Underpants)
Bull in a China Shop (Ferdinand)
First Fight at the New School (Little Monsters)
Compare & Contrast:
Wingardium Leviosa (Harry Potter)
They Named Her Matilda (Matilda)
Grandma VS Mariachi (Coco)
Kevin Sets the Traps (Home Alone)
Quick! Call 911 (The Little Rascals)
Indestructible Gnomes (Goosebumps)
I am still on the search for great clips to share with my learners and it’s important to make this note: students should be able to prove how each clip fits with the structure. I am always ready to hear proof and examples from my kids. Choosing between cause & effect and problem/solution is tough work. If a learner can back up their reasoning or thinking I am more than willing to hear them out. Be open, be willing to see if some of these clips fit MORE than one structure because many do.
I hope this lesson turns out as successful for you as it has for us. Happy nonfiction reading!
I'm popping in to let you all know how Literacy Studio is REALLY going. We have been living in the space for a few weeks now and I finally feel comfortable enough to say that we have worked out some of the kinks and now we have some new ones to work on.
Engagement has moved to Empowerment.
Students are motivated beyond what I had ever imagined. They look most forward to their 30 minute independent block. Students are sharing their work with others and even printing out books left and right to add to the classroom library and to give friends and other teachers.
Balance needs work.
The kids are struggling with striking a balance between reading and writing. I figured we needed a place where they could keep track of their weekly work. I wanted this to include a space for reflection. In the complicated work that we have taken on as of late (BEING BETTER HUMANS) we have realized that it is easy to get caught up in the work and lose the sense of original intent and purpose for the task. This will require some explicit teaching on my part, but I know once the kids have tried it a couple of times that they will call it their own and perhaps even give me suggestions for making it better. You can find this form here.
They value what you value.
Since starting my masters program and taking on writing workshop, it is no secret that I have a new found love for teaching writing. If you knew nothing about me, you would know this by walking into my classroom. With my shift, I have felt the learners shift as well. I learn more, do better, they learn more, do better. It's all excellent and fun and engaging, but I need to be very intentional with my own balance. I am working on not overly praising writing and leaving my beloved reading in the shadows. I will say this, my understanding of the marriage between reading and writing strengthens the understanding that my students take away, and I fully understand that is not a bad thing.
This format fully supports social justice and inquiry work.
Daily, I have been trying to contain myself and my excitement for the work my kids are doing. I can't put it all in one post, but my dear friend Jessica Lifshitz has Voxer message after Voxer message about the insane things these kids are taking on. It. Is. Brilliant. I know I am late to the social justice game, but I am beginning the work now and I will not stop. Inquiry work is easy with this set up because the workshop time lays down the groundwork for empowerment and more often than not students are asking me questions like: "Do you think I could do some research on Ramadan during Independent time today?" "I want to write a story because I need a mirror for myself. I need to tell my story, can I do that during Independent time?" Or one of my favorites: "My grandma is filipino and I am going to interview her about her life for the book I'm writing during Independent time."
Hold onto your hats. It has been great so far.
This is the start of a new journey for me and my students. My professional mentor text has been Jessica Lifshitz’s Blog: Crawling Out of the Classroom. I use Jess’s blog because a professional goal of mine has been to more towards a more equitable, social justice serving classroom space. Her blog constantly provides the layout of this work although she teaches fifth graders while I teach fourth. Using this mentor and the personal help of Jess has helped moved my work from a far-fetched dream to reality. This post is the one where she lays out the work for Literacy Studio, how she learned about it and how she is trying it with her kids. This post also contains the great conferring forms (more about that later) that I have been using. Jess- I cannot thank you enough for helping me through every step of this journey.
I began the week by telling my students that I was thinking about how often we finish a reading mini lesson and set off to work and I am quickly approached by someone asking me if they can finish a “personal story they are working on.” Or how often we finish a reading mini lesson about our realistic fiction work and they are burying their noses in an informational text immediately after. Noticing their wants and involuntary questions had made me rethink our time and I had to share an idea with them. An idea that I believed would offer a good solution to this really excellent “problem” to have. They were intrigued. I wanted to change class a little bit? I noticed that they wanted more time to finish their Fox Detective, Lost Unicorn and Sports Comics? I had their attention.
They were beyond enthusiastic about the change! So, we got straight down to business and figured out how much time we have together in class and how that time SHOULD be used to help us do these core things: become stronger writers, become stronger readers and become stronger citizens (social studies). We messed around with the schedule until we achieved what we believed to be the ultimate path to achieve these goals. Each day would look like this:
Reading Workshop (30 minutes)
10 minute mini-lesson
20 minutes independent reading (in the unit genre, teacher picks goals)
Writing Workshop (30 minutes)
10 minute mini-lesson
20 minutes independent writing (in the unit genre, teacher picks goals)
Independent Studio Time (30 minutes)
30 minutes (read OR write, any genre, any format, student chooses goals)
Social Studies (20 minutes)
Once a schedule was in place we decided to try it out. My students are already accustomed to conferring with me during reading and writing workshops each day. I explained that the independent portion would be a third time that I could confer with them during the day. My first class had a lot of students who chose to write during that independent block, and my second class had quite a few that decided to read. No matter what they chose, when I met with readers and writers, I had a conversation with them about how they would decide to balance their independent time. Some students decided on an every other day schedule, some said it would depend on the day of the week and how excited they were about their current book or writing piece (I love this response, by the way) and some students knew that the balance piece would be a struggle for them. We decided we would continue to work on it as we went on.
First off, there wasn’t ONE student who wasn’t engaged during this independent time. Everyone had a plan for what they wanted to do during that time. Students worked during the whole time because they had full choice over the piece or the book. Again, my kids are used to this with books, but opening it up for writing was a game changer. I always noticed kids wanting to write fantasy stories during realistic fiction and this was finally their opportunity to get to have full choice when it came to class time.
We are about three days in and I have already noticed a big difference in my students. They are even more excited and enthusiastic about class time. They also are setting their own goals with ease because of the form I am using from Jess's post. It breaks down conferring time by asking kids what they are noticing in their books and what they are proud of in their writing, once students do this part the teacher names what they are doing so students are much more likely to try doing the work again. My kids have responded to these forms and this teacher language in a positive way. Instead of basic summaries, conferences are turning into more like this: “wow, I don’t know if you know this but what you just did was explain character change. That is deep reading work.” Then students decide which noticing or proud moment they want to turn into a personal goal. They decide how they will keep track of the goal and when they want to meet with me again. It was unreal to hear my kids talk about their reading and writing in the ways that they did this past week. I told a colleague that I wish I had actually videoed a couple conferences so I could look back and remember that charge of excitement and EMPOWERMENT in their voices! My Intervention Specialist and I have already decided that we will use these student-created goals to have students rewrite their IEP goals. We then plan on having them track their work in their reading and writing notebooks and use them as their trials and evidence of work towards those goals. How powerful, right?
This outline moves me towards my goal of more student choice and agency in my classroom. It lays down a foundation for some serious social justice work that I want to take on with kids. A possible change would be reconsidering letting students work in partnerships. They are now and some are using them well and some are not. This is an area I know I’ll need to be flexible and willing to intervene on. I am leaning towards not turning them down with it comes to partnerships because think of the critical thinking and problem solving they are doing within those spaces! Something else to keep an eye on is my consistency with conferring. I have to be willing to use that great chunk of time to really get in there with kids and help them improve their reading and writing.
Using this format allows me to stay true to the workshop format and some beloved units of study in both reading and writing, dip my toe into inquiry based learning, social justice standards, and Kristi Mraz's Mindset work all while remaining true to my core heart belief that student choice and voice should rule the day.
I am excited about this new layout and I am already impressed with the ownership out of my kids. I can’t see how much further they take it!
This summer, I had grand plans.
I had read The Curious Classroom, Comprehension & Collaboration, Disrupting Thinking and more. I was ready to take on the world. I was inspired immensely by seeing Jessica Lifshitz speak at one of the Scholastic Reading Summits. I had brushed up on the amazingness that is Kristine Mraz. I had plans to pull it all together, but it kind of never happened.
Enter the new school year, enter new curriculum, mandates, committees and all of the other "stuff" that adds to our never-ending to-do lists. The stuff started piling up and I couldn't see over it all. The "stuff" was blocking the important stuff. The work. The work that I want to do.
This revelation I had this summer might shock you, it shocked me. The revelation I had is that my life's work has shifted from helping children love reading and writing to helping children change the world. This is what I felt in my bones. Not that the work that I have been doing, studying and living wasn't important, but that it was a stepping stone to the real work I wanted to be brave enough to do.
While the weekend workshop I just took had many books, strategies and ideas that I have already explored or read or worked on by myself, it taught me something else. Something I didn't expect to take away. I already live by the if it's a great idea, try it out tomorrow motto, but I have never been willing to completely go off the beaten path. I've never been willing to in the middle of the school year, ditch complete units and start over, but it is what I will do, starting tomorrow.
Reading and writing workshop is great. It's an entry point into workshop work for me and it has served my students well. We will continue the structure and continue with some of the work the fabulous Units of Study have laid out.
But I'm done with letting the "stuff" get in the way of the work I really want to do. The inquiry work. The work that gets messy, the work that has no clear path, the work that starts here and ends up someone totally unexpected. The work that empowers, not just engages.
Here goes nothing!
You can find a copy of my Reading Conference Google Form here.
It is easy enough to come across those perfectly pinned posts online. With titles like Things All Great Teachers Do, Top Ten Habits of the Best Teachers & What All the Best Teachers Are Doing, it's easy to start comparing oneself to the sea of many. We often think about experience, tenure, types of districts served, and possibly test scores when thinking about if teachers are doing their jobs.
Lacking, however, are the posts written by children. The students. I am a firm believer in asking the kids. We spend time in the teacher lunchroom or meetings making decisions about children, often not including them in the conversation. So, I have decided to pull another chair up to the table. One to be occupied by our most important critics, our kids.
I gave some of last year's students this prompt: what is it that makes a teacher good? What you find here is their responses. Published to this blog for all to see and savor. The first in this series is from a student I know I will never forget. His sharp wit and curious imagination is exactly what you would want in a student. He is wise beyond his years and in my humble opinion, has a writing career ahead of him if he really wanted it. He is the famed author of The Chicken President series that took our fourth grade classroom by storm last year. If you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, this is not the first you are hearing of this series. Here is Cameron's response to his teacher's summer writing prompt.
What Makes a Good Teacher
Basically it is caring. A teacher who doesn’t care won’t develop a good relationship with their students, causing a problem. A teacher who is willing to put in the time, effort, and commitment to his or her job is more likely to bond with students, creating a safe place for students to come in time of need.
As a student, I really felt that my teachers were there to help me. I know they watched out for me because they pushed me to be my best. The good thing about having a teacher like that is that when you are struggling in the classroom, you always have somewhere to go for help.
Though teachers should care, they shouldn’t always go “easy” on you. Perhaps the best thing that makes a good teacher is pushing you to be your best. Like my teachers say, “when you think you have finished, go back, because there is always something else you can add.’’ I love that they will always push me until my work is 100% perfect.
Also, a teacher who will actually listen to their students will be better off. Lots of teachers are great, but some go above expectation. From personal experience, my teachers have been great, but to the ones that can meet this criteria, i’d give you an A+.
Check back for more student responses, and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section. I know the kids would love to see them.
The never-ending debate trudges on. Should kids have homework? If so, at what ages and how much? In order to examine homework and it's implications, Valencia Clay and I have taken on some required reading on the topic. We have examined our own situations at teachers of fourth and eighth grade students, we have measured socio-economic factors and composed a conversation on the topic. Our collective goal is not necessarily for everyone to up and abandon homework, but rather to pull back and think about how it is used and whether it can ever be a catalyst for "leveling the playing field."
Fellow edu-blogger, Valencia Clay, teaches 8th grade and I teach 4th. The purpose of homework differs between elementary grades and middle grades, so we can came together to have a conversation about the issue.
“Simply put, American parents no longer have the time to give their children the help they need with their homework.”
SR: Our children spend on average seven hours a day, thirty-five hours a week in educational settings. Most full-time working adults average approximately forty hours a week. When I step back and think about these numbers and think about what has already been asked of my nine year olds during those thirty-five hours, providing them with an absence from homework seems to be the only humane option. With families working multiple shifts, childcare being vastly different in each home, and guardians working to spend just an hour or two, maybe just minutes with their children a day, it really does seem that time has run out. One might counter with an argument that the parents that do have time, do not spend that time supporting their children with their after hours work. My attitude is this, American parents and guardians (most of them) want what is best for their children. When we leave them no time during the week to make it happen, it is not unbelievable that weeknights with families end up being for talking, enjoying a meal together, shuffling kids to after school activities, or passing like ships in the night. As educators, we must understand that the makeup of our lives outside of school, do not always look the same as those of our families.
VC: In the middle grades and beyond, that notion is unacceptable. However, as educators, we cannot allow the heavy freight of homework to fall on our students’ parents alone. An interloping line between parenting and teaching forms when we do not consider who they are as individuals and the amount of work they do to provide for their families. We have to be demiurgic and intentional when setting expectations that revolve around family engagement. Teachers can begin assigning family-based tasks that allow parents to be their authentic selves, let their child see them as intellects, and give them the chance to model critical thinking.
Before any assignment is tasked, a parent-homework survey should be completed so that we, as teachers, will know what to expect from parents. It may include questions about their educational background, work hours, and whether they are in favor of family-based assignments. Make the questions as respectful as possible. Show a peer that is a parent before sending it home to make sure that it portrays your true intent: to build community in their home that engages around completing homework.
“The demands we make of our children often reflect the worst as well as the best in ourselves.”
SR: Alfie Kohn once said “In most cases, students should be asked to do only what teachers are willing to create themselves, as opposed to prefabricated worksheets or generic exercises photocopied from textbooks. Also, it rarely makes sense to give the same assignment to all students in a class because it’s unlikely to be beneficial for most of them.” When I first began my career as an educator, I gave generic homework because all of the teachers around me were doing the same. Guess how many of those teachers were creating their own homework? Almost none. Guess how many of them individualized what they sent home to actually meet each child’s needs at that given moment? None. I am in no way suggesting that this fits the mold for all educators, but we would all be kidding ourselves if we acted like the vast majority of teachers did offer homework in this fashion. What if students instead of spending time on traditional homework modeled more of the homework many of us do? The kind of homework with pure curiosity at the core. That kind of work where our engagement level is up because we feel empowered by the possibility of learning something new, something that means something to us. I am talking about the work where we have to know the answer to our question, because it is burning inside of us. How can we support this kind of inquiry with our kids?
VC: This is so true. At my worst: I have gone weeks without a homework assignment. Then, when I tried to assign something for the students to do outside of school, no one got it done. It was a joke. That experience made me become the teacher who gives arbitrary homework every night, just to maintain consistency. I could not even keep up with grading those daily assignments and my students began to catch on, which meant they took the homework as a joke, again. Both of these instances could have driven me to end homework once and for all but I could not do such a thing because I knew my students needed and deserved exactly what Stacey described as, “homework with pure curiosity at the core.”
At my best: We do not call homework homework, we call it life-work. When we are in the heat of a lesson, I may come up with an assignment on the fly, something that is directly related to the lesson of the day and was conceived out of a teachable moment. Generally, I may assign an ongoing, independent critical-thinking question on a Monday and allow students multiple days, over the course of their learning that week to complete it. This is where the term life-work comes in because the question is always one that makes them look at things from a new perspective… its life changing! I also make many of their assignments visual now, instead of forcing them to do writing assignments that I cannot keep up with or reading assignments that drain them after a long day. Visual assignments are much more fun and creative. For example, if we are learning about theme, I may have them bring in an item from home that metaphorically displays the theme of the short story we read. This, I find, is actually more challenging than just writing a 5-sentenced paragraph about the theme. For some kids, it becomes so hard that they need a couple of days to see the examples their peers bring in. No, not all teachers are assigning tasks like this but it is not because they cant or do not want to, it is because they have not learned how to do it yet. We should not end homework, we should put our energy into teaching teachers how to be innovative when assigning it.
“Because schools cannot control the home environment, homework raises the profoundly difficult question of how to achieve a leveled playing field.”
SR: If we want a leveled playing field in education, homework is not the arena. Homework will never, under any circumstances, ever, be a level playing field for our kids. While some children are listening to audiobooks in the back of their mother’s minivan on the way to soccer or music lessons, some are cooking their siblings’ dinner. Some of our children are homeless and do not have materials or a space to use to do their work. And while one might be swayed with heartfelt stories of resilience, shaming children or acting as though they are not doing enough in these latter situations would show a complete ignorance of the real lives so many of our kids are already leading. Punishing a child for not having their homework done, a child in a situation where survival is the number one priority, continues to be one of the most shameful practices of the US Educational System.
VC: If homework is the only way to achieve a “leveled playing field”, we should all consider ourselves doomed. Homework is by definition, a reinforcement of the learning or a pre-assessment of what will be taught – never should it be considered the lesson. The classroom is where we prepare our students to live in their limitless potential, despite the degree or nature of the home environment.
In places where we know a student does not have parents at home or a home at all, we can use that as a reason to pair them with a mentor in the community. Chances are, they will appreciate the mentor and maintain a love for learning at the same time. Homework does not have to remind us of the differences between our students but when it does, we should never ignore them, we should embrace them.
“How can we raise “whole children” when they have little time to do anything other than school work?”
SR: I find it hard to believe that so many educators expect my nine year olds to hold not one, but two full time jobs. A child attends school weekly, averaging almost the equivalent of a full-time job an adult might hold and then is expected to put in overtime when he arrives at home. The moments that should be spent taking a deep breath, running, playing, talking, exercising, relaxing, just being begin to not exist for children. I often hear teachers complain about children lacking problem-solving skills. It is in these moments that I wonder if these teachers realize they are the ones robbing our children of the very experiences that build problem-solvers. Experiences like play, and knowing that if our children do not have the opportunities to feel safe, loved and carefree at home, then we better be pulling out all the stops so they can have these chances at school. Life lessons are learned at the hands of those in our families. Storytelling is valued and honored in many different cultures and across religions. Are the overtime requirements placed on children providing them opportunities to connect with their families and learn their stories?
VC: Unfortunately, this research has proven to lack the timelessness that I expected when I initially purchased the book. It was developed way before the Internet was a common household tool, before social media, and before the marking of the neo-civil rights movement that we are living in today. In urban areas, like the ones I have taught in, many students do not participate in more than 1 extra-curricular activity. The lack of funding for youth programs leaves our children with more idle time to find who-knows-what online, while intentionally crafted homework assignments prompt freethinking time. Who says a reading teacher cant assign a musically-grounded homework assignment? Who says a math teacher can’t do the same? Is it a crime for the science teacher to ask to students to go the museum on the days that it is free to do independent and fun research of their choice? If homework is assigned intentionally, we can use it to shape and mold our children into this “whole” child we want. However, I believe building the whole child has less to do with homework and more to with teaching our students to identify their triggers and adopt tools for social-emotional adversities such as anxiety, doubt, and depression. This, again, is about more than homework – its life work.
“It’s simply the fatigue factor that keeps these programs from having the desired outcome.”
SR: Alfie Kohn spent much time with the research around homework as he prepared for his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing. To quote him again “For starters, there is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement. At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied. Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits.” Can it be the fatigue factor when the research so blatantly states otherwise? Are we blaming parents and guardians for something we already know to be ineffective?
VC: I have taught in a school that begins at 7:30AM and ends at 4:30PM. These hours make the requirement of homework sound like pure torture. Students do not need adult level responsibilities but it is our responsibility to build on their creative stamina, even after the school day ends. The research may not prove homework to be effective but should we allow social media to take the place of practicing newly acquired skills? Do we really want to engender a generation of followers and consumers instead of leaders and creators? I understand the need to create or finish a product can become daunting and lead to perfectionism and depression but the reality is, the power to create is not easy to harness, assigning at least 1-2 independent, research-based, or artful assignments a week will be a catalyst for the determination and drive that our students will use outside of the educational setting.
“Maybe its time parents finally admit… homework disrupts family life beyond a tolerable limit.”
SR: I will admit, as a parent, that homework does disrupt family life. My oldest daughter will be a third grader in approximately two weeks. She is a child who loves to learn, but does not love school. I saw it in her with the “optional” packets sent home in kindergarten. She had no interest in spending her time outside of school working on worksheets. Who could blame her? When first grade rolled around, it got even worse. Homework that year was required and my bright, articulate, rule following child would scream, kick and cry her way through her work. Work, by the way, that required little to no thought on her end. What was the point? It was certainly hard to see it as a parent and educator watching the social experiment unfolding before my very eyes. I was watching a genuine love of learning being pulled from my child. She could have been playing, interacting with her family in positive ways or problem solving as she lived her life. Instead, she spent many nights fighting with me over something I understood had no value. Disruption, unlocked.
VC: This can only be said if a school is not collaborating on the assignments. Homework should be given in collaboration with other teachers, parents, and the voice and choice of the students. Yes, 4 hours of homework a night is unacceptable. This is why each subject should claim their homework night and move forward as a school in fidelity to such agreement. Administrators and teachers of the arts should be assigned the task of working with subject areas or grade-levels to alleviate “homework packets.” If the assignment is not meaningful, it should not exist.
“As Americans, we don’t like to talk about class, but when we talk about the homework spread across the kitchen table, we have to recognize that some tables are bigger than others. Our class position in this society influences our ability to help children with their homework in subtle and complex ways.”
SR: Class affects us all, like the quote says, in subtle and complex ways. It provides us all with opportunities or maybe it doesn’t. It baffles me just how many educators lack the skills of picking up on these subtleties. Maybe you send home a homework assignment where children are to write about their favorite thing they did over summer break. If you are not being mindful about families and their experiences, you might be thinking this is an assignment anyone can be successful with. It took a child telling me that his favorite part of summer was when he got to walk to the Carryout with his dad. I had other kids talking about trips to Disney World and this child is talking about a visit to the local gas station. Other things like expecting all parents to have access to smartphones, the Internet and printing capabilities, again, just show our own ignorance and lack of understanding about our families. Not all guardians work 9-5 jobs or have their own means of transportation, yet teachers are rolling their eyes at the empty chairs during parent-teacher conferences. Until we step back and do the work when it comes to getting to know our families, homework becomes yet another startling reminder that we aren’t trying hard enough. Do parents have access to support so they can assist their kids? And do our assumptions about what parents “should already know” get in the way of building partnerships? Are you available to help coach or even speak with them at a time that works for their schedule?
VC: Its equality versus equity. Differentiation is key here. If we recognize that there are nuanced representations of class in our students, then we must develop a homework schedule and assignment bank that all students can access. In the case of homework, every student should be tasked with what they need as individual learners. If we are rallying to end homework because we do not want to go the extra mile of differentiating it for our learners and developing a burgeoning rapport with their parents, we should not be teachers.
“Rather than connecting us in a meaningful way with the school, it often alienates us from our children as they are forced to take on their role as student while we don the teacher cap.”
SR: We know that a child’s first teacher is their parent. The ways our families teach us are organic. They submerge us in language and touch, little nuances that are special to each family unit. This is the kind of genuine teaching that should be expected of parents and families. When we replace storytelling, survival techniques, religion and customs with basic comprehension and direction following, we pull at the strings of the parent-child relationship. We put strain on the unit by forcing children to participate in mundane tasks with their parents at the front of the ship. Mindlessly tasking and dragging them along, kicking and screaming out of sheer boredom. If we want our children to have strong family units, we should find ways to help support their connections with one another, not add unnecessary strain.
VC: My grandmother, who raised me, dropped out of school in the 8th grade. She never read to us, helped or checked our homework unless it was an assignment that required her to do such. I remember reading Shakespeare in 9th grade English. We were told to analyze the quote, “What’s in a name…” and to find the meaning and history of our names. Only she knew the history of the Clays and why my mother chose Valencia as my first name. I also remember having to write a list to make a recipe for chocolate cake in my math class, and yet again, only she had that! Together, we were both students when completing these assignments. She was learning about Shakespeare while I was learning about myself. These are just a few examples of authentic homework assignments that can be done in a home of parents who may or may not be educated to the highest standard. It is okay for parents to feel like students at times. This does not mean that we are donning the teacher hat, this means we are promoting learning as a life-long process.
“Homework must be examined in the context of how it affects the organization of the family and the family structure as well as how its impact is felt across socioeconomic lines.”
SR: Bottom line, we know the research and it supports not giving students homework. We also, as smart educators, examine a lack of equity when it comes to the playing field of home education. Taking all of these things into account: the strains on the family unit, impact across socioeconomic lines, lack of effectiveness supported by years of research… what’s the point? At what juncture do we decide that the quickest move we can make in the work of leveling the playing field of education is to actually pull homework from the table?
VC: I totally agree. Homework must be examined but not ended.