Saturday, July 12, 2014

You Oughta Know About Differentiating Homework

Welcome to July's "You Oughta Know" blog hop! I'm joining a group of super talented teacher bloggers who have linked up to share tips and ideas for educators. We're all hosted by Buzzing with Mrs. McClain.  Once you've read my post, be sure to hop to another blog that I've linked to!  Have fun!

Over the years I've had many conversations with parents and colleagues about homework in first grade. Boy, it's a hot topic!  My personal belief is that young children need to have time to be kids and have some social, emotional and physical needs met before spending time on homework.

Before Homework....
  1. Our kids need time with family and friends to develop key social and language skills.
  2. Our kids need time to exercise and play outdoors.
  3. Our kids need to develop a love of learning that exists outside of school.
We all know that my list is "in a perfect world."  Our world isn't perfect. Some families are stretched for time, and homework creates additional stress for them. Other parents want their children to have homework because they want their children to get ahead. Finally, there are those families that don't want the homework, but their children really need it because they are so far behind.

To reconcile the gap between my beliefs, what parents want, and what children need, I've come up with differentiated homework options for my students. They're not necessarily differentiated in terms of student ability, but more in terms of what families need, want, and can manage.  At the beginning of the year, I review these options with parents and let them tell me what works best for them.

Homework Options
Option 1: Reading Log
It goes without saying that children need to read and be read to every night.  Many of us have students use reading logs to track their reading. As a parent, I didn't do too well with reading logs when my boys were young. We read a lot, but we couldn't seem to maintain the reading logs that sat by their beds. As a result, we'd have a mad scramble to fill them out the morning they were due. 

Even though they didn't work for us, reading logs are great option for many families.  Over the years, I've encountered families who use the reading log as a tool.  For those families, the reading log is invaluable because it helps them keep on track with fulfilling recommended reading times.

For those families, I provide a reading log. Here's a free copy for you!

Option 2: Monthly Homework Calendars
Another homework option is monthly homework calendars.  I like homework calendars because busy families can choose what works for them.  I ask families to select 3-4 activities a week, but they can chose which activities to do. They don't have to do an activity on the corresponding day.  In other words, if it's April 6, but they'd rather do the April 7 activity, that's fine with me.  

At the beginning of each month, I send home a packet with the month's homework calendar and lined paper so my students have appropriate paper at home to do the writing activities.  As students do a writing activity, they simply date the journal page, and do the writing activity under the date. They do the next activity under the previous one. They return the completed packet to me at the end of the month. 

My Monthly Homework Calendar is now editable, and available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store for $5.

Option 3: Take-Home Thematic Bags

These are by far my favorite homework option! I can't take credit for them. Several of my parent volunteers have worked over the years to make these amazing kits.  Each bag is filled with a variety of thematic educational activities, related props (such as toys), books, student and parent journals, and additional supplies such as crayons and glue.  Parents and kids LOVE them!
I gathered the majority of the contents from my own resources, but the ideas and print-outs came from Literacy Bags by Kathy Howell.

Option 4: Individualized Homework
As the school year progresses, and I get to know my students' needs, I individualize homework, as needed. I make recommendations about what families can do at home with their kids to build specific skills, and provide resources accordingly.  For example, I might send home practice activities for building sight word knowledge. Invariably, everyone gets extra practice sheets for word problems at some point.

Overall, I'm pretty flexible with families about homework as the year progresses.  I find that most of my families appreciate the freedom and flexibility and are committed to working on homework with their children. The result is happy kids, happy parents, and a happy me!

I'd love to hear what you do for homework with your students!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Vegas Conference Sale!

I'm having an awesome time in Vegas at two awesome teacher conferences!  First I''m attending the I Teach 1st Conference. The Teachers Pay Teachers Conference starts on Friday!

Here's a picture of the binder I put together - 
and my super cute t-shirt my husband made for me!  
(The Honey Bunch Blog Design did my logo for me. I love it!)

I am meeting so many inspiring teachers that I want to celebrate with a SALE!

I've got so much to share with you when I get back.  In the mean time, check out my store and others that are also on sale!  Head over to Surfing to Success for the Vegas Sale Linky!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Classroom Overhaul -- Step 4: Make Milk Crate Seats

One of the challenges of having worked in education for 20+ years is that I have a LOT of stuff.  I have tubs of materials stored above my cabinets (which are also stuffed full). The result is that my classroom looks cluttered (even though I know exactly where everything is).  
A big goal for the summer is to sort through those tubs and purge! I'm planning on reducing the amount of tubs and storing my most essential materials in seat crates.  My students will use them as seats during reading groups.

You've seen the images of seat crates on Pinterest! So cute!  Mine turned out great!  
Step 1: Go shopping!  

  • Fabric:  The fabric was 50% off at Joanne Fabrics, and I bought a yard of each (which was too much). I spent about $10 on fabric and ribbon.
  • Foam: We selected a 2" high density foam that was also 50% off at Joanne. We chose the high density foam because we thought it would last longer and be more comfortable for my students than lower density foam.  I bought an entire sheet because I have some other projects for which I'll be using the leftover foam. I spent about $15 on the entire sheet of foam. (My dogs really liked the foam!)

  • Plastic Crates: I bought 5 turquoise plastic crates from Target. They were $3.99 each, so I spent about $20 (with tax).
  • Plywood: We had 5/8" scrap plywood so that was free.
  • Tools: We used a staple gun, scissors, circular saw, measuring tape and other measuring tools -- all of which we already had.
  • Total Cost: about $45 for 5 seat crates.
Step 2: Measure and cut the wood to fit on the interior rim of the crate.

Step 3: Measure and cut the foam so it is the same size as the wood. I traced the outline of the wood onto the foam.

Step 4: Measure and cut the fabric.  We used 2" foam, so we measured the fabric to be 4" wider (all the way around) than the foam/wood seat.  On the first one, we actually measured and cut the fabric pretty precisely. On the others, we just put the seat in the middle of the fabric and cut it so there was a 4" border of material.

Step 5: Staple the fabric onto the foam/wood seat.  
  • First, we folded the fabric so it would be extra strong.

  • For the corners, we folded them into triangular shapes (like we were wrapping a gift).

 Step 6: Staple on the ribbon. I wanted to have a handle to make it easier to pull the seats up. This was optional because I can easily stick my fingers though the crate to pop the seat up.

All Done! The entire project took about an hour and a half!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I Wish I Had Known! (Student Transportation on the First Day)

Confession time...My first day of my first year of teaching was an absolute nightmare.  (Actually, the whole experience was a nightmare, but we'll save that sad story for another time).  I was singularly focused on creating a great impression that would set the tone for the rest of the year. I made a critical error. I didn't even think about how my 3rd graders were getting home. I guess I sort of assumed they'd know, though honestly, it didn't even cross my mind.

You can imagine what happened.  One of the kids did NOT know how to get home and got lost.  The principal called me well past 6:00 pm, and asked me if I had put the boy on the bus.  Was I supposed to do that??  Apparently, the family was new to the area, and the little guy had no idea how to get home, so he just set off walking.  It all ended well -- his parents found him.  But, I tell you, that was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.  23 years later, the memory still makes me squirm.

Now I know that I have to find out how my kiddos are getting home before school even starts! At "Meet the Teacher" night, I put out a survey question board, and before they leave, parents and students have to answer "How Are You Getting Home on the First Day of School?" Occasionally, a parent will tell me that they don't know which bus their child rides. I direct them to the office so they can get that figured out.

On the first day of school, I write each child's transportation mode on their name tags so I can sort them into groups quickly and easily. I also use this transportation display. I keep it up for several weeks -- at least until we ALL know how the kids are getting home!

The transportation display is available on my TpT store for $2 in several designs. I sure hope they keep another child from getting lost on that first day of school (and keep another teacher from going to bed in tears on the first day of school!)