November 24 - The Ask Me About book and a window into the classroom

I have been reading The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn, and it has been an interesting read for the most part.  I do not give homework, never have, and it has been good to see my reasoning behind this decision backed up in such a logical and rational way.  Many of the myths associated with homework have been true in my experience in Elementary schools; it leads to greater independence, it helps to reinforce the learning done at school, it teaches organizational skills, etc. etc. etc.  I have not seen any of this happen because of homework, nor have I seen any of these attributes even supported by homework.  In fact, I feel it fosters the opposite of these skills.  For those reasons, I made a vow to never give homework.   It makes me think hard about what it is I am doing with the time we have together, and forces me to plan accordingly.

It also made me take stock and think about how are some other ways that I can give parents a window into my classroom.  If they are not standing over little Yuki's shoulder helping (doing) her with her homework, then how can I keep them involved in what we are doing in class?  For this, I have two solutions, and as always, I would love to hear more if anybody has them!

Ask Me About Book

This is simply a notebook that each child is given at the beginning of the year.  On the cover it says Ask Me About.  Inside, we write the date, and Ask me about something that we did today.  For example, yesterday we wrote Ask me about the difference between boots and snowshoes.  This is because we did some experiments outside judging the speed and depth of our boot prints in snow with and without snowshoes. Each child takes the book home everyday, gets it signed and gives it to me to check.

My hope is that this book creates a dialogue at home between parent and child regarding what they do in school.  Several parents have approached me and said that they use the book as a dinner table piece.  Great!  It also allows me to do some assessment.  If the child explains a concept we studied in class, but doesn't quite understand it, the parent usually writes this in the margin beside it.  It gives me ongoing formative data for my file.  It also forces me come up with at least one great idea, big thought, or interesting concept each day.  I try and make each item I send home in the book to be about a 5 to 10 minute conversation.

Class Wiki

I have used several different platforms for this in the past; PBworks and Wikispaces being the best.  This is basically an online resource for parents, students, and myself.  It is a secure place where each kid has a username and password, and so does each parent.  They can log on from the comfort of their own homes, or on their smartphones on the commute to work.  I use it for several different aspects of communication with parents.

  • I post a daily recap of what we have done in class

  • I put up pictures I have taken from various trips and activities

  • I put up links and resources that I use in class, or ones that I think parents and children would enjoy doing together

  • I share student work

  • I put up book lists

  • It is an archive of what we have studied in the past, and a place to go review past material

  • The kids use it to reflect or share big insights they have had

  • I put up lesson plans, rubrics, and assignment details

  • There is a forum where parents can communicate with me; and children can communicate with each other

  • Class schedules and upcoming events

  • etc.

It doesn't take me long each day to update it, maybe 15-20 minutes when the school day ends.  I find that it is a great tool for giving parents an idea of what we do in the class, and I find as a teacher it keeps me motivated to do interesting and engaging lessons in class.


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