Tag Archives: summative

Hitting the Homework Doldrums


English: Homework

English: Homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have posted before on the subject of homework but it is always good to have a different perspective.  Below is a post from FlyLady on the topic. In Ontario, homework may be marked, it is not supposed to be part of a child’s mark.  In teacher lingo, any assessment of homework is formative assessment, not summative assessment.  The purpose is to reinforce what is taught at school, usually in the way of practice.  However, that is not the case everywhere:

From FlyLady.net 
Homework Problems and Solutions

Homework is one of the biggest issues that parents and teachers work on together – and it’s one of the things that kids hate most about school.  One of our

educational myths is that all children need to do homework every night.  Research tells us that for elementary school children, homework has little or no effect on academic achievement.  A head start on establishing good study habits is probably the most positive outcome from elementary homework – that, and an opportunity for parents to keep track of their child’s progress in the curriculum.  Homework in middle school has a moderate effect on achievement, but it’s really during high school that homework becomes an important factor for academic progress.

Parents are often concerned about the amount of time their children spend on homework – either too much or too little.  Many school systems have a “rule of thumb” about the appropriate amount of homework: ten minutes per grade level is the most common.  So your first grader should have 10 minutes of homework, your fifth grader should have 50 minutes of homework, and so forth.  By the time students are in high school, a general expectation is 1 to 2 hours of homework

Homework

Homework (Photo credit: TJCoffey)

every evening.

Another policy issue is the effect of homework on the final grade.  Many students get poor grades because they don’t do homework and get zeroes in the grade book.  In my school system, the homework policy recommends that homework be no more than 15% of the grade in elementary and middle school, and no more than 20% in high school.

We all know that homework can make evenings a living hell. When children have piles of homework every night in elementary and middle school, it’s often because they aren’t finishing their work at school.  In other words, they’re doing a day’s worth of work, plus homework, every evening.  I’d cry too!  Your child may be really struggling with the school work, or he may need to develop organized study habits.  In any case, if homework seems excessive or if your child gets upset every night, it’s time to take four steps:

Homework

Homework (Photo credit: Hades2k)

-Find out if your school or school system has an official homework policy, and read it.

-Schedule a parent/teacher conference.

-Establish a homework routine

-Work out an incentive system for homework completion.

The first step is to find out if there is an official homework policy.  In my school system, it’s under School Board Policies on the system website.  If you can’t find it, ask the teacher.  If there isn’t one, you have an excellent project to suggest to the principal, the superintendent, or a school board member.  The homework policy gives you an idea of how much time your child should be spending on homework and how it affects grades.

The second step is to schedule a parent/teacher conference.  Teachers want children to complete assignments and learn the material, but they also want children and families to have time at home to relax.  Your goal at the conference is to find out two things:

-How much time the teacher expects homework to take every night.

-What’s going on in class that’s causing the problem if your child’s homework load is greater than it should be.

Then it’s your turn to tell the teacher how much time your child’s homework is actually taking, and share any observations you have about your child’s work or work habits.  If your child is forgetting to bring home assignments and books, ask about setting up a check-out system at the end of each day.  If your child is fooling around all day and not completing work, suggest a home/school behavior plan.  If your child is struggling with the work, ask about academic interventions and progress-monitoring.  Write down the plan, and schedule a follow-up conference.  Be clear about what the teacher will do and what you will do.  Involve student support staff (school psychologist, guidance counselor, school nurse) as necessary.

Teachers can also offer accommodations to help your child complete homework.  This is very common for children with special needs.  Here are some ideas to discuss:

-Agree to the amount of time the child will work at home. The teacher will then accept the work that was completed and give a grade based on what the child actually finished.

-Reduce the homework load.  For example, having a reduced spelling list or only doing the odd math problems.

-Do the assignments a little differently.  For example, write one word answers instead of complete sentences for social studies questions.  Dictate longer answers to a parent, or use a computer for writing.  Allow a parent to read the assignment to the child, or take turns reading.

The third and fourth steps are to establish a homework routine and an incentive system.  Some children can get homework done pretty much independently, and it isn’t an issue.  Others, though, drag their families through three and four hours of crying and screaming every night.  Life is too short for that!  The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has an excellent homework survival guide for parents on their website.  Go towww.nasponline.org, select the Families tab, find the Back to School section, and select Homework: A Guide for Parents.  Peg Dawson, a school psychologist from New Hampshire, has a lot of suggestions about setting up routines and reward systems.  I’ll briefly summarize her points:

Homework

Homework (Photo credit: MarkGuitarPhoto)

-Set up a routine for where and when homework will be done.  Choose a place, and set up a homework center with supplies and a calendar for due dates. Remember that some children do best in a quiet spot away from the family, but others need to be near Mom or Dad for help and supervision.  Do homework at the same time every day.  Some children do best if they get it finished up as soon as they get home from school, but others need to play or

Homework

Homework (Photo credit: Sharon Drummond)

relax first.

-Help your children set a homework schedule every day.  Sit down with them for a minute or two and review their assignments, make sure they have all the necessary materials, set time limits for each assignment, decide in what order to do the assignments, and schedule in a break or two.

-Set up a system of rewards for homework completion.  Some children do fine if they just have something good to look forward to when homework is finished, like a favorite TV show.  Others need something a little fancier, like earning points towards a bigger reward.

Computers are often used to complete homework ...

Computers are often used to complete homework assignments. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

-Write a homework contract that states expectations and rewards.

Different children need different homework routines.  Children need to be part of the discussion and planning for their own homework routine, because you are teaching them to be responsible for their own learning.  The big decisions are: Where will homework be done, when will homework be done, what are the rewards for completing homework appropriately, and what are theconsequences for failing to complete homework appropriately?

It’s your job as a parent to provide the setting and structure your children need to

English: Don't waste your time and do your hom...

English: Don’t waste your time and do your homework! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

complete homework.  It’s also important to provide the supplies and organizational tools your children need.  Supplies include paper, pencils, markers, ruler, calculator, and glue stick.  A timer helps many kids keep on track.  The most important organizational tool is a calendar.  At the beginning of the year, write down school holidays and the dates report cards come out.  As the year progresses, keep track of field trips, picture day, conferences, science fair, SAT dates, and due dates for assignments – especially long-term ones.

Homework, guerrilla style

Homework, guerrilla style (Photo credit: jbloodgood)

Some children are motivated and rewarded by grades.  Others need external rewards and consequences.  Adults like to talk about what “should” motivate kids, but the truth is that grades aren’t important to everyone.  Start where your child is when it comes to rewards and consequences!  Some children are motivated to do homework by the promise of TV or computer time after it’s finished.  Others need the opportunity to earn points towards a bigger reward.  Some children need immediate rewards.  Others like to work toward a bigger weekly reward.  Here’s a sample homework contract for a sixth grader named Dana:

Homework Contract

Dana agrees to: Bring her assignment sheet home every night.

A homework diary of a Japanese elementary scho...

A homework diary of a Japanese elementary school student. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bring home the books she needs for the assignments.

Fill out a homework schedule as soon as she gets home.

Follow the homework schedule.

Work at the kitchen table while Mom gets dinner.

Ask for help when she needs it.

Place completed homework in her backpack.

Mom agrees to: Help Dana fill out the homework schedule every day.

Keep the homework center stocked with supplies.

Help Dana when she asks for help.

Let Dana be responsible for her own homework.

Motivators:       If Dana completes homework appropriately all week, she can

-skip all chores on Friday

-sleep in Saturday morning

-earn points towards a guitar

-one point for each completed assignment

-one point = 25 cents

Homework

Homework (Photo credit: shareski)

Consequence:  No TV or cell phone on any night Dana doesn’t finish homework in a reasonable amount of time and with a good attitude.

If you have a child who is struggling with homework, pick just one of these four steps to get started.  Look up the homework policy online, or touch base with the teacher.  Set up a homework center, or get a calendar and write down assignments.  Just get started, and add steps as you can.  In the end, you’ll have a

Homework Review

Homework Review (Photo credit: Rice and D)

solution to the homework problem.

Our very own education specialist Alice Wellborn is now a regular contributor at FlyLady.net and we are thrilled to share her wise words with all of you. Alice is a school psychologist and the author of the amazingly helpful book No More Parents Left Behind. Get the book at: No More Parents Left Behind

You can follow Alice on Facebook here
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Rethinking “Education for All” Charts: Does Paperwork Improve Teaching?


Having just posted a number of charts based on Education for All, (See For Teachers: Some Charts Based on Education for All) I find myself appalled at the amount of paper work a teacher deals with. These charts add to the already increased load of paper a teacher might find herself dealing with in the course of the year.  If it improves learning in the classroom, I am all for it; the question is does it improve learning?

First let’s review some of the paper a teacher deals with in the course of a normal year:

1.     Set up marking records

2.     Collect tombstone data about students and pass on to the office, recording relevant information for own files beforehand.

3.     Reviewing students’ OSRs  (Ontario Student Records) for information about the children.

4.     Collect and record money – school fees, Scholastic books purchases, milk for lunch, hot dog day fundraisers, school field trips, photographs; it is expected that the teacher add up the money, record who paid what and record the amount of change, dollars, cheques & totals before submitting it to the office.  Often she is expected to hand it in to the office on a daily basis for safekeeping.

5.     Write a detailed description (after researching and reserving activities and possibly buses) to apply to take her class on a field trip.  Her principal and superintendent review this; if either of them wants a change, it must be rewritten and resubmitted.  This means that the teacher does every thing she can to speed the approval process along, as she is anxious to have approval quickly to retain her spot and bus.  Field trips include anything outside the school grounds which means that even a walk around the block must be written up and submitted for approval.

6.     Locate, price and write up an order sheet for textbooks for an application to the principal to purchase on the off chance the money is available.

7.     Record sufficient notes about behaviour and academic performance of each student in the class so she can support her comments in any interview with a parent.

8.     Write up her notes for the next day’s plans in a clear fashion with reference to textbooks etc. so a supply teacher can take over her class in event of illness or accident.

9.     Prepare materials for lesson plans manually in the event suitable textbooks are not available.

10.  Do attendance at least twice a day and see that it is sent down to the office.  No, students may not do the attendance.  A mistake can wreak havoc, either worrying a parent or not alerting the school & parents to a child’s absence.

11.  Notes from parents about children’s absences.

12.  Everyday memos from the board, the union, the parent council, colleagues and the school, catalogues and flyers end up in a teacher’s mail slot; some require action, some request help, some are merely informative.  I have a bumf file and put everything in it in case I need a memo later on.  At the end of the year, I can usually throw the whole lot in the recycling.  Still, some of them are important so each must be scanned and the key ones dealt with, responded to, pinned on the bulletin board, information provided, door decorated, children informed or taught, time allocated or lesson plans changed.

13.  Report cards are largely done on computers these days.  The programs change yearly or every two years, mainly in response to bugs in the previous programs, but each new version requires time spent learning.  In some schools, the teachers print them, in others it is done by the office personnel.

14.  Report cards – sign, fold, put in envelopes, give to children; Make sure all the comments sheet with parental signatures are collected from children the following week, then filed with a copy of report card in the OSRs – every term

15.  Write IEPs for every exceptional student in the class, copy filed in the OSR and a copy is sent to the parents – by the teacher, every term

16.  Record number of hours each child has spent in French class updated on a card in the OSR in June – by the homeroom teacher.

17.  Photographs of each child in the class stuck in place in the OSR and dated

18.  Tidy contents of OSR into a specific order in June

19.  If the students are in a class that is leaving the school in June, bundle the students’ OSRs according to which schools they will attend.

20.  Of course, teachers photocopy their own material, create or buy signs, posters and other decorations for the classroom.  If the equipment is available, they also laminate them.  If they are lucky, money is available for decorating the classroom.  Either way the classroom is empty when they arrive and they are expected to decorate it appropriately.

Now add the documentation from Education for All

So what is all that paperwork for?  The two main reasons are records and accountability.  When you think of it, they overlap in spots: report cards both record and account for student progress and marking records and teacher’s notes support the more formal report cards.  Even recording hours of French is necessary given the number of different programs.  It wouldn’t be sufficient to record the program as students frequently drop out into other programs. (See French as a Second Language is not Taught in a Vacuum; How Do We Teach All the Children?)  Recording hours of French is a form of accountability although it is not related to the teacher recording them.

The question is, how much paperwork is necessary to provide sufficient record keeping for the sake of accountability?  Just looking at the incomplete list above, you can imagine what proportion of a teacher’s time this requires.  Which of these activities would be better replaced with planning, helping children before and after class and assessing the students’ work?  I can list several items of which all or part are not directly related to teaching:  #2, 4, 6, 11, 13 to 20.  As you can see, much of it involves filing.

When I first started teaching, my principal believed that teachers should have goals for their students written down.  This only came out when some teachers were evaluated and expressed their indignation at what was an unusual expectation.  Most teachers have goals for their students tucked in the back of their mind, goals that change as the child changes, but few think of writing them down any more than they would write down the criteria that determine where they seat a child in the classroom.  Believe me, that can be a long list, including sight, hearing, behavioral and learning factors, friends, distracters, need for cues from the teacher and so on.

As a new teacher, I was also being evaluated, so I quickly jotted down my thoughts on my students and casually stuck the page behind the half a dozen pages that formed my notes supporting my plans for the day and week.  Naturally, when the principal went through my day plan, he found them and I earned brownie points.

The thing is that writing down my goals for my students hadn’t created them; they were there all along, otherwise I couldn’t have hastily written them down before the principal’s visit.   The most that writing them down had done for me (besides improving my evaluation) was to clarify them a little.  Within a week or two, the goals were no longer accurate because the child was changing, showing new strengths or weaknesses or I was gaining greater insights.

Where writing down observations and goals did help was when I had students whose difficulties seemed beyond help in my classroom.  Then, I worked to write them down accurately and clearly because I was going to turn to my colleagues or principal for help.  If they did not know the child, then I was going to be the sole source of information.  At that point, the information garnered through the Education for All Charts would be useful.  Virtually nothing is left out.

Is it necessary to fill out all the charts on literacy and numeracy for every child?  Most teachers are very aware of the basic academic and learning skills of each student in their class by the end of the first term and many have them pegged much earlier than that.  As long as each child is learning well and assessed accurately both formatively and summatively, is a learning profile worth the cost in time?

To explain:  formative assessment is evaluation used to figure out how much the student has understood.  This helps the teacher determine how to teach the next section; it also helps the student understand what needs reviewing.  Summative assessment is used for final evaluation i.e. marks.  In theory, these are separate assessments; in practice, they may cross over as when a teacher allows redoing assignments for mastery or when the most recent, highest marks in a unit are used for final assessment.

Returning to paperwork: time is most effectively spent on learning profiles when a student is struggling.  At that point, a thorough understanding of strengths and weaknesses will be an asset as a starting point in determining the next steps in helping the child.  Time spent observing, reflecting and writing down the points in each part of the learning profile may provide the basis for useful insights.

A learning profile as an aide memoire in preparation for report cards or a guide for planning units may also be helpful.  The danger is that principals who don’t trust their teachers to use their professional judgment may jump on the Education for All bandwagon and ask that all these forms be used.  It will look like accountability, but it will be no more accountability than asking teachers to sign time cards.

Am I saying teachers shouldn’t do any paperwork?  No.  I am saying that before teachers are asked to do any paperwork, the usefulness of the paperwork as records or a measure of accountability should be weighed against the usefulness of the teachers’ time spent teaching or planning or assessing or consulting with colleagues.

For More Information:

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005