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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.

Fairness Doesn’t Mean Treating All Kids the Same

 

“That’s not fair!” Parents and teachers hear this often. What children don’t always understand is that treating students fairly does not mean treating them all alike. Even adults sometimes say that fairness means everyone gets the same thing. Following that reasoning, if one person in the family gets a wheelchair, then everyone should get one. That, of course, is ridiculous! Only the one who needs a wheelchair gets one.

If a child in my classroom cannot read a test for herself, then I provide a way for her to have the test read to her. If another cannot write the answers, then I provide a way to have the answers written for him. The child does the thinking for himself, but a skill deficit or physical problem should not keep him from succeeding in my class. This is treating students fairly—giving them what they need.

On the other hand, if a child can read and write for herself, it would not be fair to read and write for her. She would not be getting to practice her reading and writing skills, nor would she continue to be independent.

I always need to teach about fairness versus equal treatment when it relates to accommodations in the classroom. A blog post by Richard Curwin, “Fair Isn’t Equal: Seven Classroom Tips,” discusses the concept as it relates to behavior management. One thing Dr. Curwin says in that blog is that you should teach the concept of fairness before you implement it, which is an excellent idea.

Next time you hear “That’s not fair!” use the opening to have an important talk about fairness. Ask “What would be fair?” and go from there! 

More on this topic from Livia McCoy: Fairness Is Not Always What it Seems

 

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School Might Be Hard, but Life Doesn't Have To Be

Recently, I watched a 30 minute documentary produced by HBO called I Can’t Do This But I Can Do That: A Film for Families About Learning Differences.

It is an excellent film that shows several children with learning differences who finally get the help they need. It is a hopeful story, and the takeaway is that these children have trouble in school, but they have talents and gifts that serve them well outside of school.

After almost 30 years teaching students with learning differences, I think I finally realize the pain these children feel. This realization is partly because of the film, but also because of several biographies I read recently. Two of the best are Most Unlikely to Succeed by Nelson Lauver and My Dyslexia by Philip Schultz. All of these (the books and documentary) illustrate the intense emotional pain children feel when they are made to feel stupid and lazy. In Lauver’s case, not only did he endure emotional pain, but he also suffered unimaginable physical abuse by the teachers and administrators in his school.

Even though school can be painful, life after school does not have to be. Today, Nelson Lauver is a well-known performer and speaker. He is called “The American Storyteller.” Philip Schultz won a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry. Both of these men are hugely successful as adults, yet their childhood, particularly when in school, was absolutely miserable for them.

What is the lesson from this? If you know a child who is struggling in school, find something he does well and make sure he has plenty of time to spend doing it. Emphasize his talents and allow him to share them with others. Read stories with him about successful adults who also had a hard time in school. And, most of all, figure out what kind of help he needs and get it for him! 

A good place to start finding out what kind of help is available is with the school psychologist or counselor. Many struggling students have incredible gifts. It is those gifts that give them a hopeful future. They need to hear this over and over again. What they hear from the adults in their life is what they believe about themselves.

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A Fun Game To Improve Working Memory

 

Working memory is not a new topic for my blog. I have mentioned it several times before. It is an important topic to learn about because students who have working memory issues often struggle more in school. Essentially, “working memory” is the place in the brain where information is held while being used to do a task.

 

If I ask my student to write an academic paragraph about the story we just read, he will need to remember the pieces of an academic paragraph as well as what happened in the story. This might go beyond the limits of his working memory. One strategy I teach my students in this situation is to first write down the pieces of an academic paragraph. That way they do not have quite so much to manipulate in working memory. For a better understanding of what it is, read my earlier post called Can Working Memory Problems Cause Difficulty in School? 

 

I recently ran across an interesting website that claims that working memory (and thus intelligence) can be improved by playing a game called Dual-N-Back

 

To play Dual-N-Back, you have to remember two things at one time. You have to remember where a box appears on the screen as well as what letter is said. (In the beginning, you have to remember what keys to press on the keyboard to play the game, too.) To top that off, you also have to remember not where it was the last time you saw it, but where it was two times back (or three times back)! Here are the instructions for how to play, but the easiest way to learn the game is to give it a try. I found that at first I could not do it at all, but I quickly got better as I played.

 

This is a challenging game and actually very fun. Even if it does not improve working memory, it can be just plain fun to play. Some have said that playing it also helps improve a child’s ability to focus his attention. If you find that to be true, let others know about it. That would be a fantastic benefit—getting to play a game that possibly improves working memory and helps focus attention. Best of all, it’s free!

 

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Some Children Just Need Time To Think

Young children take more time to process information than older kids do. Parents and teachers have a tendency to speak too quickly for them, and they get confused easily. Remember Mr. Rogers? He spoke very slowly to children, which made it easier for them to follow what he was saying.

In general, the older a child is, the quicker he is at thinking. However, not all older children process information quickly, and that can make a huge difference in the classroom.

Many students who struggle in school are struggling because everything is moving too quickly for them. This does not mean they are not smart. It simply means they need extra time to think.

Here is something you can do to figure out whether this is a problem for your child. Think about Mr. Rogers and mimic his speech pattern with your child. See if this helps him to understand what you are asking him to do. You can also limit the number of instructions you give at one time.

For example, these instructions move too quickly and include too much information at one time: “Go to the kitchen and get the silverware for dinner. Don’t forget we will need a soup spoon tonight. And use the blue napkins when you set the table.” 

It is better to divide this into shorter, slower (Mr. Rogers speed), separate statements. “Get the silverware for dinner.” (Pause) “We need soup spoons.” (Pause) “Use the blue napkins.”

Some children who think slowly never get a chance to answer a question before someone else answers it. This can happen at home with a brother or sister. It also happens in school. Parents and teachers have to deliberately structure the situation so that everyone gets a chance to speak. When I teach, I often say, “I’m going to ask a question. (Pause) I do not want anyone to answer. (Pause) Think about the answer. (Pause) Give me a thumbs-up if you know it.”

If you feel that slowing down when you speak helps your child, let her teacher know what you have discovered. Accommodations like this are simple to do and can make a big difference in school.

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Successful Study Habits: How To Highlight Effectively

Highlighting can be a great study strategy, especially in the early stages of learning. (It is limited, of course, to worksheets or books students own.) It can help you find information later to review it or make study cards for in-depth study.

Most people think highlighting is easy. However, I have seen many students who don’t understand why they highlight. They also don’t know how. Sometimes, these students highlight almost everything on the page, which defeats the purpose.

If your child does this, here are some steps to take to help him learn how to highlight in a purposeful and meaningful way. 

Discuss the following with him:

 

  • Why do we highlight? Lead him to understand that highlighting makes it easy to find the most important information later when he needs it to study. If too much of the page is highlighted, it is not easier to find something. It might even make it more difficult. Highlighting needs to be used carefully and purposefully.

 

  • What information is important? Discuss possibilities such as names of new characters in a fiction book, new vocabulary words, or a brand new concept that seems important. Highlighting can also help when learning how to do a difficult concept like using negative numbers in math. Many students highlight the negative signs when doing algebra because they are important and easy to overlook.

 

Once your child understands what highlighting is for, the next step is to practice highlighting something specific. For example, when reading a literature book he could highlight the name of new characters introduced in the chapter. Or in a science textbook, he could highlight the vocabulary words (just the word because the definition will probably be nearby). He could highlight key words in the directions given at the beginning of a worksheet. (Circle, solve, check your work, multiply, etc.) Try to find something that is normally difficult for him and use highlighting to make it easier.

I would love to know what study strategy is most helpful for your children. I am always looking for new ideas to try!

More on study skills:

What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

Teach Your Kids How To Study


 

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Make the Most of Parents Night

Parents night (also called back-to-school night) is a big event at our school. Almost all of our families are represented by one or both parents. It is a time to get a feeling for the atmosphere in the school and find out what happens each day. You can find out about your child’s teachers and a little about their teaching philosophies.

Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of parents night at your school.

Attend parents night. Parents who involve themselves in the education of their child demonstrate their support for learning. Attending parents night gives your son or daughter the message that you care about what is happening in school, and you want to meet those involved every day.

Realize that there probably isn’t going to be enough time to focus specifically on your child. The most you can hope for is to provide contact information, and ask for a call if you need to speak about something of concern.

Know that this is not the forum for complaining about something you do not like. If you do have a concern, it would be much better to speak privately at another time.

Read the materials your child’s teachers provide for you. Most of the time, teachers try to minimize what they give parents on parents’ night. So anything you receive is probably important.

Encourage your child’s teachers. They work hard. They make mistakes because they are human. But teachers like children or they would not have become teachers. Think of them as your partners. If you work together, your child will benefit and learn more in school.

Finally, find out when parent-teacher conferences are scheduled. That is when you can focus specifically on your child and address needs or concerns you have.


 

 

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When Your Child Has a Chronic Health Illness

When children have chronic health concerns, it is more important than ever for the parents and school to form a partnership for the benefit of the child. The National Institutes of Health has an excellent guide that instructs families, schools, and students about their responsibilities regarding chronic illnesses. If you have a child with health needs, I highly recommend that you read it.

As a teacher it can be really helpful for me if parents speak to me directly regarding concerns about their child’s health. The more I know, the better I can support the child. For example, I had an upper school student who always fell asleep in my first period class. It is very easy to assume that the reason for this was that he was choosing to stay up too late at night and not taking care of himself. After a call home to parents, I learned that he had a chronic sleep disorder! He was under a doctor’s care and was doing everything possible to get enough sleep. Once I knew this, I was able to figure out a way to help him when he fell behind by meeting with him later in the day.

Sometimes a health condition can be embarrassing for a child. In these cases it is extremely important that parents and teachers are discreet around other students. There is normally no need for other students to be made aware of the situation. Teachers may need to know, but they should be reminded not to talk about it around other people, as well. In fact, they should not talk about it with the child unless there is an important reason to do so.

We have occasionally had students with chronic conditions who wanted to inform the class about it. In those cases, it can be helpful to allow them to do so. An example of this is when a child has frequent seizures. I knew a student who explained his condition to his classmates in detail including what to do in the event he had a seizure at school. Within weeks, he did have a seizure, and the other students were helpful and understanding. Talking about it was at his request, however. Many children would not feel comfortable doing this and should not be asked to do it.

Managing health issues at school is difficult. It is hard for the child, his or her parents and teachers, and for the school. It is imperative to work together to figure out how to best help the child. Not feeling well, having less energy, or having a serious health issue is difficult enough for children. The adults in their life should not add to the problem, but rather work together to make life a little bit easier.

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Help Your Kids Handle Back-to-School Anxiety

 

 

One day this week was set aside as orientation for new students at the school where I teach. Our middle school dean of students mentioned to me that he was very nervous. When I asked him if it was because he was going to be meeting all the new parents, he said, “No. It’s because I will be meeting with these new middle school students, and they are scared to death.” I know he was thinking that he wanted to make them feel comfortable and let them know they can trust that we’ll take good care of them.

Students everywhere are both happy and anxious about the new school year. They are happy to be going back to see their friends. But, if last year was a great year, they worry that there is no way they can have another one like it. And if last year was rough, they worry that they will have another bad year! If they are going to a new school, they worry about everything because children fear the unknown. For some students, especially those who struggle in school, the anxiety is overwhelming.

My grandson started 6th grade this year. His first writing assignment was to write a letter to his teacher, answering several questions. One questions was, “What are you most looking forward to in 6th grade?”

His answer? “I am most looking forward to the last day of school.”

For students who struggle in school, this is exactly how they feel. School is not fun.

If your child worries about school, consider the following:

 

  • Make sure he knows where he needs to go when he gets to school. This is especially important if he is changing classes for the first time. Knowing where to go can alleviate a big concern.

 

  • If possible, introduce your child to her new teachers before the school year starts. Some schools have an orientation for new students, so this is a great time to do this. If your school does not, call the school office to find out if there is any way for you and your child to come in a day early to meet the teachers. At a minimum, try to find pictures of the teachers on the school’s website so that she can at least know what they look like.

 

  • Once school starts, make sure you talk to your child every day about school. It is important to know whether things are going all right or not. Ask specific questions like, “Who did you eat lunch with today? What did you talk about?” These questions tend to spark conversation and are not usually answered with one word. Questions like, “How was school?” elicit a one-word response (“Fine”), and really don’t let you know how your child is doing.

 

 

For most children, the initial fears of going back to school disappear after a few days. If they don’t, seek help from the school principal or psychologist to figure out what is going on.

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We're All Different and Have Individual Learning Styles

As I was reading comments people posted to some of my earlier blogs, I realized how different we are from each other. This is a good thing! We need diversity in order to thrive as a society. There were several comments on my blog post about whether writing something down can help you remember it. One person said she writes first, then later types. Another said he just enters information into his smart phone. Another said she absolutely must write what she needs to later remember. These comments made me chuckle, but they also made me think again about how children need to figure out for themselves what works best for them in school.

Here are some ideas to discuss with your child. It might take some experimenting to find out what strategy works the best:

 

  • Listen carefully to an explanation of something being taught and think about how it connects with something else you already know. For example, if your daughter is studying Newton’s First Law of Motion she might think about how the seat belt feels when the car slows down quickly.

 

  • Drawing pictures of concepts as you learn them can be helpful. People who think visually will remember better if pictures are associated with the learning. Don’t forget to add color, because that can help with memory, too.

 

  • Out-of-the-box thinking might help some students learn best. For example, making up a story, dance, poem or song might be a successful way to remember. This would never occur to most students, but it might be just the thing for another.

 

  • As parents, we tend to think that what worked for us will work for our children. This may or may not be true. Be careful not to force your child to study the same way you studied if he has already found out your method doesn’t work for him.

 

 

Note to students and parents: Students, it is important to keep trying to figure out your personal learning style. Once you understand it, you can take steps to improve in school. Parents, you can help by asking your child to think about what seems to work. Ask, “What do you like the best in school?” Thinking about that can often give clues about a child’s strengths.

For more information about learning styles and school success, read SchoolFamily.com’s article What is Your Child’s Learning Style? and search for “learning style” to find many articles on this topic here at SchoolFamily.com.  

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How to Foster a Positive Parent-Teacher Relationship for Your Child’s Benefit

A couple of weeks ago, I spent several days teaching at a new teachers’ institute. We worked together on all sorts of things new teachers need to know before beginning their careers. One of the workshops was about communicating with parents. I was not teaching that seminar and as I sat there listening and watching, I realized that the parent-teacher relationship is really the key to school success for children. Yet, parent-teacher conferences are often uncomfortable for both the parents and the teacher.

I also thought about two authors who have written on this topic. One is Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, who wrote, The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. In her book, she writes, “Children flourish when the adults in their lives agree on them. Children do not have strong identities of their own. They see themselves through the eyes of the adults who love and teach them. For that reason it is important that the adults in their lives see them in a unified way.”

In Michael Thompson’s essay, The Fear Equation: Solving a Complex Parent-Teacher Problem, he writes about the emotions that both parents and teachers feel during conferences. Parents bring to the table memories of their childhood experiences in school and feel afraid, exactly like they did when they were children. Teachers sit there believing myths about unreasonable parents who lash out at teachers in order to intimidate them. What they both really need to be doing is talking with one another about the child!

Today, I was wondering why this problem persists. Nearly every one of us can think back about both good and bad experiences we had in school. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on the bad. Parents should approach their child’s conferences with confidence, and try to remember good things about school. No one knows a child better than his parents.

And teachers are not bad people even if they do make mistakes at times. In his essay, Thompson says, “Schools are tender places, full of teachers who have latent fears of their own.” Teachers should approach parent conferences with respect for parents as people who try very hard to do what is right for their child. They should give parents a chance to tell them what is on their mind regarding their child’s progress in school—a chance to ask questions and make suggestions.

With this model of mutual respect for one another and focus on the child, the parent-teacher relationship will be positive. The person who benefits from this is the child. As Lawrence Lightfoot says in her book, “If parents and teachers are on the same page with respect to children, it is much easier for the children to feel whole and understood, and to succeed.”

Best wishes to both parents and teachers are we get ready to begin the new school year. I can hardly wait to have students in my classroom. I miss seeing the kids every day!

Editor's Note: Explore this important topic further through these SchoolFamily.com articles about parent-teacher communication. And print out our Back-to-School Parent-Teacher Conference Questions checklist to take with you when you meet your child's teacher for the first conference:

 

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Have Kids Learn to Touch Type Before Going Back to School

A friend of mine asked me, “I’ve got three more weeks of summer left before the kids go back to school. Is there anything I can do that will help Emily do better this year?” My response was, “Teach her how to touch type!”

 

Three weeks of daily practice—even 15-20 minutes a day—is enough time to learn where the letters are, begin typing without looking at the keys, and maybe even to type faster than she can write by hand.

 

Years ago, I did an informal study to figure out how fast most students can write by hand. I worked with students in a one-to-one setting. I got them to first copy a paragraph that I had written. Then I had them compose a paragraph on their own. In that “study” students handwrote about 13 words per minute. I decided an appropriate goal for beginning typists should be 20 words per minute.

 

Here are some things to keep in mind if you take this project on with your child:

 

  • The goal should be to type 20 words per minute without looking at the keys.

 

  • Posture is important. If your child is small, make sure to put something under his feet to keep him comfortable. He should sit high enough so that his elbows are at approximately a 90-degree angle as he types. At school, I stack two chairs together when needed and put books under kids’ feet.

 

  • Students should use the correct fingers on the keys. This should become their personal goal regardless of what they are doing at the computer.

 

  • Typing games are okay to use if your child is dedicated to using the correct fingers. My experience is that most children won’t do this. In my keyboarding classes I do not allow the games until I am sure they will not “unlearn” everything by doing whatever they need to do to win the game.

 

  • Little hands need little keyboards. Netbooks are ideal for students with small hands because their keyboards tend to be more compact. There are also keyboards for small hands available for purchase. These keyboards connect through the USB port just like a larger-size keyboard. (Search “keyboards for little hands” on your favorite search engine to find a selection.)

 

There are many typing tutor websites and plenty of software on the market. I found this typing tutorial to be useful and it is completely free. It also does not require you to download software to your computer!

 

If you prefer to teach your child keyboarding yourself (without using software), you might be interested in reading about my alphabetic approach to teaching touch typing (PDF).

 

My idea is that the home row approach most often used really doesn’t make much sense to children. Whoever hears “a s d f j k l ;” in their daily life? Since older kids know the alphabet already I teach the keys in alphabetical order. This requires you to be involved in the lesson, however, because typing tutor software and websites always follow the home row order.

 

Learning to keyboard correctly is important these days. Almost everyone needs to use a computer for personal and professional reasons. If you use the correct fingers on the keys you will make fewer mistakes and type much faster than if you use a “hunt and peck” method. (My students call it the “search and kill” method.)

 

Good luck teaching keyboarding! Hopefully, your child can practice typing for a while in the morning and spend the rest of the day swimming and having fun. School will start soon enough. Proper keyboarding skills will help make homework go a little faster once school gets rolling again.

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Back to School after Summer Vacation—6 Ways to Help Your Child Be Ready to Learn

Let’s face it: Kids don’t come to school for the reason we would like them to! They come to school primarily to socialize and have fun. This is especially true when they’ve been off for the summer and haven’t seen many of their friends for all those weeks.

There are, however, fundamentals that can help students be more focused on learning. It may be a good idea to have a talk with your son or daughter about how to be ready to learn during this back-to-school period.

Here are 6 back-to-school preparedness tips:

1. Come dressed for success. Visit a website for teens with your child and look at pictures of the teens on the site. Ask, “What do you think about him? What kind of person is she? Where do you think they’re going?” These questions can spark a discussion about how someone’s appearance gives an impression. Talk about what kind of impression your child wants to give of himself. Also, read my recent blog post about being aware of your school’s dress code before shopping for back-to-school clothes with your children.

 

2. Have all the school supplies you need. Additionally, help your child have them organized in easy-to-find places. Being prepared is the first step to being a good student. If your daughter comes to class, sits down, and gets out her notebook and pen, the impression she gives is that she is serious about learning. Teachers notice this and will appreciate her student skills.

 

3. Look at the teacher, smile, and listen. It is amazing to see how many students forget to do this! (Especially on the first day of school when kids are so excited to be back and see all their friends.) They look everywhere but at the teacher! Remind your child that when the teacher says, “Listen up!” if he’s already looking and listening, he’s a step ahead of the other students.

 

4. Participate actively when class begins. Encourage your child to ask questions. If she knows the answer to a question the teacher is asking, tell her to raise her hand. Remind her to be sure to give other students a chance to answer questions, too. She should at least try to do most things the teacher asks, even if it is hard for her. She should ask for help when she needs it, but be patient if the teacher can’t get to her right away.

 

5. Be respectful of classmates. All students need to show respect for others in the class. If someone seems rude, consider that he might be having a hard time with something totally out of his control. Remind your child that we can never know what is going on in another person’s life.

 

6. Take charge of yourself. Help your child understand that taking charge of himself and his own learning is within his control. This is an area that struggling students often need help understanding. He also has to be responsible for his own actions. What other students are doing is their business. The teacher will take care of them if they need help knowing what to do.

 

With a little proactive planning, students can be ready to make the most of the new school year. School can be fun, and it is a place to socialize with friends. But learning as much as possible should be a student’s highest priority.

Students, I wish you well as we all go back to school for another year!

 

 

 

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Back to School: College Options for Students Who Struggle in School

As students prepare to go back to school, parents of those students who find middle and high school difficult may worry about their child’s future. Many students who struggle believe college is not an option for them. While college might be difficult, it is not necessarily out of the question. Sometimes it is the choice of college that presents a problem.

When considering which college to attend, students who struggle (and their parents) should think about these 9 points:

 

1. Will the college I am considering offer me the same accommodations I have been receiving in high school? This can include extended time on tests, access to a computer, or exemption from foreign languages. (See Ask for Help if Your Teen Has a Learning Problem.) When you visit the school, talk to enrolled  students with similar learning struggles to make sure the college actually does provide what it claims to provide.

 

2. How big are the classes? Smaller classes offer more opportunities for personalized help, so looking at smaller colleges is probably a better option.

 

3. Will I be allowed to ask questions? Some colleges have such large classes that students do not get to speak to their professors at all (and, as at any school, some professors are open to questions being asked during class and others are not). Be sure to choose a school that provides access to professors outside of class time. And then choose professors who are easy to work with. You can find this out by asking other students, your advisor, or by visiting online sites that rate professors such as Rate My Professors (note that while most reviews are legitimate, some especially negative reviews may be posted by disgruntled students).

 

4. Choose a major that will make use of your strengths. Some of my students have chosen to major in areas like physical therapy or recreational therapy because they are so good with people. Think about what you like to do and find a course of study that will allow you to do that.

 

5. Take fewer courses at a time. This way you can focus on less material and spend plenty of time studying for each course. It may take you longer to finish college, but the extra time will be worth it in the end.

 

6. Sign up to receive services from the learning resources center (or whatever it is called at your college of choice). Typically you qualify for this if you had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in high school. The center can help you stay on track, offer proofreading and other services, and help you receive accommodations if you need them. They can also recommend professors who are better at working with students who need a little more help. But signing up for services isn’t enough—you actually have to show up and use them!

 

7. Attend class regularly. It is so much easier to learn if you are in class, hear all the discussions, and participate in the activities. This is especially true if you have difficulty navigating your textbook and learning from what you read. (See Student Absences: They Hurt Learning More Than You Might Think.)

 

8. Form partnerships with other students in your classes. Set up study groups so you can get together to discuss what you are learning in class, and exchange phone numbers so you can help one another when you have to miss class.

 

9. Understand that some people learn easily in school and don’t have to work as hard as you do. Life is not fair. But someday when you have your college degree, you will be able to pursue a career that makes use of your strengths. You will have a better work ethic than other students who didn’t have to work as hard as you did. I firmly believe that School Is Not Life!

So, don’t give up. Hang in there until you get to begin really having fun, in your career.         

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Back-to-School Shopping: Color-Coded School Supplies Can Help With Organization

In an earlier blog post I wrote about a color-coded notebook system that helps disorganized students stay organized. Students who are visual learners benefit from using color to help them keep up with everything. Color can help them when studying and working on homework, too. When shopping for school supplies, consider purchasing some of the following inexpensive “tools” to help your visual student. Other types of learners can borrow the idea as well, because it can be helpful to anyone who has trouble finding what they need.

1. Colored pencils, pens, or markers. Visual learners need to have a way to color code a variety of things as they work. For example, when working math problems some students benefit from circling the positive and negative signs in two different colors, before starting to work the problem. When reading literature, they can circle new character names in one color, underline important events in another, and underline significant quotes in a third color. Later when studying for a quiz, they can quickly find the relevant information.

2. Colorful sticky flags or paper clips. There are many times when it is not appropriate to write in a book. In these cases using stick-on flags of various colors can accomplish the same task as described in the first bullet point. Some of my students use different colored paper clips to mark important pages. Used as a bookmark, the clip can be placed on the page near the important information.

3. Colorful notebook tabs or file folders. If your visual student uses a color-coded notebook system, it might be a good idea to add tabs to their binder that match the different subject colors. For example, a green tabbed divider can mark the section where their science papers are located. Some students benefit from taking papers out of the binder and placing them in color-coded file folders that match the colors in their notebook. This is especially helpful just after finishing a unit and taking the test on it. The work will still be available for later if needed, but not cluttering up their notebook.

4. A zippered plastic pouch for the notebook. Any school supplies that go back and forth to school need a convenient storage compartment in the notebook binder or book bag. One possibility is to purchase a zippered pouch that clips inside the binder.

Just because they have a system doesn’t mean students will be able to immediately color-code important information or keep everything organized. For parents, it takes time and patience to help students learn how to color-code and how to keep their supplies organized. For some students, this help is provided at school; if that’s not the case, help must be provided at home.

A portion of homework time should be devoted to learning these skills. As soon as the student finishes his homework is the time to get everything in order for the next school day. A parent or tutor will need to be involved until the student can take ownership of the processes. The goal is always independence, but it takes work and practice to get to that point.

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Know Your School’s Dress Code When Shopping for Back to School

Part of my responsibility at our school is to monitor what students wear, making sure they follow the dress code. Middle school students like to push the limits of the dress code; that’s expected from adolescents when they are trying to discover who they are and who they would like to become as they mature into adults. Each school has its own dress code and its own methods for interpreting the code. Some schools are very strict—others less so. I thought it might be helpful to understand why schools need dress codes, why they’re enforced, and how the dress code at your child's school will affect your back-to-school shopping.

Every family has its own sense of right and wrong, and differing levels of parental involvement. That said, some students come to school dressed provocatively; perhaps they snuck out of the house without a parent seeing them, or they changed clothes after they got to school. As is often the case, when I speak with them about how they are dressed, they miraculously have something else on hand to change into! They know what they’re wearing is inappropriate, but they think they might get away with it. Or perhaps, they make their statement just to arrive at school dressed that way, with plans to change clothes once at school.

In general, the purpose of the dress code is to help to create an environment conducive to learning at school. When underwear is showing or too much skin is exposed, students think more about each other than what they are being taught. Many students already have trouble paying attention in school. When you add distracting clothing, it’s just that much harder for them. Other parts of the code are safety-related. For example, some students like to wear their pants dragging on the ground or leave their shoes untied, both of which are unsafe when going up and down stairs. A third purpose of the code is to teach students that what is appropriate clothing for one place (like a birthday party) is not appropriate for another place (like work or school).

Many years ago, I had a student who got his first job over spring break. He was working at the movie theater taking tickets as people entered. After a few weeks he was fired. I asked him about it, and he told me that he did not wear the white shirt and black tie that was required of him. I asked him why he didn’t wear it and he said, “It was stupid. It was too hot in there and I shouldn’t have to wear a tie.” He suffered a severe consequence for the decision he made to ignore the dress code.

My point in sharing this story is to show that dress codes are a part of life. We wear certain kinds of clothes to church, to work, to the beach, to the prom, and to school.

It is important when shopping for school clothes this summer that parents obtain a copy of the school’s dress code in advance and help their kids select appropriate clothing. This will make concentrating in the classroom easier for everyone—and it’ll keep students safe and teach them that appearance is important.

I like to tell my students that school is your job right now. Dress for success in school just like you will dress for success at your job in the future.

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In Math (and In Life), Which is More Important—the Process or the Outcome?

I was reading an article about the state of special education in American schools. There was a statement in the article that essentially said that schools “value the process over the outcome.” I began to wonder what that means.

The article was referring to schools that focus on compliance with state and federal laws rather than focusing on the child and what needs to happen for her. But, there are other places where we also value the process over the outcome.

For example, in math classes students are taught a specific method for arriving at an answer. I have seen teachers write the steps on the board for how to solve a long division problem (or any other kind). They then monitor their students to make sure they are following the process correctly. In truth, there are other ways to arrive at the same outcome (correct answer)!

You can arrive at the correct answer in long division using the traditional method almost all of us learned; using the double division method; or even using a calculator. The best way might be to use a calculator—but, then what do you do with that decimal remainder?! Or, the best way might be to use double division. The truth is, everyone needs to be able to get the right answer (the correct outcome), but we do not necessarily need to use the same method (the process).

But, as parents and educators we sometimes value the “process over the outcome.” I wrote an article once about how to do double division. You would have thought I suggested something completely absurd. I was accused of allowing students to be lazy and that I lacked mathematical “rigor.”

Another area where we experience this is when using the computer. For most software programs there are multiple ways to arrive at the same product. I often teach people how to use software. Invariably I will be showing how to do something, and someone will say, “You can also….” They will then tell everyone a different way to do the same thing. It really doesn’t matter how you do something as long as you are able to get the product you want in the end.

There are many examples of this both in and out of school. At home, for example, there are processes in place for when and how to do laundry, where to do homework, how to set the table, or how to put the dishes in the dishwasher.

As parents and teachers, we need to keep an open mind. If your son can arrive at the correct—or at least acceptable—outcome every time using his own process, why not allow it? His way might turn out to be better than yours! This may lead to fewer arguments, which is definitely a good thing. It also gives parents another way to allow their children to make choices for themselves. This is an important part of growing up and learning responsibility. Think about the needed outcome and stay open minded about the best way to achieve it.

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Will Dyslexic Children Go Undiagnosed After DSM-5?

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is used by doctors who diagnose learning differences like dyslexia, a developmental reading disorder. In the spring of 2013, the 5th edition of the DSM will be published. Those of us who work with dyslexic children are concerned about proposed changes in this new edition. While it is not definite, the proposal is to omit the term “dyslexia” from the list of learning disorders.

Historically, the learning disorders listed in the DSM are used by educators to decide what services a student should receive. If a child is diagnosed as dyslexic by a doctor according to the DSM, then a school system can use that diagnosis to create an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that addresses the specific needs of the student. Additionally, the DSM can be used to determine what learning disorders warrant further research. Without the research we won’t be able to learn exactly what causes a specific problem and how best to treat it.

Omitting the term dyslexia does not align with current laws. IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and federal special education regulations explicitly name dyslexia as a learning disability that is eligible to receive services. The impact of omitting it from the DSM is that a child with dyslexia may not be diagnosed with it!

For a more thorough discussion of the possible effects of omitting dyslexia from the DSM-5, see Dyslexia and the DSM-5 at LDOnline.org.

Personally, I hope they do not leave out the term dyslexia. It may mean that children who are dyslexic might not be able to receive the appropriate services to remediate their reading difficulties. We should keep our eyes open to find out what the final decision is regarding DSM-5, which is due out in May 2013.

 

 

 

 

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Birdwatching Can Be Fun and Easy for Kids Struggling With Reading

Does your middle school child love birds, but then he gets frustrated when trying to identify them? Many children do. Unfortunately, field guides that help identify birds can be really hard to use, especially for children who aren’t good at reading and spelling. Luckily, there is a great website called WhatBird.com that is amazingly easy to use.

If your child selects the “Expert” tab, he can enter answers to questions like where he saw the bird, what color it was, and what its general shape was. Most of these answers are in picture form, so even a poor reader can answer correctly. Depending on the information entered, the website will tell him what kind of bird he likely saw. It will also play the sounds the bird makes so your child can begin to identify birds by what he hears.

There is also an app called iBird Explorer created by Mitch Waite Press, which is free for Apple’s iPad and iPhone, Google’s Android, and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. (And though the iPod isn’t listed, my young grandson recently downloaded the free app onto his iPod and it worked great.) It is easy to carry along when you and your child go out bird watching.

When using What Bird? and iBird Explorer, children learn to:

 

  • use field guides in a format that is easier for them to access than traditional guides;
  • spend time outside looking for birds instead of staying inside playing electronic games;
  • improve their observational skills when trying to figure out which bird they saw (often there are two that are very similar like a purple finch and a house finch);
  • identify individual birds and learn about them and their habitats;
  • develop an appreciation for nature while having fun

 

It is very important to help your struggling student find something she can really do well. Who knows—perhaps you’ll have a budding ornithologist on your hands, and “playing” with the iBird app will be the start of a lifelong interest or career!

 

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Kids With Learning Disabilities Are Actually Quite Smart

Students who are labeled LD (learning disabled) struggle in school and feel like they are not smart. In fact, a lot of people believe this to be true. But, if you ask many highly successful adults about their school experience, they will tell you they hated school and did not do well. The truth is that what we do in school usually focuses on a small portion of our total intelligence while success in life after school allows us to use our strengths. Many struggling students are actually very, very smart—it’s just the kind of smart that doesn’t show up in school.

Many CEO’s are extremely creative and innovative. School activities rarely focus on creativity and innovation. People who are talented in these areas might have a terrible school experience and then later become highly respected leaders in their selected professions. For a list of executives, athletes, and famous people who overcame their learning issues (in this case, dyslexia), see Famous People With the Gift of Dyslexia from the Davis Dyslexia Association International.

It is important to encourage students who feel dumb to find something they love to do, and make sure they spend time every day engaged doing it. For some ideas, see my post about Summer Plans for Struggling Students.

For example, I once asked a student who signed up for our remedial math class in summer school what she liked to do. She said, “I swim.” When I quizzed her about it she told me she was on the USA Swim Team and would be competing in the Junior Olympics! “I swim” was a bit of an understatement! When I asked her if she still liked swimming she said, “I love it! Once I thought I wanted to learn to dance, but I realized that I love swimming and don’t really have time to pursue something else.” What impressed me the most was that she was confident, poised, and not the least upset that she couldn’t do basic math. I believe this is because she had something in her life that she excelled at and did better than almost everyone else.

Next time you hear that someone is “learning disabled,” remember that they are actually very smart. They may have trouble learning some things, but there are many things they learn easily and do better than most other people. Someday, they may be an investor like Charles Schwab or a writer like Agatha Christie.

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Student Learning Styles: What Is Episodic Memory?

How do we make memories?

There are many explanations for how memory works. Memory, however, is much more complicated than any one theory can explain. I have blogged before about memory strategies as well as several times about what working memory is.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about a type of memory we don’t hear much about. It’s called episodic memory. Episodic memory is the memory we have for events (or episodes) we experience. Some of the students I teach have trouble remembering facts, vocabulary, and procedures, like how to do long division. Yet, these same students can remember accurate details about a trip they took a whole year ago! They love field trips, movies, and activities that involve building or doing something. These students have a strong episodic memory. They remember what the class was doing when they were learning something. If this is true about your child, you may be able to help him learn more effectively at school by creating episodic memories.

To do this, you have to figure out how to get children to experience what they are learning. For example, instead of studying for a science test in a traditional way, your child can make up a song, rap, or creative story about the concepts. I recently had a student create a dance with music that included all the vocabulary on his upcoming exam. He received an “A” on it! He did not normally do well on tests and exams, so I asked him how he studied. He stood up and sang and danced for me! This isn’t something I would have ever done to study; that’s why memory is a complex process that we really do not fully understand.

Other things you might try are having your child make a movie, create a skit, write poetry, or paint a picture. I believe the trick for those who have strengths in episodic memory is to make something the student can tell a story about. And remember that what works for one may not work for another.

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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