Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's One of Those Days

Not one of those days... where nothing seems to be going right.  One of those days where I don't have a blog topic in mind, and have no idea what I'm going to ramble on about this morning.  And, it's probably a little too early to make the assumption that it's NOT going to be one of those days, but I'm going to stay positive and not try and think about that possibility.

Yesterday was a pretty good day, for a Monday.  The kiddos worked hard, and I was in a good mood all day.  The weather was pretty nice, even though it's supposed to get really cold again this week.  Which sounds about right, I have morning car duty.  So, obviously it's going to be freezing cold when I have to stand outside first thing in the morning.  

I'm having this inner battle with myself, at the moment, with an issue that's happening in my classroom.  And it's the whole homework debate.  

I've stated on more than one occasion that I'm not a fan of homework.  And when I make that statement, I'm defining homework as assignments I send home for the specific purpose of being done AT HOME.  For example, practice math problems, worksheets, etc.  

There is ONE homework assignment I DO assign each and every week.  And that's a spelling contract.  A menu of activities that has the students using their spelling words in various ways.  They are to complete one activity a night and then turn in the completed contract on Friday.  Each activity should take no more than 10-20 minutes, and the students are able to work on that contract at any time during the week if they need something to work if they finish their assigned work.

What I don't include in that statement about not liking homework is work that didn't get finished in class and so I send home to be finished.  Most days, that doesn't happen.  I always try and give my students plenty of time to work on assignments in class, and even give time at the end of the day for the kids to finish up any work that they didn't finish.  If the majority of the class doesn't finish an assignment, then I usually extend it out to the next day to work on in class, or I just take what they did finish.

But, there are a few kids in my classroom that tend to waste their classroom working time.  They talk or daydream or find another way to occupy their mind that's not actually working.  It's not disruptive behavior, so I give them a few warnings about having to take the work home if it's not finished.  For some of those kids, that buckles them down and has them working.  But, there's those select few that no matter how many times I warn them, just don't seem to get much work done in class.

And the sad part is, those kids are the ones I make take home the work to do and then don't ever see it again because it gets forgotten at home or never saw the light of day after it was placed in their backpack.

It's not a situation where they don't know how to do the work.  I've sat with them to ensure that they understand what the assignment is, had them do a problem or two with me to show me they understand, but the minute I move on to help someone else, they are back to talking or daydreaming or whatever else it is that makes them steer off course.

I'd say about 95% of my class never has homework in the form of unfinished work, or if they do have a little to take home ALWAYS bring it back completed.  That same 95% always return their spelling contract, completed, on Fridays.  I'd say that the majority of that 95% didn't even have to work on their contract at home, because they found time to work on their contract after they've finished other assignments or are given a little downtime to work on unfinished assignments.  And then there's that 5%.  The couple of kids (and I'm talking no more than 3 kids) that no matter how much I try, can't EVER get them to bring back unfinished work nor the spelling contract that I assign, even though I've given them upteen million opportunities to work on it in class so that it doesn't even HAVE to be homework.

And even though 95% of my class never has a problem, I always find myself complaining about those one or two kids that didn't bring back work, received a zero, and seem perfectly content with it.  

One suggestion I've received is to just not give them any homework.  Take whatever they do finish in class, and don't expect them to do anymore.  Or, have them work on the contract at select times of the day so that it's not something they have to take home.  

But, I just can't wrap my head around that.  

Asking a student to take an assignment home to finish or have them work on about 10 minutes of spelling is hardly asking a lot.  ESPECIALLY when it is their choice in the first place NOT to finish the work in class.  By taking away that requirement, I'm basically saying "I don't mind that you don't do much work, I'm going to let you slide because no matter what I do you're not going to do it anyway".

What kind of message does that send?  

Now, I know that I have some students that deal with less than ideal living situations.  They are worrying about far worse things when they get home than doing homework.  They have other priorities that take precedent over the five math problems they didn't finish, or using their spelling words in complete sentences.  I get that.  

But, I'm also a firm believer in the fact that my job includes teaching responsibility.  I don't just teach math, reading, spelling, science, etc.  I teach life skills, social skills, and responsibility.  My ultimate goal for EVERY SINGLE ONE of my students is a solid, successful future.  And that all begins by taking some responsibility for their learning, and overcoming obstacles that they are facing either in school or outside of it.

And by just taking away something that they refuse to do is NOT teaching responsibility, it's enabling them to continue making excuses, and telling them that whenever they don't want to do something, they don't have to do it.

Life doesn't work that way.

I believe I am doing everything in my power to help EVERY student be successful.  For the most part, I have fostered a very responsible classroom environment.  For that 95%, I never have to remind them that they have work to do, I never have to ask them to get something out to work on, they just do it themselves.  If they've finished all their work, they know to get out a reading book or go visit the pocket chart that's full of extra practice activities for them to work on.  

Every student in my class uses my instilled "buddy system", meaning if they are having some issues with an assignment and I'm working with another student, they are more than able to seek out a buddy to help them.  I have lots of students ready and willing to help out anyone that needs it.  And they do it without giving answers or just having their buddy copy all of their answers, they actually explain problems, work together, and help each other out.  

I have another system in place that has students signing up to conference with me about any issues they are having.  I work with them one on one, we discuss how they can solve their problem, and I provide opportunities for them to work through their problems coming up with their own solutions and helping them carry those solutions out.

I don't like the message I'd be sending to the 95% of students that work hard and do everything that's expected of them if I just didn't require that 5% to do what the other 95% is doing.

This semester, I made a few changes to the way I grade.  Rather than just grading wrong or right answers, I give credit for effort.  In fact, if a student completed an assignment and missed every single problem, they are not going to receive a zero.  They get credit for the work they did, and every opportunity is given to work with them and have them do a few replacement problems once we've worked out the kinks in order to receive full credit on the initial assignment.

This was a HUGE bonus for some of my lower kids.  I knew that several of them weren't getting much work done or finishing any work at home because they struggle, and just figured they'd get it all wrong anyway so it wasn't worth the time.  To change that way of thinking, I made sure that I rewarded every student that at least tried.  And since starting that little incentive, my ratio of kids not completing assignments rose DRASTICALLY.  I'd say that before Christmas, I had more of a 50/50 split of kids turning in finished work versus those that didn't.

The new incentive plan is what got me to the 95/5 ratio I have now, and I'm very happy with that.

But, what I've decided is that I'm NOT going to budge on the way I'm currently doing things when it comes to sending home unfinished work or the spelling contract.  I'm just not going to give in.  I know that somehow, someway I can get through to those kids and figure out a way for them to help themselves.  

Just yesterday, I had a visit from a parent who was NOT happy with the F's he's seeing on his son's report card.  After some explanation on the problems of not finishing work in class and basically refusing to finish it at home, he was a little shocked.  I'd sent letters home, they came back signed, but not by him.  And, now that he was aware of the situation, promised me that he'd be keeping an eye out and making sure that his son did everything needed to bring those grades up.  

That visit gave me encouragement that I'm doing that right thing by not letting this slide.  At the end of the day, these kids are going to get homework.  Either in 5th grade or 6th grade or when they get in to Jr. High.  If I tell them that they don't have to do it, now, what will happen when they are faced with the same challenges again in a later grade?

So, I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing, and figuring out some way.. any way..to bring out the self responsibility within these one or two or three kids.

And, now I feel better.

Man, I love talking problems out on my blog.  HA!


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