How Much Homework Is Too Much?

homework

Homework: What a giant issue that has been such a hot topic and such often a heated debate. I decided I wanted to try to tackle this MONSTAH, (Boston version). Why did I choose to write about a contentious issue? Because people need to look at the data before they pass judgment, and this data should be used to benefit student learning. I have enjoyed discussing this topic with several colleagues over my twenty something years in education and have changed my viewpoints as a result of looking at relevant data and the proverbial “Big Picture.”

So the most frequent questions I have heard are; Why is homework needed, does homework improve learning, what does quality/relevant homework look like, and how much homework is too much? The positive aspects of homework are it can help students learn responsibility, practice skills learned in class to help maximize learning, students learn to use more resources like reference materials, the internet, and libraries. Homework can also help students become more independent when they work on assignments on their own. Parents can become more involved in their child’s education by helping them with homework assignments and also seeing what they are learning in school. These are some of the positive aspects of homework.

There have been several studies on the efficacy of homework and most state that at younger ages, homework does not show a definite correlation between the homework and improved test scores or improved academic achievement. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/high-school-homework-are-_n_1071973.html Homework used in middle and high school has proven to have some positive impacts on learning as long as it was meaningful and relevant. http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/research.htm What does relevant homework look like? From my experience and what I have read, it should be based on skill development and not just memorizing content. Marzano has some great examples of relevant work in his instructional strategies document  http://www.palmbeachschools.org/qa/documents/Handout5-MarzanoHighYieldStrategies.pdf The NEA (National Education Association) created some recommendations for assigning homework. It basically stated that a student should receive no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level a night. An example is, an eighth grader would have no more than 80 minutes assigned in a night. This is tough to measure and police in a school, but it helps establish some kind of a norm for homework. This might also help educators understand how much homework is too much.

What is the negative impact of too much homework? I believe students need to go outside and play, be active, and socialize with their friends and family. Excessive homework can stunt a student’s growth in these areas. We want students to develop in many different areas not just in rote memorization. Also, is the homework equitable? What if several students don’t have the support at home to help with their homework while others do? Will this homework be graded? A family of well-educated parents certainly have an edge over those without, but all students are held accountable for the same graded homework. Something to think about! Should the majority of homework assignments even be graded or is it more about the effort in the process of completing it? If a student doesn’t understand the homework, won’t they just be performing the same imperfect tasks over and over which can be detrimental? Wouldn’t it be beneficial for the homework assignment to be based on areas that need work from class that a teacher noticed during some kind of formative assessment? What if the teacher also provided a link on their web page to help them work through the problems, material, or skills? Just a thought!

Does excessive homework prevent students from enjoying school because they feel overwhelmed, and is any of this adding to the excessive mental health issues we are seeing in our schools today? I would say it might play a role. Students definitely have a lot on their plate which is fine as long as we all know how to take some off when they are getting full. Did you know the US gives more homework than almost any other country in the world, but our test scores are not as high as say Japan and Finland? More doesn’t always mean better.

So, to wrap this up, I have learned that balance is the key to success in education, and we want to help students learn by using many educational sources and strategies. I feel homework has its place and can be beneficial if it improves skills that will translate to real-life learning.  I suggest using more technology and project based learning where students take the skills they learned into application. We want students to enjoy education and have fun in the process while also understanding that they must work hard and show responsibility. That balance word again!

Assistant Principal’s Corner #4

AP rocks

With November already upon us and students receiving their report cards for the first grading term, I wanted to touch upon the importance of effort and support. What steps should we take to help students reach their full academic potential in schools? We often start panicking when a student doesn’t do well and sometimes even point fingers in many directions. So who is responsible? I would argue many people, starting with the student. My first questions are always how hard have you worked in your classes and did you seek out extra help from your teachers? Can you believe I actually expect high school students to be in charge of their own personal growth? Such a draconian idea! Next is the teacher’s responsibility of providing engaging, fun, rigorous, and relevant instruction that meets the needs of all their students. Sounds easy, but I assure you it isn’t.  Great teaching is an art and takes many years to perfect. Having teachers discuss what is working and what is not with peers is invaluable and in turn will help provide students with quality lessons. No two students learn exactly the same, so differentiating materials is also a must in most classes http://ascd.org/publications/books/108028.aspx

Where do the parents fit into this equation? This is such an important part of the student’s success in school. Parents/guardians have a very difficult job raising children in a society that is sometimes overly demanding. This is why they need to partner with schools to help improve academic, social, behavioral, and emotional success for their child. I firmly believe it is in everyone’s best interest to improve respect in schools. The parents need to see teachers as professionals that have spent many years obtaining educational degrees, so they can provide quality teaching to their children. With that said, I am not suggesting it is a perfect system, but it can always improve with appropriate dialogue.

Now for the administration. Another equally important role in student achievement. There is a delicate balance that must be achieved between all parties involved, and a good administrator helps facilitate these discussions and provides guidance and feedback when they stall. Our decisions must always be in the best interest of the student even if they are sometimes unfavorable. The administration must make these decisions using common sense, experience, integrity, and in collaboration with several teachers, counselors, and other administrators.

So what to do when a student struggles? Take a look at the big picture, ask what skills do they need to be successful, what steps have been taken, and what interventions need to be in place to help rectify the situation? Too often the answer is pull them from class or lower the expectations, but is that really going to be in the students best interest down the road? Will they have the necessary skills for college and career readiness? Is the grade the most important thing or is it the mastery of content and the process of learning? My belief is most students should remain in a challenging class with some students needing to make changes in order to have success.

What ever decision is made, it is important that students, parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators are all on the same page. What good is it if a student graduates with decent grades and a diploma only to take remedial courses in college because they weren’t challenged enough or were able to quit every time it became tough?

There is nothing more gratifying than watching students succeed and grow as young adults but it takes many hands to lift them to success.

Benefits of Using Social Media In Schools

 

social media

After spending several years questioning the use of social media and believing it was a distraction, I changed my opinion. I spoke with several administrators that helped me look at this using a very different lens. My good friend Bill Burkhead @BurkheadBill gave me exposure to the benefits of twitter and blogs and how they can improve professional communication and educational growth. I now use these along with Linkedin, edWeb, and Flickr. I can honestly say this has been the fastest way I have acquired information and connected with professionals in my career. So how can this help your students? Using technology like social media in classes helps to engage students, differentiates materials, helps with collaboration, improves knowledge in a rapid manner, improves student interactions with peers and teachers, helps many special education students filter out distractions using certain web tools and APS like @Socrative and QR Reader. These tools also improve family and community engagement, and administrators can quickly showcase their school by uploading and sharing out pictures via Twitter. Professionals also create and share many educational documents via the Internet using social media @Edutopia. Although I have jumped in with both feet and really believe in the importance of blended learning, I still do also believe students need to be well-rounded, and they need to learn balance and responsibility, so putting down the electronics and using old-fashioned reading and writing has merit. Students also need real-time face-to-face interactions to improve social skills. Finland does this with much success. Basic skills should always be maintained and enhanced for true student development. For more pros and cons visit this link http://sjmagazine.net/2013/plugged

Assistant Principal’s Corner #3

th

What tips can I give an aspiring  school administrator? This is my third year as a high school assistant principal. I taught for about twenty years before deciding to become a school administrator. This was not a decision I took lightly and understood that making this transition from a teacher/coach would be challenging but worthwhile. As a teacher, I was fortunate to work with many professional school leaders.There seemed to be a growing divide between many teachers and administrators. Was this because expectations and demands had changed? Was it because many new administrators didn’t have the teaching background that was once the norm, a series of state mandated rollouts that put more pressure on day-to-day teaching, or a break down in communication and collaboration which inevitably negatively impacts student success? My own personal opinion is it varies but most likely involves all of these components.

So why jump into the fire?  Just for more pay, advancing up the ranks, professional posturing, or control? If your answer is yes to these questions, you may want to reconsider becoming an administrator. I see it as an opportunity to truly help teachers improve student learning and improve school culture. Both of these tasks can be herculean at times, because along with improvement comes that dreaded word “CHANGE.” When I was in my graduate program, I read an excellent book called Who Moved My Cheese. The shortest book I ever read and also one of the best. Truly made me rethink CHANGE. Several administrators believe one should assess the new school before making significant changes and I agree, to a point. In what business fields do CEO’s say we will make necessary changes several years down the line? They would lose money. I realize schools are guided by a vision and a school improvement plan, but please make immediate changes that directly impact student learning and or safety. Why wait until a 9th grader is a senior to make small but impactful changes just so you don’t ruffle a few feathers? At the end of the day, you have to make decisions that are ethical, impactful,  fair, and are in the best interest of students. These decisions may be unfavorable to some students, parents, and staff, but you were not hired to be popular. A veteran administrator jokingly once told me that you know you made it as an Assistant principal by how many times your name ends up on the mens room walls. If that is the case, then I am a made man! Hear that Tony Soprano! Leaders must make tough decisions even if they are unfavorable.

Another important point is lead according to your own style not someone else’s. You can steal ideas and educational strategies from other administrators but use them according to your own personality. I would never want to hire myself, I would drive myself nuts! What good is having a bunch of yes people who don’t push back a little to make you a better leader? One other thing I think a new AP should know is never forget your teaching hat, and you are not as important as you may think. Everyone has a role to play, and you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen.

“Too many kings can ruin an army” ~Homer

Here is my top 10 list

  1. Be visible
  2. Be honest and fair
  3. Be consistent
  4. Be a good listener (still working at this myself)
  5. Delegate, delegate, delegate
  6. Stay current/relevant
  7. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I make mistakes every day and try to fix them. Just as it takes time to become a good teacher, it takes time to be an effective administrator. Need a good mentor!
  8. Look at and create data to help make some administrative decisions. Data shouldn’t drive all of them.
  9. Remember there are actual students on a data sheet, know the kids. Can’t just be numbers!
  10. Have fun working with your teachers and students. Why do it if it isn’t worthwhile?

who moved my cheese

Assistant Principal’s Corner #2

Asssitant principal pic

Assistant Principal’s Corner

We have now gone through several weeks of school for the 2014-2015 school year, and I am very pleased with the student body and how well they have worked with their peers and teachers to set the tone for a great year. Schools are very complicated today with many moving parts, and it takes everyone’s help and cooperation in order for them to work like a well-oiled machine. No pun intended! As the high school assistant principal, it has been my pleasure watching several of our students excel in extracurricular events like sports and after school clubs. Our club advisors and coaches do a wonderful job making sure these students not only learn about the activity they are involved in but also give back to their community and take pride in representing their school in a positive way. Students that get involved with after school activities also learn valuable skills like collaboration, time management, hard work, strong supportive relationships, responsibility, and social skills. With families having both parents working these days, it is critical students are busy right after school to help prevent them from getting into trouble. There is much data to prove that students involved in extra curricular activities are better prepared for college.  http://professionals.collegeboard.com/guidance/prepare/extracurricular

As the 2014-2015 school year quickly moves along, I look forward to seeing many more of our students doing well in both the classroom and in their school-related activities. Remember, what you do in and out of school is a reflection of you, your family, your school, and your community. Make great choices and have fun!

Assistant Principal Corner

AP

So what makes an effective  school leader? This is my Top Ten list!

  • Being Trustworthy #1
  • Honesty
  • Is Ethical and has Integrity
  • Leads by example
  • Makes decisions in best interest of students even if unpopular
  • Is an instructional leader
  • Knows how to delegate
  • Must be Visible
  • Has good communication skills and collaborates
  • Determined to work towards success – No status quo!

Bonus: Has a sense of humor

How Kids Learn?

Kid Learn In a day and age where there are so many thoughts on how students learn and why the US has fallen farther behind in the world, maybe we should examine not what we do but how we do it? Many countries have moved away from using many standardized tests and infused more of a well-rounded and balanced curriculum that stresses the mastery of real-life skills. The PISA study sheds some light on this. I agree data is needed to help drive instruction and can both formatively and summatively assess students, but should we sacrifice time in learning for several standardized tests? http://www.nea.org/home/38711.htm  Maybe we should try a more balanced approach where teacher input from their own assessments combined with some standardized exams will help maximize student learning and growth. Look to Finland’s educational growth as an exemplar. I wouldn’t say any country has the complete answer, but it would be foolish not to examine success stories from around the world and possibly infuse them into our best practices.