Should Parents Help with Homework?

An article in yesterday’s Boston Globe about homework caught my eye.  Its subtitle is “Should parents nag, assist, or [let kids do it…]?”

Heavy backpacks are a health problem. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)
Heavy backpacks are a health problem. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

I once ran an after-school  homework club for students. It began with a snack and fun conversation between the students and the volunteers who staffed it.  The environment was quiet but not silent.  All the tools students needed were in reach.  Volunteers circulated to answer questions and provide help when needed.  If students finished early, they read.  Then everyone played outside until their rides arrived.

Students went home happy and with the bulk of their homework complete.

Parents loved the homework club because it helped them understand the essentials of getting homework done–through conversations with me and a newsletter I sent home.  Snack. Relax. A quiet environment. Tools and help available. The student does the work.  Read and play.

Some commonly asked questions I received follow:

Do homework in a different environment. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)
Do homework in a different environment. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

What if the homework is too hard?  Let the student do as much as possible alone.  Then help, but remember that helping is assisting, not doing.

What if the homework is boring?  Ask the teacher about the rationale for it.  Request a challenging twist for your child if you think he needs more.

What if the homework is repetitive, like packets of worksheets?  Ask the teacher why they are assigned.  Sometimes we parents learn that they are assignments that the student didn’t finish in school.  But homework should not be make-work, punishment, or mind-numbing for students.  If it is, discuss this with the teacher.  It’s okay to ask the teacher for modifications that help your child to love learning.

What if the homework consists of test prep?  Research shows that this kind of cramming test prep does little to raise scores, although it may help students with some types of questions. If a school’s curricula is well-designed, properly resourced, and aligned to the Common Core or your state’s curriculum frameworks, there is no need for burdensome test prep.

 

 

 

 

 

Common Core Plus S’mores

Our daily conversations are full of fractions and estimation:

I’m half way there…The project is 75% complete…About a quarter of a piece

What fraction best represents this slice?
What fraction best represents this slice?

That’s why it’s important to thread these skills into teaching whenever possible. And since this Friday, May 15, is National Pizza Party Day, pull out all the stops!

Remember math worksheets with pictures of pizza showing how     ¼ + ¼ = ½ ? Without a visual, it’s hard for some students to understand that when they add fractions, the piece gets bigger but the denominators get smaller.

Guy Fiori's S'mores Pizza.  Photo by Yunhee Kim, Food Network Magazine
Guy Fiori’s S’mores Pizza. (Photo by Yunhee Kim, Food Network Magazine)

This isn’t just for young children, either. I’ve known many students who needed the help of visuals and manipulatives right into high school. Providing these aids is not babyish, nor is it some kind of crutch, nor should it be shaming. Knowing that you need tools to help solve a problem is smart.

When you have a pizza party math lesson, it’s an interdisciplinary feast! Allow students to make the dough and choose their own combinations and amounts of toppings.

Will you use 1/2 of the bag? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)
Will you use 1/2 of the bag?
(Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Next, students write out the recipe using fractions and demonstrate making their pizza, explaining their math along the way. You might even have a taste testing to choose the most delicious variations.

Sprinkle about 1/8 of a bag on each slice.  (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)
Sprinkle about 1/8 of a bag on each slice. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

There you have it.  Common Core math and English language arts, plus a built-in assessment.

National Teacher Appreciation Week

Forego the mugs, the trinkets, the gift certificates. I speak for many teachers when I say, “If you must give me something for Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d love a handwritten thank-you note.”

Start with these two  words. (K.Nollet, 2015)
Start with these two words. (K.Nollet, 2015)

It’s the soul of teaching that matters to us teachers. Who could stick to such a difficult profession if there weren’t more than a marginal salary to it? We’re devoted to your children. We know we shape the world. We love the career that chose us. To us, it’s a calling.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t tough. One of my students, an Army vet learning to teach middle school math, told me that she thought teaching was harder than basic training. Student difficulties, family problems, and student social-emotional-behavioral issues affected how her students learn (or if they learn) every day.

Above all, National Teacher Appreciation Week is not about what parents or the PTA think that they should give to teachers. Help shine a teacher’s soul by writing a personal thank-you note, an act that speaks volumes to a teacher.

From Zymurgy to Zyzzyvas

IMG_3741
Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

Are you a dictionary lover? If so, you enjoy holding the book in your hands while browsing through its pages. You relish the distraction of looking up a word, because you see lots of other cool words along the way.

I never mind when students do that; in fact, I encourage it.  At their age, I’d visit my grandmother’s and tuck away in a corner with her 1937 version of Merriam’s Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition. It was an adventure and I loved the last word in it, zymurgy (p. 1174):

IMG_3744
Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

 

leafhopper
Image from unvegan.com

Today I click on Merriam Webster online and get to the point without distractions, a real loss. Also, I need to know the word for which I’m searching, which takes the fun out of it. The last word in today’s unabridged version (you pay for it) is zyzzyvas, a genus of South American weevils. Notice the amazing snout of one in the photo.

There’s value in having physical dictionaries in classrooms and homes.  It’s not just about finding the word.  It’s about the pleasure of finding a word that’s your very own discovery, as you hold a book in your hands.

 

 

 

 

 

Image:  http://unvegan.com/reviews/a-nightcap-at-smokes-poutinerie/

 

My Mother the Yodeler

“Yodel-ay-hee-hooo!” sang my mother in the car. She had a natural talent for it, learned it as a camp counselor, and once she got going, she’d spin the yodel part like this:

          Yooooo—de-yo-de-yo-de-yo-de-yo-de-lay-hee-hoooo!

After The Sound of Music movie came out, and Julie Andrews sang “The Lonely Goatherd,” it was fun to have a mother who could yodel on request. No one else’s mother could.

Yodeling originated in the Alps as a form of communication, which makes this Jimmy Fallon/Brad Pitt Tonight Show video  even more hilarious:

 

An Education Spring “Why Not?”

Your students take forever to settle down and start the Do Now. Or you wish there was something new to add to that unit on European history. Maybe there’s a certain dullness today that needs a spark.

Try an Education Spring Why Not?—a semi-serendipitous drop of shine in your students’ day. They learn something new. It activates energy. And you all have fun.

Here’s Francois Couperin’s (1688-1733) Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou les Maillotins, a three minute piece of joy:

 

Verdi Starts the Day

In one school in which I was principal, I played classical music over the intercom to start every day. It  created a happy atmosphere and gave every adult and child something to share.  It’s easy to build good connections using pieces from Verdi’s operas, especially when a student says “I know that one!”

Integrating music into teaching doesn’t have to be heavy duty, like designing a major curriculum unit.  Show your students this video of The Three Tenors having fun with a Verdi piece everyone recognizes.

Your Story Through Song

baby dreamsSongs connect us to all of humankind and tell our story from the earliest days of human history. You have songs that tell the story of your life, too. Did you sing while you did chores?  Rode in the car? During play?

Think about the earliest songs that hold meaning for you. My father sang I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen when he drove me home, days-old, from the hospital. My mother sang Baby Dreams every night. When I see a crocus, a kindergarten song runs through my mind: “Out of the earth, a crocus springs, just like a jack-in-the-box…”

We kids sang while swinging and washing dishes; a ride in the car meant breaking into three-part harmony. At my grandmother’s, we sang songs like Elsie from Chelsea. My sister and I knew all the songs from Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music from records. Extended family gathered at Christmas to sing Handel’s Messiah.

Color My World, by Chicago, was my prom’s theme. In college, I sang along to Orleans and The Beach Boys while learning airs, madrigals, lieder, and chorale themes used by Bach.

As both teacher and principal, I taught children to sing patriotic songs; God Bless America became the all-time favorite. I played the familiar two-note shark theme from Jaws on the piano as a classroom quiet signal. The result? Instant silence and it worked every time.

What’s your story through song?

Quoth the Ravens? “Watch Me Parent.”

The ravens at Wellesley College, in Wellesley MA, have returned for a second year and are caring for three nestlings. Picasso.WomanWithRaven.Watch them live on Wellesley’s  Ravencam.

Check my 2014 post about them. The ideas I shared for teachers are terrific activities for parents to use during April school vacation.

This year, I am mesmerized by the ravens’ parenting skills. Both parents share in the care and are neither helicopter nor “free range.” These highly intelligent birds balance nature and nurture. A sensible balance provides protection and food with support for getting out of the nest and into the world.

You just know that when it’s time, the raven parents will be firm about learning to fly. No going backwards. No hovering. No meeting their own needs through their children’s.   Simply getting on with the business at hand.

 

 

 

Shown: Woman with Raven, Pablo Picasso, 1904.  Source: WikiArt.