Grade the work, not the behavior

Grade the Work, Not the Behavior, writes Cindi Rigsbee on Education Week Teacher, hitting a topic that Cal has raised in the comments. A middle-school English teacher, Rigsbee no longer gives a zero for cheating, she explains.

I now respond by reassigning the work or re-administering the test by making it different and, if possible, more rigorous. For example, what was at first a multiple-choice quiz may become an essay when I retest the student. Yes, it’s more time-consuming than ripping up the original work and giving a zero — but it’s worth it to me to actually be able to assess whether or not my students have met my learning goals. I can’t determine that if they never do the work.

When students aren’t doing homework, she calls them to her desk for a “grade conference,” and lets them make up late assignments — up to a point.

My mantra of “I just want them to do the work” has to be balanced with “I can’t grade 97 late assignments, some from the first week of the grading period, the night before my grades are due.” Determining how much late work to accept is, of course, a personal choice driven by individual teaching philosophies (and in some cases, schoolwide policies). But it is important that makeup work requirements are communicated early and often to students and parents.

She also takes away privileges, such as eating lunch with friends, if students fail to complete their work. “After all, who wants to sit with me, completing work that should’ve been done three days ago, when they could be solving middle school dramas with their friends?”  Her philosophy is “harass till they pass.”

Rigsbee also warns students that other teachers may not give  them a second chance and that cheating in college or work will have dire consequences.

This sounds like more work for the teacher. Is it worth it?


Start school later for more learning

Middle schoolers do better when school starts — and ends — later, according to a North Carolina study by economist Finley Edwards described in Education Next.

. . . delaying school start times by one hour, from roughly 7:30 to 8:30, increases standardized test scores by at least 2 percentile points in math and 1 percentile point in reading.

Starting early has the most effect on older middle schoolers, supporting the theory that hormonal changes make it hard for adolescents to get to sleep in the early evening, Edwards writes. Students get more sleep and have fewer absences. But late starts have other advantages:  With less unsupervised time after school, latebirds spend more time on homework and watch less TV.

“The effect of a later start time in both math and reading is more than twice as large for students in the bottom third of the test-score distribution than for students in the top third,” Edwards found.

Start times had no effect on elementary students, the study found, but elementary schools start later than middle schools, so that could obscure the effect.

Districts could swap elementary and secondary school start times to improve achievement without spending more on busing, Edwards suggests. Or districts could invest in more buses to start all schools at 8:30 or later. The achievement gain would be similar to the effect of cutting class sizes at a fraction of the cost.

‘Alternate’ math confuses kids, parents

Canada’s K-8 schools are teaching a math curriculum that’s too confusing for parents to understand, reports Maclean’s.

Children are using  alternative methods, such as using grids, blocks, or strips of paper to multiply.  “We’re talking about adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. It shouldn’t be so overly complicated that even parents can’t understand it,” said Anna Stokke, a professor math at the University of Winnipeg. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Stokke began speaking out and soon parents from all over Canada were sending her similar stories of discontent: kids who couldn’t do their homework without help, parents who couldn’t make heads or tails of the assignments so they were hiring tutors, or spending hours looking up math sites on the Internet because the textbooks are so vague. She heard from teachers who felt pressured not to teach the traditional methods. . . . “I don’t have a problem with alternate strategies,” Stokke says. “But I fear they’re learning so many, that in the end they’re not mastering any.”

Many schools now offer Math Nights to show parents how to help their children with homework. A Catholic school offered an online course — 20 minutes a night, four nights a week for eight weeks — to get parents up to speed.

Thirty percent of Canadian parents now supplement their children’s education, reports Maclean’s.

But even students with good grades are confused, says Kim Langen, who runs an after-school enrichment program called Spirit of Math. “They’re really creative—but they don’t know what to do with it,” says Langen.

. . . Grade 5 students . . .  don’t know multiplication facts, have never encountered division, and just look at you blankly when you ask them what 23 + 7 is. In order to build students’ math facts, the ?rst 10 minutes of the 90-minute session is dedicated to drills—then, explains Langen, because they’re not bogged down on simple calculations, they can handle the high-level conceptual work.

Some teachers also have trouble understanding the new math, says Langen.

Mom fails 2nd-grade (Everyday) math

By the end of her daughter’s first=grade year with Everyday Math, Crystal Intini Alperin was unable to help with homework, she writes on Parenting Without A Parachute.

Everyday Math introduces and teaches mathematical topics as a part of a spiraling curriculum.  Topics are introduced, and students are given homework, called Home Links, using real-life practical applications.  Mastery is not required because all topics will continually reappear throughout the years and will be presented in many different ways with increasing levels of complexity.

In second grade, daughter Cassie “came to me and slapped down the Home Link from Hell,” Home Link 5-6.

Cassie had completed a household scavenger hunt to find examples of three-dimensional objects.  She had found examples for prisms, pyramids, cylinders and spheres.

However after searching our house, she still couldn’t find an example of a cone.

Finally, Mom could help! She suggested the top of a martini glass. Problem solved!

Or not. The homework came back marked in red:  ”Not appropriate for school.”

Cassie never asked her mother for homework help again.

Teachers confuse diligence, achievement

Teachers who base grades on homework confuse obedience with academic achievement, writes Education Realist.

Boosting hardworking students’ grades just a bit (say from one grade’s “+” to another grade’s “-”) is fine. While some may raise an eyebrow at the idea of giving a failing student a D- because he shows up and tries, I not only forgive this, but engage in the practice frequently.

Giving a student with mediocre math skills an A or B simply because they work hard and finish all their homework is quite another matter and worst of all, giving a low grade to students with excellent test performance—in many cases even failing the student—is outright fraud.

At many colleges and universities, remedial classes — especially in math — are filled with kids who got B’s in high school. Some of them didn’t even do all the homework. They did “extra credit” projects.

Homework for parents

Parents are tasked with teaching measurement to their third graders by TERC’s Investigations, complains Katherine Beals of Out in Left Field. In high-scoring Singapore, she points out, third graders’ parents don’t get homework to do.

[click to enlarge]:

In the comments, FedUpMom writes:

Oh man, if there’s one phrase I never want to hear again, it’s “parent involvement.” Involve me out!

Notice the confident assertion that “kids find these activities fun.”  Not my kids.

Cranberry objects to Everyday Math’s family activities, which tell parents to “spend chunks of valuable time on poorly planned make work.”

Is homework worth it? Kids say so

Jessica Lahey hates homework, but she assigns it — if it passes the Ben test, she writes on a New York Times parenting blog. “If an assignment is not worthy of my own (middle-school) son’s time, I’m dumping it. Based on a quick look at my assignment book from last year, about a quarter of my assignments won’t make the cut.”

Parents are complaining about “horrible homework” burdens, Lahey writes. In Race to Nowhere, which is very popular with affluent parents, filmmaker Vicki Abeles “claims that today’s untenable and increasing homework load drives students to cheating, mental illness and suicide.”

I asked my students whether, if homework were to completely disappear, they would be able achieve the same mastery of the material. The answer was a unanimous — if reluctant — “No.”

Most echoed my son Ben’s sentiments: “If I didn’t have homework, I don’t think I’d do very well. It’s practice for what we learn in school.” But, they all stressed, that’s only true of some homework.

Teachers should be careful not to assign busy work, Lahey writes. “Children need time to be quiet, play, read and imagine.”


Elite schools ease up on homework

Some ultra-competitive private schools are assigning less homework to avoid overstressing students, reports the New York Times.  Of course, that means cutting back to only four hours a night or perhaps even 3.5 hours.

Dalton invited Harris Cooper, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Duke University, to speak last spring about the link between homework and learning. “At five hours a night,” he said of the homework burden, “they likely won’t do any worse if they only bring home four.”

. . . Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford School of Education, co-authored a 2007 paper that looked at 496 students at one private and one public school and found that those with more than 3.5 hours of homework a night had an increased risk of physical and mental health issues, like sleep deprivation, ulcers and headaches. In a separate study of 26 schools, Ms. Pope said, 67 percent of more than 10,000 students reported that they were “often” or “always” stressed out.

“At some point, we say too much is too much,” Ms. Pope said. “In our study, that’s 3.5 hours.”

Not all schools are scaling back: Some parents equate heavy backpacks and sleep deprivation with excellence.

Flipping catches on

Flipping instruction — typically, students watch a video at home and work through problems at school — is going mainstream, writes Education Sector’s Bill Tucker in Education Next.

Colorado chemistry teacher Jonathan Bergmann says “he can more easily query individual students, probe for misconceptions around scientific concepts, and clear up incorrect notions.” He has time to work individually with students.

Bergmann notes that he now spends more time with struggling students, who no longer give up on homework, but work through challenging problems in class. Advanced students have more freedom to learn independently.

In Washington, D.C., Andrea Smith, a 6th-grade math teacher at E. L. Haynes, a high-performing public charter school, says flipping is educational for teachers.

. . . crafting a great four- to six-minute video lesson poses a tremendous instructional challenge: how to explain a concept in a clear, concise, bite-sized chunk. Creating her own videos forces her to pay attention to the details and nuances of instruction—the pace, the examples used, the visual representation, and the development of aligned assessment practices. In a video lesson on dividing fractions, for example, Smith is careful not to just teach the procedure—multiply by the inverse—but also to represent the important underlying conceptual ideas.

USA Today also looks at flipped teaching. Stacey Rosen, an AP calculus teacher at a Maryland private school,  “digitally records her lessons with a tablet computer as a virtual blackboard, then uploads them to iTunes and assigns them as homework.” She uses class time to help students work out exercises based on the recorded lessons.

Before flipping, she couldn’t cover all the material before the AP exam. Now, she finishes a month early and uses the extra time for review, boosting the number of students who score a perfect 5.

Students watch lessons at home, sometimes two or three times, and replay confusing sections. If they’re still confused, they query a friend. If that doesn’t work, they ask Roshan the following day.

On a recent morning, she told the class a student was confused about the intermediate value theorem.

 ”It’s a really complicated name for something really simple. You guys want to go over it right now?” No one protested, so she launched into the lesson: She talked, she drew, she took students’ questions. She drew some more. Start to finish, the lesson lasted three minutes and 25 seconds. Back to homework.

Critics say flipping won’t work for low-income students who don’t have computers or reliable Internet connections at home. Of course, it also requires students to watch the videos at home.

In addition, it encourages lecturing, which many think is an ineffective way to teach. “It’s just kind of Lecture 1.0,” says Frank Noschese, a physics teacher at John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y.

Roshan disagrees.

“In an English class, you send the kids home to read a passage, and then in class you discuss that passage,” she says. “Why in math class am I more or less having them read the passage in class?”

So far, most flippers seem to be teaching math and science classes.  I think it’s too soon to predict that it will go mainstream, but momentum is building.

When Mom does the homework

Mommyish blogger Rebecca Eckler asks people not to hate her for doing her fourth-grade daughter’s homework: The girl is tired from school, play dates and activities, and playing is more important than homework, she writes. However, Eckler hates math, so she lets her daughter do that by herself.

You’re teaching your daughter to lie, resonds Madeline Holler on Babble, who wonders why “Eckler sat down and cut out and mounted pictures of elephants for a research project so that her daughter’s board would stand out among those of her peers’.”

A lot of homework is a waste of time. My question is, then, why create a charade? A charade that the fourth-grader is complicit in. Sending in finished homework sends a sign to the teacher that the daily assignments are manageable when they are not. When the daughter gets praise for her standout poster on elephants (or a gold star for a completed word search), what does the mother expect the daughter to do: say “thanks,” or say “thanks, my mom did it”? If it’s the former, then she’s teaching the girl to lie. If it’s the latter, then why do the homework in the first place? What’s wrong with a crappy elephant poster?

. . . If the consequence of not doing homework is too steep, there are other avenues, like cutting back on after school activities or, gasp, talking to the teacher about homework expectations.

Sometimes your child’s best isn’t great, Holler writes. That’s OK.