No Homework! Really? A few thoughts from a Teacher-Mom and a Teacher-Kid

To give or not to give homework to elementary students, that seems to be the question lately.  Apparently recent research shows that it's better not to give elementary students homework.  Do you think this could have come about because some teacher somewhere was torturing poor kids with a ton of homework? Before you make the decision to throw away your homework resources I would like to share a couple of stories with you.  I'll apologize ahead of time for not including research data, just a little common sense.

When I was in elementary/middle school teachers didn't assign a lot of homework, if any.  Schoolwork came easy to me and I was able to sail through school with all A's.  The moment I walked into high school I knew I was in trouble.  It wasn't because I didn't didn't have a quality education or the intelligence for the classes, it was because I wasn't given homework. Neither experience, necessity or teachers made me sit down on a nightly basis and study.  If our job is to ready children for college, shouldn't we teach them study skills?  Doesn't assigning meaningful, age- appropriate homework help teach these skills?

God has blessed me with three beautiful children.  Each of my children works hard in school and comes home with very good grades.  They also LOVE technology.  The girls have a  favorite How-To You Tube channel, favorite games and shows that they like to watch on their electronics.  Let's be honest with each other, kids don't willingly calculate and manage the amount of time they spend on electronics.  If yours do, please tell me your secret and I will work on my short comings.  I don't know about you, but keeping student's attention in the classroom is becoming more and more challenging for me.  Do you think this may be due to electronics? So would it be better for kids to work on meaningful age appropriate homework rather than play on electronics at home?  Please don't tell me parents will govern the amount of time their children are on electronics because it isn't happening now.

Common sense tells us that kids should read every night.  Is there a reading teacher that would say otherwise? If we aren't holding children accountable for this some (most) of them won't read every night.  I don't believe in thick homework packs that torture children and parents.  I assign reading with a reading response and one math review sheet a week.  Phonics practice is differentiated and assigned on a per student case.  That's a total of 30 minutes of homework for 4 nights.  If the parents want their child to do more homework, they can easily carry the homework over to other nights.  Homework is given out on Friday's in my class and due the next Friday, this allows families to work around their schedule.  My students and my children are learning study skills that will help them in college.  Why would we want to take this away from them?  Please don't do away with homework, just make it meaningful and age-appropriate.

A note from my daughter on homework:

Dear Teachers,
I love doing spelling homework and reading homework.  In spelling we have a sheet with 9 activities and we get to choose three to do.  One example is we can draw a picture with our spelling words.  For reading we do 3 short easy responses to questions on a page in our homework journal.  I like these because I get to choose how to practice spelling and what to read.  I like that we have Monday through Thursday to do homework.  It helps me when I have sports at night.  For math we have a few questions on a page.  It is due the next day but it's easy.  Also we practice multiplication and study our math vocabulary.  I like to practice and get faster at them.

Pinterest Pick Three

 I love the fall! The Florida heat is almost tolerable and we can go outdoors again.  I also love fall crafts.  Please don't tell anyone, but I like to sneak them into the classroom too.  One of my favorite activities comes from pin number one.  I like to have the kids make sun catchers for the window.  It's quick, looks amazing and helps the kids motor skills

My last two pins have a ton of crafts to choose from.  There's sure to be something that you can use.

A big thank you goes out to our hosts over at The Inspired Owl and Pawsitively Teaching!

Social Studies: American Symbols

We had a lot of fun in class this past week learning about American Symbols.

Some of the activities that we did:
Museum Walk- I put symbols around the classroom for the children to look at.  For some of them it was their first time seeing some of the symbols.  The kids glanced at the picture and then the name trying to create connections with their learning.
Reading:  We read lots of books to tell us the hows and whys of symbols.  Did you know that Mt. Rushmore was created to draw in tourism? I guess I learned something too.
Task cards:  Once the students were familiar with the symbols and their facts, they worked with task cards.
Video:  We found a video on youtube that showed us a few of the symbols.

This is the list of American symbols that I used:
American Bald Eagle
American Flag
The White House
The Liberty Bell
The Statue of Liberty
The Lincoln Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial
The Washington Monument
Mt. Rushmore
WW1 Memorial
Presidential Seal
Declaration of Independence
Uncle Sam
The Rose
Airforce One

Here are some of the books that we looked at.

If you click on the photo below it will take you to the video on youtube.

This pack contains more reading material and task cards that we used.

Social Studies: Teaching Immigration

I have to admit that I was a little taken a back when I saw that immigration was in our second grade social studies standards.  We are offered little to no materials for social studies so I  didn't know where to start.  After careful research I saw that the natural place to start was teaching about different cultures.  You can find information on that unit here.  After the culture unit we learned the key points below:

1.  Definition of immigration.
2.  The history of Ellis Island.
3.  The why's and how's of immigration.
4.  The influences of immigration on American culture.

Below you will find books on the topic of immigration.

The documentary below is a little boring, but it does a good job of showing why people left their countries and what they found in Ellis Island.  Just click on the picture for the link to youtube.

I developed materials and more reading material to accompany the standards for my students.  You can see those by clicking on the link below.

Teaching Partners

Could a teaching partner be the answer to your prayers or your worse nightmare?  The simple answer is that they could be either depending on how much thought and work you put into the process.  My advice to you would be to get a teaching partner.  Education has become too complex for you to do it on your own.  A lot of people wonder if the primary grades can handle teaching partners.  My answer for them is always "Absolutely, just keep the students in mind when making choices".  I have had a few teaching partners over the years and have learned that if you follow a few guidelines your teaching partner may be the answer to your prayers.

First you have to decide which collaboration will work best for your students and teaching situation.  Here are two models for a general education classroom: 
Co-Teaching:  Two teachers work together to teach in one classroom.  All academic areas are supported by both teachers simultaneously.
Departmentalize: Two teachers work separately to teach different subjects to the same students.

There are a a lot of variations that could go into either of those models.  Both models can be very beneficial.  Co-Teaching a subject like shared reading could alleviate stress of planning, allow for better grouping of students and allow students to have two different teaching perspectives.  I have worked with another teacher where we brought both of our classes together for shared reading.  We would take turns on being the lead teacher for the lesson.  After the whole group portion of the lesson students would be separated into groups for group work.  This can be a very supportive environment that decreases stress from presenting each lesson.  This is also the best way to find out if you like working with partners.

Departmentalizing could allow each teacher their own space to teach in while focusing on less subjects.  I have departmentalized with students switching out of my classroom and with me switching out of their classrooms.  The choice of who would switch was always based on the needs of that class.  Some classes do not fair well with change while others enjoy a change.  This way of teaching is most beneficial in giving you the autonomy of the classroom that you may desire.  If neither of these models will work for your school environment I encourage you to research other models

Here are some tips for making a partnership work:
1.  Let it go.  If my students are happy and being well educated, I don't dwell on what ever may bother me.  Don't sit and stew over the fact that your partner left her stuff in your area.  Who cares? Just clean it up and go on.
2.  Nurture your relationship.  I like to leave notes for my family and my teaching partner.  Quick little pick me ups reminding them of how much I love them.  It only takes a minute for you to tell someone that they are awesome on a sticky note.
3.  Get over yourself.  It takes billions of teachers to educate our world.  Your way is not better than someone else's way.  Use your partnership as a learning tool and be receptive to new ideas.
4.  Don't waste time on hashing out tasks.  When I come in to my classroom I look at the list of things to do.  I do as many as possible as quickly as possible.  If forms need to be filled out I do it for myself and my partner.  She does the same thing for me.  This divide and conquer of tasks benefits the students and cuts down on work.  Doing the tasks immediately also insures that I don't get behind on work to complete.  (Except for grading,  I haven't conquered that beast yet!!!)
5.  Make sure to look into the future a year or two before you sign on with a partner.  If they are newly married and planning on starting a family, you may not want to sign on there.  However, maybe that is where you are in life and a partner with those dreams would be a perfect fit for you.
6.  Assess your teaching goals and styles with someone before you sign on with them.  If they are OCD and you are a "hippy" go lucky teacher, you don't fit together.  You don't have to be the same, but you don't want someone driving your crazy because you are just too different.
7.  If the partnership goes south don't make the students suffer.  If you sign on to have a partner you have one school year to get through.  You need to make it work perfectly for the students no matter what.  If you want to end the partnership during the summer, so be it.

My hope for you is that you have a teaching partner as wonderful as mine.  My teaching partner is caring and always puts others firsts.  She has a no non-sense attitude that fits perfectly with mine.  I'm very lucky to have her. 

Cultures of The World Fair

Part of our social studies standards are to learn how cultures from around the world affect our culture.  There's no better way to start this standard than to learn about cultures from around the world.  The problem for me was how to teach the students about several cultures within the time that we had available.  This is when I thought of a cultural fair.  I talked my team into teaching  each of their classes about a different country and some of the different cultures within that country.
We had the students research:  food, art, music, clothing, customs, and language.  Each class put together a science board with some of the research.  We also hung other research on the walls outside of our classrooms.  This way the students had plenty of room to read about the different cultures.

 We chose to hold the fair the day before Thanksgiving break.  The cultural fair was so engaging, the students were sure to learn all the way through the end of the day.  We weren't so sure that would happen with our every day lessons.  Each class prepared one of the more popular food or drinks from their country.  I bought prepackaged food from Ikea for my country.  This helps to satisfy the rule in some schools of prepackaged food.  The year before we had a parent make our food at home.  (I did not serve the pear drink.)

Each classroom can have a quick craft inside for the students to complete. We made floral headbands for Sweden.  Most countries have flowers in their culture so this is a wonderful go to craft.  If you search on Pinterest, you will find a plethora of cultural crafts.  We also used the folders that you see below to hold all of our research in reading and writing.

Every student was given a passport with the countries listed inside.  The students were to record details from every country that they visited.  So we allowed students to roam the hall.  They went into the rooms to enjoy food and a craft.  They read information on the countries outside of the rooms.  Their teachers held them accountable for details by checking their passports.  We had parent volunteers to come in to assist the students in moving throughout the hall and into the appropriate rooms.  If you can't do a whole grade level Culture Fair, you can set up centers in your classroom.  You can have groups of students research different countries and share with each other.

Putting together the materials for this unit took quite a while.  If you don't have time to put them together, check out the units below in my store.

Discriminating Teachers

Take a moment to look at this photo and reflect on your thoughts.

Be honest, did you stereotype or have negative feelings when you looked at it?  If you did, it’s o.k. Did you notice that we are a non-traditional family? It’s time that we open up and discuss racism and discrimination with one another without judgment. It's time that we grow and heal together.

Racism and discrimination is a problem that plagues the world.  I’ll be honest; I didn’t want to write this post.  I would much prefer to go about my day and ignore it.  That would be easiest for me, right?  Well, the issue with ignoring something is that it won’t go away.  You shouldn’t act on your prejudices because everyone is the same on the inside.  You should reflect on your thoughts and feelings and deal with them before they come out as racist or discriminatory actions.  The problem with me telling you this is no one wants to be told what to do or to think that they aren’t perfect, so no one will listen to this. 

Lets take a look at why you should be concerned with this topic.   Racism affects us all whether you think so or not.  Institutions are always implementing new rules and regulations to help end discrimination.  These changes affect us all in different work institutions.  As a teacher I have seen a couple of changes in the past few years.  One change is that we can’t staff minority children in contained ESE classes as readily as we used to.  This change came about because the number of minorities being staffed in ESE classes was disproportionate to other students.  We needed to impose strict rules because people were funneling the students that they didn't want to deal with in what they referred to as the "special" classes.  The result or problem that has come about for teachers and students is that we have minority students who need to be serviced outside of a mainstreamed classroom.  Some of these students suffer being in an environment that isn’t right for them.  Without staffing equality in place, we have no choice but to question the motives of people wanting to take minority students out of the mainstream classroom.  If this situation seems very confusing and not readily solved, it's because it is.  Another change that is very recent is writing office referrals for African American males.  In my state, the number of referrals that is being written for these males is disproportionate to their classmates.  Something needed to be done to protect these males from being unfairly judged.  So teachers have been told, don’t write write referrals for these males.  The problem for some of our African American males is that sometimes, just like their classmates, they need discipline and guidance to help them to be the best that they can be. If we don’t take a look inside of ourselves and at those around us, policies are going to get messy and make life much more complicated because we have no other choice but to impose rules to protect people being unfairly judged.  If we don’t change, institutions are forced to put practices into place to help right our wrongs.  It would benefit everyone to make sure that we reflect on our actions to make change.

How can we help end discrimination? We need to talk to one another and look at ourselves without judgement.  If we find that we have been hurtful with our words, discriminatory or have prejudices, it’s o.k. we just need to change our actions.  I’ll share a very personal example with you.  I have some very sweet friends that would do just about anything to help us out.  They would care for my children and speak kind and thoughtful words to them.  These same friends posted some very hurtful literature on Facebook about gay people.  What they don’t know is that my mother is a lesbian.  These words that they post are very hurtful to me, but I’m used to seeing these words so I ignore them and go about my day.  I know that these friends are good people and wouldn’t speak these unkind words to my children because it would hurt my children to have someone speak of their grandmas this way.  They would never look at my family; my mother included, and spew the hateful message that they posted. They will probably be shocked to see that lesbians can raise women to be very productive members of society.  Their thought process is that they will all raise sinful gay children who are a plight on society.  Well here I am world, I have a master’s degree, I’ve been with my husband for 20 years, I have 3 beautiful children, I pay my taxes and I’ve never been to jail.  They have been taught these prejudices throughout their lives just like we have all been taught something wrong throughout our lives.  Come together and open up the dialog.  Share your dialog with Tanesha, Amna and myself in our comments section.  Reflect on all of our stories.  Let’s make a change.

Link to our blog series with the buttons below.

Back To School

School supplies are selling out in stores across America.  This can only mean one thing - it's time to go back to school.  <insert wailing teachers here> We want to make the summer to fall transition as easy as possible for you so we have 10 bundles of everything included below to give away.

Fern's coloring pack would be great for introducing school staff, meet the teacher night and bell work.  It's important to keep the kids engaged and learning while you attend to parents and incoming students.
The Inspired Owl's Corner is offering an Owl themed or Brightly themed decor set.  I personally use these sets in my class.  They are amazing!!!

Easy Teaching Tool's  is going to make your parent communication a breeze with her back to school pamphlet.  It's a great way to let the parents know what to expect and to ease their worries.

Learning Is Something To Treasure is going out of her way to make your whole year a breeze.  She's giving away mega pack of phonics sorts!!!

A First For Everything has all of your close reading needs for the fall right here in this pack.  Start the students off on the right foot.

Pawsitively Teaching knows how to develop a classroom culture of respect and learning.  She wants to help you do the same thing with her classroom management bundle.

Amy is giving away a Jan Brett pack with lessons and activities for 10 of Jan's books.  Everyone loves to display cute student work.  It's a great way to make admin. happy and the kids ecstatic.

Cassie has everything you will need for sight word centers.  This is a must have for every primary classroom.

We wish you lots of luck in the raffle.  Be sure to check out each person's link to see if they have any other fun give aways going on.

Working Smarter Not Harder in the Classroom

Sometimes working harder in the classroom doesn't make us a better teacher. Over the years I've had some awesome ideas that teach students the content perfectly and look great. Well at least I thought they were awesome ideas then.  Now I know they were time consuming and energy draining.  When I design my classroom now my first thought is:  Will it help  the students throughout the year?  Then I move onto:  Is it visually distracting for students?  Here are a few tips.

Word walls are an essential part of elementary classrooms.  We have a few up in our classroom.  For sight words and frequently used words we sectioned off our white board.  We can add and delete words easily as the students need them.  We chose not to use cards because we go through hundreds a year and filing them is too time consuming.

Our math and science vocabulary words are written on index cards and then stored in library pockets.  We display them in small pocket charts from the Target Dollar Spot.  This allows us to organize as we go.  There aren't nearly as many terms as our sight words so writing them is easy.  We save these cards for each unit and use them again the next year.

Having a million anchor charts around the room is distracting.  We have all of our core areas on interchangeable clothes pins.  This way we can clip it up, take it down and store it as needed.  The clothes pins are hot glued so that they can store about five charts at a time.  It gives the room a clean appearance, helps the student's brains to rest and serves as an anchor for students when needed.  Above the writing anchor I have our morning work examples.  We allow students to come into class 30 minutes early each day.  The students trickle in throughout this period.  In order to save copies and make learning meaningful, I put up four writing centers (from Mel. D. at Seusstastic)  a week.  The kids get to choose which one they want, grab their copy from a drawer and work on it as time allows before school.  This saves us from making copies for every child every morning.

Does your roster change a lot at your school? We always lose and gain at least one different name.  Instead of making a fancy chart that I have to change out I like to print them individually.  This way I can just change out one as needed.  (These printables came from the Inspired Owl's Corner.)

I LOVE personalized student work areas, but it makes it difficult and time consuming when we lose and gain students.  A nice general area where work can be put up and taken down quickly gives the same sense of pride to students, but makes the task of putting it up pretty simple for us!

If you have any ideas on working smarter not harder in the classroom I would love for you to leave your ideas in the comments below.


Citizenship is such a fun topic to teach students.  Watching the light bulb go off when they learn that they are here to serve the world is inspiring.  So where should we start when teaching citizenship?

Some key points to teach while addressing citizenship include:
What makes us a citizen?
Rules and Laws
Rights and Responsibilities
Contributions to Community

Lessons are so much better when you add in a hook that engages children.  We always like to start this unit off with an explanation of why we need to be a good citizen.  This includes contributions to our community.  Consider using Kid President to explain the hows and whys of contributing to our community.  I've included a video link for you below.

These books are a good place to start if you need material to read to your students for citizenship.

Every teaching unit needs engaging activities that present students with a hands-on learning experience.  A great example of an engaging educator is Debbie Clement.   I've compiled a pinterest board with a creative project from her and some other suggestions for you.

Time is always an issue in the classroom for me.  Due to this, I created materials that I could use quickly and efficiently. If you are in need of any more materials check out my unit.

Take care!