Sunday, September 28, 2014

To Give or Not to Give Homework. That is the Question...

Homework (n) - a learning task that evokes tremendous excitement, felt no student ever.

Throughout the history of education, homework tasks have been given, and depending on who you ask, homework has multiple meanings. If learners struggle academically, homework has a negative meaning.  If they excel, it can be a bore or just another chore. 

If teachers want to give homework, they should keep in mind the goal of homework, to reinforce skills that students have already be exposed to.  Failure to meet that goal will certainly send students and parents toward a different goal, wondering why the teacher would assign something so difficult.  When teachers assign homework, they should always consider the following criteria if they want parents and students to find it beneficial.

  1. Familiar Content - Homework should be over content that is familiar to the student.  Work that is unfamiliar to students can cause frustration or create bad habits or incorrect understanding.
  2. Time Considerate - Homework should be something that the student can do in a relatively short period of time.  Consideration should be given when deciding how much homework to give students.
  3. Feedback - Homework works best when teachers review the task and give feedback.  Research shows that homework that is not reviewed by the teacher has little effect on learning. (Marzano. Classroom Instruction that Works. p 64.)
  4. Parent Support - Parents deserve to know what level of help is expected of them to give to their children.
  5. Relevance to Students - Students deserve to know how homework will help them in their future learning.


When encouraging parents to get involved with teaching their children good study habits, here are tips from the US Department of Education  on ways parents can help their children successfully do their homework.  The last thing parents want from homework is to be confused about the role that they serve when it comes to homework.

Make sure your child has a quiet, well-lit place to do homework.
Avoid having your child do homework with the television on or in places with other distractions, such
as people coming and going.
Make sure the materials your child needs, such as paper, pencils and a dictionary, are available.
Ask your child if special materials will be needed for some projects and get them in advance.
Help your child with time management.
Establish a set time each day for doing homework. Don‘t let your child leave homework until just
before bedtime. Think about using a weekend morning or afternoon for working on big projects,
especially if the project involves getting together with classmates.
Be positive about homework.
Tell your child how important school is. The attitude you express about homework will be the attitude
your child acquires.
When your child does homework, you do homework.
Show your child that the skills they are learning are related to things you do as an adult. If your child
is reading, you read too. If your child is doing math, balance your checkbook.
When your child asks for help, provide guidance, not answers.
Giving answers means your child will not learn the material. Too much help teaches your child that
when the going gets rough, someone will do the work for him or her.
When the teacher asks that you play a role in homework, do it.
Cooperate with the teacher. It shows your child that the school and home are a team. Follow the
directions given by the teacher.
If homework is meant to be done by your child alone, stay away.
Too much parent involvement can prevent homework from having some positive effects.
Homework is a great way for kids to develop independent, lifelong learning skills.
Stay informed.
Talk with your child‘s teacher. Make sure you know the purpose of homework and what your child‘s
class rules are.
Help your child figure out what is hard homework and what is easy homework.
Have your child do the hard work first. This will mean he will be most alert when facing the biggest
challenges. Easy material will seem to go fast when fatigue begins to set in.

To Give or Not to Give Homework

The answer to this question can best be answered by this 2-part question. What purpose does homework serve in helping all kids learn, and how will the teacher gauge if the students learned from it?  Every learning task must have a purpose for supporting learning. Homework that is given flippantly or is not monitored to support learning should not be given.

Finally, deciding whether or not to give homework is often based on whether educators think kids will do it or not.  The excuses of home support or work ethic provide quick roadblocks to this issue. If this is the case, it all comes down to relationships and accountability.  If we can build strong relationships with kids, show how homework will benefit their learning, and hold them accountable for doing it, homework will get done in a way that enhances learning.

Drop a comment to share your thoughts on homework.  Your comments are extremely valuable to those who read this post.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rage "with" the Testing Machine

Over the past 10+ years in my administrative role, I have seen just how important state tests are in a child's life. Regardless what you believe about standardized testing, it is the gatekeeper to the rest of a child's life. No matter how much you may want to change the legislature's mind about standardized testing, today's kids can't get into college without it, and in states like mine, Texas, "The Test" must be passed in order for any child to graduate from high school.


Raging against the machine is one way to take a stand, but we mustn't do it at the cost of our children's education. Personally, I don't want my children to be taught to a test, but I don't want my children to have teachers who choose to ignore the test either. I want my children to be prepared for college because education has epic impact on the quality of their future.  I want my child to be taught above the test.   For today, the test is a necessity for them to get to college.  It is their proverbial rite of passage.

Let's Take a Test
Here's a multiple choice test question for you. I want to know what is the best pathway to solve an educational quandary that has be plaguing our nation for quite a while. 

Which method would be the best way to prepare kids for the real world while making a significant change to our current system of standardized testing?

A. You can advocate against testing by keeping your children home on testing days.

B. You can say "There's nothing we can do", and continue to live with the machine and prepare kids for the test. 

C.  You can prepare kids of today to be successful in today's system while also actively promoting and advocating for a new and more meaningful method to gauge each student's college or career readiness. 

D. Make a suggestion in the comments below. 

Now let's break down those answers. 

A.  Wrong.  (Win-Lose). While I don't disagree with taking a stand, this decision negatively impacts kids in the process. It tells kids that they don't have to take or pass a test that is a requirement to earn a diploma. 

B. Wrong (Win-Lose). Sure kids will be prepared to pass the test, but the machine will also be reinforced as a best practice to assess kids' preparation for the real world. Nothing changes. 

C. Correct. (Win-win). This answer is the right kind of thinking. Educators with this mindset are preparing kids for life under the current system while proposing progressive changes that will be more beneficial to gauge academic readiness for future generations.

Raging with the Machine is the Democratic Process in Action. 

Having a win-win mindset as opposed to an "either-or" philosophy is exactly what our country was founded upon. If you  want to change education, you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. We must remember all kids still have to meet today's standards.  These governmental requirements are what our kids need for life. Whether you like it or not, this is their reality, and you must make sure it is a positive one for them.  Conversely, you should work feverishly to think about future generations, the skills they will need, and the assessments that will best determine mastery of those skills. Standardized testing has been here for a long time, and there are many people who want to see it continue. Fighting against it will do no good.  Fighting with it and offering plausible solutions is what will ultimately make a lasting and productive impact on all kids and the future of education. . 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

It's Connected Educator Month, So Share your Recipe

What's your favorite recipe?  Is it Mom's apple pie, or your favorite barbecue sauce. Is it the American Cookie Factory's Chewy Pecan Supreme or Pizza King's pizza, King's Delight (the best Pizza in America)? Besides salivating with hunger, don't you wish you knew the secret to that favorite recipe?


Great recipes aren't shared very often, but the product of those recipes is paraded around like a brand new car. This is because great recipes are a sign of excellence.  Strangely, great recipes aren't just about food. They are about the people who invented them. Recipes are guarded out of fear that if the recipe is shared, the creator will lose not only his recipe, but the notoriety for being the recipe's creator. 

If you think about it, education has great recipes that we call lessons, and for the last 20 years or so, we have had this pressure to share our knowledge.  The pressure to share great lessons is higher now than ever before. There are great educators who are sharing everything they have on the web, but there are also great educators who share nothing. 

To share or not to share. That is the question...

The fear of sharing is a real thing. Great teachers don't share because they fear their stuff is not good enough.  Some fail to share because of their modesty or they don't want to be perceived as a know-it-all, and some won't share because it is their creation and they don't want to share it. 

All the while kids continue to fail.

Kids come to us like a masterlock without a key. Some locks can be unlocked with a good lesson, while other locks can only be picked by a master lesson. Not all educators have the time, knowledge, or experience to create master lessons, but all educators can follow the recipe and adapt them to their needs. That's why sharing shouldn't be the goal. 

Sharing should be the standard...

All kids must learn; therefore, all kids deserve access to the same degree of instruction.  Instruction like this can only occur when educators break down the barriers of bravado, and kick in the doors of detached desolation. If all kids must learn, then all educators must be the first learners. We must share our recipes of excellence, borrow recipes where we fall short, tinker in teams with new techniques and collaboratively grow as lead learners. When we embrace this growth mindset that sharing is about more than caring, then educating all kids will no longer be the goal, but the standard. 

October is Connected Educator month, so get out there. Connect with your colleagues. Share your recipe, and equip educators with your excellence. 

Kids will be better for it!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Honor Labor Day now that It's Over...

How did you view Labor Day?  Was it viewed as one more vacation before summer was over or a teachable moment for your children? Sure we got out the grill and we celebrated with our friends and family because that's what Labor Day is about. It's about taking a day off from work to relax and reflect, but we need to remind our students and ourselves why Labor Day was created, to honor the history and value of hard work. 

The History of Hard Work

Employers never gave their employees a break from work. Many employees in the early 1900s worked six or even seven days a week from daylight to dark without any overtime pay or any relief from work. Where do you think the term, backbreaking work, came from?  It came from our ancestors who never had a day off, and who never had a break

Labor Day didn't come easy. It came as a result of employees saying that they deserved a break.  Employees stood up to their employers, and as a result many laws were created to help employees. Labor Day was one of those laws. 

Labor Day was created to honor hard work and hard workers, but here's the question. Does our country still see Labor Day in the same way as our ancestors?  I'm afraid that as our country gets more forgetful of its history, we will start to view Labor Day as another just another holiday. 

We have to remind our country and our children that:

  • Our country is the best in the world because of hard work. 
  • Labor Day is a day that honors the freedom and rights of our people to work hard for a decent wage. 
  • Labor Day was created to recognize the outstanding work of our nation. 

Labor Day should remind us that our freedom hangs on our work ethic. The kryptonite of our work ethic and our freedom is called laziness and entitlement. Labor Day is a day that was earned.  It was not given to us. In order to keep it, we need to remember that we must look at work and work ethic as important and meaningful things in our society. Hard workers succeed and lazy workers fail. Lazy workers depend on others, and hard workers depend on themselves. 

This month let's preach the importance of hard work.  Let's make work a good word again. Let's make Hardwork what we aspire to do not because we're told to do it but because we know that it makes us a better person.