Tuesday, July 19, 2016

#PrimaryProbs: A {Free} Shoe-Tying Solution!

Welcome to my first installment of #PrimaryProbs, a series of blog posts that will make you laugh, cry, and every other emotion under the sun as we explore some of our greatest classroom challenges. But first, let's get one thing straight: I am no Negative Nancy. In fact, I'd say I find 99% of #PrimaryProbs quite humorous. So this is not a whining session by any stretch of the imagination. Also. I'm a nice person. So not only will I bring a common problem to the forefront, but I will also come bearing a SOLUTION. Because who likes an empty-handed complainer? If you ask my students what I like to do best, they will most definitely say I am a problem-solver. It's true!

I'd also like to preface this post by saying I SUPER love my job and am fairly certain I am the luckiest lady on earth to have a job that brings me so much happiness. It's just not even fair to non-teachers how lucky we are.

HOWEVER. We all know that teaching is not always rainbows and butterflies. Sure, we have those toothy smiles, the endless supply of hugs, and a barrel of constant laughs. That's the stuff elementary classrooms are made of! But, truth be told, there is an ugly side to teaching. A germy, dirty, ugly side. I'm talking SHOES. Specifically, the tying of said shoes.

People. I'm half tempted to quit writing this post and get to work inventing a shoe-tying machine. But I won't! Instead, I am here with a solution to tide us over until a much smarter somebody else invents that machine. But I digress.

To put things nicely, let's just say I'm not a huge fan of tying shoes. Am I concerned for the safety of my untied friends? Of course! (I've seen the damage a rogue lace can cause!). Will I tie a shoe for one of my little friends? Yes! (except not after December)...Will I enjoy it? Probably not. But that's okay! It's nothing personal. My mind just can't help but wander as I tie those laces; Where have you been today, little laces? What have you seen? Touched? THE HORROR. I can imagine the journey of a first grade lace is a tad...messy.

OKAY but it's fine! Because you know what kind of people LOVE tying shoes? First graders who know how to tie shoes. That's who. Learning to tie shoes in elementary school is like crossing over into a sunshiney, flower-filled field. Life is grand when you can tie shoes. It's pretty much the coolest thing to happen to you in all of K-6.

As it turns out, these shoe-tying students are going to be your shoe saviors this year. Or, as we're going to call them: Shoe Specialists.

Once a student can tie shoes, they officially become a Shoe Specialist: Licensed to Lace. This means that they get this super colorful, official-looking tag on their desk:

Along with this GREAT POWER comes GREAT SHOE-TYING RESPONSIBILITY. Looking out for an official tag, my untied friends can simply locate the desk of a Shoe Specialist and---voila! Our shoelaces are happy, our friends are happy, the teacher is THRILLED.

I also like to present the newly-minted shoe-tyer with a fancy pair of laces. Because shoelaces are fun when you're 7!

This whole shoelace celebration produces a wonderful classroom system. Student A sees Student B get a fancy job and a set of laces. Student A wants to be like Student B. Student A learns to tie shoes too! Talk about a WIN-WIN. Try this out and let me know if you have a single untied lace left by the end of the year! (Spoiler alert--you probably won't!).

Click on any photo in this post to download your own {Free} Shoe Specialist stickers! Or, click here!

P.S. Dear People Who Thought This Post Was About How to Teach Shoe-Tying,
Sorry. It's not. Tips? Suggestions? Magic Spell? Please share in comments. Thanks!


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why I'm Quitting Homework {And What I'm Doing Instead}

Times they are a changin', am I right? In technology, fashion, politics, you name it! Change is the name of the game--especially in education. As teachers, we are breaking the mold, questioning tradition, and hurtling into a horizon of endless possibilities. Change is hard, but progress is better. And I like progress. I also like news:

I, Erin Waters, am no longer assigning homework. You heard me correctly. The homework that has been in my life since my very own schooling began, is out. I. Am. DONE. As the cool kids say these days, I just CANNOT with the homework anymore. And before I tell you why, you better sit down. Because it's shocking. And it might hurt a little:

I've always thought that sending homework home with my students was helping them, and me, to reinforce topics we've learned in the classroom. HOWEVER; recent studies have shown that the correlation between homework and achievement in the elementary grades is very minimal, if not nonexistent.  I know, right?

In fact, studies have shown that too much homework in the elementary grades actually has a negative impact on students. Take a look:

And here's another thing: the National Educator's Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association recommend 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night. See how that works out for your classroom:

BUT then--there's this:

THREE times too much. That is so much time that is unnecessarily spent. And it turns out, kids don't have much free time to begin with:

The average 8-year-old has one crazy busy life! To top it off, K-5 students receive an average of 40 minutes of homework per day. Ain't nobody got time for that!

Alsooooo, as if 3x too much homework isn't bad enough, studies show there is a severe lack of time available to spend as a family. Due to busy schedules with working parents and school-aged children, the average family spends 2.5 hours per day together. 

That's all, folks.

And 40 minutes of homework is almost 1/3 of "family time" being spent on homework.

Not only does homework encroach on what little family time is available, but this schedule also leaves very little room for play. Kids need to play, but spend a lot of this time hunched over a table with a pencil and frustration.

This is bad. This is really bad.

Now, I've thought a LOT about doing away with traditional homework. This is no willy nilly decision on my part. I've done my research. And once I did my research, I thought about my own experience with homework in my classroom. I've come to realize that, in addition to the statistics, we face the following problems with homework. First of all, homework is: 

Homework doesn't offer much choice. It is assigned, and it has a due date. Elementary students are expected to learn autonomy, responsibility and making the right choices; yet we are not giving them a chance to choose their own learning path!

Also (the worst in my opinion), a lot of times homework is:

OMG. This one just hurts my heart. In classrooms and schools that assign homework, it is common practice to punish the kids when homework isn't turned in on time or done correctly. I'm talking loss of recess*, notes home, deduction of Dojo** points if that's your thing--and more often than not, these kids are being punished for something that is out of their control:

I am a total cheerleader for accepting responsibility for one's actions, but there are a few factors regarding homework in the primary grades that make this a little tricky:
  • These are children. With ages in the single digits. Sounds crazy, but at this age, most kids do this weird thing called following the schedule given to them by their parents. In busy households, homework is sometimes put on the back burner---many times understandably so, given the busy-ness. This is an adult choice, and students should not be punished for a decision made by their parents.
  • Resources vary from home to home. Many families do not possess the same amount of time, education, language skills, or basic supplies to complete homework assignments. A class of students should not be held to the same set of standards when their home lives most likely vary drastically.
*I also must reiterate that I am SO against taking recess from a child, but that's a post for another time.
**I also must reiterate that I am SO in love with Class Dojo. But that's also a post for another time.

Also, I totally get that things of this nature establish a work ethic. But we do TONS of work ethic establishing during the school day. It's time we make some exceptions.

If you are totally a homework person and this is super depressing, I've got news for you: It's going to be okay. I've lost actual sleep over these stats, and realized I (we) needed a solution. Are you ready for the good news, my friends? I have a solution that will save YOU sleep. And time. And lots more:

Friends, I am please to introduce to you...

This little guy has been brewing for MONTHS. Un-Homework is my answer to the woes of traditional homework. Homework as a thing is still physically there, it just looks--and feels!-- a whole lot better. 

Unlike traditional homework, Un-Homework contains:

That's right. Students make a choice: They either do it or they don't. 

Every week, a list of choices goes home with the student. Students can choose 1-5 choices from the list. 

Once it is completed, the student colors in the circle next to the choice.

Also, Un-Homework has:

Yes-prizes! Once the week is over, students fill out one raffle ticket for each choice completed. Raffle tickets are brought in every Monday and entered into our Learning Lotto for a chance to win a prize! It quickly becomes apparent that, in order to have the best shot at winning the lotto, one must turn in as many raffle tickets as possible:

Prizes are easy, simple, and interchangeable. I have 20 prize cards that I switch out weekly depending on how much money is in my bank account  current student interest. Most are cost-free. The ebb and flow of prize excitement is an ever-changing entity from year to year and even month to month. Some classes FLIP for picking their own jobs, others go nuts over lunch with the teacher, whereas other kids are all.about.that.CAAAANDY, yo.

I randomly select 3-4 Learning Lotto winners from the box, and they each roll a die. The number rolled corresponds to their prize. It's a pretty exciting time in Room 65, y'all, and it's a GREAT way to celebrate the students choosing to continue their learning at home. 

Also---did I mention no punishments? If you complete some choices, great--you might win a prize. If you complete zero choices, great---you definitely won't win a prize, but you also won't be sitting inside staring out the window hating your life as your friends have a ball at recess.

This part is better than the prize, in my opinion. The choices given weekly are so dang flexible! Students can complete 1 choice per night, all 5 the first night, or none at all! Giving the students choices seriously empowers them and makes them the director of their own learning. Students who don't typically dig the homework scene might find some thrill in choosing certain tasks and saying adios to others. 

I don't know about you, but I totally prefer to choose my own way rather than being told what to do. I mean, I knooooooow I have to schedule a dentist appointment every 6 months, but it's totally more satisfying to do it on my own accord rather than my husband nagging lovingly reminding me to do it. And these kids---they are all just mini-adults, so I think this making our own choices thing is pretty universal.

In addition, the actual format of Un-Homework is designed to let parents to keep the choice sheet even after turning in the tickets. Once the tickets are cut off, parents stockpile choices throughout the year, so there are always extra tasks on hand if the parent desires something a little extra for his or her little learner.

Also? Most tasks can be done in any amount of time. Because there is no final check-in or grade, tasks can be accomplished at one's own pace. While this will save time on extra busy nights, this will more often result in a child choosing to do a task longer because they chose it and they are having fun.

Okay, this actually might be my favorite part. Gone are the days of PPT (paper, pencil, & tears) homework. No sirree. Un-Homework encompasses all sorts of fun arenas of learning that will really encourage students to exercise their creativity, physical prowess, and *gasp* embrace their kidness. 

We've got playing, singing, dancing, games-you name it. Un-Homework is the life of the party.

Is Un-Homework for you? I encourage you to check it out in my store. Upon purchasing, you'll receive an entire year's worth of Un-Homework*, prize cards, a PowerPoint presentation you can use at Back-to-School Night to break the no-homework-news to parents gently & informatively, plus some more valuable Un-Homework resources. 

*In addition, the UnHomework is fully editable for you to adjust based on your classroom's needs, interests, and desires. The one offered in the pack is geared toward first grade, but you can use a lot of my choices as jumping off points to create your own!

I really hope you'll join me on this no homework train! It's going to be a great ride :)

A Footnote: I've been so touched by the outpouring of feedback on this issue that I am so greatly passionate about. I value opinions of all variations. One of the themes/questions that keeps arising is the importance of reading at home. While I chose not to touch on this issue in this post, I want to clarify my stance on it since it goes hand in hand with the homework. I believe it is extremely important to encourage nightly reading at home. I don't assign it, I don't check it, and I don't log it. A Book Before Bedtime is my stance; if every student can read at least one book before bedtime every night, I hope that it will foster a love of reading that isn't forced upon them. I'm feeling another post on this! Thanks again for your feedback---it has been invigorating and thought-provoking to hear from such amazing educators!
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