These were five of the problems I faced in my 3rd grade classroom and (no matter which grade you teach) I’m pretty sure you can relate. The good news is I managed to find a solution that saved me time and made me feel far less stressed each day. Not only that, but my students’ math skills were strengthened and their families were less burdened with random assignments each night. Read on to learn about the problems I had and how I solved them.
We were required to give homework 4 nights a week. It was a mandate, so my personal feelings made no difference. I had to send it nightly.
I often received emails and phone calls from confused parents who said they didn’t understand the homework or told me that their child had told them that he or she had “never seen this stuff before.” Let’s be honest…our time is so limited and we do not want to spend the afternoon or start the morning returning messages explaining directions or convincing someone that youdid, in fact, teach it in class.
I needed to spend some of our instructional time every afternoon going over the instructions because each assignment varied.
I frequently had a parent and child (or parents and children) return to my classroom because the homework never made it into the backpack. This often resulted in an unplanned conference at a time when I needed toprepare for the next day.
Unrelated to homework, I consistently faced a different problem. I often would teach a concept, the students would demonstrate proficiency…and then they didn’t.
How often do you have students who forget what odd and even (or a prime and composite if you teach higher grades) numbers are, not remember how to round to the nearest 10, 100 or 1000, or sit like a deer in headlights when asked to write a number in expanded form in the spring when they were rock stars of that skill in the fall when it was taught.
This is especially troublesome if you teach in a grade that takes standardized testing at the end of the year because you then need to set aside a lot of class time for review and test prep.
I am happy to say that I created a solution to ALL of those problems and it has proven to be successful for thousands of other teachers too, which seriously makes me feel proud and excited!
Based on the problems stated above, I knew I needed something that…
I began creating Spiral Review Math Pages that used the same daily format, covered skills from each area (computation, measurement, geometry, data, word problems, etc.) on each page and continuously spiraled previously taught skills, so they remained on the top of their minds. The added benefit to this was that students who had not demonstrated proficiency earlier in the year had the opportunity to do so over time through repeated practice and instruction.
Suddenly, homework became purposeful and easy to manage, my students became much stronger in all math concepts, the parents expressed gratitude for the consistent format, and the phone calls and emails asking for assignment clarification completely stopped.
By assembling homework packets that were sent home on Friday afternoons, I was able to prep an ENTIRE YEAR of homework at once and never had to think about it again. I even eliminated the problem of having “drop in visitors” who had forgotten their daily assignment.
The students simply completed one page each night beginning on Monday afternoons and returned only that one page to class in the morning. The other nightly pages remained at home.
This meant I no longer needed to take any class time to explain the directions or check to make sure the papers made it into the backpacks.
In the morning, I displayed the projectable version of the spiral review page onto the board and we went over it together. This daily quick review made them accountable and truly reinforced all of the math skills regularly.
There are 25 pages per month. Since I never needed to use all 25, I would use the extras…
- as an assessment to monitor progress
- as morning work
- as an “at your seat” activity during my Guided Math Workshop
- in my Emergency Sub Plans
It was so effective that it COMPLETELY eliminated the need for any review and test prep in the spring and my students’ test scores were much higher than previous years.
These worked so well for myself and the other 3rd grade teachers who were using them, that (by request) I created them for second grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade as well. Each was designed in consultation with and piloted by experienced teachers in those grade levels. They have since been used the past few years by thousands of teachers who have reported great success as well.
You can grab the set that is specific to your grade level now or read on below to learn about exactly what is included. You can also see testimonials from real classroom teachers and homeschool families who have been using them too.
If you choose to use them as in-class work, you can eliminate prep entirely by projecting the page on your interactive whiteboard and having them record their answers on the included answer sheets, in math notebooks, or on dry erase boards.
The packets all have monthly/seasonal themes. September targets many of the skills that were required at the end of the previous grade level. It was designed to be used as a review for the new year and to pinpoint important foundational skills that your students must be proficient in before moving on to new standards. The following months build in a systematic, sequential order with lots of spiral review built in so that students retain important concepts.
You can visit each grade level’s individual resource page to see which skills are covered in each packet.
• “WOW! I’ve been teaching for 16 years and this has been the most useful thing I have used. My students really understand all of the skills and I loved knowing I wasn’t moving on without all my kids being proficient. The beautiful layout, structured format, and clear expectations made it so easy to make these become part of our daily routine. I highly recommend them to everyone.” (Thank you Jocelyn P.)
• “I started using your monthly spiral review pages in October and never looked back. Not only did they provide us with quality daily work, but I just got my end of year scores back for the district math assessments and my entire class crushed it. I attribute their success 100% to these pages combined with your guided math book that opened my eyes to a whole new way of teaching. I can’t thank you enough. My administration has taken notice. I’m so proud of what we’ve done.” (Thank you Kerri K.)
• My teammates and I had the opportunity to see you present about guided math and math workshop and excitedly jumped right in with your guided math format the next week! We have been using the spiral review pages as homework and in the “at your seat” station during our daily math workshop. OMG!!! We ALL agree that between the new teaching routines and the use of these pages, our students are consistently performing above average and truly understand the math. It’s not just our opinion either because we just received our test scores from last year and they were not only MUCH higher than ever before, but we outscored the district and student growth from the previous year was amazing. That was what prompted me to finally leave a review. I/we can not recommend these enough. Thank you for not only making our jobs easier, but so much more enjoyable as well. (Thank you Jessica R.)
• These are absolutely wonderful for my students! I use them for a variety of things including review and homework. (Thanks Tony C.)
• “Love the data sheets! Great way for me and my students to monitor their learning.” (Thanks Kelsey)
7 BENEFITS OF HOMEWORK: A LIST TO RELIEVE TEACHER GUILT AND MAKE YOU HATE HOMEWORK LESS
Do you question the importance of homework? Are you one of the many teachers or parents who feel homework should be banned? If you are part of the growing number of people questioning if the reasons homework is bad outweigh the benefits to homework then you might find this to be helpful.
I’m going to be honest…as a teacher (and especially as a parent), I am in the camp of not liking homework at the elementary level.
However, each of the districts I have taught in has required teachers to assign nightly homework in addition to reading for 20 minutes. It often felt like a waste of time and paper. I am happy to say that I did find a solution, and even came to see some positives that can come when purposeful homework is sent instead of busy work.
I am hoping the seven benefits I listed below will ease the guilt some teachers feel about burdening their students and their families with tasks to complete at home. I also share how I successfully turned homework into a purposeful activity in my own classroom.
For some teachers, the wordHOMEWORKbrings about pangs of dread, for others it’s a necessary evil of learning, and for many, it merely represents having to fulfill a district requirement.
In many districts these days, homework grades are not even allowed to be included in a student’s overall grade. The debate over homework has been waged for years, so what’s a teacher to do?
No matter where you stand on the topic of homework, here are some things that will make you feel better (and in some cases, even GOOD!), about assigning homework.
THE BENEFITS OF HOMEWORK:
- Preparation: A great way to use homework is preparation for an upcoming lesson, whether it’s doing some reading ahead of time, or looking over other assigned material, there’s no doubt that preparing for an upcoming lesson is a beneficial way to assign homework.
- Responsibility: When a student has a task that they MUST do rather than WANT to do, they learn to be responsible. Homework is the “You do” in the learning model of “I do, We do, You do.” It gives the learner a chance to practice what was covered in class and take responsibility for their own learning.
- Problem-solving: If the student can’t find an answer to something in their homework, (or even where to look for information to find an answer), what steps will they take to solve this problem? Will they look in a dictionary, online, ask a friend, or go to a library? Homework gives students a chance to flex their problem-solving muscles.
- Review: Whether it’s a new math skill, or spelling/vocabulary words, homework that involves reviewing material covered in class will help students to remember it and is a very useful assignment.
- Time Management: For students with an active extra-curricular life, homework teaches them how to manage their time so that they can prioritize schoolwork vs. other extracurricular activities.
- Persistence/Grit: There have been many studies done recently that show a lack of persistence and grit in today’s students. Developing the fortitude to complete homework assignments also helps develop a student’s capacity for grit and persistence, which is necessary for success in many areas of life, not just academically.
- Self-Esteem: When a student learns the value of a job well done and take ownership of their work, they will develop a sense of pride–which carries over into their personal development as well. It is for this reason that homework should always be a review of skills already taught.
HOW I MADE HOMEWORK MEANINGFUL IN MY OWN CLASSROOM:
As a public school teacher, I was required to give out nightly homework to my third graders. I found myself spending a lot of time picking out assignments, making copies, communicating directions, answering emails and phone calls from parents who did “not understand the new math” (aka the math workbook pages), distributing, collecting and correcting what essentially was just busy work sent home to meet a requirement I did not agree with.
My biggest concern was (and continues to be) that many of the assignments from the workbook included 10-20 of the same type of problem. That meant that if a student was struggling with subtraction with regrouping and completed 20 problems incorrectly, that misconception and error became so much harder to fix.
Parents were signing reading logs, but the kids weren’t actually reading.
I was frustrated by feeling like my time, the students’ time, and the parents’ time was being wasted. I knew there had to be a better option and set out to fix the problem and must say I was thrilled with the results.
I began creating spiral review math pages for each day for my own 3rd graders. These pages proved to be important and meaningful work.
The consistent format of 10 standards-based questions focused on topics we had already covered provided an important spiral review of all the grade-level skills.
This was key for several reasons:
- It provided multiple opportunities for students to become proficient in a skill instead of just teaching it and forgetting it.
- The repeated spiraling practice of foundational grade level skills ensured they were ready to build upon them when new skills were introduced.
- We no longer needed to waste hours of valuable class time on standardized test prep in the spring because the spiral review throughout the year ensured the students were always ready for the exam.
- It constantly showed me if there were skills I needed to reteach either to the whole class or to a small group of students.
- Because the skills, as well as the design of the nightly math page, were familiar the students completed them with ease.
- The variety of 10 different problems eliminated the risk of students cementing a misconception into their minds.
The next morning I projected the answer sheet onto my smart board and reviewed each problem with them. This sent the message that the work they did outside of school was purposeful and they would be accountable for it. Because they no longer felt homework was a waste of their time they demonstrated increased effort.
I also created data collection sheets to use either with one specific student’s page, or to examine the class as a whole. The pages were so easy to use and let me see at a glance where I needed to focus future instruction.
Not only did the nightly spiral review math pages provide the students’ with meaningful practice of important skills, increase their confidence as learners and make them stronger math students, they also solved many of the problems I faced as a teacher and made the parents’ lives easier too.
- I no longer needed to scramble to find homework for each night. Instead, I simply printed each month’s pages at the start of the new month and copied them all at once into weekly packets for the students.
- My lesson planning became much more intentional and focused because I was able to easily identify which skills we needed to work on more.
- My valuable time was no longer wasted correcting busy work and instead was better used by going over these as a class.
- Parents felt better about being able to help their students and became true allies in their learning.
- They were able to better enjoy their evenings together as a family because they knew what to consistently expect for homework each evening.
- Distributing the week’s packet all at once enabled them to support my goal of teaching time management because they could work ahead if they knew there was a busy night on their calendars.
These monthly math packets are now available for the entire year for:
Each bundle for grades 2-5 contains over 250 printable pages with projectable answer sheets and data forms. Because there are more pages included than you’ll need for nightly homework I encourage you to use the extras as assessments, morning work, or for small group instruction. First grade is formatted with only 5 problems to better meet the developmental needs of our younger learners.
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HOMEWORK TIPS FOR BUSY TEACHERS:
What’s the first word you think of when I say “homework?”
It’s one of those hot topics that people feel very strongly about one way or another. However, more often than not, it is a requirement and so today I am here to share tips for managing homework in the classroom.
I used to send homework home nightly, but found it to add chaos to each and every day. I would spend many lunch periods copying an assignment for that night. Kids would forget to take their copy home. Parents would call or email to get clarification on what the assignment was for that night.
SAVE TIME WITH WEEKLY PACKETS
Then I switched to a weekly packet. The packet included all of the pages for the week along with a cover sheet that listed spelling words and assignments. This was an improvement, but still not ideal.
Last year I started using a separate folder just for homework. It includes the homework calendar and all of the printables they will need for the week Last year, my teaching partner and I began sending home a Paragraph of the Week assignment each week (you can read all about those and grab a free sample here). The consistency was outstanding and we really felt like we hit gold because the kids were all working on something meaningful with a purpose. The parents liked it because it was easy for them to understand and help with. Since we knew in advance what the assignment would be we experimented with a monthly homework packet.
It. was. Awesome!
We placed everything into a homework folder for the month and included an assignment calendar. The folder stayed at home and the students returned their completed work each morning in the communication folder. I’m looking forward to using the same system again this year and have created some calendar templates to include in the folders.
MORE HOMEWORK TIPS FOR TEACHERS
- Strive to find easy-to-manage, yet effective assignments. Although it is true that you shouldn’t be sending home tasks that students can’t complete on their own, you also need to be careful not to give them “busy work” either. Having them complete an assignment for a skill they are proficient in also creates unnecessary work for the teacher. Time is a teacher’s greatest obstacle so be careful not to spend it copying, correcting, managing, chasing, etc sheets of paper that students are not gaining anything from.
- Strive to be consistent with your grade level colleagues. Ideally, the assignments and policies should be identical.
- Save time by teaming up with the other teacher(s) at your grade level. Alternate prepping the packet for the week or designate different subjects to different teachers.
- Communicate your expectations with parents from the beginning. Discuss them at open house and make a hard copy available for students who may transfer in later in the year.
- Use homework as an opportunity to teach organization and responsibility. While homework may not always be a reflection of a student’s abilities, it can be a valuable learning tool for time management and work habits.
- Design a simple and consistent format for homework. It could be reading and a math page every night or you may have students work on a different subject each night. When I taught 2nd grade I used to do Math Monday (computation), Teacher Choice Tuesday (a spelling activity), Word Study Wednesday, Thinking Thursday (word problems)
- Implement an efficient routine for checking homework. If you are just going to check for completion and spot check the homework you could have students place it on their desk while they domorning work and you can circulate and check the pages.
- Determine how you will communicate homework progress with parents. In general no news is good news, but I do have a homework alert that gets sent home as needed. It needs to be signed by an adult at home so the families know if they are not meeting the expectations.
- Consider creating a menu of optional homework activities. Some parents find homework to be a burden and others want more. One way to make everyone happy is to send home a basic assignment that is required for all students and a list of optional enrichment choices for those who want additional assignments.
HOW TO GRADE HOMEWORK
- Determine if correcting homework is an effective use of your time. Teachers don’t know how much assistance a child had with an assignment so it isn’t always an accurate representation of their abilities.
- Checking the homework for effort and general understanding may be sufficient.
- If you are assigning work sheets. select a few questions to go over in class.
Homework should be completed because it is an expectation and not to receive a trinket. However, some teachers do find that extrinsic rewards are motivational to their students. If you choose to make those a part of your homework procedure here are a few easy-to-manage suggestions:
- a raffle: Students earn a ticket when they complete an assignment. Have them place the tickets into a container. Draw one ticket a week to win a No Homework Night Coupon.
- Certificate: Honor perfect homework efforts with a certificate. This could be done monthly or by marking period.
- No Homework Coupon: These are like gold!
- Determine a plan for how you will handle homework that is incomplete, missing, poor quality, etc and be consistent.
- Check with your school and district to see if there is a policy in place.
- Be cautious about using recess as a punishment for not doing homework. Often the kids who are not doing their homework are the ones who most need recess