Monthly Archives: August 2016

Homework…why and what to expect in the GREEN ROOM

Homework. A word that brings negative feelings; a practice that has been denounced heavily by teachers of young students and defended by teachers of older students. There is an abundance of research for AND against it. And I see the value in both sets of views.

However I come down on the side of ‘yes my students need homework from me’. Why? Well part of my role is preparing children for real life and while adults aren’t doing “homework”, they may have jobs that require some outside attention or have many things to juggle. Another realistic point: homework is a responsibility and we all have undesirable responsibilities…filing our taxes, paying bills, household chores…  So in this way, homework does help students start to build specific life skills: persistence, time management, organization, responsibility, NOT procrastinating, meeting deadlines (after all, we have deadlines on paying our bills and filing taxes)… I could go on and on.

Another reason why I am in support of homework is that it is an extension of classroom learning. I am not a “drill and practice” homework person, but rather view homework as an opportunity to provide students with key learning or skill development that we just cannot possibly squeeze into the precious hour of time we get each day. (And realistically when you factor in schedule disruptions and travel time, we don’t even get that…)

HOWEVER, I believe I have a very realistic view. I taught 2nd grade for 10 years and my students always had homework; 20 minutes a night. NO more. I believe 10 minutes per grade level is appropriate. Thus a realistic expectation for 3rd grade would be 30 minutes and for 4th 40 minutes. I get the importance of family time, extracurriculars and such which is why I am firm about these time limits and have even recommended to parents that they set a timer. I’ve been teaching 17 years and have never had a concern when we hold a child accountable for this time expectation.  As a teacher, I get to know my kids and know what I can realistically expect from each child too, so I am always willing to be flexible when needed and to help work out plans with families for student success.

Therefore, your child will have homework expectations from me. I am more than willing to coordinate and if necessary make adaptations…that is why I promote open communication. At first your child may complain, especially if they have never been expected to extend their learning at home before, but they will develop some “stamina” soon enough!  I also urge parents to let their child be held responsible and accountable. These are GREAT years to start developing independence because I am supporting and caring. Yes if your child is late with homework I will express disappointment and work with him/her to plan for how to remember. NO I will not accept “mom forgot to put it in my backpack”.  It is too important for students to have permission to make mistakes and take ownership for them. We have a great saying in the GREEN ROOM… “Own it, and move on!”

What to expect:

  1. Comprehension Notebooks: This year I am adding something new right away, as in on the first day I meet with students for 4th and by the end of the first week with 3rd; the building of a comprehension notebook that will serve as a reference/resource for each child. Most of our time in class is extremely student centered. I do very, VERY little direct instruction, yet there are still concepts, literary terms, and vocabulary that I just have to teach so that students can then apply.  A few years ago, I had an extra hour a week with students (during Tiger Time) and we used that time for these lessons. Last year with changes, I lost that time and we struggled to build this resource.  The comprehension notebook meets gifted learning needs because it helps me COMPACT CURRICULUM…that is I do not need to repeat and reinforce these skills and concepts again and again. Typical learners need repetition; gifted learners do not. By teaching skills in quick mini-lessons we can devote in class time to higher level thinking and more engaging learning opportunities. (Video lessons available at: or Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 10.43.00 AM

Thus, for the first few weeks, your child will be expected to complete a series of lessons. I have recorded these lessons on videos. Your child will get a packet for each lesson and the video will explain what needs to be done. (Students are encouraged to pause or review parts to ensure they attend to directions carefully). Basically they will be coloring, cutting out and gluing in the parts in the packet to build their own resource in a comprehension notebook (see video about these notebooks). That’s it. Watch and follow the directions. There are 8 lessons right now for each grade level (I may add one or two more).  Students finish one, bring in their notebook to be checked and get the next lesson pack. Ideally I would love to see these lessons completed or almost completed before I start our class novels, which is the next type of homework to expect.  

See the intro to notebooks video here

2)  Book club/Novel study: While I wholeheartedly encourage and support independent reading choices, I do ask students to read a few novels together. This is so we can have a shared reading experience for discussions and application of literary analysis.  Weekly reading expectations are given (usually a chapter or so) and due by Friday of the assigned week.  On Fridays we have discussions and other comprehension activities. The reading of the novel and some level of preparation (usually a discussion guide is given) is to be done at home. We have so many other things we are reading and doing in class, so each child will get a copy of the current novel to borrow.  4th graders will be reading Ella Enchanted (will receive books on Sept. 16th), A Wrinkle in Time (read during the winter) and The Van Gogh Cafe (super short; read in the spring). 3rd graders will read Clementine (will receive books on Sept. 23rd) and A Turtle in Paradise (winter and spring).

3) Reading response letters: These are the most intense of my expectations yet are so powerful to challenging my gifted readers. I have seen EXCEPTIONAL growth from students with these assignments so I continue to require them.  First I promise that your child will be supported through these and this year I have started a series of lessons to guide students from one expectation to the next as they “level up”.  I give specific feedback each week to help your child grow as well.  More information about these letters will come, but you can check out the playlist of lessons prepared for 3rd graders or new 4th graders:

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Response letters will start in October, with the first one from 4th graders due on Friday Oct. 7th and the first one from 3rd graders due Friday Oct. 14th. Students will want to be sure all video lessons are completed by this time at the very latest.

A final note… all homework for the GREEN ROOM is due on Fridays. I do this for consistency and because students do not bring planners to my room. With around 90 students coming and going each day, planners are just one more thing to be carried back and forth, often left behind; and I cannot possibly deliver them to classrooms when they are forgotten. Students will also not be writing anything in their planners from me, as I share students with 12 homerooms and cannot possibly go around to each room giving the assignments.  Students/parents of course are always welcome to add when something is due for me, but it is not required. What is required is being prepared on the Friday something is due (don’t worry I remind students repeatedly…and if they forget… well it is a learning opportunity in being responsible!)

I encourage you to keep me posted if you feel your child is having trouble finding a balance, particularly with other homework.  I also encourage you to expect some level of frustration as it is important that our children learn strategies to be persistent, flexible, and resilient. Finally, let your child “own” his/her responsibilities. I promise that “oops” moments will be met lovingly!


Reading Redefined

Before we start a new school year, I want to expand the definition of “reading” that I use. When I was in school, reading meant you had a book. To be more specific, reading meant words on a printed page. Today, I read so much more than just what I find on actual paper. I read text on a screen, I read images, I ‘read’ audiobooks and voice memos, I ‘read’ videos. My view of reading has expanded because the way in which I access words and ideas has changed.

With smartphone in hand, I am reading non-stop and find that my reading for the day often starts before I even get out of bed. I reach for my phone and check email, messages, news articles, Twitter, Facebook… the bright screen means I don’t even have to turn on a light. While getting ready for my day, I might listen to what is on the TV. As I drive to school, I listen to the radio and I might be singing along…songs are filled with words that my mind considers and makes meaning of. I will read ‘images’ that I pass as I drive (mostly advertisements, but the message conveyed through the visual is often stronger than the words that accompany it). At night I may wind down by reading a book or as more often is the case, listen to an audiobook.

Therefore as a reading teacher, I challenge my students to read…that is to construct meaning from the words others share. Whether it be on paper or delivered digitally, our definition of reading has expanded and our role as readers is to think. It is my goal to teach students how to read in many different ways and most importantly how to THINK about the ideas and messages they take in.

One of my goals this year is to help your child read a variety of texts…both print and digital.  If we stop and think about how much time we spend reading content on some device, I think we would probably agree that print sources are accessed less frequently. So why should we insist our children only read paper texts?

Of course with this comes teaching new skills for navigating digital tools and of course digital citizenship responsibilities.  Those who worked with me last year know that I am a HUGE supporter (and teacher) of being responsible when online.  Yes the Internet has a dark side, but with proper instruction, modeling, guidance, and support, we can teach our kids to be safe and responsible while opening up new and exciting learning opportunities. I believe in instilling habits early before a situation comes up. Reading digital texts requires some different approaches when accessing and it is important to learn those tips that as well.

I invite families to view a video I made last summer about print or digital texts:

I also invite families to take this Digital Reading Survey to help me get to know your child better and to help you expand your thinking about different types of reading: 

Finally, I invite my new 3rd graders to send me pictures of books they are reading independently so that I can get to know you better through a digital reading wall. I also invite you to check out the walls of other GREEN ROOM readers so you can see what others are reading. When we read the same things, opportunities to have great conversations emerge! Digital reading walls:

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I’ve heard many times that we are preparing our children for careers that have not yet been invented. So let’s work together to give them 21st century skills! We will help them learn to communicate effectively, collaborate efficiently, apply critical thinking, and be creative!