Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lake Trip 2014

We had a great weekend at the lake with friends this weekend.  We have gone every year since we have met them and it is always a great time!  This year it was a much needed escape for the stress of selling our home and buying a new home.  August is going to be a super busy month, but I can't wait to make the move!  Here are a few pictures of our weekend.  Love these sweeties!

Taking the Work out of Homework

Last week, I shared my 10 Do's and Don'ts of Homework.  Be sure to check out that post to help you understand why I managed my homework system the way I did.  Today's post is the second in my Homework series and I hope that it helps you to organize and manage homework in your classroom.  So, here goes....

1. The Homework Folder
Start the year off right and have your homework ready to go.  There will be less work throughout the year if you take care of it now.  Here is how I prepped my Homework Folders before the first day of school...
{FOLDERS} In order for homework to be organized, you have to have an organizer. I used a folder because it fit easily inside my students' binders that returned to and from school every week.  This way all the homework resources belong in the folder and the folder belongs in their binder.  
Each student had their own folder with their name on it.  When I assigned my students numbers I simply wrote their number on the top right corner of their folder.  This made it easier to put in number order as I check and returned their folder.  I also put a small strip of packaging tape over the label on each folder.  I learned very quickly they labels, fade, tear, and slowly fall off if they are not protected.  This is a MUST!  If you don't have your class list, no worries!  Get everything else ready to go and add the student labels once you have your class list.

{LABELS} I am a big fan of labels! If there is a label on it, there is little to question about where something belongs.  There are two labels in my Homework Folder: Homework Packet and Homework Helpers.  This helps you students and their families to put homework away quickly and, even better, you can check homework quickly because it is always in the same pocket (more on that later)!  I place a strip of packaging tape over these labels, as well.  They usually last ALL year...YAY!

{Homework Helpers}  I usually start with the same Homework Helpers every year...Alphabet Chart, Sight Words, Reading Tools, Phonics, and Reading Log.   Throughout the year I add helpers as needed.  This is a great way to keep resources available to the parents before they ask for them.  For example, if you have worked with a 100's chart and there are skills reinforcing this skill in their homework, you can have the add a 100's chart to their Homework Helper pocket!   I also included Reading A-Z readers in the Homework Helpers pocket on a level that the students had mastered. 

2. Communicate With Parents
Communication with parents is ESSENTIAL to keep homework organized between school and home and home and school.  At the beginning of the year, I send a note home (in the Homework Folder) explaining how homework will be managed at home and school.  
 If you are lucky enough to have a Parent-Teacher meeting at the beginning of the year, show and discuss each part of the Homework folder.  The more parents know about the folder the easier it will be for them to use it in their home.  I made to sure to give my parents a few tips to help them visualize how homework can be done in their home.  I shared some of these in my 10 Do's and Don'ts of Homework post, but I want to mention them again here.
{1} Find a place to keep your child's Homework Folder in your home.  Have a shelf, basket, or bin that it goes in every Monday or keep it in your child's binder if that is easiest for your family.
{2} I will only check homework on Fridays.  If it is not turned one week, I will expect to check two weeks of homework the following week. 
{3} There are 4 activities in each week of homework.  These activities can be completed each day OR in one sitting...it is up to you and your child.
{4} If a Homework Folder is lost, it is you responsibility to replace the folder.  I will replace the labels for your child.
{5} If the packet is not inside the Homework Folder it will not be checked.  I offer a reward for students that complete a month of homework, so it is important that their packet be kept in the folder.

 3.  The Homework Packet
{Monthly Packets} I created weekly homework my first couple years of teaching and it was a pain!  I dreaded the time it took every week and was always forgetting it since it was not a priority to my instruction.  When I changed to monthly packets, my life became SO much easier.  If you are doing weekly homework...STOP!  Take that time to focus on your instruction and get your homework done once a month!

{Instructional Calendar}  One of my teammates brought the idea of an instructional calendar on the homework packet to me when I was creating our grade level's homework and I LOVED it!  Having a instructional calendar as the cover page of each homework packet made it so EASY for me to give directions and even provide an extra (non-worksheet) activity for the parents and students to complete together.  Parents could initial that they check their child's work and I could do the same.  Having an instructional calendar on the front also makes the homework seem less daunting and more official, since it looks so put together...gotta love that!  

{4 Weekly Activities}  I sent homework home on Monday and wanted it returned on Friday, that meant 4 activities each week for my students...definitely doable!  This made it easier for me to focus on what skills I wanted them to practice home.  My activities primarily included, phonics, sight words, writing, and math.  These were the areas that my students always needed a little extra help in, so it worked out perfectly.

Like I stated in my 10 Do's and Don'ts of Homework post, I assigned skills that I had already taught.  This also allowed me to copy and prepare my homework ahead of time because I didn't have to work.  If you use my the Homework: Mega Bundles you can edit the text to fit what you have taught in your classroom. 

4. Develop a System
This step took some planning and a bit of trial and error.  You HAVE to find a system that is simple and works for you.  I'm going to share what worked for me.  

{Student Procedures}  The students are responsible for completing the 4 activities throughout the week.  They were also responsible for bringing their homework back to school every Friday and turning it in to the Homework Bin that was placed on my teacher table.
{Parent Procedures} Parent are responsible for making sure their child is doing their job.  Did they bring it home on Monday?  Was it placed in the appropriate location at home? Did they complete the activities correctly?  Is there an activity we should do together? When Thursday night rolled around they initialed that the work was complete and made sure the Homework Folder was placed in their child's binder.
{Teacher Procedures}  As the teacher, I placed the homework packet in each students' folder the first Monday of every month.  I provide a Homework Bin that the students placed their Homework Folder in every Friday morning (it became such a routine that my students would remember when I forgot).  I checked the Homework Folders during the bathroom break on Friday (and sometimes Monday) and placed a sticker for the week that was complete.  Then at dismissal on Monday afternoon I laid the folders out on my teacher table and the students would pick up their folder when they packed up.

That's it!  I continued this throughout the year and homework became very natural in my classroom. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ten Do's and Don'ts of Homework

Do you assign homework in your classroom?  Do you have a system that works well for you and your parents?  Did you give homework until October and stop because it was too much of a hassle?  

Homework can be a great resource for helping students continue their education at home.  It is also an awesome way to promote family involvement in your classroom, but it can also be a deterrent. Let me give you my 10 Do's and Don'ts of homework!

You are the TEACHER!  It is your job to do the teaching, not the parents.  Any homework that you send home should be a skill you students have already developed.  Homework should be used to practice and reinforce learned skills rather than helping to teach the students a new skill.  Homework should be viewed as a way for the students to "teach" their parents what they have learned at school.  A child should be able to have the directions read to them, complete the activity, have their worked checked and go play!

Your students have been at school all day and their parents have been at work all day.  The last thing they want to do is sit at the kitchen table completing homework until bedtime!  I get anxious just thinking about it!  Your students should be able to complete their homework every night in no longer than 10 minutes!

Papers get lost, thrown away in the mail, crinkled in the bottom of a backpack and who knows what else.  Plan ahead and give each student a Homework folder.  If your class has a binder they take home everyday, they can easily store a folder inside the front pocket...USE IT!  All their homework packets and resources can be stored in the folder and protected inside a binder...NO EXCUSES for crinkled, lost or trashed homework...it has a place!

If there aren't expectations...its not going to work successfully!  As teachers, most of us know this.  Homework needs to have a HOME in the classroom, transition and at home! Have a specified time and place where students turn in homework folders in the classroom (ex. in the homework tub every Friday morning) and a place to put it when they are taking it home and bringing it back.  Express to parents that they can decide at a family where the homework folder can stored during the week.  Some may use a command center, the refrigerator or keep it in their child's binder.  Allow the families to make this decision based on their family needs.  However, make it an expectation that homework STAYS in the homework folder...that is its HOME...no exceptions!  Homework packets are less likely to be lost, damaged or forgotten when they stay in the homework folder.  If the folder is lost have the parents send a new folder to school to replace the original one.

Send homework home on the same day every week and make sure it is turned in on the same day every week!  Have the students put their folder in a specific location every time they turn it in. Whether it's a tub or your teacher table, they should know when and where it needs to be turned in every week.  For example, when they put their binder away upon arrival, every friday they put their homework folder in the homework tub on your teacher table.

Do I need to elaborate?!?!  Your students have been at school all week and the last thing they want to do over the weekend is homework!  And, no parent wants to be doing homework with their child when they could be spending quality family time together.  Assign homework so that it is turned in before the weekend.  Homework should be hanging out in the classroom until everyone returns to school after a restful two days OFF!

Where's your homework? No one wants to hear or repeat this all the time!  Families are busy...they have practice, church, dinners out and much more during the week.  Some students might complete their homework every night and some may do it all in one night.  Who cares...let them do what they have to do to make homework successful.  Homework is NOT an essential part of your students' instruction.  It is a reinforcement of skills that are already learned and a way to get parents involved in their child's education.  If they don't have it one week...not a big deal!  Have them turn it in the next time.  Don't take away recess, free choice centers or other privileges in the classroom.  However, if they miss two or three weeks, simply contact the parent by sending a message in their binder or resending the homework note informing them of homework expectations.  

Be available to your students' parents!  As they become more involved in their child's education some will want to help their child more and some will notice their child is still struggling with a particular skill.  This IS what you want to happen!  Make sure parents know that you are there to help them in these times.  Their child has a difficult time with rhyming...send them a website link, some workpages, a fun activity (if you trust they'll return it).  RTI and WIN time at home?  YES, PLEASE!

Teachers TEACH the skill, students PRACTICE the skill and parent CHECK the skill!  Done!  Everyone does their part to make homework successful!

If you know anyone who takes a grade on homework...tell them to stop...NOW!  Homework is NOT an accurate assessment of a student's knowledge and mastery of a skill.  Why?  Some students have help from parents, some don't.  All/most of your students should have already mastered the skill if it's a homework assignment.  It is not always the student's fault if homework is not turned in and their grade should not reflect a lack of parental support at home.  However, when homework is turned in, check to make sure it is completed correctly.  I skimmed the week of work quickly, circled any work that was incorrect with my handy-dandy Mr. Sketch markers and placed a small sticker on the cover page.  It took me no more than 10 minutes to check and replace all of students' homework packets!

Homework is a great resource when it is utilized correctly.  I hope that you found my 10 Do's and Don'ts of Homework helpful and please feel free to share any other homework tips you have!  Next week, I will share some tips on how I made homework successful in my classroom!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ready for Writing?... A Flash Sale!

Okay...let me start by saying that I created this on a whim...last night!  It wasn't on my to-do list, calendar or planner, but it happened...and I LOVE IT!  I had one of those "I gotta do it now" moments and went to town!  My plan was to create a cute Chevron Stages of Writing Chart to go with my classroom package and decided mid-creation that I needed to go a little more in depth.  I LOVED doing Writer's Workshop in my classroom, and even though it looked very different in kindergarten and first grade the organization stayed the same.  

I decided to create a packet that would give you all the resources you need to get an organized and structured Writer's Workshop set-up in your classroom.  

You can get it 20% OFF TODAY and TOMORROW ONLY! So be sure to check it out!