Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writing Assignments Down for School

In teaching middle school, I find students are in a constant flux between getting ready for high school and still thinking like an elementary student. Middle school students need to become more independent but there brains are still developing the organization skills.

In my class, students must have their agenda open when the bell rings. Then I walk the aisles to make sure students are writing down their homework and daily activities in the proper day for my classroom. I reward students with class points as students are competing with the other classes for a weekly prize.

This has been a very helpdul technique as students learn to use their agenda nightly to check off their homework. This is also helpful for parents who are not sure what their child's homework is.

I take things one step further and sign their agenda is homework is not completed that day and if a student gets in trouble in my class, I record the behavior in the agenda for the parents as well.  Recoring the behavior aslo reminds the students what  my expectations are in the classroom.

I also like the way Stowell Learning Center explains the use of the agenda for schools and teachers that may not require the use of an agenda.

Get an Agenda or Planner

In other words, write down your assignments so that when you get home you remember what to do. Check your list before you leave school and make sure you have any materials you might need.

Many schools offer agendas to their students for a nominal fee or no fee at all. If your school does not offer an agenda, pick one up and get ready to instill a valuable tool for your child!

Make sure to pick an agenda that is easy for your child to handle and that has age-appropriate writing space (e.g. younger child may require lined spaces, older students may require the week-at-a-glance-type agendas to account for different subjects).

(Get ready, the fun is just about to begin!)

For some reason, many students HATE using a planner. Others just ignore it and assume they will remember everything.

Having an agenda / planner is NOT all there is to it. Now it must be used!

While it may seem incredibly obvious, "walk" your child through how to use it. Be very specific with how it needs to be filled out.

NEXT - Check frequently (EVERY day, at first) to make sure the planner is being used effectively. It can be very easy to get into bad habits and start not using it. NO! To work, it must be used daily.

All this "organizational stuff" is so obvious for adults, but the part of the brain that is used for keeping us organized doesn't fully mature until about age 25! Most eight-year-olds (or even sixteen-year-olds) have not yet developed the capacity to be completely organized.

Avoid being critical. Just be helpful.

Getting the assignments home, with everything that is needed, is the first step toward completing homework. Develop the planner habit and you'll be well on your way to happier days.

Homework Problem: missing materials & getting started in class

Do you have students who have trouble getting started in class? I have done my own version of laminating a list, but my list has been the first 5 and last 5 things students do the classroom. These work well with RSP students or students who seem to struggle getting started in class. It's amazing how a student is able to keep up with the class just after a few weeks of following the list. Hope it helps! 

Here is a sample of what my lsit looks like:
1. Get out agenda/planner
2. write down homework
3.  get out the opening activity (Do Now, Sponge)
4. answer the opening activity
5. get out your homework

Missing materials is another common problems brought up by parents with kids who are struggling in the classroom. I like the ideas Stowell Learning Center lists here for students in the classroom:

Homework Problem: 
Missing Materials


It happens far too often.  Math book, spelling words, science notebook, reading folder, vocabulary worksheet; at least one of these necessary things fail to make it home after school with your child so that homework can be completed.


It can be soooooooo frustrating!  You sit down to help with homework only to find the book, the paper, the chart, or some other vitally key element is not even there...it's still at school.  Grrrrrrrr!


And then the scrambling starts.  Do we race back to school on the chance that the teacher is still in her classroom?  Do we call a friend?  Or should I just send my child to school tomorrow knowing that he'll get another incomplete homework assignment?


Homework Solution:
"Binder Reminder" 
Most teachers are more than happy to help with this solution as long as you make it easy for them.
Here's what to do:  Make a list of any and all of the materials your child may need to take home from school and write them on an index card. 

Next, laminate the card or wrap it in clear packing tape.  Then, ask your child's teacher to attach the card to the upper corner of your child's desk and help to implement a simple routine.
When homework is assigned throughout the day, ask the teacher to use a dry erase marker to circle the item your child will need for that assignment.  When it is time to pack up at the end of the day, your child should erase the circles for each item ONLY after he places it in his backpack.
This will not only help your child to develop independence, but save you from any more after school scavenger hunts!

Set the Stage for Success
WHERE will your student do his homework?

There can be many places in the house that work for doing homework.  Making the decision NOW as to where the homework place is will help when school starts.  Take some time to evaluate different locations in your home.

Specifically, you are looking for a place that is: 
  • Comfortable for reading and writing
  • Well-lit
  • Quiet
  • Free from distractions
  • Clear of clutter
  • Stocked with all of the materials needed
Having a clear work space with all necessary materials at hand, such as pencils, ruler, and lined paper reduces the need to get up and waste time or get distracted looking for materials.

Work together with your child.  The more your child is involved in the process, the more he "owns" it.  Stocking his own desk with his homework materials can be fun and motivating.