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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.

When Learning and Teaching Styles Don't Mesh

Each student has preferences for how he likes to learn, what kind of classroom makes him feel the most comfortable, and how his teacher likes to teach. Many times, students are in classrooms that do not match up with their learning preferences. For example, a very creative, free-spirited student may be in an extremely structured algebra classroom with student desks carefully lined up in rows. Or, a student who is structured and likes step-by-step instruction is taking history from a teacher who mostly holds Socratic seminars in class. Students who are mismatched this way often come to me to find out what to do. They say things like, “I don’t know what is going on in there! What am I supposed to be learning?” or “I can’t stay awake in that class. It is so boring!”

Students must be able to learn in settings that are different from what they prefer. It is important for them to learn how to learn in all kinds of classrooms. Here are some suggestions that may help.

  • Encourage your daughter to communicate with her teacher when she has concerns. I have met with many students who were sure they could not succeed in a class. I always encourage them to talk to their teacher about it and find out if they have suggestions for ways to study and prepare for class. For example, teachers who use Socratic seminars normally base them on research the students are doing or on reading in their text. To be successful, students must do the research and reading. Doing the homework matters more than it did before!
  • It is helpful to form study groups with students who do well in the class. See if your son can help a friend in algebra if his friend will help him in history.
  • Talk to your daughter about staying open-minded. Sometimes, it is a fear of the unknown that is the problem rather than a true mismatch in learning/teaching styles. She may not have been in classes where her teacher asks open-ended questions with more than one correct answer. It is uncomfortable for her to express her ideas in class and to be graded on whether she participates. Once she goes through it a few times, she may find that she enjoys it and does learn in that environment, after all.


There are all kinds of teachers and students. Students have to learn to do well in classes they might not like. To do so may require kids to talk to their teachers about their struggle, form some study groups where members of the group can help one another, and hang in there long enough to figure out whether or not their early fears are warranted. School is preparing students for their future. They will find they work with people who think differently than they do. Having these experiences and learning to be successful in a variety of settings will help them to be successful later on the job.

 

> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

> Learning Styles Quiz

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The Benefits of Extracurricular Activities

Parents often ask me whether I think it is a good idea to allow their child to play sports or participate in extracurricular activities even though they are struggling in school. They feel the time would be better spent if they worked longer on their lessons. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “Sports help children develop physical skills, get exercise, make friends, have fun, learn to play as a member of a team, learn to play fair, and improve self-esteem.” The same can be said of many after-school activities. For these reasons, I always recommend that parents allow their children to play sports or participate in other after-school activities even if they are not doing well in school.

When students work together toward a common goal, they build a spirit of camaraderie and responsibility that are difficult to experience elsewhere. This happens on sports teams as well as other team activities such as being in the school play or on the forensics team. Students also learn how to be good sports even when things do not seem fair. When the referees or judges make a call the team disagrees with, students learn to accept it and to not let it affect their ability to play. If the game does not turn out well, students learn that failure does not have to define who they are as a team. They learn to work harder to become stronger, so they will do better next time.

The most important reason to allow struggling students to participate in extracurricular activities is allow them to find an area where they excel. Everyone needs to feel capable and confident. If they cannot feel this during the school day, perhaps they can experience it playing sports or being on the robotics team. I agree with John Wooden when he said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” Your child should spend plenty of time showing you and others how capable he is.

You might enjoy reading School Is Not Life and School Might Be Hard, but Life Doesn’t Have To Be.

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Teens and Marijuana Use: What Parents Should Know

When students smoke marijuana, they typically do not do well in school. I was curious about whether the recent state laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use have affected the number of teens who smoke it regularly. A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health analyzed the results of the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey taken before and after the laws were passed. This study determined that the use of marijuana by teens did not change significantly after the laws came into effect. What surprised me, though, was the number of students who report using marijuana in the last month is around 21 percent—two out of every 10 students!

Many teens feel that marijuana helps them deal with the stress of being an adolescent, and it is not dangerous. There is a lot of research that suggests otherwise. Marijuana affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain where certain types of learning occur. This can lead to problems studying and learning new things, and it affects short-term memory. Recent studies show that regular use causes a significant drop in IQ which does not come back after quitting. Marijuana also affects the cerebellum which is the control center for balance and coordination. This causes poor performance in activities such as sports and driving. The third area of the brain that is impacted is the prefrontal cortex, where high level reasoning and problem-solving occur. This explains why people under the influence of marijuana can make poor decisions and engage in risky behaviors.

The effects of smoking marijuana start quickly and last for several hours. Long-term use may impair brain development and lower the IQ. If your child changes from a sweet, cooperative teen who cares about himself and others into one who seems more argumentative or paranoid, it is possible he is smoking marijuana. Other signs are a sudden drop in grades and uncharacteristically poor hygiene. (For more information, see NIDA for Teens.) If you suspect your child might be using, it is important to find out. The first step is a visit to his doctor. Once you know, you can get professional help for your child to help him learn to cope with normal adolescent stress in healthy ways.

See Help Kids Learn To Manage Stress for ideas about healthy ways to deal with stress.

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Pros and Cons of Flipped Classrooms

Many teachers have flipped their classrooms. What was once taught in class is now homework, and what was once homework is completed in class. Teachers videotape their lessons, and students watch the lessons at home. In class the next day, students can work on their homework when their teacher is there to help. There are many advantages to this approach, the biggest of which is that students can do their homework without asking parents to help them. There are disadvantages as well, though, since not every child has access to a computer and the Internet at home.

Flipped classrooms are successful for a number of reasons. Teams of teachers can work together to create excellent videos for their students to watch. Students can watch them in a distraction-free setting at home where they can get more from the lesson than they could when there are other students around to distract them. Students who need to hear a lesson more than once can watch the video as many times as they need. They can stop it and think about what was said or to look up information in their textbook. Many students learn well when concepts are presented visually.

When students are asked to answer questions or work math problems at home, they often struggle. They need their teacher’s help, but their teacher is not available. With the flipped model, the teacher is present when students need them the most. When it is time to study for a test or exam, students can return to the videos that cover concepts they are still having trouble with. And last, students may be able to watch their lessons even when they are absent from school.

Even though there are many advantages to flipped classrooms, there are some risks. A huge concern is that not every child has access to the Internet at home or there is competition between siblings for one family computer. When students watch their lesson online at home, they do not have the ability to ask their teacher questions along the way. Teachers normally see how well their students are learning in class and adjust their instruction immediately to meet the needs of those students who are not getting it. With this model, there are no students to give the teacher the necessary feedback. If a student does not watch the video for homework, he is totally unprepared for class the next day. Finally, not every student can learn from videos. Without the social interactions in the classroom, these students zone out while trying to pay attention.

If your child’s teacher is flipping his classroom, you should check out Videonot.es to provide an easy way for your child to take notes as she watches her lessons. Videonot.es works with several commonly used video formats that teachers use. It can help your child focus her attention and stay engaged as she watches.

Even though there are some negatives when flipping a classroom, many teachers have had a lot of success with it. Parents like it too, because they are less involved in helping their children with their homework. Most important, students are learning a lot in flipped classrooms, perhaps more than they would have in a traditional classroom.

 

> The Flipped Classroom: What It Means for You and Your Child

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Good School Attendance Is More Important Than Ever

Regular attendance to school has always been important and a factor that leads to success. Now that schools across America are focusing on 21st century skills—those skills that prepare our students for living in the 21st century—attendance is even more important. Many have defined the needed skills, and everyone agrees that our students need the ability to lead, work with a team, collaborate on projects, and cooperate with others. Teachers are providing opportunities that require these skills in nearly every subject. It is easy to see that absences affect students even more when their classes are working on group projects that require teams to collaborate with one another.

A typical project might have students investigating the pros and cons of a new technology such as the 4K Ultra HD television format. Some students might be asked to investigate the benefits of converting to the 4K Ultra HD television. Another group might investigate the risks and costs. Yet another group might look into the current technologies such as the LED and plasma televisions that might become obsolete because of the new technology. The end goal could be to come together as a group to discuss what each group learned and make a decision about whether the new technology is worth the risks associated with its use. If this project takes place over a period of three days in class and your child misses class all three days, he really cannot make up the work. If he is not there for the first day of instruction, he may be confused about what is going on when he returns. If he is not there for the second or third day, his group might be frustrated because he is not there to do his share of the work. His teacher has to decide how to give him a grade for the project given that he missed so much of it.

Students with good attendance typically have better grades, and  absences have always been a problem. With the emphasis on the 21st century skills of collaboration, teamwork, and cooperation, attendance may become even more critical for success.

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What Are “21st Century Skills” and Why Does Your Child Need Them?

There is a movement in education to improve what we are offering our students. Some schools have completely revamped their curriculum to make sure they are teaching kids the skills they will need to be successful in the information age. This trend is often referred to as “21st century education” or “21c education.” These skills are typically divided into three categories: learning skills, literacy skills, and life skills. They are skills identified by businesses as necessary for career success in the modern world.

The learning skills are critical thinking, creative thinking, collaborating, and communicating. To teach these skills, teachers might present real-life problems to students who typically work in small groups to solve them. If there is access to the Internet, students often collaborate online when seeking solutions to the problems. They plan their reports back to the class and frequently are required to present orally. The communication component of 21c learning includes all kinds of communication—digital, written, and oral. There is an emphasis on communicating globally, and it is not unusual to see students discussing possible solutions with experts or students in other schools around the world.

Literacy skills include information, media, and technology. Students are bombarded with way more information than they can actually process. They must learn how to find high-quality information and to identify bias. Students learn how to present their work using a variety of media, and hopefully they are at least exposed to a variety of technology solutions to society’s problems. Students are expected to become experts at using and learning new technology.

Life skills such as the ability to take initiative and be productive are extremely important. It is necessary to be flexible when others you work with have different ideas that are equal to or better than your own. Social skills are more important now than ever before, especially since we can now easily communicate with diverse groups of people from around the world. Leadership skills are needed, as well, and schools are increasing opportunities to learn how to lead others. People who are the best at initiation, productivity, flexibility, social skills, and leadership rise quickly up the career ladder.

Most schools are giving thought to providing more 21c learning opportunities for their students. It is difficult and expensive to change from traditional ways of teaching and learning; it will take time before 21c education is widespread. Students in schools where it is the norm report that they enjoy it, and they appreciate the intellectual challenge and authentic learning opportunities. Students who develop these learning, literacy, and life skills should be more competitive in today’s marketplace.

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A Free Tool To Help With Video Instruction

For some students, watching videos is not a great way to learn. Attention or learning style differences can make it difficult to get much from a video, especially when it consists mostly of someone talking. Google has provided an excellent tool that can help when students are asked to watch videos from YouTube, Vimeo, or Khan Academy for homework.

A student can use VideoNot.es while watching many videos. While watching the video on the left half of the screen, he types notes on the right side. The notes he takes are time stamped so that when he clicks on what he wrote, the video will jump to that exact place he was watching when he wrote the note. Later, when he is studying for a test or doing his homework, he can easily find the place in the video by using the notes he took. If he needs to, he can watch that portion of the video again. This saves time, because he no longer has to search through a video trying to find the spot where a particular piece of information was given.

In order to use VideoNot.es, it first has to be set up with Google Drive. This is easy to accomplish by selecting the “Connect with Google Drive” button on the VideoNot.es home page. If a student does not yet have a Google Drive account, it might be worth the time to set one up just for this tool! Google Drive is free and many schools are already using Google Apps for Education which includes Google Drive.

VideoNot.es has a tutorial that automatically runs to help learn how to use it. There are also many YouTube videos that show how to set up and use the app. A particularly good one can be found here. If you are like me and you learn best when you write something down, you need to explore this free Google app. VideoNot.es is a wonderful tool that can help students learn more from their video assignments.

 

> Use Table of Contents Tool for Note-Taking

> A Free App To Help With Time Management

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A Strategy To Help Boost Comprehension

When reading an academic textbook, students often lose track of the meaning, because there is too much information to hold in working memory. If the words in the text are already known and understood, the meaning is clear. The problem occurs when they come to an unfamiliar word and must stop reading to consider its meaning. A typical scenario goes like this. The student stops reading to think about the new word. He looks it up in an online dictionary, considers what it means, holds it in memory, and returns to the reading. By the time he begins reading, however, the meaning of the word is lost. Each of us has a limited capacity to hold information in working memory, and within seconds the information is lost. This strategy for reading an academic text does not always work well. Here is a different approach to try.

Pretend that the science textbook your daughter is reading says, “The momentum of the train traveling at 30 miles per hour is much greater than the momentum of the car moving at the same speed.” To totally understand this, she needs to understand the concept of momentum. When she looks it up, she finds that momentum is the product of an object’s mass times its velocity. Here is where her strategy needs to vary. Instead of holding that information in memory while trying to apply it to the sentence, she should write it in the margin or jot it on a small sticky note stuck in the margin of the book. When she rereads the sentence, she should read, “The mass times velocity of the train…is much greater than the mass times velocity of the car…” This takes only a few seconds longer than the original strategy, but the result is that she understands the meaning now, since she already knows the meaning of mass and velocity. This does not require her to work with so much information in working memory. She can use her working memory to understand the concept which is what she needs to do.

In general, writing down information that is filling up the working memory capacity is a great strategy. If asked to identify the adjectives and adverbs in a passage, writing a short definition of each can help with the task. Many students have difficulty reading academic textbooks, and using this strategy can help with comprehension.

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The Future of Handwriting: Only Time Will Tell

Recent research published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly confirms the need for preschool children to learn to write with a pencil. Researchers claim that children learn the sounds associated with letters as they practice their handwriting skills. Despite the research, many schools no longer teach cursive handwriting. They claim they do not have time to teach it given the demands to meet achievement in core subjects as well as the common opinion that cursive is obsolete. I have advocated in the past for continuing to teach handwriting (both manuscript and cursive). The end goal should be efficient, legible handwriting. I primarily work with older students and have noticed through the years that a greater percentage of these students do not write legibly and can no longer read cursive. Many say we no longer need to teach it because we should be teaching 21st century skills—which do not include handwriting.

Admittedly, when I go through the list of reasons we should teach it that I have cited before, for every example where people use cursive handwriting to communicate, I can think of an electronic way to do the same thing. It is unlikely that students will ever write checks now that online banking is free and easy to use; only a small percentage of students actually use cursive on the SAT even though instructed to do so; and there are apps on our phones for everything we used to write by hand.

But if we totally quit teaching cursive, will we lose other important benefits? One concern I have relates to developing fine motor control in the hands. The ability to control the small muscles in the fingers and hands is developed when children learn to write legibly first in manuscript and later in cursive. These same skills are used for other important tasks. Using scissors, cutting up food, picking up tiny objects, catching a ball, buttoning a shirt, or screwing on a tiny cap require the ability to adjust pressure applied by the fingers and respond to feedback from the brain to the fingers and back. If we no longer teach handwriting skills, this fine motor training needs to be replaced with other activities that develop the same motor control.

Another concern is the potential inability to read letters, diaries, and historical documents written in cursive. One of my favorite activities is to read letters my mother and grandmother wrote. The most moving exhibits in the museums I visit are the journals and documents written by hand. I can imagine the person sitting down to write their thoughts on the page. It is true that we will have historians who can tell us what these documents say, and they can post them online; but when I see these documents and read them myself, I feel connected to that historical figure.

Educators and parents should watch for research on cursive handwriting. It is possibly related to the development of language skills as cited in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly. It is definitely linked to the normal development of fine motor skills. We may lose an important link to our historical past. Perhaps having legible cursive handwriting is indeed a 21st-century skill that we need to prioritize in our curriculum. Only time will tell.

 

> A Case for Teaching Handwriting in the Digital Age

> Do Children Still Need To Learn Cursive?

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Managing Attention Issues in Middle School

Parents have asked me before why their child has attention and executive functioning issues now that they are in middle school when they handled elementary school just fine. Executive functioning is the ability to manage day-to-day activities. People with a strong ability tend to be organized and on time, and get their work done efficiently. I recently visited with Dr. Steve Butnik, an expert on attention deficits and executive functioning issues. He pointed out that attention and executive functioning deficits do not manifest themselves until a person is placed in a situation where the demands exceed his ability to handle them. There are even adults who make it fine all the way through their schooling, but find that they now have trouble in their career setting.

In elementary school, children are in a classroom that is structured both physically and intellectually. The room is well-organized, and tasks are broken into chunks that children can manage on their own. Their activities from one day to the next are predictable. In middle and upper school, though, students move from classroom to classroom. Each teacher organizes their room differently, and students are expected to be able to manage large parts of their long-term projects without their teacher’s constant guidance. Even some adults find they have trouble concentrating and getting their work done in a cubicle environment like you find in many companies. The sounds of other people talking or visiting and visual distractions can be too much to filter out.

No matter when attention or executive functioning issues manifest themselves, they can hinder success. Educational psychologists can help diagnose the problem and suggest ways to manage better. In most cases, planning what will happen when, organizing the workspace, and reducing sound and visual distractions can help.

Read Managing Middle School With ADHD for more information about attention issues in middle school.

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Tips for Preparing To Take Semester Exams

Exams are coming up soon in many schools. I have written several times before about exams such as How To Prepare for Semester Exams. Many students know how to make flashcards or to use online apps like Quizlet to learn vocabulary and simple concepts that they need to memorize, but studying for more complex concepts and math require different techniques.

When your child needs to learn complex concepts like Newton’s Laws of Motion, simply memorizing the laws is not enough. He also needs to know what they mean and when each law applies. It is often helpful to meet with a study group to discuss more difficult concepts. Sometimes, drawing pictures of each law can help to make sure he really understands what they mean. He also needs to work the problems from his earlier test on Newton’s Laws to make sure he still knows how to work them. He might have been able to work the problem weeks ago on the test, but that does not necessarily mean he can still work them on the upcoming exam. Other complex concepts are best learned through webbing in order to see relationships between concepts. Refer to Using Webbing To Study for a Test to see how webbing works.

When studying for a math exam, it is imperative that your child works more than one of every kind of problem that will be covered. The best way to do this is to work many of the problems she got correct on the previous tests. This works well because she will have the correct answers from the test to check to see if she still gets the correct answer. For the problems she missed, however, she will need to seek help from her teacher or a friend who got them right. Just doing the problems is not enough! She must make sure she is doing them correctly. Most students do not study for math tests. They rely on their teacher to review in class. For a shorter test that only covers one or two concepts, that might be enough, but for an exam that covers a lot more material, it is not.

Talk to your child about exams. Encourage him to start early, get organized by finding all his tests in each subject, and begin working sample problems. Ask him to explain the more complex concepts on his earlier tests. Suggest that he try a study group, pictures to illustrate concepts, or webbing to help him remember what these concepts mean. Since exams often count more than tests, this in an opportunity to improve semester grades.

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Tips To Help Develop Responsibility in Your Kids

All parents want to raise their kids to be  self-reliant, hard-working, successful adults. It is not easy to do, because to do so children must take responsibility for their own actions. It is difficult to watch a child suffering the consequences he deserves. Here are some tips that can help you decide what is best for your child.

  • Give your child certain chores to do every day at home. If you have a family pet, it can be her job to take care of it. She can keep her own room clean or help with laundry. Whether you decide to give her an allowance for her part of the work is up to you. The point is that she has certain contributions to family life that everyone can count on her to do.
  • If your child leaves his homework on the printer at home, let him suffer the consequences for his actions. He will likely receive a lowered grade for turning it in late, or perhaps he will have to do it over at school. Regardless, if you rescue him every time he forgets something, he will learn that he really does not have to remember anything for himself. I have personally witnessed parents who make multiple trips to school to bring things to their children. These kids often do not get any better at remembering what they need!
  • Take time as a family to contribute to the greater community. Helping out at the local food bank, helping to clean up a playground, or visiting residents at a nursing home can teach children that they can make life better for others. This helps them to appreciate their own situation and assume responsibility for taking care of what they have. It also develops empathy for others which is a key step towards emotional maturity.


Help your child grow into a responsible adult. Tell him how much you love him every single day, and tell him that is why you are not going to rescue him every time he fails to take what he needs to school. Hold him accountable for doing his chores. Plan some community service time together. Raising children is difficult, but these tips can help your child become a pleasant, caring, responsible teen and an independent, reliable adult.

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School Attendance Is Critical for Success

Part of my responsibility at work is to track attendance and grades to make sure students are on track for success. There is a high correlation between attending school regularly and better grades. There are days when it is appropriate to keep your child home from school when they are not sick, but if he misses too many days of school, it is likely he will not do well. When is it OK to allow your child to stay home from school?

Of course, when your child is sick, she should stay home. It she has a fever or is nauseated, she should stay home for sure. In fact, most schools ask that students be free of fever for a day before returning. If she is feeling tired or just does not want to go because she has a test, she should go to school. Allowing her to stay home for these reasons will teach her to give up easily, and that it is OK to avoid taking her test.

If your family is having an important event such as a wedding, graduation, or funeral, it is appropriate to miss school. These absences are not in your control and cannot be avoided. When possible, your child should communicate with his teachers before he is out. Hopefully, he can do some of the work he will miss ahead of time, and he will not be too far behind when he returns.

It is often impossible to get a doctor or dentist appointment outside of school hours. Students sometimes have to miss school for them. It is advisable to ask for either an early morning or a late afternoon appointment, so your child does not have to miss the whole day of school.

Your child needs to be in school every day that it’s possible. Regular attendance is important for learning, and equally important it helps to establish a solid work ethic that leads to success not only in school but also later in life. Encourage your children to eat properly, get exercise every day, and sleep long enough every night so they will more likely stay well. Teach them that there are good reasons to miss school, but staying home from school should be rare.

For more on this topic, read The Price for Being Absent from School.

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Help Your Daughter Deal With "Mean Girls"

Sometimes adolescent girls can be mean to one another. I am not certain why this happens. My mother always said it was because they are jealous. Perhaps so, but whatever the reason for it, it can really hurt. It especially hurts when girls are already feeling bad about themselves. The most effective way to deal with this type of bullying is with humor. This can be difficult, but with practice at home, your daughter can learn to deal with it.

If the “mean girl” says “OMG, look at those shoes. Can you believe she wears those to school?” within your daughter's earshot, your daughter can respond, “You think these are bad? You should see the ones my mom just bought for me!” This should be said in a friendly way with a smile. The worst thing to do is to look upset. This is what the bully wants to see. If the bully cannot upset her, your daughter is no fun as a target. I tell my students to pretend they are not hurt by it, and if they feel like crying they should go somewhere private.

This sounds easy to do, but it is not. This is why you need to practice with your daughter at home. Ask your daughter what comments the bully is making to her. Together come up with some humorous comebacks. (“Talk to the hand.”— “You think so, too?”— “I thought it seemed crazy, too! My sister talked me into it.”) Then, practice the lines. You say the bully’s comments and get her to practice what and how to say her response. If she has been through it several times at home, it is easier to actually do it when under duress at school.

There are other forms of bullying that need a different response, but humor is a great way to deal with hurtful comments. If the bullying is more serious, coach your daughter to seek help from trusted adults at school. No child should feel unsafe at school.

You might be interested in reading a related blog, Simple Tips to Help Kids Communicate Better.

 

> Bullying: How Parents Can Fight Back

> If Your Child Is the Bully

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Teach Students Self-Questioning for Better Learning

Self-questioning is an important learning strategy. Students need to learn to ask themselves questions before starting a new unit of study, when doing homework, and when studying for tests. These questions can lead to a deeper understanding that is easier to recall later. Here is how it works.

When starting a new unit of study, ask: What part of this do I already know? How does this relate to other things I have studied before? Why do I need to learn this? These questions lend new meaning to the topics and help to assimilate the concepts into long term memory. New learning must be “hooked” onto something else you already know. By thinking about the answers to these questions, you can more quickly see those relationships. Understanding why something is important to learn helps motivate you to stay focused and to keep trying to understand the concepts—even when they are difficult.

When doing homework, ask: Do I understand this question? Should I refer to my book or notes? Should I add more detail? Is this my best work? Understanding the question and knowing where to search for the answer are the most important steps when doing homework. I encourage my students to reflect the question in their answer. (For example, if the question is, “What is your name?” You would answer, “My name is Livia.”) Most students do not add enough detail to their homework answers. Usually, this is accomplished by adding extra information or examples to support the answer.  (“My name is Livia. I was named after my mother’s favorite actress, Olivia de Havilland. She was in Gone With the Wind.”) By adding detail, you can truly do better work, and thus say, “Yes!” to the last question.

When studying for a test, ask: Do I understand this concept? How do these topics relate to one another? How do they relate to other things I have learned? How will I know if I understand this? Sometimes, creating a web is a great way to figure out all the relationships within a unit. You can’t create the web unless you understand what the relationships are. Often after the web is finished, you have studied enough and are ready to take the test!

Using questions to guide learning is a powerful tool. The questions can lead you to understand concepts at a much deeper level and thus remember them later. It can also help you to apply the learning in new situations which is the true test of learning.

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Is Online Skimming Destroying Reading Comprehension?

Most students feel that as soon as they have answered all the questions on their homework assignment, they are finished with learning that material. They often rush through and only use the resources they absolutely must use to get the work done. Most often, they go to their textbook and don’t even return to the notes they took in class. Or even worse, they find the information on the internet. They skim and scan for what they need and really do not read for understanding. My biggest concern about this approach is that the type of reading students do in their textbook or online does not ensure that they comprehend what the section was about. They simply look for an answer, write it down, and stop reading further. If their assignment asked them to read a section and answer the questions at the end, students only read what they have to read to answer the questions.

Reading online is a very different task than seriously reading a printed text. Our eyes do not track from left to right and move down the page. We do not patiently read one page and then the next. Instead our eyes jump around the page looking for key words and something of high interest. We jump from link to link and often do not even return to where we started reading in the first place. Scientists are expressing concerns about our loss of ability to read slowly and thoroughly in order to truly grasp meaning.

The ability to read critically is important. Success in school, college, and in many careers depends on it. One thing your child should be doing now to improve his reading comprehension is to go back once he has completed his homework and slowly read through the text he was assigned to read. He should stop periodically to think about what he just read. He should ask himself, “What does that mean?” “Do I understand that?” If the answer is no, then he should write his questions down to ask in class the next day. He should also consider whether the answers he wrote earlier for homework are thorough enough.

In summary, it is fine to skim and scan through a text or online source to find answers for homework, but that is just the start of the work that should be done. Once the answers are written, the reading for comprehension should begin.

 

> Reading Comprehension Worksheets

> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

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Use Table of Contents Tools for Note-Taking

My students often have difficulty keeping up with their notes. Those who type them on their tablet or computer often save each day’s notes in a separate file. When they need to use the notes to study or do homework, they often can’t remember where they saved them. Using the table of contents feature in a word processor can solve this problem very easily. If this is a problem for your child, show her this blog.

All of your child’s notes for one class can be typed in the same document. The table of contents will make it easy for him to find what he needs. This way, there is only one file for each class, and that is much easier for him to organize and find.

If your child does not type her notes at school, perhaps she could spend some time each evening organizing and typing her notes. That has always been a great study strategy, and now it is even better because of the linked table of contents in the document.

Here is how to set up a table of contents using Google Docs. (Other word processers such as Microsoft Word work in a similar way.)

  • Open a new Google Doc and name it something that makes sense (maybe “Notes for Science Class”).
  • Select “Insert” and then select “Table of Contents.” A box will be inserted where the table of contents will be. When you click inside the box, you will see a tool that allows you to add topics to the table of contents. The table of contents grows with each section of notes you add. I like to keep the table of contents on page one and start my notes on page two.
  • Type a title for your first day of notes. The title should match the topic for the notes. If the lesson is about magnetism, title that section “Magnetism,” highlight it and change the font to “Heading 1.” (There is a drop down menu where you can select “Heading 1.”) Every time the topic changes, use “Heading 1” as the font for the title.
  • Click inside the table of contents box where you inserted it on page one, click the update tool, and a link to your notes on magnetism will be created.
  • Type all your notes on magnetism. When your teacher changes topics, insert a new heading for the topic and add it to your table of contents using the update tool. You can also create subheadings by using “Heading 2” and “Heading 3.”


For those of you who prefer to watch how to do something new, here is a YouTube video that shows two different ways to make a table of contents using Google Docs.

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Honesty Is a Vital Part of Character

Ben Lamm, a vice president at Capital One, spoke last week at the West Point Ethics and Leadership Conference in Richmond, Va. He emphasized the importance of honesty in the workplace. He called honesty a “non-negotiable,” and went on to give some examples that illustrated how important it is to him in his day-to-day dealings with employees. One example resulted in an employee losing his job. This made me think about the responsibility parents and teachers have to teach honesty and integrity to our children.

Teaching children to be honest should be simple, yet it is not as easy as it seems. Last Christmas, I gave my grandson a gift that he did not like. I was a little surprised when he told me he did not want it. My daughter and I were talking about it afterward, and we realized how difficult it is to teach a child how to be polite yet truthful.

In school, students often say they did their homework but left it at home. I cannot tell whether they are being honest with me or not. If they make a habit of this, I require them to do it over in their study hall. It is hard for me to trust them in other situations that are even more important, such as when taking a test. I explain this loss of trust to these students in the hope that they will begin to see the importance of always telling the truth. I would much rather that they tell me they did not do the work no matter what the reason is.

This emphasis on honesty has to start and be reinforced at home. Teachers and parents need to work together on this most important character trait. There are many in the college and workplace who agree with Lamm’s words.

For more on this important topic, read The Parent-Teacher Partnership: A Critical Connection.

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Tips for Better Note-Taking

Taking notes is difficult for many students. Teachers often talk quickly, and students are not able to get everything written down. Additionally, students often do not know how to make the best use of their notes once they take them. There are some tricks that can make note-taking easier and the notes more useful. If this is a problem for your child, think about the following.

First, decide how to take notes. While some students do better handwriting their notes, using a computer is more flexible. If your child has a laptop, she can type her notes in a word processor. But I would encourage her not to try to get everything down that the teacher says. It is better to listen and write only what is important. Teachers use key phrases like “listen carefully,” “you will see this later,” or “pay close attention” when they are about to say something that will become the foundation of future learning (or show up on a test or exam). If your child tries to write down everything that the teacher says, she will not be thinking about the key points. It is better to type a few key words and fill in more details later using her textbook. (It is also good to have a note-taking buddy. The buddies can get together after class and compare notes.)

It is important to develop a set of abbreviations for frequently used words. It is a good idea to enter these into the auto-correct feature in your word processor. For example, when I type “govt,” my word processor types “government.” “Imp” turns into “This is important!” As your child is typing notes in class, he can type “Imp” when he hears his teachers say, “You will see this later.”

If your child finds that her teacher lectures from the textbook, she might try to set up an outline before class using the textbook, so that she can listen in class and enter details into the outline.

Just taking notes in class isn’t enough. Students should spend some time after class revising the notes and making sure they make sense. Visual learners should use colors to highlight related information and draw arrows to show cause-and-effect relationships between concepts. Kinesthetic learners should create flash cards (either on paper or electronic) that can be manipulated while studying. Auditory learners should read them aloud and talk about what they mean with other students.

Find out from your child whether their notes are useful when studying. If not, talk about how to listen for key words, use abbreviations, make outlines before class, and spend some time working with their notes after class. With practice, note-taking gets easier and more effective.

To learn about an interesting note-taking technology, see Audionote: A Technological Solution for Note-Taking.

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Does Your Child Need Extra Time for Achievement Exams?

Receiving extra time or other accommodations on the SAT can be a lifesaver for some students. Those who process more slowly than others or who have attention deficits, vision problems, or learning disabilities may get lower scores if they’re required to take these standardized tests in the same format and in the same amount of time as other students. Many of these students are perfectly capable of doing well in college, but they have limited choices for college because their SAT scores are too low. When allowed more time or given other accommodations, their scores better reflect their ability. How does a student receive the accommodations he needs?

  • First, there has to be formal documentation of a learning disability. The College Board wants to see a student’s IEP or 504 plan that addresses her disability. If the student is not attending a public school and does not have an IEP or 504 plan, the College Board will require a recent psychological evaluation completed by a licensed psychologist.
  • Second, students must be using the requested accommodations for an extended period of time before they apply for it through the Board. For the SAT, a student must have been receiving the accommodations in school for at least four months.
  • Third, students will need to have supporting documentation from their high school teachers.


There is a formal filing process through the College Board to receive accommodations, and often a student has to appeal the decision multiple times before receiving extra time. The College Board does not want anyone to have an unfair advantage over other students; they do want those who really need extra time to receive it. That explains why they require formal documentation. Accommodations such as Braille or large print may be easier to receive. Proving the need for extra time is more difficult. Once approved by the College Board, a student may receive the same accommodations for the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams. The ACT requires a similar application process.

For more information about the types of accommodations a student might receive, read ACT and SAT Accommodations: One Size Does Not Fit All.

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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