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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.

Returning to School After a Concussion, Part 2

Last week’s blog, Returning to School After a Concussion (Part 1), was about concussions and how difficult it is for students to catch up with schoolwork after the necessary extended absence for cognitive rest. Once students return to school, the doctor’s orders typically include limiting screen time, limiting exposure to bright lights and loud sounds, no participating in physical activity, taking frequent rest breaks, and spending shorter days in school. Some of this is easy to do, but there are some accommodations that seem almost impossible. I want to share with you some of the solutions our teachers have come up with to help these students.

If your child suffers from a concussion, he will need one-on-one help with each teacher when he returns to school. It always amazes me how much you can get done with a student when working in a tutorial setting. Our teachers have been willing to exempt their students from doing every assignment once they feel comfortable that they know the concepts covered in these tutorials. Teachers should select the assignments that are essential and only require the student to complete these.

Some students have returned to school after their required absence and stayed the whole day, but others come in for half days until they are completely well. Students should be allowed to rest their head on the table if it begins to hurt. The students I have worked with this year say that they can work for about 20-30 minutes before they need a rest. When they do rest, however, they can work more without hurting.

If the lights from the interactive projector are hurting their head, they should be allowed to look away from the bright light. Other students can provide copies of the notes when needed, and they can still listen to what is being said.

Limiting screen time to no more than 30 minutes per day is the most difficult accommodation to make. Most teachers expect students to use their computer for watching videos, doing research, writing papers, taking notes, and a myriad of other activities which adds up to a lot more than half an hour. To limit screen time requires some creativity on the part of the teacher to find ways to give equally valuable assignments that do not require computer time. Here are some ideas from our teachers.

  • Work in small groups to do projects rather than each student completing everything. This allows the student with a concussion to be coordinator of the group’s work, conduct oral interviews, hand-write ideas that another student can type, create posters, or make voice recordings instead of typing work on the computer.
  • Take assessments orally instead of on the computer or have an aide read the questions and type the answers.
  • Create a flow chart, outline, or timeline by hand instead of writing an essay at the computer.
  • Work with a partner when doing internet research. Both students can think of search terms and evaluate the quality of the search results. The partner can read aloud what they find, and both can decide what needs to be included in the final product.


As I mentioned last week, the most important thing to do for your child who is recuperating from a concussion is to assure her that you will be there to help. It is frightening to feel so completely out of control of what is happening to you. The best students have a difficult time when they know what they need to do to get caught up, but they are not allowed to do it. As a parent, you need to help her understand that if she follows the doctor’s orders, she will get well faster.

Enlist the help of your school’s counselor or special education supervisor so he can inform all your child’s teachers about her needs. Email her teachers when she has a rough night after spending the day at school. Multiple students have reported to me that they go home after a half day of school and sleep all afternoon because they are exhausted. Teachers need to know when this happens. Additionally, encourage your child’s teachers to read An Educator’s Guide to Concussions in the Classroom. This guide will help them understand that concussions are serious and should not be treated lightly.

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Returning to School After a Concussion, Part 1

It is normal for students to miss school because of illness. When an illness causes a child to miss more than a few days, it is difficult for him to get caught up when he returns. One of the hardest absences to handle is when a child misses school because of a concussion.

A concussion is caused by a hard hit to the head. I have seen kids get concussions when playing sports, just goofing off with one another, bumping their head on a cabinet, or from falling down. The symptoms vary depending on how hard and where they hit their head. Some kids are fine within a day, and others take several months before they are completely well. It is important to have a complete examination by a doctor after a blow to the head.  It is also important to follow the doctor’s orders after the injury. How well a child follows the doctor’s orders determines how quickly they recover.

The students I have helped after a concussion were out of school for several weeks. Once they returned, they were required to receive considerable accommodations to prevent a return of symptoms. Their doctor typically asks that they be allowed to attend shortened days for a while to make sure they are not too stressed out. This is difficult for students, because they want to get their work caught up as quickly as possible and the restrictions placed on them prevent them from working too hard. This makes them more stressed and emotional, which makes their symptoms worse. The number one thing to do to help them is to assure them that you (and their other teachers) will help them and will not let them fail because they have had to miss so much school.

If your child is recovering from a concussion, ask for a meeting with his teachers before he returns to school. Share the doctor’s orders with all his teachers so they can help figure out a way to gradually acclimate him back to normal classroom activities.

Common accommodations typically include limited screen time (such as computer, smartphone, projectors, videos, etc.), no exposure to loud sounds, and no physical activity. He needs to have permission to leave the classroom when his head starts hurting or he feels dizzy. He should only work for short periods of time before resting his brain.

Today’s classrooms typically rely heavily on screen time of one sort or another, so making these accommodations is difficult. I will write again next week on this topic and talk in more detail about how a teacher can modify a child’s work to make it possible to get caught up when under these restrictions.

To learn more about concussions and how they affect a child in school, read An Educator’s Guide to Concussions in the Classroom.

 

> Concussions in Youth Sports: When in Doubt, Sit It Out

> 10 Questions Parents Should Ask About Concussion Management in Youth Sports

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What To Do When You Don’t Get the Grade You Expected

Students usually have an idea what they will get on an assignment when they turn it in. Many times, they are right on the mark. But there are times when the grade is much lower than expected. It is important to find out what happened, but it needs to be done in the right way.

First of all, it is important to talk to the teacher in private rather than to ask in front of other students in class. This is a frequent mistake students make. If you say, “I don’t understand why I got this grade” in front of the whole class, the teacher does not have time to go over the paper and discuss the points missed. It is much better to quietly ask for an appointment when you can discuss the grade.

Second, it is best to approach the teacher by asking if he can explain what you missed. When you ask, “Can you help me understand what I did wrong on this question?” in a respectful tone, it sounds better than “Why did you count that wrong?” The first question gives the teacher a reason to want to help you understand, which is what teachers do best. The second question puts the teacher in a defensive mode by making him feel that you disagree with him.

Third, it is important to learn the information you missed, because it may show up again later on a test or exam. More importantly, it might be the foundation future concepts build upon. I have witnessed students miss a question on a homework assignment, later miss it on the test, and then again much later on the exam. Teachers take time to grade daily work so students can see what they still need to learn. Take time to read over questions you miss on daily work and pay attention to comments your teacher writes on it. If you really don’t understand what you did wrong, seek help right then so you will be ready to move forward with the next lesson.

Daily work is great for reviewing what you learn each day in school. When your daily grade is low on a particular assignment, find out why and figure out a way to learn the material. Respectfully ask for help if you need it. Teachers are impressed by students who take the time to review their graded papers and look for ways to learn what they missed.

 

> Dealing With Disappointing Grades

> Better Grades—10 Ways You Can Help!

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Preparing Young High Schoolers for College Success

College planning is certainly not my specialty area, but I do listen when our college counselor talks to students and families. Here are some key points I have heard her say many times.

Ninth grade matters. In most schools, the grade point average is calculated beginning in 9th grade. In some schools, certain 8th grade classes such as Algebra II might be counted in the GPA. Most 9th graders are not thinking much about their GPA and how important their grades are in upper school. It is important to help them understand how a GPA is calculated and what it means.

Extracurricular activities are important. Not only is it important to participate in things like band, drama, art, or sports, but it is also important to stick with it for the long term. If your son plays basketball in 9th grade and does well, he should continue through high school. Colleges pay attention to whether an applicant has interests outside the classroom and has the fortitude to stick with them for the long haul.

Take challenging courses. Your child does not have to take all advanced placement courses, but it is impressive if she chooses a discipline such as history or science and takes all the classes available in that track. For example, she might take honors world studies courses, AP US History, and AP Government to finish out the social studies track at the highest level possible in her school. When admissions offices look at her transcript, they will evaluate whether she is willing to challenge herself or whether she tends to take the easy path.

Do community service. Colleges also like to see that your child demonstrates an ethic of caring for others. Serving food at the local food bank or coaching younger students in the Special Olympics shows that he not only cares, but he is also willing to work to make a difference in the world.

Moving from 8th grade into 9th is a big change. It is important to discuss with your young high schooler the importance of working hard and doing her best. Seek advice from the college guidance counselor to help choose appropriate courses and to make sure she is doing all the right things to get ready for success in college.

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Getting Teens To Open Up

One of the most common questions parents ask me about their teenage child is, “Is she normal?” They are usually concerned because their child, who used to be talkative and cheerful at home, is now surly; she answers questions with as few words as possible and no longer wants to participate in family activities.
Conversations go like this:

“How was school today?”
“OK.”
“Did you learn anything interesting?”
“No.”
“Do you have homework to do tonight?”
“No.”
“What’s happening with Maria these days?”
“Nothing.”

At home, their child stays in his bedroom most of the time and acts like he is very unhappy. The same kid at school hangs around with a lot of friends and constantly laughs and makes jokes. He eats lunch with five or six classmates and is an active participant in extracurricular activities.

No one knows for sure why this happens, but the hypothesis is that teens are beginning to seek independence from their parents. They want their peers to think that they are totally in control of their lives and don’t need their parents any more. They are preparing for the day when they will be leaving home and be completely on their own.

Understanding why teens do this doesn’t make it easier. Parents want to know what is happening in their child’s life, and one word answers aren’t helpful. They want to know their child is happy and has friends.

I encourage parents to ask questions that can’t be answered with one word. Here are some conversation starters:

“What was the most interesting thing that happened today in school?”
“What is your favorite movie of all time? Why do you think so?”
“Why do you not like your math class?”

If your teen seems surly and unhappy, it is very likely that he will eventually start talking to you again. In the meantime, keep an eye on his activities. Talk to his teachers and coaches to make sure he seems happy at school and has friends (or at least one good friend). Most of the time, what you see is normal adolescent behavior. If you should find that he is unhappy at school, too, you may need to seek the help of a professional for advice. You will need to figure out the source of his unhappiness and make a plan for how to get him back on the right track—the insolent, quiet child who is driving you crazy at home track, that is.

 

> Adolescence: A Time of Change and Self-Doubt

> Brain Development in Teens: Help Them Deal With Peer Pressure

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Hard Times Help Prepare Teens for the Road Ahead

Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, once said, “Out of life’s school…what does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” I recently heard someone talking about school and how hard it is for so many students, and I thought of this quote. It made me somewhat philosophical myself. Generally, I write about specific problems in this blog, but today I “wax philosophical” (as my father used to say).

When I was little, I thought that someday I would know what to do when problems arose. I wished I could grow up faster, so life would not be so hard. Then I grew up. To my surprise, I find myself not always knowing what to do! I tell students this all the time—mostly when trying to help them understand their parents. (Parents are completely unreasonable and place impossible demands on children.) My answer always starts with, “Your parents love you so much. They are doing the best they can to help you grow up to be a successful adult. I will tell you a secret—grown-ups don’t always know the best way to do things. They just do the best they can.” I follow that with the story of myself as a child thinking that when I grew up I would always know what to do. I encourage them to have a heart-to-heart talk with their parents, too.

When talking with parents about their adolescent child, I tell them that teens are seeking independence from them. Many of their decisions are in response to what they feel are unreasonable requests. I usually advise that together we search for what will help their child decide for himself he wants to do better in school. And then I advise them to have an open and honest talk with their child.

Adolescence is difficult, but it’s also tremendously fun. When I walk down the hall at school and hear students talking with one another, I always wind up smiling (or laughing out loud). I encourage you to stop and think about the best parts of life with your kids. And remember that the tough parts are there to make us stronger. We have to experience failure, learn to argue and resolve differences, become internally motivated, and begin caring about others more than ourselves. This is tough and sometimes miserable. But it is important and what adolescence is all about.

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Preparing To Take the Common Core Assessments

Students in some schools across the country will take online tests on the Common Core curriculum this spring. These tests do not actually count, and many schools are exempt from giving their normal tests in order to participate. This is part of the field testing before next spring, when almost everyone will take the new Common Core tests online (either the Smarter Balanced Assessment or another called the PARCC Assessment.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment website offers practice tests at various grade levels to help students and teachers get ready for the testing. If this is the first time your child will take standardized testing online, it is a good idea to practice taking a similar test before the testing day. This is especially true for the math tests since they require some familiarity with the software to answer certain types of questions. For example, some of the math questions require the test-taker to place points on a graph and then connect them with lines. While this is not a difficult procedure once you understand how to do it, it is much better to practice doing that ahead of time. Other questions allow the use of an online calculator. Once again, it is better to practice using it before the day of testing.

Even if your child is not taking his testing online this spring, the practice tests found at the Smarter Balanced Assessment portal should help prepare for the paper and pencil standardized tests he will be taking.

To take a practice test in either math or language arts, select “Student Interface Practice and Training Tests,” sign in as “Guest,” select the appropriate grade, select “Yes,” and then start either the math or the language arts test. Scoring rubrics and classroom activities can be found on the Resources and Documentation page on the same site.

If your child is worried about taking the tests coming up soon, read Reduce the Stress of High-Stakes Standardized Tests for helpful information.

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Simple Tips To Help Kids Communicate Better

It would be hard to say whether teens communicate more digitally, such as texting or through social media, or by talking face-to-face. Judging from the noise I hear each day in the halls between classes, I would vote for face-to-face! I have heard concerns from many adults, however, that kids are losing their ability to communicate effectively because they spend so much time sending instant and text messages. There is research that suggests that teens use texting to avoid any kind of uncomfortable communication (See Teen Texting Soars; Will Social Skills Suffer?). How can parents help their children learn to communicate better?

First, families need to spend time together when they do not allow interruptions from their smartphones. We are all guilty of checking our email and text messages or even taking a call during dinnertime with our family. The message to the family is that whoever or whatever is on the phone is more important than time with them. I suggest that everyone agrees to put their phones on silent at least during dinnertime. Spend dinnertime practicing communication skills by talking to one another. Dinnertime should be sacred family time.

Second, purposefully teach communication skills, especially those that help resolve problems. I teach students who are having a disagreement to use “I feel” statements. They go like this: I feel [name the emotion] when [tell when it happens] because [explain why].

For example: “I feel angry when you take things from my locker without asking me first, because it seems like you don’t respect my property.” When students explain what is bothering them to their friends using “I feel” statements, it opens the door to a conversation that usually ends with the problem solved. Kids need to practice this technique, and it needs to be done face-to-face rather than through text messaging or emailing.

With these two simple tips, children can begin to build their communication skills which will help them not only now but also in the future. Much has been written about the importance of social skills to success in a career. Create a family time each day when all communication is face-to-face, and teach your children how to use “I feel” statements.

For more ideas about communication, read Improve Communication Skills With Practice Games.

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How To Reduce School Anxiety

Many students get anxious about school. Some worry about tests, which is understandable since often they make up the biggest part of the grade in a course. Others worry about doing homework, social situations, or some other aspect of school life.

I got to hear an expert this week speaking about anxiety in adolescents. Dr. Michael Southam-Gerow, a professor in clinical psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, recently published a new book about regulating emotion in children and teens. I learned a very important point from his talk, and want to share it with you because it could make a big difference for students who worry about school.

Keep in mind that serious anxiety issues need to be evaluated by a professional. I am not advocating treating severe anxiety ourselves; however, I do think that if parents and teachers take appropriate actions when students are worrying about something, it might prevent normal levels of anxiety from developing into severe anxiety.

To understand the key point I learned from Dr. Southam-Gerow, I first need to explain the difference between positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is giving a person something they like for a behavior which in turn encourages that behavior. An example of positive reinforcement is when you see your child putting his dirty dishes in the dishwasher and you allow him to have an extra half-hour of screen time before bed. This might make him more likely to do it again.

Negative reinforcement is taking away something they do not like which encourages the behavior just like positive reinforcement encourages behavior. The example Dr. Southam-Gerow used is the sound an alarm makes that goes off in the morning to get us out of bed. The sound is annoying us, and we hit the snooze button. We are no longer annoyed by the alarm, and we go back to sleep. Hitting the snooze button becomes negative reinforcement of our behavior—sleeping. We are encouraged to go back to sleep, and the more we do it, the more we sleep—even when it makes us late for work. Negative reinforcement removes something we do not like and encourages the behavior whether it is good or bad behavior.

Here’s the key point I learned this week. If we allow students to avoid what they are anxious about, then we are actually making their anxiety worse. If your son does not want to go to school and you allow him to stay home, the behavior will be reinforced. He will not want to go to school the next day, either. If your daughter worries about doing her math homework and you allow her to skip it, she will worry even more about the next math assignment. In our attempt to make our child’s life easier, we are actually making it worse.

A much better approach is to attempt to find out the source of our child’s concerns. Why does he not want to go to school? Why does she worry so much about math? We need to identify the reasons and figure out how to alleviate the concern rather than allow the child to avoid what worries her. This sounds so simple, but it can take time. If we cannot figure out the underlying cause, we should seek the help of a professional.

For more about school stress and anxiety, you might enjoy reading:

> Help Your Child Reduce Test Stress

> Deep Breathing To Help With Test Anxiety

I appreciate that Dr. Southam-Gerow read this blog prior to its posting.

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Strategies for Kids With Attention Issues

Students who have trouble paying attention in school need help in order to be successful. When the teacher explains what today’s lesson is about or tells his students what to do, children who cannot pay attention get left behind. They have a choice to wait for their teacher to notice they need help or to get into mischief. Depending on their age, they often choose mischief since that is a lot more fun. These kids often have a reputation of being the “class clown” and are disciplined by their teachers. If this sounds like your child, there are some things you can try that might help.

  • Provide structure and predictability. Parents can explain this to their son’s teacher. If he can enter the classroom knowing that the first thing he needs to do every day is to get his homework out and begin doing the warm-up activity, he can get settled in more quickly. It takes time to establish this habit, but it can help all students to be more productive, not just those with attention problems.
  • Use color-coded binders for each class. It is easier for your child to remember to turn in homework and to get out what she needs if everything is organized the same way for each class. This can become part of the structure and predictability she needs. Once again, this takes time to learn, and she will need a lot of help in the beginning keeping everything in its place. The time will be well-spent, however, because the end result is fewer missing assignments.
  • Teach her to move constantly in ways that do not distract others. She can squeeze a small balloon filled with sand or use another type of soft rubber ball.  She can learn how to wiggle her foot or tap her fingers on her knees without making noise. A child with attention issues can sit still and be quiet, but there will be no energy left for anything else. Wiggling can often relieve the stress of sitting still and allow her to pay better attention.

 

Problems with attention are common, but they do not have to mean school failure. Providing structure and predictability, helping to create a consistent organization system, and teaching how to wiggle can all help with attention at school.

These same suggestions can help at home, too. Begin by establishing daily routines at home which help family life run more smoothly. Provide plenty of time for exercise and play. Wiggle-time at home does not have to be quiet! Finally, make sure to tell your child that you love him just the way he is. These kids often feel that no one likes them, because the adults in their life fuss at them a lot.

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Accurately Filling Out Forms: A Lost Skill?

There are some fundamental skills students need to learn that aren’t normally taught in school. On several occasions through the years, I have been responsible for collecting forms for an event such as a field trip. Typically, the forms ask for specific information such as the student’s name, address, and telephone number, as well as a person to contact in the event of an emergency. Students often select from a list of choices and sign the form stating they are aware of safety concerns. Normally, the parent or guardian also needs to sign the form. I am always surprised at the number of middle and high school students who do not correctly fill out the forms. They forget to fill in important information or forget to get the appropriate signatures. Additionally, they fail to meet the deadline for turning in the form.

While these forms may seem trivial, they are not. Teachers spend hours going through them before taking a field trip with students. They make phone calls, email parents, and look up the missing information. More important, these skills are necessary when filling out a job application or an application to college. Because jobs are scarce, a mistake like leaving out information can make the difference in whether an applicant is considered for the job or not. And it would be a shame to miss getting into a specific college because the application is not complete!

As a parent, you can help. Your child should fill out these forms himself. If he does not know specific information, rather than telling him, suggest where he might find the information. Teach him that he should not sign his name without reading what he is signing. Encourage him to write legibly (including his signature). And tell him that every piece of information must be filled out even when it requires him to do some research to find it.

It can be a nuisance to have to fill out forms for school events, but think of it as a teaching opportunity. The skills are important even though it might not seem so at the moment!

 

> Make Sure Teens Know How To Fill Out Job Applications

> Take Advantage of Real-Life Learning Experiences

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Ways To Motivate Students To Do Their Best

One of the most difficult parts of raising kids is motivating them to do their best work. Adolescents can be externally motivated (like when you take their smartphone away from them until they get their grades up to an acceptable level). You are the source of motivation in that scenario. But it is much better if they are internally motivated—when they want to do their best regardless of what others think.

There are many theories about motivation; they are difficult to prove, because there are so many variables involved. There are some things, however, that are common sense and mostly supported by research. We know that students are more motivated when they have a personal interest in a subject, they like the teacher, they feel like the adults in their life care about them, and their basic needs are taken care of (like food, sleep, and shelter).

What can we do as parents and teachers to encourage self-motivation? What I am going to suggest here is primarily based on my own experience working many years with middle and upper school students, but there is research supporting it.

  • Praise your child only when she is working hard and doing her best. Somewhere along the way, we got the idea that children need constant praise in order to raise their self-esteem. When we praise them for work that does not deserve it, they are not motivated to try harder, and it does not raise their self-esteem. It just gives them a sense of entitlement—“I deserve praise no matter what I do.”
  • Let your child do his own work even when it is really hard for him to do. If parents rescue their children from all failure, what the child learns is that he is not capable of doing it himself. This completely destroys the motivation to try at all.
  • When your child is given the appropriate level of work to do, he is more motivated to give it a try. He should not take an honors level class when the work is really too hard for him. The opposite of this is true, as well. When he is placed in a regular level class but belongs in honors, he will not be motivated because the work is too easy. Interestingly enough, in either situation he will report that he is bored in class (either in a class that’s too hard or in a class that’s too easy).
  • Nothing motivates your child as much as success. This relates to the last point because she is more likely to succeed when in the appropriate course. The level of work given to her should be challenging but she should be able to successfully do most of it if she tries hard. She should be offered multiple ways to show what she knows. Some students will make amazing videos; others shine when they get to perform a skit. This success is motivating and makes her want to do better on other types of assignments.


The final point I want to make is that children believe what they hear the adults in their life say. Tell your child that you love him no matter what, and you are so happy to have him in your life. Countless times in my career, I have heard kids say, “No matter how hard I try, it’s never good enough for my parents.” Your words are important and can either motivate or discourage.

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The Olympics Teach Valuable Lessons About Perseverance

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Many families are spending hours watching the Sochi Olympics. It is amazing to see world-class athletes from so many different countries competing against one another. Several of the medal winners relate how important it is that they did not win when they competed in the previous Olympics. They say that losing is why they got better. They were able to concentrate on their weaknesses and work to improve them. They say losing is what made them come back four years later to win a medal in Sochi. I have written about the importance of failure before. Failure is important, but there is more to learn from these Olympic athletes than knowing their past failure led to their current success. It is what happens in the years between failure and success that makes the difference.

These athletes first had to identify where they were weak. Then they had to work really hard to improve the weak areas. As a student, your child may have weaknesses in basic study skills, knowing how to be a student, focusing her attention in class, completing homework on time, or managing her time wisely. Figuring out where she is weak is the first step to improving. Once the weak areas are identified, she needs a plan of action for how to get better in those areas. Finally, she needs to get down to work. It is work ethic and perseverance that lead to success.

Nick Horton, an Olympic coach, tells of others who became successful after going through very difficult situations in Failing Forward: 7 Stories of Success Through Failure. When your child goes through tough times in school, remind him that he can turn it around. It is up to him to change his failure into success.

Check out these related printables about study skills and have your child read about how to become a proactive student.

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Adolescents Should Solve Most of Their Problems Themselves

In nearly 30 years of teaching school, I have seen hundreds of cases where parents involve themselves in their adolescents’ problems. Sometimes, that’s the right thing to do because the problem is too great for a teen to handle alone. But most of the time, the problems are minor—like when to start doing homework, whether to go to the late basketball game, or who to take to the dance. If kids are allowed to make decisions on their own and suffer the natural consequences of those decisions, they will be better equipped to handle bigger problems when they arise (like whether to smoke that cigarette or drink that beer).

Let’s pretend that Maria decides not to wear leggings, boots, and a heavy jacket to school because she is hoping for warmer weather in the afternoon. The weather does not get warmer. Instead it gets colder and windy. Maria gets chilled when she goes outside. This is the natural consequence, and it will not hurt her. Next time, she is more likely to pay attention to the weather forecast when getting dressed for school. (By the way, it is a myth that you catch a cold from getting chilled. Colds are caused by a virus.) Parents often involve themselves in these decisions which lead to arguments in the morning before school, and their children do not learn about consequences of their actions.

A few weeks later, Maria’s friend Alex tries to talk her into leaving campus during lunchtime even though it’s against the rules. Because Maria’s parents have allowed her to make lots of decisions by herself (like what to wear to school), she thinks through the possible consequences of going with Alex and decides she doesn’t want to take the risk. If Maria’s parents make all her decisions for her, she might not think about consequences of her actions.

The most frequent parental involvement I have had as a teacher is after a student does poorly on a test or project. The parent will call to find out why. This is a student and teacher issue, and in most cases the student should handle this by himself. Instead of getting involved, encourage him to go talk to his teacher himself. It is fine to coach him on how to do it. He should make an appointment to talk to the teacher alone instead of when other students are around (perhaps before or after school). He should ask for help to understand what he missed and why he missed it. He might ask if his teacher can show him an answer that got all the points. He should tell his teacher he would like to do better next time and ask for advice on how to improve. This approach teaches him that he can solve problems on his own. He is a capable person who can figure out how to do better in school. He will earn the respect of his teacher who will be impressed with how mature he is. He is a step closer to independence and self-discipline.

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The Link Between TV Time and Brain Development

Scientists have known for a long time that children who are raised in a stimulating environment learn more easily than those who are not. Children need toys to play with, puzzles to solve, and to interact with other people. As children learn new vocabulary and skills, scientists can use imaging techniques to see that their brains change. Neurons form new connections and grow stronger, while other neurons die and are pared away. This is normal brain development that occurs throughout childhood and adolescence. (For a more thorough understanding of what we know about the brain, read The Brain: Our Sense of Self from the National Institutes of Health.)

Scientists have long suspected that watching too much television can have negative effects on children. A new study of children between the ages of 5 and 18  supports this by linking the amount of television children watch each day to brain development. There was a link between the amount of television watched and the amount of brain tissue present in the brain. As children grow and learn, scientist should notice that there are fewer neurons in the brain (with the remaining neurons becoming larger and stronger). There also should be many new connections between the neurons. In this recent study, those who watched the most television had too many neurons! This is evidence that their brains were not developing the same as the children who did not watch television very much.

This study does not prove that television causes the problem. It is possible that the cause of the lack of brain development is that the children are not spending time playing games, going to museums, socializing with others, reading, or solving puzzles. It might not have anything to do with television. But if your teens are spending more time in front of the television than they are doing all the other things adolescents should be doing, then you should take this study seriously.


> What Is "Too Much" When It Comes to Young Children and Consumer Electronics?

> Children, Sleep, and Long-Term Memory

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Machine-Scored Bubble Forms Can Cause Problems for Some Students

Multiple choice and true/false tests are often evaluated using bubble-type, machine-scored forms. This is extremely helpful for teachers who have lots of papers to grade. But students who have visual-motor integration problems might have trouble using them and make errors putting answers in the correct spot on the bubble form. They might put the answer to number five on the form where number six is, or they might bubble in the letter “B” when they mean “D.” They might start bubbling in their answers in the wrong column on the form. When these errors happen, the student gets a very low grade that does not reflect how much they actually know. Here are some strategies to try if using these forms is a problem for your child.

  • Ask the teacher if it is OK for her to write answers on the test page before transferring them to the bubble sheet. This might help for two reasons. First, bubbling in the answers is a single step that does not require holding the question and answer in working memory. All your child has to remember is the question number and the answer she needs to bubble in. That reduces the likelihood of errors because of trying to hold too much information in memory at once. Second, if she does make an error transferring the answer, she can always check the answer against the actual test where she first answered. She can show her teacher that she really did know the answer but made a mistake putting it on the form.
  • If your child has a visual-motor integration problem, he might not be able to keep his eyes going in a straight line. He should use a blank index card or a ruler to keep his place on the bubble form. The index card can help make sure he does not skip down a line or number. If he lines up the card with the correct number on the form, he should make fewer errors.
  • Your child might need to cover up everything she is not currently working on with a clean sheet of notebook paper. This helps focus her eyes on what is important for the question.
  • If she makes a mistake on the form, she needs to be sure she erases completely before bubbling in the correct answer. If she does not, the machine may count the answer wrong even though she bubbled in the correct answer.


All of these strategies are easy to implement. The teacher needs to know why your child needs the strategy, though. It would be easy to think a child is planning to cheat if she comes in to take a test with a sheet of paper or index card. These strategies can be allowed as accommodations on a child’s IEP or 504 Plan, as well.

If these strategies do not help your child, she can also be exempted from using the machine-scored bubble forms. If that is the case, the teacher needs to know why it’s necessary. You can say something like, “My child makes lots of mistakes using a bubble sheet.  If you want to know how much she knows, it is better to allow her to write her answers right on the test. If she has to transfer to the bubble form, what you will find out is how well she can bubble in the answers—not what she has learned from you.”

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You Can Be Good at Math, Too!

Most people feel strongly that they are either good at math or that they are terrible at it. They think that math ability is genetic and cannot be changed. An interesting new research study suggests that this might not be true.

Scientists tested students on a variety of math concepts. They tested some of the same concepts with number problems and word problems. Many times the students could work the problem if it was just a number problem, but they could not work it if it was in a word problem. The data also shows that there was not much correlation between various concepts in math. This means most people could easily work certain kinds of problems and not others.

Research like this often creates more questions than it answers. For example, why could a person work number problems but not word problems that require the exact same math concept? (Could difficulty with reading be the issue? Was it too much information to hold at one time in working memory? How can someone be good at working algebra but not geometry? Is it because the two types of math are really very different from one another? Is it because some underlying knowledge needed in the geometry is missing?) These questions are not specifically answered in the research, but it does offer some interesting findings.

The researchers feel their research gives hope to those who feel they are not good in math. Many students in their study could do some kinds of math but not others. The researchers believe this relates to how much time and practice the students had on the various concepts. They believe that most people can do well in math if given enough time to practice. They do not feel it relates to genetics. You are not born good at math; you get good at math with practice.

I suggest that students should keep practicing math problems from the various types of math. There are many apps available for free or very little money. Here is a review of five apps for middle school students, and here are some for upper school students. Find an app that is fun to use that keeps earlier math skills fresh. There is a good chance that you will become a better math student if you are willing to do some additional practice.

 

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The Parent-Teacher Partnership: A Critical Connection

Michael Thompson is one of my favorite educators. He advises teachers to ask their students’ parents what they hope for their child in the future. I have started asking this question when I have a chance, because it allows me to learn a lot about my students and their parents. Nearly every parent I have asked says they want their child to be happy, self-sufficient, well-educated, in a successful career that they enjoy, and healthy. I am hopeful that I can support these goals by holding high expectations of my students.

When I give a homework assignment or long-term project, I am teaching my student skills she will need for success in higher education or on the job. She learns to work independently, manage her time, stay organized, and rely on all of her resources (books, notes, teacher, etc.). She is responsible for thoroughly completing the assignment and turning it in on time. If I allow her to make excuses for why she did not complete it or if parents make excuses, then I am not supporting educational and career goals.

In order to be healthy, kids need to learn to eat right, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and lead a balanced life. As their teacher, I encourage these things and try to model them, but much depends on parents monitoring their child’s activities. One of the biggest issues for current students is the amount of screen time they spend each day playing video games, text messaging, watching television, social networking, etc. This not only affects daily activity but also keeps them up too late at night which affects learning and memory.

Parents and teachers have to work together to help kids grow up to be productive and happy. Parents can support teachers by allowing their children to accept responsibility for their actions. Teachers can support parents by holding high, but reasonable, expectations for their students. Parents and teachers have to form a partnership of support and encouragement.

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Adolescence: A Time of Change and Self-Doubt

Most adolescent students have doubts about themselves. Your child may feel that everyone around him is smarter, has more friends, looks better, or is a better athlete. He might think he doesn’t have much chance of succeeding in life. You can help him learn how to handle these feelings and gain more control over what happens to him.

Adolescence is a time of change. It is when your children change from being dependent on parents or guardians to being self-reliant. It is difficult, and often teens feel inadequate. But even though they feel awkward and ugly, others see them quite differently. This is a time when parents can be most helpful, yet teens often do not talk about their concerns. Parents can initiate this discussion and can assure their teens that their feelings are normal.

I have written many times about success in school and life. If your child is willing to work hard, study, and turn in all the work she owes, it is very likely that she will do well in school. It is important that she accepts responsibility for her actions and acknowledges when she makes a mistake. If her first thought is "My teacher didn't tell me," then she needs to give some thought to what determines success. Parents can help her to understand the importance of a good work ethic. Parents should also allow her to suffer the consequences of her actions by not rescuing her from failure. The same is true whether talking about success in academics, sports, art, music, or even friendship. (On the other hand, if your child is working hard but still not succeeding, then it may be time to seek help.)

When you hear your child say disparaging things about herself, encourage her by explaining that her feelings are quite normal and a part of adolescence. Help her to be her very best and encourage her to take charge of her life and work. Help her to connect her hard work to success by praising her efforts rather than her intellect. In this way, she will be successful now in school and later in life after school. She will gradually feel better about herself and realize how special she is to many people.

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The Keys to Success in School

In my nearly 30 years of teaching, I have worked with many students who are struggling and anxious. There are times when these kids are their own worst enemy. The choices they make often exacerbate the problem. Here are some choices students make that affect their success in school.
Do I feel well enough to go to school today? Encourage your child to strive for perfect attendance. The amount of work he does in a day at school is pretty daunting. He spends 45-plus minutes in each class discussing new concepts, taking notes, practicing problems, writing essays, or doing group work. Activities like class discussions and group work cannot be made up after an absence. He normally has homework assignments that relate to the class work. Unless he was there, he cannot do the homework. Each day he misses adds tremendously to his struggle and anxiety about school. There are times when missing school cannot be avoided (such as, he has a virus or is running a fever), but unless that’s the case, send him to school. For more about attendance, see “Student Absences: They Hurt Learning More Than You Might Think.”

Should I work on my homework right now?
Teach your child that school is hard work that takes a lot of time. A strong work ethic is more related to success in school and life than is intelligence. She needs to set aside plenty of time each day to complete the work that is due the next day. She also needs to complete some portion of any long-term projects she has been assigned. This prevents her from being caught trying to do a project that was supposed to take two weeks on the night before it is due. To make sure she does not forget something, she needs to have a planner where she writes down everything that is due (including the chunks of each project) and checks each off as she completes it.

Should I study for my English test tonight?
Your child needs to understand that studying takes time and works better when spread over several nights. Reading through his notes is not studying. It is a good thing to do, but it does not assure that he actually knows the concepts and can recall them on a test. Read “Teach Your Kids How To Study” for help knowing what studying really is.

I was talking to a colleague who said that he puts a question on every test that asks students to tell him how they studied for it. He said that kids are pretty honest about answering it, and it gives him the opportunity to ask them whether they think that was a good choice or not. I might add two more questions. How many days of school did you miss during this unit? Did you complete all your homework and projects? Parents can ask these same questions and encourage their children to improve in these areas. Attendance, daily work ethic, and study skills are keys to success in school.

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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