Jul 19, 2011

IDEA: Curriculum Web

I'm thinking of creating this on my classroom wall. I want the students to see the big picture, the connections among topics, and vocabulary. A math roadmap for the year.

BOOK: Grading

"As the distinguished educator Martin Haberman put it, homework in the best classrooms 'is not checked--it is shared'... Even worse than checking off whether students have completed the homework is grading it. [E]very study that has ever investigated how grades affect intrinsic motivation--the disposition to learn--has turned up bad news. To grade homework is especially destructive because this tells students that the point of the exercise isn't to help them learn; it's to evaluate them on whether they've already succeeded" (The Homework Myth, p.186).

If an assignment is completed and returned to school, I don't believe that it did anything for understanding. Even if it's graded, I don't believe that it did anything for understanding. If it's discussed, I believe that students may gain understanding. But, it's not for the work they did at home, teachers. Don't sell yourself short. Those students gain understanding because of your words and the discussion in your classroom. Homework is robotic and boring. The interaction in your classroom is alive and educational.

Don't send home that assignment. Make time in the class for your students to work on it, struggle with it, discuss it with their peers, and explain it to the class.

BOOK: Achievement Gap

"But if we accept, even provisionally, that homework does help--or that certain kinds of homework may help--then those benefits are likely to accrue disproportionately to the students who are already positioned for success in school... As Deborah Meier dryly observes, 'If we sat around and deliberately tried to come up with a way to further enlarge the achievement gap, we might just invent homework'" (The Homework Myth, p.127).

"In short, there are pronounced disparities in the extent to which parents are available to help, how able they are to help, and what type of help they're likely to offer" (The Homework Myth, p.128).

We've widened the achievement gap by assigning homework. For the most part, which students won't do homework? Which students don't have help at home? Which students hate school? We can't keep pointing our fingers at children and parents. If it doesn't help, why do we use it to torture students and perpetuate their hatred?

Jul 18, 2011

BOOK: Pointless

Alfie Kohn lists the effects of giving homework to students who do not understand. It will make him feel stupid. She may reinforce incorrect steps. He might conceal a lack of understanding by relying on friends. It teaches that that subject is beyond understanding (The Homework Myth, p.113).

"At the same time, other students in the same class already have the skill down cold, so further practice for them is a waste of time... Thus, the nearly universal tendency to give the same assignment to everyone in the class, while understandable in light of time constraints, is awfully hard to defend pedagogically" (The Homework Myth, p.113).

What good is homework to the student with perfect understanding? How does homework help the student with no understanding? It's cruel and unusual punishment for both. The next day, they'll have a topic for conversation: School sucks.

BOOK: Thinking

William Brownell wrote, "'Drill does not develop meanings. Repetition does not lead to understandings'" (The Homework Myth, p.108).

"In reality, it's the children who don't understand the underlying concepts who most need an approach to teaching that's geared to deep understanding. The most they're given algorithms and told exactly what to do, the farther behind they fall in terms of grasping these concepts" (The Homework Myth, p.109).

If we give students a series of steps that they need to memorize, practice, and regurgitate, we aren't creating thinkers. We shouldn't be surprised when they can't apply the steps to word problems or problems with variations. If we give them every possible example, they can't think for themselves.

TAKS. Since they must pass the TAKS, I'm just going to give them every step and every example. They'll memorize everything and repeatedly practice it. That sucks. I'm ashamed that TAKS has dictated my teaching. I've created math robots, not math thinkers.

BOOK: Time

"Undoubtedly there are teachers who would argue that the main problem is indeed a lack of time--particularly these days, when they are pressured to align their instruction to an increasingly elaborate standardized curriculum imposed by distant authorities. However, the main consequence of the fact that class time is finite is how little can be done with homework. If you multiply how long it takes for a teacher to read and respond meaningfully to each student's assignment by the number of students in the class, you can see why teachers who assign regular homework are usually unable to review students' efforts in any detail. Worse, time constraints create a powerful pressure not only to assign the same tasks to every child in class but to assign the least constructive sort of tasks--the kind that can be checked rapidly" (The Homework Myth, p.104).

"It turns out that more hours are least likely to produce better outcomes when understanding or creativity is involved...  In math, too, even the... [time on task] is directly correlated to achievement only if both the activities and the measure of achievement are focused on rote recall. By contrast, there is no 'linear positive relationship for higher level mathematics activities, including mathematical applications and problem solving'" (The Homework Myth, p.106).

Why do we give homework? Do we really believe that it causes better understanding through practice? I have no faith in homework to internalize understanding. If a student isn't in my class, he isn't learning. In many cases, that's absolutely true. Do we give it because we've run out of time? We feel a time crunch because we have a test hanging over us. If we didn't have the test, we would still give homework. Do we give it to rack up some grades? Yep. In many cases, we don't even look at it until we need grades for progress reports and report cards. If we were using homework assignments for understanding, wouldn't we pour over them as quickly as possible before moving to the next topic? 

BOOK: Work Habits

"[T]here is no research to support the belief that homework helps students to develop any of the characteristics that appear under the heading of work habits" (The Homework Myth, p.54).

"In sum, the usual claims that homework provides nonacademic benefits turn out to be dubious and unsubstantiated... To talk about 'independence,' 'taking responsibility,' and 'time management skills' may be a fancy way of saying that children must labor in solitude to complete mandatory assignments in such a way that they can get through something they experience as pointless drudgery" (The Homework Myth, p.54).

Alfie Kohn, the author, spends many pages discussing the arguments for the homework's nonacademic benefits. It's hard for politicians, administrators, teachers, and parents to accept that homework is ineffective, so we imagine that there are other reasons for it, but we can't imagine that those reasons are imaginary.

Jul 15, 2011

BOOK: Research

"[T]here is no overall positive correlation between homework and achievement (by any measure) for students before middle school or, in many cases, before high school" (The Homework Myth, p.38).

"[Harris Cooper] mentioned another large study he had come across. It, too, found minuscule correlations between the amount of homework done by sixth graders, on the one hand, and their grades and test scores, on the other. For third graders, the correlations were negative: more homework was associated with lower achievement" (The Homework Myth, p.39).

"But it's worth pointing out separately that no evidence exists to support the practice of assigning homework to elementary students. No wonder 'many Japanese elementary schools in the late 1990s issued 'no homework' policies'" (The Homework Myth, p.40).

"Consider the results of the 2000 [NAEP] math exam. Fourth graders who did no homework got roughly the same score as those who did thirty minutes a night. Remarkably, the scores then declined for those who did forty-five minutes, then declined again for those who did an hour or more!" (The Homework Myth, p.41).

"In a separate analysis of the 1999 TIMSS results that looked at twenty-seven U.S. states or districts as well as thirty-seven other countries, meanwhile, 'there was little relationship between the amount of homework assigned and students' performance'" (The Homework Myth, p.43).

For now, I'm going to stop. As I read, I'll add more, and, eventually, I'll comment.

BOOK: Feedback

"[S]imply telling students that their answer on a test is wrong or right has a negative effect on achievement... The best feedback appears to involve an explanation as to what is accurate and what is inaccurate in terms of student responses. In addition, asking students to keep working on a task until they succeed appears to enhance achievement" (Classroom Instruction That Works, p.96).

I know the cons. The kids don't read the comments, anyway. Or, with multiple subjects and multiple classes and multiple assignments, this is almost impossible.

First, in most cases, we've conditioned the students to ignore their graded assignments. "Here, put it in your binder. In the appropriate pocket!" We simply need to take time to review every assignment. Are we giving assignments to teach or to collect grades? Next, with all of those assignments for all of those students, comments would take a ridiculous amount of time. So, we can do two things: cut down on the number of assignments that we give and/or create rubrics for every assignment.

One last thing... If we're giving assignments that are just so easy that comments aren't really necessary, we should rethink the quality of assignments that we're giving to our students.

BOOK: Rewards

"Reward is most effective when it is contingent on the attainment of some standard of performance" (Classroom Instruction That Works, p.55).

"The research indicates, however, that the most abstract and symbolic forms of reward are, the more powerful they are" (Classroom Instruction That Works, p.57).

"[V]erbal reward seems to work no matter how one measures intrinsic motivation. Tangible rewards, on the other hand, do not seem to work well as motivators, regardless of how motivation is measured" (Classroom Instruction That Works, p.57).

"[T]hese tokens [stickers, coupons, treats] do not necessarily diminish the intrinsic motivation if the tokens are given for accomplishing specific performance goals" (Classroom Instruction That Works, p.59).

Even in the best of years, I have to change up my consequences and rewards frequently. They just stop working. Ultimately, I think a teacher would need to individualize the reward system--that would give it teeth. My assistant principal speaks of "currency." I understand that, but I have no confidence in myself to determine the currency of every student. For me, I want to focus on strengthening faith in effort, offering frequent, positive, verbal feedback, and a simple token system that I have in mind. I'll share that system later--I'm still working on it.

BOOK: Effort

I've had discussions with the assistant principal about effort versus ability, others, or luck. Several studies show significant percentile gains when effort is reinforced. Unfortunately, many students do not connect effort and achievement, but they can develop this belief.

"[O]ne study found that students who were taught about the relationship between effort and achievement increased their achievement more than students who were taught techniques for time management and comprehension of new material" (Classroom Instruction That Works, p.51).

"Reinforcing effort can help teach students one of the most valuable lessons they can learn--the harder you try, the more successful you are. In addition, providing recognition for attainment of specific goals not only enhances achievement, but it stimulates motivation" (Classroom Instruction That Works, p.59).

I'm going to speak about Rewards in another post. For now, I just want to say that verbal reinforcement is a great incentive. Rather than free passes or extra points or a treat, I need to verbally encourage the students. And, that verbal reinforcement needs to speak of effort.

Jul 14, 2011

BOOK: Purpose

I don't want to bore people on facebook with my ramblings about education, so I decided to start this blog. It's for educators, parents, and anyone who want to discuss some school issues. This is the time in the summer that I really start thinking about my classroom, and this blog will help organize my thoughts.

I've read a few books this summer, and it's easy to fall in love and adopt a cute, little "fact." However, after watching Waiting for Superman and reading The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch, I realize that one must be critical of books and movies and articles. Sometimes, we see what we want to see--that's no different for researchers. At the same time, the American school system should not be run by I-thinks. We should be more scientific, more thoughtful in our approach.

In a workshop, years ago, the presenter asked, "Who is the most important part of education?" Many answered, "The students." That was the answer the presenter wanted. I've always disagreed with that. The teacher is the most important part of education. I know there's a lot working against us, but I'm not going to dwell on that. Between the first and last bells, I can accomplish whatever I want. And, this year, I'm treating it as a freebie. The ratings are in place. The test is new. I want to try some new things and take some chances.