Schools and learning
It is so easy to let all bets be off during vacation. While spring break is definitely a time to relax, unwind, and play, it can help ease the transition back into the final weeks of the school year if we keep up the momentum.
Simple ideas to keep it interesting:
- Challenge each member of the family to read an entire book, or a certain number of shorter (picture) books. Keep track in a creative way.
- Start a family read aloud.
- Establish a brief time each evening where everyone sits down (yes, you too) with a book in hand.
- Have children create artwork inspired by a book.
Simple ideas to keep it interesting:
- Play the fold-and-pass story game: Each person writes a sentence on the top of the paper to start a story, then passes it to the left. The next person writes the next sentence, folds the paper to cover the first sentence, and passes it to the left. Continue writing, folding so that only one sentence is showing, and passing…when finished, open them up and read them aloud!
- Write a simple sentence (such as “The cat ate her food.”) Then see how many different variations you can collectively come up with. (“The feline devoured her dinner,” perhaps?)
Unless you are headed out on a tropical vacation. Then forget it. And…can I come, too?
What activities do YOU do with your kids over vacation? Please share!
Bellingham School District recently adopted a new report card for the elementary schools. The new report card is standard-based, which means that when a child is given a grade, it is by comparison with a grade-level expectation.
Here is how the academic grades look:
4 = significantly above standard
3 = meeting standard
2 = approaching standard
1 = well below standard
Last week I had a conversation with a friend whose child attends a different Bellingham school from my daughter. She said that she had been happy when her son came home with 3s, but then she heard other parents voicing concern. “What does my child need to do to get a 4?” they wondered.
The answer? Nothing. Remember, these grades are not a percentage of points earned in that subject area or a system of ranking students. They are based on national grade-level standards, and whether the student is meeting them.
Here is an example from my daughter’s 1st grade report card. One category in Reading is called “Foundational Skills.” Here is what a 1st grader is expected to do:
- Understand parts of a sentence
- Understand and break apart and put words together that are heard and spoken
- Read and write words using sounds and patterns
- Read grade level text accurately and fluently
If she can do all of these things, she gets a 3 in “Foundational [Reading] Skills.”.
If she can do all of these things with text significantly above grade level (significantly is considered one year or more above), can talk how she is doing it and can transfer the skills to other areas, she might get a 4.
If she is not quite there yet but is showing progress, she will get a 2. If she needs a lot of support, she might get a 1. (But chances are if she gets a 1, we will long have known about the issues.)
It’s not about what they “need to do.” It’s about where they are developmentally and academically. And where we want them to be is right where they are expected to be in the grade they are in.
We parents grew up in the world of As, Bs, and Cs. These grades were earned by correct spelling tests and math quizzes. They were bolstered up by extra credit. This is not the system of assessment that is used anymore in our district.
It’s hard for all of us to wrap our brains around it, but a 4 is not equal to an A, a 3 is not equal to a B. Your child cannot move from “meeting standard” to “significantly above standard” by doing extra homework.
Celebrate the 3s. They mean your child is right where he or she is supposed to be!
It is highly likely that at some point in your child’s school career he or she will have a intern teacher in the classroom. For families this transition can sometimes be confusing, especially if an explanation is not provided early on.
Interns (a.k.a. student teachers) start their experience in the classroom with very few teaching responsibilities. They are responsible for teaching a lesson here and there for observation by someone from the college. They may take on small tasks in the classroom such as taking attendance, read aloud, and walking the students from point A to point B. As their internship continues, they gradually take on more responsibility. They will begin to take over subject areas, work with small groups of students, and communicate with families. All of this culminates in a minimum of three weeks where they are responsible for the entire school day.
What is your child’s regular teacher doing during this time? Many take the opportunity to do more intensive instruction with individual students, to plan future classroom instruction, and to do their own professional development. He or she is probably also observing the intern and providing support and feedback.
The best thing parents can do to support the situation is to consider the intern one of your child’s teachers, and talk with your child about it in the same manner. And as is always my advice, ask if you have any questions or concerns.
And remember…we all had to start somewhere!
As I my posts here multiply, I find that I’m repeating a couple of ideas in different ways for different reasons. Today I’m going to take a moment to reinforce the importance of these bits of advice.
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1. Parents/guardians are the most important advocate in their children’s educational lives.
I heard a story today from a woman who had to go into her daughter’s classroom at the start of every year of elementary school to explain a challenge her daughter faced. Each year, the teachers were surprised to learn it. While ideally the school will have your child top of their collective list, it’s important to remember that there are many other students with an extremely wide range of needs. If you need the teacher or administration to know something about your child, tell them. More than once if necessary.
2. Ask the teacher for guidance or clarity.
Whether it’s an explanation of expectations you need, an instructional style you don’t understand (see my post about math) or any other question you have about the classroom, just ask! Teachers will appreciate the questions (as long as they are genuine and not hostile).
3. Use open-ended questions with your child.
Avoiding yes/no questions will take you miles further in discussions about reading, math, and even their day at school.
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I’m sure you’ll continue to see these nuggets pop up from time to time. Please share if you have any of your own words of wisdom from experience!
All readers, regardless of age, use a series of strategies to understand the text. These strategies include (but are not limited to):
- Making connections between the text and ourselves, other texts, and the world
- Asking questions
- Determining what’s important to remember
- Making inferences (a.k.a. reading “between the lines”)
- Drawing conclusions
As parents, we can support our children to develop reading comprehension and connect what they’re reading to the wider world. While “tell me about the book you’re reading” can be a great start, we want to encourage the young reader to go deeper into the text. Questions to ask before, during and after reading might include:
- What does this ______ remind you of? [character, problem, scene, etc.]
- What are you wondering about this ______
- How do you picture _____ in your mind?
- What do you think the author wants you to know or remember?
- When the author says ______, what do you think (s)he means?
- What do you predict will happen?
- What do you know now about _____ that you didn’t know before?
These questions can serve as a starting point for discussion, but they are certainly not an exhaustive list. The most important thing is to ask open-ended questions rather than yes/no questions.
Let’s say your child comes home with something that looks like this:
Billy was offered a job at the nearby golf course. The owner offered him a choice: he could receive $500.00 per seven day week or $50 the first day and double the daily pay for each of the following seven days. Which deal should he accept and why?
You think, Hmm, I’m not remembering problems like this one from my childhood. Soon one of you is in tears. Listen, I get it. I’ve already talked here about my own math anxiety. Here are a couple of tips to help you navigate those challenging math scenarios with your kids.
Underline the important information Students need to be able to discern what’s important and what’s not. Encourage them to begin by reading the problem (aloud, if that’s helpful) and then identifying what’s important to know. To use the example above, the two salary choices are important, but the entire first sentence is not. Students should also be able to restate the question they’re being asked, thereby clarifying the expectation for themselves.
Pictures, numbers or words Commit this phrase to memory. Much of math instruction is now based on the expectations that students will use critical thinking to solve problems and be able to explain their thinking. (While we’re at it: Explain your thinking. Commit that one to memory, too!) Students are encouraged to use labeled pictures, equations, tables, graphs…anything that will illustrate the thinking they’re doing. Their answer should be labeled, too. For example, instead of writing “13” as their response, they need to say “13 cupcakes in all” or something of that nature.
Go back to the question to check the answer Once your child has found an answer, have her go back to the question to make sure that her answer makes sense. If the question asks how many ducks there are in all, and she has responded “There are 4 more ducks in the pond than on the grass,” then she has not answered the question. We want the students to get in the habit of doing this with every problem they complete.
Ask the teacher for clarification If an assignment of any kind is coming home regularly which you and your child are struggling to understand, send your teacher an email or arrange a time to chat for a few minutes to clarify what’s expected. Sure, we all have our pride, and it’s embarrassing to ask for help with 4th grade math. But isn’t it better to model asking for help for your child while actually getting help? I think so.
And I need to get a job at that golf course.
“How was your day?”
“Anything interesting happen?
“How did the test go?”
“Do you have homework?”
“What did you work on in class?”
“Can I have a snack?”
Do you ever feel like you are talking to a brick wall? Even for the most well-intentioned parent (and perhaps more so for them), finding out about your child’s day at school is like chipping gold out of a boulder. Prepared with a few tools, though, you may find your efforts reaping more rewards.
Wait. Hitting her with a barrage of questions as soon as she gets in the car or walks in the door is not ideal. Give her a chance to unwind and process her day before reciting the ins and outs of it.
Ask open-ended questions. Even though you may not get as much as you want (“My day was great! I aced my test and I sat next to Stevie at lunch and I raised my hand six times and volunteered to feed the hamster!”) you will probably get more than “yeah” or “nope.”
Try to find out as much as you can on your own about the routines of his day. If you know what they are studying in science or when they go to music, you can ask pointed questions.
I should have prefaced these suggestions with a disclaimer: I still often find out little more than a grunt about my kids’ days at school. But a little is certainly better than nothing!
My sweet, smart and creative daughter is in first grade this year. As I write this, two weeks into the school year, she has yet to say a word in class. Not to the teacher. Not to a classmate. Not a word. She says nothing because she isn’t sure what the right thing to say is. She says nothing because she is a bit socially immature. She says nothing because she’d rather spend time deep in her imagination.
Having been a teacher, I was very careful last fall as we entered kindergarten to give the teacher the chance to get to know our girl. We said very little at the beginning. We just waited to see how it would go. The result? For the remainder of the year, we were in reactionary mode. We fielded phone calls. We came in to problem-solve. We dealt with her massive anxiety issues at home. And, though she came through kindergarten just fine, my husband and I felt as though we’d been through the wringer.
This year? You bet.
- We met with the principal in spring to be very clear about the classroom environment she needed to be in for first grade.
- We wrote in a detailed description of her personality and learning style before class placement happened.
- I met with her teacher last week (who is heavenly, I might add) and we established a plan of action.
The moral of this story? You know your child best. The teacher has an extraordinarily difficult job, and has the needs of many other students to consider in addition to your own. You have to be the consistent voice advocating for your own child.
Respectfully. Please. Our teachers work so very hard!
And now, I’m off to rehearse the sentence she’s going to say to her teacher when she walks in the classroom door tomorrow.
Math is not my favorite subject. I managed OK in school, but somewhere along the line I became very anxious about it. As a teacher I still struggle with understanding how to best explain mathematical strategies to my students. In short … I am not great at math.
However, my son and daughter will never hear me say those words.
Why? you may ask. Isn’t it OK to share your shortcomings with kids? Admit to them that you’re not perfect?
Of course it is. However, blanket statements such as “I’m not good at math” or “I’m not a great reader” or “School isn’t/wasn’t my thing” can dramatically influence children’s own attitudes.
I can’t tell you how many parent/teacher conferences I’ve had where I’ve talked about a student’s apparent lack of motivation in a subject area, only to have the parent respond “Yeah, I’m not good at that either.”
As parents, it’s a challenge to remember that our kids will emulate us, sometimes without realizing it or (as with tweens and teens) admitting it.
What is important to consider is the phrasing. For example, I might say, “I want to get better at math.” Or perhaps I might say, while in the midst of solving a difficult problem, “You know, this is something I struggle with a little. Here is how I’m going to get help …”
Of course we all struggle with something. But do we write it off, or strive to improve? It’s all in the attitude.
It’s about 7 p.m. My family has just finished dinner, and with all of the bickering, I once again find myself skeptical of the research that says family dinners will keep kids out of trouble in life.
We clear the table (“Please, get your dishes. Now! One, two …”) and clean up toys strewn around the living room (“Please, go put Buzz Lightyear in the toy box. Now! One, two …”)
And then we settle in for what has become, without a doubt, the best part of our collective day: family reading time.
Not long ago, in a desperate attempt at breaking up the witching hour drama of dinner time through bedtime, we picked up Kate DiCamillo’s “The Tale of Despereaux” and sat down to read the first chapter. Family Reading Time was born.
A few rules emerged as we read each night. First, everyone has to be sitting on the couch, not bouncing around the room. No electronics or other toys come to family reading time. Most important, all four of us are invested in the book, which means that if someone is not home that evening, we skip it.
In addition to “Despereaux” we have read Beverly Cleary’s “Socks,” “Pippi Longstocking” by Astrid Lindgren, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” by Richard and Florence Atwater, and are now working our way through Roald Dahl’s classic “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
It has been a fantastic way to introduce our children to books different than the ones they would normally pick up (there are usually no fairies or superheroes to be found.) And the best part of all? Yesterday, Jacob grabbed his dishes without being asked, quickly cleaned up his toys, and sat on the couch before any of the rest of us with the book on his lap.
“Mommy, come on! It’s family reading time!”