Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Abolish homework?

In the December 17, 2012 New Yorker, Louis Menand writes about France's President having the power to abolish homework.

As a parent of a student who hates homework, I find it trying to stay on top of it for my son.  As a teacher who tried to teach literature in a class where no one did homework, I found it trying to get anything done.

Where is the happy middle?

In Finland, "students there are assigned virtually no homework" and yet the country has the most successful educational system.  South Korea, on the other hand, has the second most successful educational system yet it piles on the homework and their students are not happy.  What can we learn from Finland????

With more excuses given for why students cannot do homework, I wonder why we don't investigate the methods of instruction used in Finland so our students can excel.

I am troubled that we seek methods of grading that allow students to pass a course without mastering the material.  For example, grades are given (or not) for signed quizzes and tests.  This is going on in my son's math class and I worry about his future.  While I recognize that my son is not easy to teach, he is a test subject on why our educational system is having difficulty.  He is a kid who doesn't ask questions, doesn't do homework or classwork, yet sits on the edge of passing.  I think we can all agree that he is an at-risk student.  However, since he doesn't meet the at-risk demographic, no real attention is given to his standing.

I would like to see data on why students are not doing well is subjects.  Is it the test?  Is it missing homework?  Is it apathy?  Is it a language barrier?  Then, once this real information is gathered, I would like to see what can be done to help them.  It's true that the state assessments have determined that my son cannot read informational text.  I am concerned as both a parent and educator in why.

So, I come back to the idea of homework.  My husband and I have requested that our son's teachers sign his planner (a pain, I know) so that we can stay on top of him and ensure that he does his work.  It has been our experience that the homework given would help him learn.  In fact, when he does the assigned work, his grades on tests improve.  There -- a solid connection.  However, that is what works for one student.  He is a model for one type of child.  What are we doing for those who do not improve even when they do the work?  That's the data that we need to assess.

Monday, March 11, 2013


I had the pleasure of attending a Saturday Seminar hosted by the Hudson Valley Writing Project.  The topic was called Engaging Student Voices Through Digital Learning.  It was wonderful and made me think of connecting to schools.

My daughter believes that when teachers attend any sort of professional development, they should have to present their findings to the school/department and then show how what was presented is being applied to the classroom.  This is a great idea.  Teachers need validation for the work they do.  Often when teachers are given a chance to sit and chat about what they are doing, they can benefit from the insights of their co-workers.  In this environment, even the most hesitant teacher can be urged to try something new.

So, what will I apply?

Edmodo - I learned about this in Clark County but didn't use it.  The presenter on Saturday showed some great applications.  The bottom line: I will reconsider this when I get back in the classroom.  As a teacher I don't need to be at my classroom computer to upload information.  It's also set up like a facebook page so students can communicate with my supervision (thus inappropriate comments can be nipped in the bud).
Digital Essays - this is something I would like to look into.  It seems that the teacher provides pictures for the students, then the students use those pictures in various ways.  Perhaps the teacher wants to ask students to include some vocabulary with the pictures.  There is much to use here, it's just a matter of setting the lesson up correctly.

The bottom line?  Technology is a great tool to get kids more connected to learning.  However, if schools want teachers to make use of the technology, it would be best to provide support and dialog to enhance the lessons for all.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Do Teachers Still Read?

I had a wonderful conversation with an English teacher for whom I sub.  He and I chatted about what is good reading -- for us, for middle school students, for teachers.  Oddly enough, when the conversation was coming to an end, he said, "It's so good to talk to another teacher who reads."

Good point.

Last year when I was in Clark County, I was friends with only four people at the school where I taught.  Three of them were English teachers.  Imagine my surprise when I asked what anyone had read during break (I cannot remember if it was Christmas or spring), the answer was, "Who has time for reading?"
Really?  I feel confused.  I thought English teachers LOVED books.  I do.  I enjoy reading best sellers, classics and YA books.  I enjoy participating in booktalks.  Am I a dinosaur?

In this age of standardized testing and closing achievement gaps, shouldn't the field be looking for teachers who do read?  Student reading scores cannot improve if they are not reading.  In this age of technology, students seem to disregard reading for more immediate pursuits -- gaming and texting.   If teachers are not reading, how can we get our students to read?

Maybe it's time to make reading a part of the interview process.  Value the dinosaur.