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Make Homework Meaningful & Manageable with Menus

Looking for a new homework management solution? Try homework menus! Tips on how to organize your homework practices using menus to motivate your kids and differentiate through choice. Click for details PLUS free printables to get you started.
Teacher Confession/Spoiler Alert: I’ve never been a fan of homework – not as a child and definitely not as a teacher  

Homework has been my pet project for awhile, as it's always driven me crazy that parents, districts, and most administrators required I create and assign something that any research I've encountered deemed at worst detrimental or at best only mildly useful. Since I've rarely taught in an environment where not giving homework was an option, I've attempted to finagle a way to make homework as meaningful as possible for ALL of my students. No easy task, especially when there are so many other things I felt more worthy of my time and attention (literacy, math, arts instruction anyone?!)


I’ve tried:
*Daily homework – everyone does the same thing, bring it back the next morning
*Weekly homework folders – students complete a set schedule of assignments per week (Monday – spelling, Tuesday – math, Wednesday – reading response, etc.)
*Homework packets – go home Monday, students finish in whatever order they choose, bring back Friday
*Homework point sheets – students earn a specified amount of points for each homework assignment and earn a set amount of points each week 

I’ve had varying amounts of success with all of the above as well as a good amount of failure. 

 
Looking for a new homework management solution? Try homework menus! Tips on how to organize your homework practices using menus to motivate your kids and differentiate through choice. Click for details PLUS free printables to get you started. 
After reading a variety of research about homework at the elementary level, I strongly believe that the most important part of homework for kids K-5 is reading a just right book. After that, the rest is – just that – the rest

These two articles are good starting points if you are interested in an overview of the research on homework practices. 

Synthesis of Research on Homework
The Case For and Against Homework

Here were my takeaways from the articles (from a grade 2-3 perspective)
 

Homework should: 
•Give students a chance to review skills they are comfortable with and can practice independently
•Give them an opportunity to do what they enjoy
•Give students a chance to be successful at home with academics
•Help children see connections between what they do in school and the real world

Homework should not:
•Require parents to teach their child something new – let parents do the wrangling, not the teaching
•Frustrate kids because of the difficulty of the assignment
•Be one size fits all – we don’t teach this way, so why would we assign homework this way? 


 
After 14 years of facing this homework conundrum I’ve found that homework menus are the easiest way to differentiate homework in a way that’s easy for teachers to assign and grade, plus they give you tons of flexibility so you can include exercise, listening to music, hanging out with family, practicing math facts or mindfulness as menu options. You are still assigning homework, but getting to choose menu options that you know are really important for kids.
  Looking for a new homework management solution? Try homework menus! Tips on how to organize your homework practices using menus to motivate your kids and differentiate through choice. Click for details PLUS free printables to get you started.
Homework menus give students choice within a structure and can be easily adapted to what you have already taught in class. You only have to create one menu a month and collect homework assignments once per week (or even per month – although I wouldn’t recommend this – too much room for procrastination). There are a few different ways to handle turn in of assignments for students who can’t handle the Friday only turn in option.  I use homework bookmarks for 99% of  my kids and a daily homework tracker for the kiddos who need a bit more daily accountability.


Looking for a new homework management solution? Try homework menus! Tips on how to organize your homework practices using menus to motivate your kids and differentiate through choice. Click for details PLUS free printables to get you started.
Want to try it out?  Here's a few things to know about getting organized.
At the beginning of every month you will need a new homework menu. Your menu (if you choose to do a monthly one like me) should include around 25 choices.  Then you just need the printables and you're ready to go.  It's work up front but it saves you time later.

To Do Monthly:
*Get copies of the homework menu ready for every student 
*Make 15-20 copies of the printable homework options you want to use 
*Make one set of answer keys for your homework grader (if you are lucky enough to have one) 
*Find a place to keep homework menu options (you can see some of mine in the pics) – I put them outside my room on plastic shelves so they’re easy to find before and after school
Looking for a new homework management solution? Try homework menus! Tips on how to organize your homework practices using menus to motivate your kids and differentiate through choice. Click for details PLUS free printables to get you started.
To Do Weekly:  
*Make copies of homework bookmarks or trackers to send home 
*Enter homework in grade book and grade as you would like (If you don’t have a parent volunteer to help you, I say put a sticker on the homework bookmark and send that puppy home!)
Looking for a new homework management solution? Try homework menus! Tips on how to organize your homework practices using menus to motivate your kids and differentiate through choice. Click for details PLUS free printables to get you started.  
To Do As Needed:
As you teach something in class, add it to your homework options folders, crate or shelves. If I have extra copies of a math or reading response assignment I always put them in the homework shelves for students to do as extra practice at home. These have been introduced to them in class and they should be able to complete them at home with minimal support. They can easily fit with the “Complete a math assignment you haven’t already done.” or “Complete a reading response/log” menu options. Even if I have something that doesn’t necessarily fit with a given option, I’ll let students know they can use it as a homework option (and let the parents know too) and write in the assignment they did instead of a number. Easy-peasy! 



Looking for a new homework management solution? Try homework menus! Tips on how to organize your homework practices using menus to motivate your kids and differentiate through choice. Click for details PLUS free printables to get you started. 
Q: If homework doesn't really matter anyway, then why even use a menu?  Isn't it just extra work that could be better spent elsewhere?
A: I have always worked in schools where there was pressure either by the district, our school administration, or students' parents to provide some sort of homework. (95% of the pressure came from parents in my experience)Providing homework menus with age-appropriate options is my attempt to work within these expectations, while differentiating for every student and honoring their time.  This is why exercise, listing to music, practicing mindfulness, and spending time interacting with family members have always been mainstays on my homework menus.  I also like that the menu structure gives me opportunities to include math and reading review assignments that are beneficial for students, since they're reviews of what we've already done in class.

Q: How do parents respond to this type of homework?
A: Just like anything else you do in your classroom, some parents are 100% on board and think homework menus are the best thing ever, and others are not so easily persuaded.  For the naysayers I use their questions as a jumping off point to explain what research says about homework in elementary grades and that truly my #1 concern is that their child is reading at home.  For the most part parents have been very supportive of this type of homework and loved that it gave their child more freedom and less busy work.  Kids are busy after school, and they loved that soccer practice and piano lessons (both great uses of after school time!) could be counted toward their weekly homework.  Using menus also eliminates parents who constantly tell you their child isn't being challenged by the work you're sending home, since the kids are making the choices.    
    
Q: Parents are concerned that their children aren’t old enough to make choices. What if they just want a homework packet?
A: If parents want a packet, I nicely take them outside my classroom (where I keep copies of all the homework choices) with a stapler in hand, randomly take three or four assignments and staple them together. Voila! A homework packet! I don’t think this is the best way to assign homework as it takes responsibility away from the student, but I don’t believe homework is important enough to cause rifts between teachers and parents. I strongly, strongly, strongly (did I say strongly?) disagree that children aren’t able to make choices for themselves.
 

Q: What if students can’t handle turning in homework only once a week?
A: Weekly turn in typically works for 99% of students. For the other 1% I  use a Daily Homework Tracker or Bookmark. Students who use these do the same assignments, but turn in a bookmark/tracker each morning with the minutes they read the night before and the menu option they completed (or are working on) so they don't get behind.


Q: How do you keep track of homework that has been turned in? Do students ever repeat the same assignment?
A: I keep track of homework in an Excel document where I record the total minutes of reading and the numbers from the homework menu that students complete each week. At a glance I can make sure students are completing different assignments throughout the month

Q: How do you grade homework? How much time does this take when students are completing different assignments?
A: Grading and entering homework into the Excel document is one of the parent volunteer jobs in my classroom. I feel my grading time is much better spent working on reader’s response notebooks or giving students comments on their writer’s workshop pieces rather than grading and entering homework assignments. I have a pack of answer keys that I include in my parent volunteer section of the room for all the monthly assignments, so a willing parent volunteer can do the grading for you. If parent volunteers are scarce, I would grade for completion only. Check! Sticker! Done!

 
Q: What do you do if students choose only the easiest assignments?

A: Parents are usually much more concerned about this than I. Homework is something students should be able to complete independently so technically they should choose assignments that are easy (on an independent level) for them. I talk with my students throughout the year about choosing just right homework assignments and train the parents to do the same. If you can finish it in two minutes it’s too easy. If it makes you want to cry it’s too hard. Since I can’t necessarily control which assignments students pick as this is HOMEwork, I choose my battles. I would rather battle about reading just right books in the classroom than choosing just right homework assignments.

Q: Parents are telling me they have to teach their child how to do the assignment(s). What should I do?
A: Remind the parent that there are a number of options for homework. Their job is to provide a calm place, time and structure for their child to work and then congratulate them when their child does their best. Train parents the same way you do students about choosing just right homework assignments (finish in 2 minutes vs. make you want to cry) and make some assignments available online if possible so parents can see what options are available.


Want to try it out?  Click HERE to download this FREE editable homework menu, homework bookmark, and 4 printables that correspond to the menu and see what you think.  I'd love to hear from you in the comments!
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Third-Grade-Homework-Freebie-4-NO-PREP-Printables-Editable-Homework-Menu-2802386?utm_source=ST%20Blog&utm_campaign=HW%20Blog%20Post%20Freebie%20Pic

Want more? If you are ready to get started with homework menus for the year, homework menus with corresponding printables are ready to go for August-May at my store.  You can buy them one month at a time or take the leap and get the entire year bundle which includes EVERY homework pack + extra presents for Super Pack buyers only!
Ready to try something new for homework?  A YEAR of Third Grade Homework gives you access to homework menus and printables for the ENTIRE school year!

Want even more for FREE?  As a Back to School gift, I'm offering the August Homework mini-pack as an exclusive FREEBIE to my e-mail subscribers so you can test out a whole month of homework.  Just click on button below the picture to sign up and keep your eyes on your inbox for the freebie!
Looking for a new homework management solution? Try homework menus! Tips on how to organize your homework practices using menus to motivate your kids and differentiate through choice. Click for details PLUS free printables to get you started. 



Have you tried out the freebie?  Already using menus for homeworkLet me know what you think in the comments!

Have a fab day Super Teacher!

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October Ideas & Activities for the Elementary Classroom - Halloween Art, Costumes and Read Alouds

Halloween ideas and activities you can use in the elementary classroom in October. Halloween art, October read alouds, teacher costumes, and free printables. These activities would work well for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade kids.
Hooray October!  I am a giant Halloween and October in general fan.  If you're as into the month of October as I am or just need some fun October ideas, check out some of these links:

Need a quick Halloween art project
Try the What Should my Teacher be for Halloween art activity.
All Things October for the Elementary classroom - Make-a-monster art, book suggestions, super teacher costume freebie, Olivia the Pig costume step-by-step instructions, and Pinterest board with tons of Halloween ideas
or if you need something that will take a little longer you can try doing Mixed up Monsters with your class.  I'm pulling out Mixed up Monsters asap so I can have a cute Halloween door before October slips away.
All Things October for the Elementary classroom - Make-a-monster art, book suggestions, super teacher costume freebie, Olivia the Pig costume step-by-step instructions, and Pinterest board with tons of Halloween ideas

Need a quick Halloween read aloud so you can chill out for two seconds?  
All Things October for the Elementary classroom - Make-a-monster art, book suggestions, super teacher costume freebie, Olivia the Pig costume step-by-step instructions, and Pinterest board with tons of Halloween ideas
Try out Storyline Online.  There's a great reading of I Need My Monster read by Rita Moreno that the kids love.  You will need access to YouTube to watch this at school though.  I feel for you if YouTube is blocked by school filters.  I had that issue one year too. I hate it when people who've never taught are in charge of making technology decisions. Boo! (not the Halloween kind of BOO- the THIS IS RIDICULOUS and I'm going to smack someone kind).

Need a quick Halloween teacher costume?
All Things October for the Elementary classroom - Make-a-monster art, book suggestions, super teacher costume freebie, Olivia the Pig costume step-by-step instructions, and Pinterest board with tons of Halloween ideas
Check out these Super Teacher iron on pattern freebies.  They come in the colors shown above.

Have a little more time to put together a teacher costume or want to dress up like a book character?
All Things October for the Elementary classroom - Make-a-monster art, book suggestions, super teacher costume freebie, Olivia the Pig costume step-by-step instructions, and Pinterest board with tons of Halloween ideas
Check out this step-by-step Olivia costume.  Plus look at my cute friends dressed as Pinkalicious and Lily from Lily's Purple Plastic Purse.  My awesome teammate just had those to die for yellow cowboy boots in her closet!  
All Things October for the Elementary classroom - Make-a-monster art, book suggestions, super teacher costume freebie, Olivia the Pig costume step-by-step instructions, and Pinterest board with tons of Halloween ideas
Need an October read aloud?
All Things October for the Elementary classroom - Make-a-monster art, book suggestions, super teacher costume freebie, Olivia the Pig costume step-by-step instructions, and Pinterest board with tons of Halloween ideas
The Araminta Spookie series is one of my favorites!  Araminta is spunky and quite hilarious (as most of my favorite fictional characters are), plus I just love saying the words "bat sack" which you get to do quite a bit if you read the first book aloud. (It's the little things that make us teachers happy you know).  My second and third graders all loved these books and wanted to continue reading the series after we read the first one together.  You can get it at Amazon here.

Need more ideas for teacher costumes or October ideas?
All Things October for the Elementary classroom - Make-a-monster art, book suggestions, super teacher costume freebie, Olivia the Pig costume step-by-step instructions, and Pinterest board with tons of Halloween ideas
Hop on over to Pinterest and check out some darling teacher costumes plus an array of amazing October classroom projects and ideas from simple (I can do those!) to way too complex for me (maybe next year - I'll pin them now just in case).

Happy October,
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Real World Math Project Freebie - John McBildit's Staircase Problem

https://www.teachersA free math project perfect for 2nd and 3rd grade kids! This idea can be used as a math assessment at the beginning of the school year or in a unit on the varieties of ways to solve mathematical problems. Click for the freebie!payteachers.com/Product/Real-World-MathJohn-McBildit-Staircase-Problem-Freebie-Great-for-Back-to-School-322912?utm_source=ST%20Blog&utm_campaign=McBildit%20Blog%20Post
I use this math project every year during the first week of school.  The "end game" of this activity is to talk with the kids about the variety of strategies that can be used to solve a math problem.  It's also a good project to start discussion about the most "efficient" strategies to solve problems, since we will introduce a number of strategies and talk about the most efficient ones for each student throughout the year.

Here's how you can organize this project into 3 days of math activities:  

 

Day 1: Introduce the problem and brainstorm

*Introduce the letter to students, have them read the letter looking for three things:
What is the problem you need to solve?
What information do you have that will help you solve the problem?
What materials might you need to help you?
*Make an anchor chart with the questions above and the answers students give you
*Show students the recording sheet where they will keep track of their work
*Student work time - give them enough time to possibly solve the problem in one, but not two different ways

This is a great day to talk about using unifix cubes as "tools not toys" and to introduce students to whatever your classroom management tool is for students to get your attention.  I use red plastic cups for students to put on their desks (although if they wear them as hats or snouts I tell them I won't be coming to them anytime soon.)
A free math project perfect for 2nd and 3rd grade kids! This idea can be used as a math assessment at the beginning of the school year or in a unit on the varieties of ways to solve mathematical problems. Click for the freebie!

Day 2: Work out the problem in different ways

*Review the problem and introduce what it means to solve the problem in a "different" way.  Talk with students about models, drawings, and equations before you send them off to work.  (I know this makes the project less "discovery-like", but sometimes on day 2 the kiddos need guidance as they haven't discovered anything.)  :)
*Give students independent work time
*The extra question is: John is building a spiral staircase that is 50 steps high and follows the same pattern.  How many blocks will he need to buy?  The answer is 1275.  :)
*Spend the last 10 minutes talking with students at the carpet about their strategies.  This is a great way to show students what a number talk looks like since you'll be asking them to share their mathematical thinking in words and writing throughout the year.
*Students love it when you label the strategies with their names -- the "Parker" strategy, the "McKenna" strategy etc.  Record students' number talks as anchor charts for your beginning of the year math bulletin board or hall display.
A free math project perfect for 2nd and 3rd grade kids! This idea can be used as a math assessment at the beginning of the school year or in a unit on the varieties of ways to solve mathematical problems. Click for the freebie!

Day 3: Review most efficient strategies and wrap it up

This day can get a little crazy, but I think it's worth it to spend three days.  Some kiddos really do need that many days to solve the problem, while some can finish it up in one.  You want to make sure you have a fast finisher for the kiddos who might not want to work on the extra problem.  I let them choose between the extra problem or writing a letter to McBildit with their answer.

*Use half of the class for work time and use the other half to talk about the most efficient strategies for solving the problem.
*Most efficient strategies:
Show students how to make a model and then make stacks of tens or another friendly number from the built model to count the blocks quickly
Show students how to use an equation and then group the numbers into tens and/or elevens to do the addition quickly
*To finish up the project, make three posters labeled, "Model", "Drawing", and "Equation/Number Sentence".  Let students sign their name on the poster(s) that represent the strategy(ies) they used or liked using the best.
A free math project perfect for 2nd and 3rd grade kids! This idea can be used as a math assessment at the beginning of the school year or in a unit on the varieties of ways to solve mathematical problems. Click for the freebie!

Click here or on any of the pictures to link to the freebie.  I hope you enjoy!  If you try out McBildit, what new and cool strategies did your kiddos come up with?  Tell me in the comments below.

Have a fab day Super Teacher!
 
These free math challenge and brain teaser activities for elementary students can be used for centers, weekly challenges, small groups, or whole class problem solving. Fun for kids and easy for teachers! Perfect for 2nd and 3rd grade.
Interested in more FREE math activities for your 2nd or 3rd grade students?  Sign up and receive these 5 EXCLUSIVE math challenges + Super Teacher ideas & classroom tips for your teacher toolbox delivered right to your inbox!


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Guided Drawing and Classroom Rules with Do Unto Otters

Such a cute idea for a back to school book! The otter guided drawings would make a perfect bulletin board display. You can also use this book to set up classroom rules and expectations. Would work well in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade.
If you're looking for a new book to start out the year, or need to update your classroom rules, check out Do Unto Otters!  It's super cute and witty, and you'll laugh all the way through while you attempt to explain to your kidlets (who will most likely be staring at you like you're crazy) why the little things the otters say are funny.  If you haven't seen it, or don't own it, click on the pic for the Amazon affiliate link.
Back to School idea using Do Unto Otters for classroom rules PLUS otter guided drawing examples for students
Reading Do Unto Otters is a great anticipatory activity for a mini-lesson on classroom rules and expectations.  After you read it, have students brainstorm how they can be good neighbors to one another at school.  A few classroom discussions and you've got new otter themed classroom rules! (I copied and pasted the images for my individual classroom from Google images so I'm not allowed to share these - Boo! Otherwise I would be sharing away!)
Back to School idea using Do Unto Otters for classroom rules PLUS otter guided drawing examples for studentsBack to School idea using Do Unto Otters for classroom rules PLUS otter guided drawing examples for students
If you have time for a fun art project to go along with the book, try this otter guided drawing.  All of the otters ended up turning out pretty dang cute, so we used them as an all-year bulletin board display around our otter themed classroom rules.
Back to School idea using Do Unto Otters for classroom rules PLUS otter guided drawing examples for studentsBack to School idea using Do Unto Otters for classroom rules PLUS otter guided drawing examples for students
Here are the basic steps we used:
1. Start in the middle of your paper.  Draw 2 vertical lines 2 inches apart.  Stop at the bottom of your paper.  This will be the otter's neck/body.
2. Draw a lightbulb shape at the top of the 2 lines.  This will be the head.
3. On each side of the lightbulb shape draw a curved rainbow/frown line.  These will be the ears.
4. Draw 2 large circles in the middle of the lightbulb shape.  These will be the eyes.
5. Draw a smile line between the two circles you just drew.  This will be the nose.
6. Draw a rainbow/frown line in each of the large circles and in the nose.
7.  Make a large dot in each of the football shapes in the eyes.  These will be the pupils.
8. Draw a large crescent moon shape under the nose you created.  This will be the smile.
9.  Draw 3 curved lines on each side of the head close to the smile.  These will be the whiskers.
10. Draw a moon shape on both sides of the body.  These will be the arms.
11.  Finish  your otter with hands, teeth, stripes, fur, and color!
Back to School idea using Do Unto Otters for classroom rules PLUS otter guided drawing steps and examples for students
I think the results were SUPER cute!  Plus, it was QUIET and NO ONE CRIED (shocking!).  On the first week that's what we call SUCCESS.
Back to School idea using Do Unto Otters for classroom rules PLUS otter guided drawing steps and examples for students
Try reading the book Do Unto Otters during your first week back.  It would work wonderfully in grades K-3.  Let me know if you try out the guided drawing.  I'd love to see your cute otters!







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