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SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Many Teenagers Are Making a Difference

“Children have a sense of entitlement these days.” I have heard that said so many times. It is, of course, true for some kids, but not for all. Most of the kids I have taught are thoughtful, sweet, helpful, polite, hardworking people well on their way to becoming responsible adult citizens.

Here is some evidence that most kids are good people: The other day I needed to venture into the seniors’ break room. I have always tried to respect their space and let them know when I am coming in. I knocked and said, “Is it OK if I come in for a minute?”

The answer: “You don’t need to ask. You are welcome here any time. Why do you ask?”

I said, “I respect your privacy and your space.”

“We respect you more than we respect our space” was the reply.

I saw no sense of entitlement there.

Hearthsong Heroes: Honoring Kids Who Help Kids is a program that honors students who have made significant contributions through community service and hard work to make the lives of others better. I am proud to say that I personally know one of these heroes. She has been helping children by making sure they have Christmas gifts for several years. Each year she has collected more gifts for more children. She has trained a successor to take over her program now that she is graduating this spring. She wanted to make sure these children continued to have a happy Christmas.

Do a search on the internet for “teens who make a difference” and read some of the millions of links, such as this one at Family Circle or at DoSomething.org. Find out about projects that teens are leading like feeding hungry people, providing clean water in developing nations, preventing bullying, or providing assistance to the elderly.

Take some time this holiday season to explore some of these programs with your child. The next time you hear something derogatory about teenagers, tell about some of the amazing kids you read about!

For me, another year of blogging is complete. As I look forward to 2014, I am grateful for the community of friends I have grown here at SchoolFamily.com.

A friend of mine wished this for me, and now I pass it on to you during this special season of the year: I hope that moments of laughter come when you least expect them and that moments of peace come when you most need them.

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Allow Children To Solve Problems on Their Own

My second child did not learn to talk as quickly as my first. Like all mothers do, I worried that she was behind, that she might have difficulty in school, and that she would not learn to read. Someone more wise than I pointed out that I was allowing my older daughter to speak for her. When Anna wanted a cookie, my older daughter would come to me and say, “Anna wants a cookie.” Anna had no need to learn to talk because her sister was rescuing her; she was doing her talking for her. I thought about this when I read Tim Elmore’s book, Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How To Correct Them.

One of the mistakes Elmore writes about is parents who rescue their children too quickly. When parents solve their problems for them, they are making sure their children do not learn that they are responsible for their own actions and are capable of solving problems themselves. Children need to learn this while they are young and making decisions where the consequences are minor. In this way, they learn that the choices they make lead to results—some good, some bad. They begin to develop skills that good leaders need to know—communication, problem-solving, and responsibility.

I took a parenting class many years ago. I have never forgotten one of the examples the teacher used in class. She said, “If your four-year-old loses his quarter and you give him another one, he is not learning about consequences. This is the time to teach him, not when he’s 16 and you are getting a call from the police.” Elmore calls this “parenting for the short-term versus long-term.”

As a parent, it is hard to allow your child to suffer; but some suffering is necessary and normal. When your child comes to you complaining about a teacher who gave her a bad grade or a friend who took advantage of her, resist the urge to solve the problem for her. Teach her communication and problem-solving skills so she can do it for herself. In this way, she learns that life is not always perfect, but she can negotiate her way through it on her own. She is one step closer to becoming a leader.

For more ideas for developing leadership, see “All Children Have Potential to Develop Leadership Skills.” Remember, too, that children begin learning these skills at very early ages. It is important to allow them to learn even when you would like to protect them from every difficult situation.

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Impulsive Students Need Guidance When Online

The parents at our school sponsored a great workshop on social networking and keeping kids safe online. It was run by police at the local and state levels. As I took notes during their presentation, I kept thinking about the fact that some students are at more risk than others. Adolescents’ brains are not fully formed yet, and they do not have the ability to consistently make good decisions. Students with attention problems who are also impulsive can easily get into trouble.

The presenters at the workshop said more than once, “We hear people say that kids grow up faster these days than they used to. But they don’t. They just get exposed to a whole lot more a whole lot sooner. Monitor what your kids are doing online. Don’t worry about their privacy, because their safety is at stake.”

Here is some specific advice they gave parents.

  • Regarding posting hurtful statements: Teach your child that if he has to ask himself whether to post something, then the answer is that he should not post it! People are more willing to say things online that they would never say face-to-face. The presenter suggested to coach children to stand in front of a mirror and say out loud what they are about to post. Hopefully, they will hear it and realize how it might make the other person feel.
  • About sexual predators: These relationships develop over a period of time and can begin on social networking sites, online games played with unknown people, cell phones—essentially, anywhere children interact with people they do not personally know. Predators often spend a couple of years developing a trusting relationship with a child while they gather information bit by bit (where they go to school, what sports they play, their friends’ names, what time they get home from school). They keep this up until they have the information they need to make face-to-face contact. Read these tips on what signs might indicate your child is in trouble.
  • Regarding limits: Talk about internet safety with your child before problems develop. Set limits on when, where, and with whom she can be online. Build a trusting relationship, so she will come to you for help should she ever need it. Read Basic Internet Safety at NetSmartz to better understand what she needs to know.

 

I started this blog by mentioning that some children are at greater risk than others. If your child frequently makes impulsive decisions, you need to be even more diligent in monitoring his online activities. He might know better than to communicate with someone he doesn’t know, but he might do it without thinking about the consequences. He probably should not be in his bedroom online where you cannot monitor his activities. Remember, too, that you can keep his computer and smartphone with you when it’s time for bed (or unplug the wifi).

As parents, we cannot keep our children safe at all times. It is our responsibility, though, to teach them how to keep themselves safe. It is important to monitor online activities and educate ourselves about online safety. The FBI recommends the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website. Why not explore their site together with your son or daughter?

 

 

> Talk With Your Child About the Internet

> 8 Steps to Peace of Mind Online

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Help Your Child Prepare for Exams

The fact is, most students do not know how to prepare to take exams. For example, many do not understand that it is much better to study in many short blocks of time instead of trying to cram everything in the night before an exam. This takes some planning and discipline that many students don’t know how to do. Here is a suggested schedule.

  • About three weeks before an exam, take time to organize everything. Your child needs to look for every test, review guide, and important handout she received since the beginning of the semester. If there is a test she did poorly on (or lost), she needs to find out from her teacher an acceptable way to get a replacement. (Personally, I tell my students to ask a friend who did well on it if they will let them have a copy of theirs. But some teachers might not allow this.) If she isn’t sure what tests she had, she might be able to look at the teacher’s online grade book to see how many test grades she had throughout the semester. Another strategy might be to compare her tests to a friend’s. Hopefully, between the two of them, they will have all of them.
  • By the time exams roll around, your child might already know most of what is on them. She doesn’t need to spend a lot of time studying what she already knows. The trick is to figure out what she knows and what she doesn’t. She should start by very slowly reading through her notes. As she reads, she should stop and think about each concept. If she feels she knows it, she should keep moving. If she is confused, she should mark it with a highlighter or red pen. She should do the same for the tests and review guides—mark anything she feels he might not know.
  • The next step is to figure out how to learn the highlighted material. Is this something she needs to meet with her teacher about? Would a study group with friends be enough? Is it possible to learn the concepts by rereading the textbook or working the problems again? Does she need to make flash cards or a study chart?
  • The final step is to set up a calendar with study times for each class. Remember that it’s best to study 15-20 minutes on each subject spaced out over several nights than to study the same amount of time all at once.


Exams are a great time to change learning from temporary into permanent. The time students spend studying really improves long-term memory of those concepts. Remind your child that the above steps need to be done for each class she is taking. That’s why this process takes several weeks. As parents, you can help your child by planning for quiet, stay-at-home weekends before exam week starts. With proper exam prep, there will be cause to celebrate the weekend after they are all finished! 


The printable handout "Preparing To Take Exams" contains more helpful tips.

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For Thanksgiving, Kids Should Take a Break From School (but Help at Home)

Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity for parents and students to take a break from the stresses of school. Everyone needs to relax a few days and recoup before the countdown to exams begins.

If you are having visitors at your house, the kids should have responsibilities to help prepare for them so that everyone can have more fun. Depending on how old they are, children are able to help in significant ways. The obvious ones are to put away their own things, make up their bed, dust the furniture, and set the table; but children can also help in the kitchen. As soon as my children were old enough, they began to prepare one or two dishes for our Thanksgiving meal. That continues today, and now every person in the family contributes something significant. It is part of our family tradition.

Including children in Thanksgiving preparations teaches them that they have responsibilities to the family. It improves their self-esteem, because what they are doing is genuinely appreciated by others. It also makes the workload more manageable since everyone does their fair share.

I am so thankful for those who read my blog each week. It is a privilege to share what I have learned about children who struggle in school. I hope you and your family are able to spend this day doing what you all love the most.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving Day!

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A New Look at Learning Styles

For many years now, students and teachers have discussed learning styles. We look at whether a person learns best through visual, auditory, or kinesthetic channels as described in "What Is Your Child’s Learning Style?" Others discuss Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences as a way to think about learning styles. And finally, we talk about right-brain, creative learners versus left-brain, logical thinkers. The truth is that learning styles are much more complicated than any one of these.

Consider how your child learns best. Does he do better if he goes outside to learn, or does he prefer a classroom environment? Is working in a group easier than working alone? Do open-ended questions that have many correct answers excite her, or does she prefer just one correct answer? Does she like a neat, organized place to work or to lie across the bed? Is a brightly lit room best, or does he like a dimly lit corner? Would a stand-up desk be better than a regular one? Would he learn better if he could talk with someone, or is working quietly by himself better? Does she prefer to be thoughtful and slowly consider what she’s learning, or can she make quick decisions? It is better to write things down, or should she make a recording?

These are only a few ways people differ in their learning preferences. It is important to spend time discussing this with your child. Adults tend to think everyone learns the same way they do. But we are all very different. Sometimes changing something simple can make a huge difference in how easy—or difficult—it is to learn something new.

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What Does It Mean To Be Twice Exceptional?

Some students have unbelievable abilities in an area such as art, language, or mathematics. Depending on the educational setting, these students might be labeled “gifted and talented.” There is not one definitive definition for giftedness—in fact, every state has its own definition. Most do agree that these children can do something exceptionally well—better than almost everyone else. Some of these same students struggle in another area and are labeled LD (learning disabled). For example, a student who struggles in reading, spelling, and writing might excel in math. Students who are gifted and LD are called “twice exceptional.”

Twice-exceptional students need support in school, and it may be difficult to obtain services. Often, these students are misunderstood. How can one person be so brilliant in math yet fail in English class? Even experts in special education have a hard time figuring out that a student is twice exceptional, and they are often not identified until high school when their workload is such that they become swamped and unable to succeed. Once identified, schools are not always equipped to provide appropriate programming.

If you think your child might be twice exceptional, talk to the school psychologist or director of special education. Together come up with a strategy that will provide remedial help in the areas of weakness and more stimulating programming in areas of giftedness. It’s a great idea, too, to provide extracurricular activities that relate to their areas of strength.

To learn more about these children, read "Giftedness and Learning Disabilities," written by Sheldon H. Horowitz published by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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Homework Binder: A Strategy That Helps With Executive Functioning

Many children tend to be impulsive and have trouble planning ahead, keeping up with long-term projects, making thoughtful decisions, and turning in all of their homework. These abilities are all a part of executive functioning. (See Executive Functioning: How It Affects a Student in School.) Most of the thought processes involved take place in the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain just behind the forehead. This part of the brain is not fully formed until students are out of high school, which explains why adolescents often have trouble making decisions.

Students vary in their ability to manage their day-to-day life because they do not all develop at the same rate. Nearly all students get better as they get older. If they are struggling with executive functioning in school to the point where it is affecting their success, they need additional support until they can manage their schoolwork by themselves.

If your child has trouble turning in all his homework, a good starting point for help is to set up a homework binder. This binder should be a bright color that is easily spotted in his book bag. The binder should contain the assignment sheets from each of his classes, any handouts that relate to that night’s homework, and a place for completed work to hand in the next day. As he completes the homework for each subject, he should cross it off, making it clear that assignment is finished. The completed work goes in its own section. If there is a question he cannot answer, he should highlight it so that he can ask for help with it the next day. (He needs to understand that he should finish everything else on that assignment.) The binder should also house special notes or permission slips that need attention from parents.

Your child needs help learning to use a homework binder. It will take time before she sees it as her “survival guide” to school success and using it becomes a habit. Once this organizational skill is mastered (she uses it without you reminding her), select something else to start working on. It is best to work intensely on one student skill at a time so she will not feel overwhelmed.

For a thorough discussion on executive functioning, read "What is Executive Function?" by the National Center for Learning Disabilities. They also have a free ebook with explanations and strategies for ways to help.

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A Free App To Help With Time Management

Many students have trouble keeping up with everything they are supposed to do each day. This is especially true when they move from middle to upper school, where teachers expect them to be more independent. I recently discovered a great free app that can help. It is called myHomework Student Planner and is available for free for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

The app allows you to set up your schedule of classes, enter assignments, assignment types (test, project, paper, etc.), due dates, reminders, and priority levels. I really like that you can set up a myHomework account online and enter data from your computer rather than entering everything on a smartphone. The account will sync to your phone (or iPad) with a simple command. You can view upcoming as well as late assignments.

This is the kind of app that will take some time to set up. Once it is all set up, it should be pretty easy to maintain. If your child is really disorganized, you will need to help him set it up and enter homework assignments. You might need to remind him daily to keep it up-to-date until it becomes a habit. Many students need help breaking a long-term project up into manageable tasks, too. Each task needs to be entered separately into the app with reminders set far enough in advance to give time to complete it by its due date.

The ultimate goal is for him to manage the app by himself, but many struggling students can’t do that without assistance up front.

The app does not have the capability to enter other obligations on the calendar. However, it is simple enough to enter family events and ball games by entering them as homework due at a particular date and time.

There are other options for calendar systems that sync from computer to phone. It doesn’t really matter which system students use as long as they do have a reliable, easy-to-use system. Managing time well is a necessary skill for success in school and life.

For more time management tips, read You Can Teach Your Teen How to Manage Time Effectively.

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Helping a Student Catch Up After an Illness

Students who have to miss several days of school feel overwhelmed when they return. Some fear being so far behind that they wind up missing extra days, because they are so anxious about the amount of work they need to do. The strategy I use with students may not work for every child in every situation, but it is worth giving it a try.

The first thing to do is figure out exactly what work needs to be completed. I help the student make a chart with each course listed across the top. Beneath each class, we list the work she needs to complete. We use the assignment sheets posted online to get the information. Your child might have to call friends to find out.

Next, I have her take the chart around to her teachers so they can add any details and make notes on the chart. I coach her to ask if there are assignments they might be able to excuse her from completing without jeopardizing her learning.

Then, I tell her to try her best to keep up with all current homework. In addition to that day’s work, she needs to do one or two additional past-due assignments each day. She also needs to ask friends for copies of notes she missed from each class and to meet with her teachers before taking any tests she missed.

This strategy helps because the amount of make-up work doesn’t seem so bad once it’s in writing and there is a plan for making it up. When it’s an unknown, it seems impossible. This way, the student sees a discreet number of assignments to complete and he doesn’t feel so overwhelmed. Remember, too, that every assignment needs to be completed in order to avoid getting zeroes, because one missing grade can make a huge difference.

I am currently reading Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. In it, she tells of a time when her younger brother had procrastinated for months on a project about birds. The night before it was due, he was sitting at the table completely overwhelmed and not getting anything done. Lamott says her father put his arm around his son and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” So I call this my “bird by bird” method and attribute its name to Anne Lamott: Just do one assignment at a time, then mark it off the chart!

As a parent, it is fine for you to email your child’s teachers to inform them of the reason he was absent. You should mention that he is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of make-up work he needs to do. Most teachers are sympathetic in these situations and will offer to help. Tell them to expect to see the chart of past due work and explain what you would like for them to do to help.

It is so hard to make up work after absences.  You need to be very careful about allowing your child to miss school without a good reason. (See "Student Absences: They Hurt Learning More Than You Think.") It is never a good idea to send her to school when she is sick, though, and not all absences can be avoided. Encourage her by telling her how you will help her get her missed work caught up when she feels better. She can do it one assignment at a time! She can just take it “bird by bird.”

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The Fine Line Between Giving Support and Helping Too Much

A parent of one of my students recently said she was struggling with walking the fine between giving her daughter the support she needs and supporting her too much. This is always a difficult decision parents must make. On the one hand, struggling students have felt abandoned by the people they trust (like their parents and teachers) when they really are trying as hard as they can but still do not do well in school. On the other, they do need to become independent and learn how to succeed in school without extra supports. Let me give you some food for thought.

We have no trouble offering support to students with disabilities that are obvious, like poor eyesight or hearing, an inability to move around on their own, or a broken arm. Everyone sees the need for extra support in these cases. Some of these supports may be needed forever, like for poor eyesight or hearing. Others may be temporary, like for a broken arm that will heal.

It’s more difficult, however, when the need for support is invisible. Children with an auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, or executive functioning disability need support, sometimes permanently. They are often accused of being lazy and dependent on others. If you think about it this way, accusing a dyslexic child of becoming dependent on a spelling checker is no more reasonable than accusing a child with poor eyesight of becoming dependent on eyeglasses!

Children with poor hearing can be brilliant, yet have to wear a hearing aid forever. Similarly, a child with a learning disability may need certain supports forever, yet become a highly successful adult because they are creative and innovative. Most schools focus less on creativity and innovation and more on reading, writing, math, and spelling. Of course, all children need to learn these basic skills. But for those who have learning issues, they may need some additional support in order to succeed while in school. They also need encouragement because their areas of strength (such as creativity and social skills) are not valued as much as their areas of weakness (like spelling and academic writing).

If you know a child who struggles in school, consider whether offering support can lead to success. When possible, give them temporary support only until they can succeed on their own. But if they need support forever, that’s OK. Remember that there is life beyond school  where the things they do well may be more important.

My original question was, how much is too much support? We need to offer them exactly how much they need in order to be successful in school. If your son is working hard and still not succeeding, he needs more support. (For ideas of what kinds of support you may need to offer, read "Options for Helping a Struggling Student.") If your child is getting a lot of support from you, and you are working harder than she is—that is too much support. (For help in deciding whether your child is working hard enough, read "Is My Child Working Hard Enough in School?"). We want children to be as independent as possible as soon as possible. That just might mean they will need some supports for a little while and others forever.

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Parent-Teacher Conferences Help Develop the School-Home Relationship

In a few short weeks, parent-teacher conferences start. Interestingly, both parents and teachers are anxious about them! Parents worry about whether their child is performing well enough and behaving in class. They worry about whether their children are being treated fairly and whether they have friends. Teachers worry about whether they can meet the needs of every child in their classroom. They also worry that parents will judge them unfairly and verbally abuse them during the conference. Both need to realize that children thrive when parents and teachers work together for the good of the child. This is especially true when a student is struggling in school. Here are some suggestions that might help make conferences more productive.

  • Spend some time thinking about what you want for your son. One of my favorite educators, Michael Thompson, suggests that parents think about their “hopes and fears for their child” and communicate them to his teacher. This helps his teacher understand both you and your son better.
  • If your daughter is struggling in school, communicate that to her teacher. Realize, though, that teachers cannot fix everything at once. It is best to work on one major issue at a time. Read my earlier blog Small Steps Can Improve Student Skills for a more thorough explanation. You and her teacher can decide what needs to be top priority. Together you can make a plan for what needs to happen at school and how you can support the efforts at home.
  • Remember that failure is a normal part of life. When your child fails a test or even a larger unit of study (like the whole quarter), it is not the end of the world. You and his teacher can work together to make a plan for how he can still find success.


There are a lot of resources here at SchoolFamily.com about making parent-teacher conferences productive. You can find links to them in the Parent Teacher Conferences Article Archive. Keep in mind that your child benefits most when you and her teacher work together for her benefit. Communicate concerns, of course, but also celebrate small improvements together by letting her teacher know when you see them.

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Alternatives to Flash Cards for Studying

Most teachers teach their students how to use flash cards for studying facts or vocabulary. Flash cards are a great tool for many students, but there are some kids who need a different strategy. Students who are creative and who tend to think in pictures instead of words might benefit from trying strategies that rely more on visual cues. You might be able to tell whether your child falls into this category.

Ask your child what his favorite toy was when he was little. If he names a toy like Legos or Lincoln Logs, it is likely that he is a three-dimensional thinker who visualizes concepts rather than puts them into words. Another clue is to ask what happens inside his head when he reads. If she says that she see pictures of the scenes and can actually visualize herself walking through the set, then she is another candidate for a study strategy that uses more pictures than words.

Here are some ideas that might help. When beginning to study for a test, have your child draw pictures in his notes as a way to annotate them. He should think back to what he did when he was studying the concept and draw pictures of those activities. It is a good idea to use some color in the drawings, because color can help him remember the pictures later. Another idea is to make a folded study guide as described in my earlier blog Using Pictures To Aid Vocabulary Memorization=Better Results. A third strategy for creative, visual thinkers is to make a web or mind-map of the unit. For help with how to do that, read my blog Using Webbing To Study for a Test.

If your child says that studying doesn’t help, perhaps she needs a new way to study. Read this blog together and talk about how she thinks. Maybe a visual, creative study strategy will be the answer.

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Explain Everything: A Low-Cost App for Creative Presentations

Last week, I was invited to the middle school where I work to hear student presentations. Their assignment was to create a project using Explain Everything that had several slides. The purpose of the presentation was to introduce themselves to one another and their guests (their new principal and me). I enjoyed their presentations a lot. The students did a wonderful job and were proud of what they created. I was also intrigued by the app they used to create their presentations.

Explain Everything is available for iPad and Android for $2.99. You can watch a video about it on their website. What I liked about it the most is that it is simple to learn to use, yet a very powerful tool for creative minds. Students can write text, annotate, illustrate by drawing, import videos or photos, create movies, and much more. Their work is automatically saved as they work. It can be played back in presentation mode, or exported into a variety of formats to share with others.

There are so many free or inexpensive apps available that it is hard to wade through them all to find really good ones. I would be interested to hear from you if you have found educational apps that your child likes to use. Please comment! You might be interested in these other blogs about apps that I use with students:

Creative Ways To Make and Use Flash Cards
Voice-to-Text Software = Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing
Technology Solutions for Reading and Writing Difficulties

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How To Help a Child With an Auditory Processing Disorder

Students who have an auditory processing disorder are often left behind in the classroom even though they are very smart. Like many learning differences, APD is not something you can tell is there. Most of the time, children with APD have no trouble hearing—it’s what happens to the sounds once they enter the brain that causes the problems.

APD can be similar to having an attention deficit disorder. Some kids with attention deficits pay attention to everything around them equally without being able to determine what is important. Likewise, some students with APD cannot determine which sounds are the ones they are supposed to listen to. The background sounds seem just as important to them as the teacher’s voice.

Other students with APD cannot discriminate between similar sounding words or sounds. The sound the letter “b” makes is exactly like the sound of a “d.” APD can also show up as poor auditory memory. These students cannot recall things they hear; they need to see it, too. Others with APD change the sequence of sounds they hear. If they hear the number 25, it becomes 52 once it enters the brain.

Regardless of the type of auditory processing disorder, the strategies that help are similar.

  • Seat the student near the teacher
  • Speak more slowly, and use simple sentences
  • Eliminate unnecessary sounds in the room
  • Provide copies of notes or assistive technology like the Livescribe Pen or AudioNote
  • Provide visual cues and written instructions, pictures, or diagrams to go along with auditory information


If these strategies do not help your child, it is time to enlist the help of an audiologist who specializes in auditory processing disorders. It is important for teachers to understand that students can be very bright but not succeeding in school. When given the needed accommodations, they are able to learn and demonstrate their abilities.

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Tips for Overcoming Homework Frustrations

The most frequent complaints I hear from parents relate to homework. For some, their child doesn’t have enough homework to do. For others, too much. Sometimes the complaint is that the homework is too hard, or that teachers did not teach what is on the homework. Whatever the problem, homework time can be stressful.

Here are some strategies that might help you when your child is frustrated about his homework.

  • Make sure that he understands the directions. Many times in the classroom a student will say, “I don’t know how to do this.” But when I ask him to read the directions to me, he actually does know how! I would venture a guess that most children don’t read the directions before starting a task.
  • Refer to notes, handouts, and the textbook. Students want to be able to do their homework without taking the time to refer to the materials the teacher provided during class. Most homework is supposed to review the day’s lesson. Referring to the handouts and notes should be the first step.
  • Ask your child if she read the pages in the book. Often homework begins with assigned reading. If she didn’t read it, it is likely she won’t be able to complete the work. If she is having trouble reading it, you might assist her.
  • Allow your child to take a break if he is getting too frustrated or emotional. When emotions are out of control, the rational brain shuts down and it is impossible to do homework. Take a short break, do something fun and then return to the homework task.

 

Another homework-related problem is that a student has homework to do, but doesn’t know it. This is often the problem when students are disorganized or have problems paying attention in class. For these kids, it might help to enlist their teachers’ help in making sure they have written down the homework assignment before leaving each class.

If these tricks don’t help and homework is a problem every day, it is time to visit your child’s teacher to find out if he has an idea about what the problem might be. If the issues are serious, call the school psychologist for help.

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Thought and Planning Can Improve Written Work

For most of us, summer vacation seems like it was ages ago. We are going full force at school. Students are already working on daily homework and long-term projects. English teachers are teaching their students the writing process—prewriting, drafting, revising, proofreading, publishing. This process is so important to use for all writing assignments, yet often students do not do it.

Many students do not thoughtfully plan out what they are going to write. They simply start writing and whatever ends up on the page is what they turn in. The problem with this is that it usually lacks organization, and it is unclear what the point of the writing is. A much better process is to start out by brainstorming the topic to look for patterns and links between ideas. (Brainstorming is one form of prewriting.) In that way, students can choose a thesis and decide how to organize the paper so that it makes a strong point.

The other part of the writing process that students tend to skip is the proofreading stage. When I read my own work, it is so easy to skip over an error because I know what I wanted to say and think that’s what is on the page! When I use a text-to-speech reader to read back what I wrote, I can much more easily hear my errors. There are free readers available on the web. Check out my earlier blog on text-to-speech readers.

Encourage your child to go through all the steps of the writing process. In this way she will turn in her best work and her writing will improve.

You might also enjoy reading Eight Steps to a Strong Paragraph  and Editing Checklist Can Help Improve Your Child’s Writing.

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Creative Ways To Make and Use Flash Cards

Before very long, it will be time for the first test of the school year. Tests can be stressful, especially when students have not prepared well enough. Many students learn by studying flash cards. They are a great study method because students can study by looking at one side of the card, remembering what is on the other side, and then turning it over to see if you were right. They can be mixed up to practice the questions in different orders. And students can remove cards from the deck that they already know. There are several ways to study using this technique.

First is to create flash cards using index cards. An advantage of using actual cards is that students can add colorful drawings that might help them remember what is on the other side of the card. Or when they are taking the test, they can close their eyes and picture the cards in their brain. They also allow students to manipulate the cards which makes the activity kinesthetic (using muscles). This can help students to remember better. They are very inexpensive, as well. The down side is that they are easy to lose and require an envelope or pouch to keep up with them.

A second way is to use an app such as Flashcard Machine, which is available for iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire. This app is very inexpensive, maybe even less than using index cards which are used up quickly and must be replaced. With Flashcard Machine, you or your child would purchase the app through the normal channels for his device and then go to the website to set up the account. Your child needs to log onto both the app on your device and on the website. He can create his own sets of study cards or use thousands of cards other people made. The cards are synchronized to his iPhone (or other device) where he studies simply by tapping the card to see the other side. An advantage of making flash cards this way is that your child has them with him everywhere he goes, and he can study them when he is just sitting waiting on something to happen. (No one will even know he is studying!) The downside is that there is no way to add a picture.

Another option to explore is Quizlet which works similarly to Flashcard Machine. Or have your child make a folding vocabulary chart like you find here.

Whatever method you and your child choose, remember that making the cards or chart is only step one of studying. Your child also has to spend time practicing over and over until he can answer every card correctly without looking at the answers.

Best wishes as you begin the new school year. I, for one, am ready for my students to come back. A school building without any kids in it is no fun at all.

 

> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

> Math Flash Cards

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Helping Children Deal With Anxiety

Teachers are back at work in many schools getting ready for students to arrive. As I was sitting in one of our professional development workshops this week, the leader said, “We are creating a society full of anxious kids.” This really bothers me—mainly because I have seen so many more children who are anxious in the last few years of teaching. They are anxious about the courses they are in, their teachers, their peers, whatever is going on at home, and just about everything you can think of.

Why are children so anxious? I do not have the answer to this question. But I do have a few ideas about possible reasons for their anxiety. First of all, adolescence is a difficult time in life. Bodies are changing, emotions are intensifying, relationships with peers are becoming more important, and school becomes more difficult and demanding. (For a more thorough description of adolescent development, read Normal Adolescent Development, published by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.) Normally, these changes do not cause severe anxiety. But if the reasoning brain cannot keep concerns and fears about the changes from becoming overwhelming, a student can become overanxious and unable to perform well in school or life.

Another stress on many students is the emphasis on standardized testing. I call these tests “high-stakes tests” because there is so much riding on their outcome. Kids must pass a certain number of them before graduation, teachers are evaluated on the outcome of their students’ testing, and schools can lose their accreditation if their students do not make progress. School, which was once a place where students could enjoy learning for the sake of learning, is now full of anxiety about test performance.

Another source of anxiety for kids is having too much going on. Children who are over-scheduled do not have enough down time for relaxation and play. See my blog on unscheduled time for more on this topic.

Finally, students need to link success to effort. If your child thinks that what happens to her is the result of good or bad luck or because of how smart she is, she will become anxious. She feels she has no control over events in her own life. In truth, however, success relates more to how hard a person works and not as much on how smart she is. Offering praise for her effort is one way you can help. There are no easy answers. As a parent, you can reduce some of the anxiety by assuring your child that you love him and will be there for him when he needs you. You can also control some of these stressors such as cutting down on extracurricular activities and making sure you praise effort rather than “smarts.” However, if reducing the stress when possible is not helping your anxious child, you should seek help from a professional. Do not hesitate to talk to your pediatrician or family doctor if you have concerns.

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Unscheduled Time—Does Your Child Get Enough?

Giving Kids Enough Unscheduled TimeOne of my favorite things in life is watching my grandson play. He doesn’t need toys, although he does like them. He sometimes picks up a stick and one moment it’s an airplane. Then it becomes a car, then a train, then a monster from the lagoon. What amazes me about this is his creativity and delight as he plays. 

I have thought a lot about the way he plays. In order for a child to be able to play like this and be inventive, he needs unscheduled time. But many parents do not give their children time to just do nothing. Every minute is filled with things to do and places to go. Most families overschedule children to the point that they have no time to be creative and entertain themselves.

If you have children in middle or upper school, consider some of the ramifications of overscheduling your child’s day. Families can become so busy, they do not even have time to sit down together at dinner. This is important bonding time and allows kids time to tell parents how things are going for them at school. Students need an hour or two each night to complete their homework. If their schedule is too crowded, their schoolwork will suffer.

They also need time to relax—to wind down from their stressful day at school. High-stakes testing and raised expectations add a huge level of stress into students’ lives. And it is important to exercise some every day, especially during adolescence when children are establishing healthy habits for a lifetime. Lastly, adolescents need to get plenty of sleep to be healthy and do well in school.

As the new school year begins, take a few minutes to think through your child’s weekly schedule. Does she have enough time for all of these important things—time with family, homework, relaxation, exercise, and sleep—every day? If not, it’s time to sit down with her to discuss what is important to hold on to and what can be let go. “Finding Balance for Busy Families” offers helpful suggestions for how to prevent having an overscheduled child and family.

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016