Homework, the Student, and Me

Homework, the Student, and Me; literatelives.wordpress.comHomework. Any kid will tell you they hate it. What might be more surprising is that many a parent and teacher may say the same, especially for students at the elementary level.

My Relationship with Homework

When I was an elementary student, very little homework was assigned, and that which was usually entailed work on a long-term project, 4th -6th grade level, that we were also working on in class. So, imagine my astonishment when my firstborn child came home from kindergarten with homework.

My firstborn is as stubborn—uh, I mean persistent, as I am, so getting homework done each night was at a minimum a pure, half-hour of agony. To this day, I firmly believe kindergartners should not have homework (nor should they have to attend a full day of school, but that’s a different conversation…).

Keeping track of homework for my elementary age children was at the least a headache, at the worst a long, drawn out drama.

Teaching & Homework

While I have only student-taught at the elementary level, I believe I could say with confidence that had I been hired at that level, my principal would have had to require me to assign homework before I ever would.

The situation gets a little different in middle school and high school. At these levels, students are ready to begin acting more autonomously, and in the case of high school students, must be prepared to function independently in the career or college world; managing homework helps with this.

When I earned my MAT, the recommendation for middle school students was ten minutes/day/class, and for high school an additional 5 minutes more/grade level (although this seemed pretty excessive to me as students approach 12th grade). However, 10 minutes per day seemed pretty reasonable, and I strove to use it as my guide. As a Language Arts Teacher, for homework I usually assigned reading any book of choice for 10-15 minutes and responding, in 3-5 sentences to a reading response question, two or three days a week.

Beyond that, I tried to allow plenty of time in class to complete assignments (for which the requirements were differentiated according to student needs). Those students who did not complete their assignments during class time, were expected to complete it that night and turn it in the next day.

One final, and what I feel was the most important, part of my policy was if students worked for ten minutes at the homework task, they could request their parents write a note explaining they had done so. With that assurance, I would excuse or make other arrangements for any incomplete work. With my students busy sports and extracurricular activities, it always saddened me that parents did not utilize this option more frequently.

So Why Am I So Down on Homework?

Again, this mostly applies to elementary level students, but some thought should be given to middle and high school students’ schedules as well. Students spend a lot of structured time in school and with extra-curricular activities (again, another topic for another time). Furthermore, in high school, they might even have jobs. With homework added in, that may be all they have time for in their lives, and perhaps not even enough time for healthy sleep.

Family time and unstructured play time or down time are often what are lost. I think this is a terrible disservice to our kids. Students need time to invest in and develop relationships both within their families and with their peers. Furthermore, they need time to play, explore their interests, and engage in spontaneous creativity. As Marie Montessori says, Play is the work of the child.”

What Got Me Reflecting on This Subject?

First, it is the beginning of a new school year when teachers are crafting and cementing their policies. This is a good time to think about homework.

Second, reading the article, “If Elementary Schools Say No to Homework, What Takes Its Place?by Tim Walker, got me thinking. Walker’s article looks at how many schools are rethinking the value of homework, explains some good reasons for it, like opportunities for additional practice of skills, and some good reasons for eliminating it, like the stress many students feel trying to learn at home.

Finally, reading Conn McQuinn’s article, “https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=brain-science-of-making “The Brain Science of Making,” got me thinking both about the important role practice plays in learning and the benefits of downtime and play. McQuinn points out that “tinkering” time is crucial for acquiring the executive functioning skills that ultimately make one able to function in adult life, and that downtime also relieves stress, an excess of which impedes learning.

Your Turn

This is a big topic, much larger than my blog and these two articles cited. Schools and teachers have so many expectations placed upon them; this is in no way a call to bash teachers who do or do not embrace homework. Rather, I want to invite conversation. Parents, teachers, what do you think? What do you suggest? Please use the comment box to share your responses. And remember, let’s encourage one another!

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Fall 2018: A New Schedule for Literate Lives


Fall 2018: A New Schedule for Literate Lives; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/
This month’s theme, “A New Season, A New Year, A New Life” will manifest itself the most obviously in a new blog schedule and strategy.

The Biggest Change

Starting this week, I will be posting on Thursdays.

Why Thursdays? I make this change (back to what was, initially, part of my blog schedule) out of consideration of my audience: individuals (including writers), parents, and teachers interested in nurturing literacy both for themselves and their kids.

As we move back into the school year, it occurs to me that many of the nurturing literacy ideas I share need some lead time in order to be incorporated into lesson plans and family activities (which will now mostly occur on the weekend).

Thursday is a good day to introduce ideas for the weekend and following work week.

Additional Changes

Blog posts will now be scheduled for the first, third, and (when it occurs) fifth Thursday of each month.

Why?

The reason for this change is my desire to share more from my daily reading, and quote, reading response, and writing prompt collections. I have been doing this in the form of “omnibus” posts, which I enjoy creating, but which also keep me from creating more, meatier posts.

Therefore, I am starting an author’s Facebook Page.

What You Will Find Here on Debby Zigenis-Lowery’s Literate Lives?

Here on the blog I want to delve deeply into the reading, writing, teaching and learning life, share more complex Language Arts lesson ideas, and interview writers and possibly even host some guest bloggers.

I will continue to update my reading log.

I will also strive to do a better job updating my Teacher’s File Drawer, Reading Response Exercises, Play With Your Words: Writing Prompts, and The Literate Family’s Fun pages.

What You Will Find on My Facebook Page

This is where the recommendations from my daily reading , quotes, and writing and reading response prompts will now appear.

Also, you will find occasional updates about my writing, publication, and writing goals or activities.

My vision is that the page will facilitate more daily interactions and opportunities for us to encourage one another.

Your Turn

As I am rethinking this blog, are there any ideas or feedback you would like me to consider? Please use the comment box to respond. I value your feedback and encouragement.

The Landay: Play with Your Words with a New Poetry Form

The Landay: Play with Your Words with a New Poetry Form; Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives

Last week, while vacationing at my aunt’s home in Carmel, I discovered a new poetry form, the landay, and had to try it.

Discovery

As usual when traveling, I brought along a stack of magazines, Writers Digest, The Writer, The SFWA Bulletin… I’m always behind with my magazine reading and enjoy the change of pace from reading online.

In the Writers Digest, September 2017 issue–told you I was behind–the “Poetic Asides” column by Robert Lee Brewer featured an unfamiliar form–the landay. I found it intriguing and became obsessed with “capturing” out getaway using the form.

The Landay

The landay is a fairly simple poetic form that features:

  • couplets–it can be a short poem of just one, or longer poem featuring many
  • specified syllable lengths for each line–9 for the first and 13 for the second
  • couplets that relate a witty, but difficult truth–this was a characteristic I neglected to follow because of my purpose in writing.

PreWrite

Because I find coming up with multiple couplets challenging, I started by brainstorming. I made lists of words and phrases for multiple categories, for example, the sky, the beach, the house, the 17 mile drive, and focused on sensory imagery–what I saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and experienced through touch.

Next I looked for pairings of word sounds that could work together and began crafting phrases and lines.

Finally, I selected the couplets I wanted to use.

My Landay

August 2018, Carmel, 17 Mile Drive

Cormorant perches, wings spread to dry,
sated lord of kelp kingdom, proud beak raised to sky.

Seals bask and bark in sun-washed splendor,
Dive, frolic, splash spray, giving selves to joyful surrender.

Endless sea swells rise, whoosh, plunge, and crash ,
moon-pulled, singing serenity’s praise with every splash.

Your Turn

  • How do you like to capture special times in your life?
  • Did you give the landay a try?

Please share your thoughts and poems in the comment box below. Let’s encourage one another!

St. Patrick’s Day Writing/Journal Prompt

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up Saturday. It’s a fun time for kids and families–wearing green, eating green, hunting and making shamrocks. It has also inspired the following writing prompt for either class writing projects or journaling fun.

St. Patrick's Day Writing/Journal Prompt Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesPrompt

  1. What is one St. Patrick’s day wish you would make for yourself?
  2. What is one St. Patrick’s day wish you would make for someone you love?
  3. What is one St. Patrick’s day wish you would make for your community?
  4. Write a paragraph explaining why your chose the wishes you did?

Note, question number three quite deliberately focuses on the writer’s community. I framed it in this manner to avoid the more generalized answers a wish for “the world” might inspire.

Use this St. Patrick’s Day Writing Prompt in the Language Arts Classroom

If you are a teacher, or a parent teacher, you might use the prompt, even the graphics I have included, for a language arts class warm-up or writing project.

A fun bulletin board might include cut-out shamrocks with each student’s wishes written in on each leaf and their explanations written on an index card to go with each.

Use this St. Patrick’s Day Writing Prompt to Inspire a Journal Entry

If you are someone who enjoys journaling (that would include me), or you want your students to journal as a way to develop writing fluency, you could also use this as a journaling prompt. Our wishes, hopes, and dreams change with the situations in which we find ourselves. A journal entry based on this prompt would provide a brief snapshot of who and where you/your students are at this time in your lives.

Your Turn

What might you wish for in answer to any of the first three questions. Explain why.

Please share your response in the comment box below. Let’s inspire each other!

St. Patrick's Day Writing/Journal Prompt: Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives

Play With Your Words Writing Prompt: Describe a Unicorn–There’s More Options Than You May Think

Play With Your Words Writing Prompt, literatelives.wordpress.com, http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2017/11/how-many-horns-does-a-unicorn-have.html

 

Writing to a prompt is a great way to exercise writing skills. Today’s prompt was inspired by a post I read recently on the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts Blog, “How many horns does a unicorn have?”

 

Prompt

Go to: to http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2017/11/how-many-horns-does-a-unicorn-have.html.  Read the article and enjoy the illustrations from medieval manuscripts ranging from the 1500’s to the 1600’s.

I found this article delightful and was both surprised and inspired to discover so much variety in the “unicorn species.”

Prompt: Use the writing process to write a description of a unicorn. Use some of the surprising details from the article, dream up your own.

Pre-write

Brainstorm a list of characteristics for your unicorn–both in appearance and nature. Throw down anything you think of. The list doesn’t commit you to using any of them.

Write–Rough Draft

Describe your unicorn.

Revise/Edit

Look back at your description.

Do you use any words that are kind of bland? Substitute in more specific words.

Are there places where a comparison might enhance your reader’s understanding? Use metaphors or similes to create vivid word picture’s in your reader’s mind.

Ready to share? Not yet. Once you have finished revising, proofread your description. Do you use uppercase letters at the beginnings of sentences? Do you use end punctuation at the end? (I often skip these when I’m doing a rough draft because my mind is so focussed on creating.) How about your grammar and punctuation? Remember, writing conventions help to make your writing more easily understood and therefore you communication more effective.

Publish/Share

Share your description with your classmates, friends, or family. If they have also written a description, compliment them on the strengths of their writing. Encourage one another.

* Want to do this exercise with a pre-reader writer in order to improve their pre-literacy skills? Read the article to them and point out the pictures. Then ask them to imagine and describe their own unicorn. If you’d like, write their description down as they create it, then read it back aloud, pointing to each word as you pronounce it. This reinforced the one-to-one correspondence between the spoken word and words on the page.

Your Turn

Share your response in the comments box. If you share yours, I’ll share mine. Let’s encourage one another.

Winter Holiday Literacy Activity: Borrowed Poems

Winter Holiday Activity literatelives.wordpress.comOne of the things I love doing with my students, which you can do either in the classroom or at home for fun, is write what I call Borrowed Poems.

What is a Borrowed Poem?

A borrowed poem is a new poem created by analyzing and playing with an already existing poem or song. The winter holiday season is so jam-packed with so many familiar songs that it lends itself well for this activity.

How to Write a Borrowed Poem

First, select the song you wish to play with. For this exercise, I have chosen a traditional favorite: “Deck the Halls.” If you ou your student do not know the words to the song, you will need to access them.

Observe and analyze the first verse of the song.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly.
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La
‘Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La

What do I notice?

The first sentence is an imperative statement, instructing the listener or an unknown participant to do something. As such, it begins with the verb, “deck,” meaning to decorate.

I also notice this song uses an ABAB rhyme scheme: the two A rhymes are  “holly” and “jolly,” the two B, part of a repeated refrain, repeat the final “la.”

Finally I notice the rhythm of the verse: Dum da Dum da Dum da DumDum. Since I will use the refrain as is, I have no need to analyze this. It may be helpful to select a song that does have some repeated verse or refrain that can be incorporated into the poem.

Plan, Prewrite, Compose

Jot down any ideas you have for your new poem:

  • Who is the narrator?
  • What is the setting?
  • What is the poem about?
  • What are some rhyming words that may suit your intent?

My first thoughts were that I wanted my poem to be about getting all dressed up and doing something fun. At first I considered making it a New Year’s Eve poem. However, my imagination, right now, is rather caught up in brightly colored lights and Christmas fun. The “lights” concept gave me one of my first rhyming words: “glow.” (I love light, especially in the dark days of December!)

Thinking about lights got me thinking about all the decorated houses in my neighborhood. I thought maybe the “fun” activity in my poem can be going out to view all the lights.

However, once I got to thinking about going out–outdoors–the traditional practice of caroling popped into my head. I decided caroling would be my activity.

And once I got to thinking about caroling, I thought about neighbors and all the ways we love and serve each other through the year.

With all those ideas in mind, it was time to write.

Write Your Poem

Prepare yourself with plenty of paper, a pencil, and possibly an eraser (although often in the midst of drafting, I don’t have the patience to erase and just cross words out and go on).

Do not expect perfection the first time out. Initially, I was determined to include a babysitter in the caroling rounds, but discovered the word just had too many syllables. After much switching words in and out, I at last settled on a cat sitter instead.

Even once you think your poem is done, don’t ink out a final copy right away. Set it aside and do something else. The idea for the cat sitter did not come to me until I had washed the dishes and gone upstairs to put away clothes.

Edit and Revise

Go back and look at your poem. Play with sound of the words using alliteration, assonance, consonance, and repetition.

Edit for grammar and punctuation. Don’t be intimidated. A sentence is a sentence whether it’s written as prose or a line in a poem. However, if you wish to get creative with grammar and punctuation, a poem can be a good place to do it.

Publish

Once you feel your poem is done, “publish” it. Publishing can come in many forms–inking out a final handwritten copy, entering it into a word-processing program and printing it out, doing either of the former and decorating the final copy with stickers, borders, zen-doodling, or clip art, or mounting it on some holiday paper.

Publishing also means sharing. Maybe you want to read it to family or friends one evening after dinner, post it on a bulletin board, or write it into a card.

Here is my poem:

Caroling in Oregon

Dress yourselves in clothes that glow,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La,
Tonight, out caroling we’ll go,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La.
First to Jim, who shares his garden bounty,
Fa-la-la La-la-la La La La.
Next, to Sue, best baker in the county,
Fa-la-la-la La,  La-la La La.

Santa songs for little Sam,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La,
Angel’s carols for Mrs. Lamb,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La.
Cross the street to cat-sitter Jayne’s
Fa-la-la La-la-la La La La,
All while hoping it won’t rain,
Fa-la-la-la La,  La-la La La.

Your Turn

Did you try it? Did you and your kids have any fun? Please use the comment box below to share the titles of other songs that have a refrain, or, even better, your own creation. Enjoy this week with the young people in your life and borrowed holiday poems.

Reading Response/Writing Prompt for Characterization

Characterization Reading Response Writing PromptSome of my most viewed posts are the ones I create for use in the classroom. Thank you, teachers! However reading response exercises are not only useful in teaching reading, but for helping fiction writers develop their stories. Today’s focus: Characterization.

Characterization Reading Response

What is the main character (or one of the supporting characters) in today’s reading grateful for?

This question helps to build students inferential reading skills, as it is not particularly likely their selection will have dealt with the topic of gratitude. Students will need to look for clues in the text that help them understand what the character likes, what the character longs for, what the character values, in order to infer what this character is grateful for.

Characterization Writing Prompt

What is the main character, or a supporting character in your story or novel grateful for?

Strong characters are created, not when we sit down and list their traits, values, and preferences, but when these things are demonstrated through your character’s actions, words, thoughts, and feelings–especially sensory feelings. This is the season for Thanksgiving, so leverage that holiday feeling by imagining what your main character or other characters are grateful for.

Your Turn

Can you share what you are reading? How about providing the author and title of the work, and one of the things a main character is grateful for.

Writing? Whose character did you develop today? What is he/she grateful for?

I love to hear from you. Happy reading and writing, and thanks for joining me here at Literate Lives!

 

November Fall Gratitude Leaves Classroom Project

November Gratitude Leaves, Teachers File Drawer, literatelives.wordpress.com

Tomorrow begins one of my favorite class activities of the whole school year–the daily posting of “gratitude leaves” on our windows.

Why do I love it so? Well, visually, the month of November in Oregon is terribly gloomy. With this practice, the gloom outdoors is gradually obscured by brightly colored leaves.

Even more so, here in the U.S., Thanksgiving falls in November, and so it seems appropriate to focus our thinking on things for which we are grateful.

Most significantly, Studies have shown that people who are grateful tend to live happier, healthier lives. I want the best for my students, and as the holidays make life more hectic, I need to remember I have so much to be grateful for!

What are Gratitude Leaves?

They are individual paper leaves, that we as staff cut out in a variety of shapes and colors. Each day, at the beginning of the school day, we pass out a single leaf to each students and every adult present. Then everyone writes one thing they are grateful for and tapes their leaves to the window. We continue to do this until we break for Thanksgiving.

By the time Thanksgiving break comes our windows glow with beautiful autumn colors as the western light shines through them.

My Gratitude Leaves, 2016

Here is what I wrote on my leaves last year:

  • I am grateful to have a husband who loves me and who is my friend and partner in life.
  • I am thankful Emmy snuggled with David and I to watch the family Halloween movie.
  • I am thankful that using the treadmill yesterday woke me up enough to get my work done.
  • I am thankful for my Grandparents and the way their love helped shape who I am.
  • I am grateful to be a child of God.
  • I am thankful for my delightful Grandkids.
  • I am grateful for my college education.
  • I am grateful to have a mother who loved to read, that learning to read came easily to me, and I have had ample access to books.
  • I am thankful for my charming, delightful, funny, marvelous grandchildren
  • I am thankful for chocolate.
  • I am thankful that I know how to read and have access to books!
  • I am thankful to be able to come back to work.
  • I am grateful for parents who love me.
  • Today is my writing day!

Your Turn

Today is my writing day! However, before I move on

Celebrate Halloween and Fall

I love the change of seasons. For me, every new season is cause for celebration because I usually have grown weary of the season is on its way out. So now, I’m celebrating the advent of Fall.

Golden leaves, crisp breezes, and, of course, the fun of Halloween…

So today, I decided to invite you to share in the fun with me on my Pinterest boards, particularly my “Celebrate Fall,” “Happy Halloween!” and “Costumes” boards.

Celebrate Fall

This board is full of crafts, activities, recipes, decor, and even prayers for kids, teachers, and adults, including:

Celebrate Fall literatelives.wordpress.com

 

A cute scarecrow craft from SomewhatSimple.com,

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Fall Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives

 

 

Some gorgeous fall leaf and acorn cookies from Cookie Connection,

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Fall literatelives.wordpress.com

 

And some autumn inspired candles in hurricane vases from Amanda Jane Brown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Halloween!

This board is full of decorations, food, crafts, and fun for a fabulous Halloween. Including:

Googly Eyed Halloween Card literatelives.wordpress.com

 

A cute googly eye Halloween card from Taylored Expressions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Witch Art Project literatelives.wordpress.com

 

A witch to inspire art lessons (and an article, “Holiday Art Work…Yes or No”)  from Drip, Drip, Splatter, Splash.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaf and Acorn Cookies literatelives.wordpress.comAnd some yummy-looking Frankenstein S’mores pops from Like Mother, Like Daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costumes

This board is full of traditional, historical, and of course, Halloween costumes, including:

Celebrate Fall Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesAn awesome, book-inspired costume, The BFG, from theguardian.com’s World book day 2016: the best children’s costumes—in pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Butterfly Costumes literatelives.wordpress.com

 

Some beautiful butterfly costumes from Coolest Homemade Costumes.

 

 

 

 

Bunny Rabbit Coats literatelives.wordpress.com

 

And my personal favorite, these absolutely adorable bunny rabbit coats from In the Wishing Wood, on Etsy.

 

Enjoy

For some reason, Fall always inspires me to write Haiku. Here is my latest:

Sparkling leaves skirl down
the street; autumn rejoices
with bright confetti.

So let’s celebrate Fall. If you liked what you’ve seen, check me out on Pinterest.

Your Turn

What are some fun fall websites you have discovered and enjoyed. Use the comment box to share what you found and a link so others can go enjoy as well.

Teacher’s File Drawer: Character-Based Reading Response Exercise

Good teachers know, the more time our students spend reading or writing, the more they strengthen both their reading and writing skills. Using reading response exercises after a timed reading, either of a class novel or self-selected novel, gives our students time to practice both.

To make it easy for you to incorporate this practice in your classroom, feel free to use the reading response jpg below.

Character-Based Reading Response

Character-Based Reading Response--Literatelives@wordpress.com

Your Turn

l have always loved reading my students’ responses to literature. I’d love it if you would share any responses that delighted you. (Of course, do not use student names to protect privacy.) Enjoy!