Friday, September 19, 2014

Let’s call it “practice” or an “opportunity” to showcase learning!

Homework is a hot topic with many different philosophical beliefs.  Learning is becoming a 24/7 endeavor for students, especially with respect to technology that is readily at their hands.  So, is homework necessary?  I do believe there is a place for strategic “practice” outside the school day.  When I was teaching, I would ask students to finish their “opportunity” at home.  It was their “opportunity” to showcase their learning for the day!  The word “homework” tends to have a negative connotation, whereas “opportunity” or “practice” can empower learning and learners.  I understand that it is just a word; however, it is a powerful word, and changing our mindset can transform traditional homework assignments into empowered practice. 

Watch this inspirational Youtube video via Rick Wormeli:
-              We call it practice in our classroom.
-              Homework has emotional baggage… between parent and child or child and teacher.
-              Give different practice for different levels of readiness.
-              Homework is formative in nature
What percentage of a student's grade should homework be counted toward? Should I give the same homework assignment to each student in the class? And if a student demonstrates mastery, yet doesn't turn in homework, is it accurate to give them a lower grade for the course? Rick Wormeli (Fair Isn't Always Equal) offers his take on the burning issue of homework.

As a staff, we watched Rick Wormeli’s video and organized dialogue with respect to our homework beliefs and expectations.  We asked the questions: 

·         How do we give feedback on homework?
·         What do our parents think about homework?
·         What do our students think about homework?
·         What do teachers think about homework?
·         What is the roll of homework?

These questions, along with academic research and watching videos like the one above, truly shape our conversations about after-school learning.  We want students to be motivated and empowered to learn outside the school day.  Throughout the year we will continue to analyze our philosophical beliefs and discuss methods to enhance our current procedures. Continuing to find ways to make after-school learning more relevant and differentiated for learners of diverse readiness levels is vital.  We plan to utilize the attached chart as a guide to generate conversation in our never-ending quest to improve student engagement.  Alternatives to Traditional Homework

alternatives to traditional homework

Homework conversations are not just isolated to my career as a building principal.  I am experiencing these conversations as a parent of two school-aged children.  They both receive appropriate practice that is congruent with their developmental level; however, my son doesn’t enjoy homework.  Can you believe it?  The son of a principal doesn’t enjoy homework!  It definitely can be a challenge for him, particularly reading and writing assignments.  He becomes very frustrated, not because he is unable to do the work, because he thinks it is boring.  We try to make it a game and provide some incentives from time to time.  We always “talk it up,” showing excitement when he brings it home, giving accolades for his efforts and breaking assignments into chunks so it isn’t as overwhelming.  His homework is appropriate (needed practice), focused on skill building, and the assignments seem to connect to student interests and ability level. 

My son’s teacher has also implemented an interesting Team Approach to completing homework assignments.   The process is differentiation with student choice being at the forefront of many practice assignments.  My son is even excited about receiving points.  I imagine that his teacher is modeling enthusiasm surrounding this approach and it is catching on with her students.  My son is also enjoying the choices involved within the spelling practice.  It is giving him ownership over the practice, where he is assuming responsibility for his own learning.  The extra effort seems very empowering and I applaud the teacher!  My only suggestion would be to change the word "homework" to "practice," but it is a difficult thing to do when the word is so embedded into our culture.  All in all, my son seems to be off to a nice start in 2nd grade in regard to nightly homework... I mean... practice!   

The debate will carry on and homework will continue to be given to students.  Children need to be assigned practice and activities to build skills; such as memorizing facts, spelling, word study, etc.  My suggestion to all educators and parents is to provide targeted and differentiated practice, allowing for choice and empowering students to assume responsibility of their own learning.

Remember to embark on all homework decisions with a basic question:  Is it good for children?

Have a great week!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Think Through Math

For the past couple of years, our building has been utilizing Think Through Math (TTM) as a supplemental tool in conjunction with our district math curriculum.  We have found it to be extremely beneficial.

Think Through Math does exactly what its name suggests. It provides students with opportunity to understand mathematical concepts rather than just getting to a final answer.   The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Communication Standards indicate that instructional programs, prekindergarten through grade 12, should enable all students to do the following:

·         Organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking through communication.
·         Communicate their mathematical thinking coherently and clearly to peers, teachers, and others.
·         Analyze and evaluate the mathematical thinking and strategies of others.
·         Use the language of mathematics to express mathematical ideas precisely. 

TTM understands the importance of these principles to improve math instruction through research-based best practices combined with advanced technology.  TTM utilizes adaptive software to target individual gaps in knowledge while providing immediate corrective feedback, correcting misconceptions, and delivering quality differentiated instruction.  As student’s mathematical skills progress, TTM meets them at their level, providing new concepts and related enrichment so they are continually engaged, supporting their individualized instructional level.  The uniqueness of TTM is that students can connect with a LIVE certified teacher when they are unable manage a problem on their own.  TTM understands the importance of immediate support when a student is struggling with a new concept.  Connecting and interacting with a live teacher enhances the likelihood for student success while taking their mathematical skills to the next level. The Foundational Principles of TTM:

·         Motivate & Engage
·         Utilize Adaptive Placement &Personalized Instruction
·         Provide Opportunities for Learning Autonomy & Ownership
·         Create Meaningful Practice
·         Implement Higher Leverage Teaching Practices

These foundational principles are what drive TTM, while providing fun differentiated instruction along the way, with on-the-spot support from certified teachers.  Monteith teachers and students continue to benefit from TTM’s pedagogical practices. 

What our teachers at Monteith are saying about TTM:

The Think Through Math Program helps me in the classroom in many ways.  First, it provides me with the opportunity to provide differentiated instruction.  Students can work at their own levels, while still getting teacher support as needed.  I can monitor and change pathways as I see fit to help students reach their individual math goals. Another way it is helpful is that it provides the class with a common goal.  Students earn points and achieve a team prize of their choice. Lastly, it helps boost children's confidence in math!  Students are working at their own pace to achieve rewards for skills they accomplish, no matter at what level they are working at.  Overall, I feel TTM is a great addition to my 5th grade classroom.  5th grade teacher

Kids like the autonomy of going back to where they left off… without having to “check in“ with the teacher. They like that nobody else (except the teacher) can see what lessons they are on, how they scored on the pre quiz, post quiz, etc.   They like being able to have extra lab time during the week for TTM, and the chance to work on it at home. Last year, with our class/grade/school goal of completing 30 lessons, it became an opportunity to encourage our classmates… applauding those who made it into the “30 Club” and receiving praise from the teacher (either when I typed a comment to them on TTM or mentioned it in person) that I was proud of their progress, hard work, extra time using the program at home, etc. 5th grade teacher

My students…benefited greatly.  They LOVED the challenge and the ability to work through problems at their own speed.  …loved the competition part too.  …Students were thrilled to know that they were really high in the school and the state.  3rd grade teacher
Students love selecting an avatar that they can personalize as they gain points.  The more points earned through passing lessons allows students to modify their avatar with new features.  Perfect motivational tool for students!  Principal

Monteith has enjoyed the opportunity to work with Think Through Math.  It is supporting our ongoing school improvement efforts, providing students with deeper understanding of mathematical concepts while motivating and empowering them to be life-long learners. 

We truly appreciate the financial support of our PTO who provided funding for TTM.  Thank you for being our partner in education!  Your support is always appreciated! 

Have a great week! 

To learning more about TTM, check out this video which highlights the following:
Think Through Math is America’s premier math differentiation system—a Web-based curriculum proven to raise math achievement for students in grades 3 through Algebra I. The program is designed to meet the rigors of the Common Core and accelerate students to grade level. Students who complete at least 30 lessons in their targeted pathway are proven to make measureable gains on standardized tests.

For additional information about TTM contact:
Matt Young
Regional Manager - Midwest
Think Through Math
Cell: 586.713.7513