Thank You BC Teachers

I am really proud of the teachers in British Columbia.

They are fighting for what is right, for what they believe in.

There is never a good time for a teacher strike.  All of our services are essential services to our kids.  If it’s a child’s last days of Kindergarten, and he is transitioning to Grade One, those last days are precious.  For a child ready to move into middle school, leaving the beloved elementary school, with the classrooms that hold fond memories and teachers who really know her and love her behind, those last days are precious.  For the child moving from middle school to high school, where she knows there will be more choices and more pressure, those last days are precious.  For the child graduating, leaving the school to be called an adult, celebrating the end of his childhood, those last days are precious.  For the teachers, helping each child see herself as ready for the next step, giving words of encouragement and belief that the child can handle it, those last days are precious.  Those field trips, those ceremonies, the closure of the year, all are lost in a strike.

This is the way it is with teaching.  You aren’t dealing with numbers or with statistics.  One child who cannot yet read is one child too many.  We will go to the ends of the earth to help that child if we can.  One child who is struggling with home life needs those extra moments of knowing she has adults who care about her, taking extra time to connect with her.  One child who struggles with math can flourish if a teacher can take a few minutes to go slower, tell him she knows he will get it, and gives him a smile.

When we get a new curriculum, we seldom test it scientifically.  We are generally told to give it a year as written before we start to modify if.  I usually last until about October, when the gaping holes in the scripts and materials (no matter how good) start to be obvious.  This isn’t because the curricula are bad.  This is because the author doesn’t know MY kids.  The writers haven’t been in MY classroom.  We really should teach it the way it’s written so they can learn how to fix it, but that would mean doing less than my best with my kids, and that isn’t going to happen.  This is that child’s year, and I will do my best to make it amazing.  So everyone thinks the curriculum is good, when it’s really the teacher, taking his own time to modify it to suit the needs of those specific kids.

So for the teachers in British Columbia to give up those precious moments that come with the end of the year (or any time of year), and for them to leave the classrooms where they do their work, there must be a strong reason.  No teacher wants to strike.  No teacher wants to be out of the classroom!  Do we look forward to summer? Absolutely!  It’s when we refresh, experience our own lives on a different level, and think about school.  No teacher wants to have to end the school year this way though.

The things the teachers are fighting for are integral to being able to do the job so that every child can learn.  Class composition is a huge issue.  How can you help those kiddos who need that extra when you have so many of the in your classroom with no support?  In the school district where I worked (in Washington, not BC), we had a half time counselor.  Children were only allowed to have grief, loss, family crisis, or anything else on Mondays, Wednesdays and ever other Friday.  When a child throws chairs in your classroom and there is no support, what do you do?  When you have children who are verbally abusive to everyone in the classroom, and there is no place for them, how do you teach?  When you have children who are learning English, but you have 28 seven-year-olds in the classroom, how much time can you give them?  When you have a nine-year-old who is reading at a Grade One level and cannot access any of the grade level material, but receives thirty minutes of support time a day, how do you make time for her among the needs of many others.  Teachers are asking for something very reasonable when talking about class composition.  Dedicated teachers cannot stay in the profession without burning out without this.

As far as pay goes, why are teachers villainous for asking for a cost of living increase?  How is this unreasonable?  Why shouldn’t teachers expect to be able to support their families with their MAs and years of experience?

There is a lot of talk about private schools.  It seems like a bargain for the government, having to pay less per student?  As someone who has just left the public system here in Washington to teach at an Independent school, this is tough.  I left for many of the same reasons the BC teachers are striking.  Class composition and size.  Lack of support.  Here, add in developmentally inappropriate standardized testing, and a severe departure from the kinds of learning I value.  I figured I’d be looking for a new profession within 5 years if I had tried to stay.

The school I am going to is not funded under the same system as the ones in BC.  It is a school that values diversity, and is about creating an educational environment based on a philosophy of education, not on making money.  But I am still sad to be leaving the public schools, because I believe in public education.

I think that as a society, we have to provide an amazing education for every child.  Children who come from homes that are struggling need MORE services, not fewer.  If we don’t provide smaller class sizes and more support for schools in need, how are they going to help kids?  Going to a private system as seems to be the political agenda in BC is not going to address this.

So thank you teachers, parents, students, and supporters in BC.  Thank you for fighting for what is right, and making the sacrifices that need to be made in this situation.  I am hopeful.

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Play, Re-Play, Re-Re-Play

I have more to write about the various school systems.  For now, I wanted to put down some thoughts about modern school and parenting.

I’m sure this is obvious to others, but I have discovered that indoor play needs WAY more supervision than outdoor play.  While the great outdoors is rife with dangers, many of them are incremental.  If the branch is making a cracking sound, don’t swing from it.  You only climb as high as you feel comfortable.  There is room outside for each child to explore to his or her own comfort zone and skill set.  You can spend all morning building a fort in the woods or damming a creek on the beach and when you are done, NOTHING needs to be put away.  Nothing is broken or destroyed.  

Inside… well at least in my home, there are a lot of high consequence things.  If I let my kid explore the way he wants to, he might turn on the gas stove, electrocute himself, drown, burn himself, poison himself, destroy countless objects, or hurt himself in a variety of creative ways.  It’s not that I’m a parent who didn’t bother to childproof, but my kid is creative.  I have put away the ‘dangerous’ things, but by no means do I have the creative mind of a three-year-old.

Therefore, when I am indoors with my child, I am often in charge of redirecting and directing his play.  There is a lot of “Let’s play with this!” and “Go jump on the trampoline instead of the couch please.”  This isn’t a bad thing. I love the interactive play we have together.  I love reading him stories, painting, digging in the sandbox on our deck, and just spending time with him. I am not so fond of the shower conundrum (do I let him play alone?), or the challenge when I want to actually cook/clean/do laundry/breathe.  I also find myself changing gears more often than my child would like.

I was thinking about this today while I was driving.  For about 10 minutes while we were walking downtown, T was pretending to sleep in the Tula Toddler Carrier (I had a quick errand on a busy street, so backpack baby it was).  I would tickle his legs and say, “Hey, wake up!”  and he would giggle like mad.  There were variations on the theme, like jostling and jumping as well.  He wanted to keep playing on the drive home, so he would pretend to sleep and then inform me that I should try to wake him up.  Next it was my turn to pretend to be asleep, and the first 10 times or so snoring and then pretending he’d woken me up was funny.  It started to get old pretty quick though.  The drive home is about 30 minutes.  He wanted to play variations on the game the whole way.

I’m not saying that I have Mommy Guilt for telling him I needed to concentrate on driving and couldn’t play right now.  What I am saying is that he was getting something out of running this script over and over again.  Since he was playing it out with an adult (obviously at a different developmental stage), I wanted to move on long before he was ready.

When we play indoors, I want to change up the play more often. Maybe it’s because I need to be more involved and get board with his endless rehashing of the same thing.  I know the value of hearing the same story a million times for literacy and language development, yet it’s tough on the reader.  I want to read his new library book to him over and over again so he can internalize the story, see himself as a reader, develop context for new vocabulary and context… but I also am dying to read a different one of the thousands of books I have available for his listening pleasure!

I am wondering about the link between the kinds of play, and where they play.  It seems like who children play with is pretty important too.

Given that I have an only child, much of our time is spent just the two of us. Of course there are social opportunities, but our core is just us.  Therefore, I want to think more about the link between where the play happens and the type of play as well as the opportunities for replay.

When T and I walked on the trail this morning, I wanted to watch him explore.  I modeled some play, without narrating, like climbing up a steep dirt path.  When T tried it, I narrated what he was doing.  He climbed and slid down.  He tried again.  He climbed and slid down.  He tried again.  He tried something different.  He slid down. I modeled again.  He tried what I modeled.  Finally we made it.

I felt like the play was a lot more collaborative. I was not passive, still making suggestions, narrating, and conversing but I did not need to redirect, shadow, or even participate the same way.  I wasn’t worried about what he was going to do, nor board with doing the same thing over and over again.  It gave him the opportunity to replay to his heart’s content without making me crazy.

I am left with a few questions:

How can we have more opportunities for repetition and replay when engaging in indoor play?

What should replay look like in a school setting?  We are often so eager to move on to the next exciting thing (even without test pressure) as adults, we forget to slow down and let kids really solidify their understanding.

I am left feeling totally sure that as a parent and a teacher, outdoor play time is so important, even if it’s only for our own sanity 🙂

British Columbia Teacher Strike

Does anyone know any greedy teachers? I read a comment about how teacher strikes are all about teacher greed, not about meeting the needs of kids. I’m confused.

I have never seen teacher bargain for the wages we really should be paid. 
– We don’t bargain to have the multitude of hours extra we work paid.
– We don’t fight to be paid wages that are more comparable to other professionals with similar levels of education and experience.
– We do see that being paid poorly means people don’t respect your profession the same way they respect many other professionals.
– We do see that lack of a reasonable cost of living increase makes it increasingly difficult to support our families, even modestly living.
– A friend of mine who is teaching in BC was telling me that the last bargaining session included an offer for a wage increase, but the teachers took a class size concession instead, which the government then attempted to revoke. (She added the following clarification for me: “Just a point of clarification. Hopefully I’ve got the fact straight. The class size and composition language was stripped with Bill 22. This was found to be illegal upon appeal then the government turned around and crafted more legislation that basically used the same language. This 2nd bill was found to be illegal recently and the Supreme Court also commented that the government in 2005 was trying to provoke a strike by negotiating in bad faith.

Now the recent government proposal includes a clause to say that either side can break the contract given 60 days notice. Apparently the government thinks that they might win the most recent appeal on class size and composition and thinks the teachers will accept something like this.”

I am not leaving the public system to make more money. I am leaving to find a smaller class size, carefully considered class composition, and test-free learning that is respectful to children and parents.

There are few greedy teachers. Teachers who want to be paid what we are worth become managers or find other professions. Those who teach more than a year or two are teaching because they are passionate about working with kids!

Those of you supporting BC’s teachers, thank you for standing by the people who are fighting for the quality of public education. Thank you for finding ways to cope with all the challenges a strike presents, and standing up for classrooms that are teachable. Your kids deserve it. Even if you don’t have kids, this matters, since you need to know that the changes the government is fighting for will result in crummy employees of the future, not to mention a myriad of other societal issues, which in the long run are very likely to cost more than properly supporting education. Thank you for standing by teachers and standing up for BC’s future.

Common Core – Originally Posted March 27, 2014

I’ve been wondering about the new “Common Core” standards for some time.

 

 It sounds good.

 

We will have the same goals for students.

 

We will be thinking about what students need to know for their futures.

 

 

 

The reality is horrifying.

 

It’s not just incomprehensible math.  A lot of the “new math” is really confusing for people who never really understood what worked and just memorized the algorithm.

 

 

 

Here is where my biggest problem shows up.  I wanted to know who wrote the Common Core.  Here is the answer I found on the official Common Core website:

 

 

 

“What evidence and criteria were used to develop the standards?

 

The standards made careful use of a large and growing body of evidence, including:

 

    • Scholarly research

 

    • Surveys on the skills required of students entering college and workforce training programs

 

    • Assessment data identifying college- and career-ready performance

 

    • Comparisons to standards from high-performing states and nations

 

    • National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) frameworks in reading and writing for English language arts

 

    • Findings from Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) and other studies, which conclude that the traditional U.S. mathematics curriculum must become substantially more coherent and focused in order to improve student achievement

 

The following criteria guided the development of the standards:

 

    • Alignment with expectations for college and career success

 

    • Clarity

 

    • Consistency across all states

 

    • Inclusion of content and the application of knowledge through high-order skills

 

    • Improvement upon current state standards and standards of top-performing nations

 

    • Reality-based for effective use in the classroom

 

    • Evidence- and research-based”

 

http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/frequently-asked-questions/

 

 

 

Wait!

 

Where is the part about consulting with experts on child development to see what children are generally capable of doing at what ages?

 

 

 

“Children in the concrete operational stage are typically ages 7 to 11.  They gain the abilities of conservation (number, area, volume, orientation) and reversibility.  Their thinking is more organized and rational.  They can solve problems in a logical fashion, but are typically not able to think abstractly or hypothetically.

 

By around seven years the majority of children can conserve liquid (see video below), because they understand that when water is poured into a different shaped glass, the quantity of liquid remains the same, even though its appearance has changed.  Five-year-old children would think that there was a different amount because the appearance has changed.”

 

http://www.simplypsychology.org/concrete-operational.html

 

So, with a quick internet search (avoiding Wikipedia), I can tell you that many children between the ages of 7-11 will struggle with thinking abstractly or hypothetically.

 

So let’s look at some of the expectation for the Common Core:

 

Take a moment to log in to the “Smarter Balanced” practice test.  It’s easy to find.  Search Smarter Balanced Practice Test.  I recommend doing the 3rd grade test.  Remember that these children are 8 and 9 years old.

 

I will summarize one question for you, as you cannot cut and paste from the test itself.

 

The students are given a bar graph with a scale of 4 showing lemonade stand sales for four weeks.

 

Question one asks them to write how many cups of lemonade sold each week.  (They need to pay attention to the key, but probably OK for most 3rd graders)

 

Question two asks for them to total the 4 weeks of sales and enter the answer.  They need to do this on scratch paper in the computer lab… many 3rd graders will not do it on scratch paper.  They will try to add in their heads and enter a guess.

 

Question three is where it gets complicated.  The question states that she also sold lemonade in August, and they need to use the chart for July to find the totals for August with the following information:

 

Week One – 22 fewer

 

Week Two – 18 more

 

Week Three – 26 more

 

Week Four – 25 fewer

 

Keep in mind that they need to scroll up to find their totals for the first month, or use the bar graph again.

 

Question four asks them to use their data from the August chart they just made to make a pictograph.  First they must choose a key (most kids will ignore this step).  They can choose a cup = 4 cups, a cup = 10 cups, or a cup = 30 cups.  

 

This is not the worst question, just an example.  Think about how much reading is involved here. There is no support of English Language Learners.  Kids with an IEP for reading can have someone read aloud, but not define or explain any vocabulary.

 

Most third graders are learning to read carefully.  They are not yet masters of reading directions, especially multi-step directions.  They are easily overwhelmed by tons of data and steps.

 

Why are we putting up with this?  How is this OK?

 

Third graders should be:

 

Working with numbers!

 

Developing fact fluency.

 

Developing a solid number sense and comprehension of place value.

 

Asking meaningful mathematical questions, and being able to use a wide variety of concrete materials to figure out the answers.

 

I’m sad to say that the language arts piece is just as bad.

 

Think about what our schools are going to look like if we let this be the expectation.

 

Kids will no longer know how to use scissors.  The motor development is already of concern, but it will get worse.

 

Teachers will feel forced to spend time teaching kids strategies for solving these kinds of test questions, rather than teaching them to think, to problem solve, to think about numbers, reading, writing, art…

 

2nd grade will feel like they need to provide the building blocks for these skills.

 

1st grade will also be pressured to get the kids farther, faster.

 

Kindergarten… so much for play, socialization, learning to be a student.

 

And all for what?  Scores will improve because teachers will help students learn tricks to show improvement on these tests.

 

Students will leave elementary school with fewer social skills, problem solving skills, creative skills, motor skills, and abilities to be a good student.  Students will leave high school with no idea how to do anything other than to prep for a test.  But the scores will look good!  Lawmakers will be able to tell themselves that they are getting those pesky teachers to do a better job.

 

I don’t want my kid to go through this system. I have great respect for so many teachers who are trying to be creative, to respect the learning paths of their students, but I don’t want to put my kid in a class of 24 kids and one teacher when he is five. I don’t want him to feel like he’s dumb if he isn’t ready to read until he’s seven.  I don’t want his natural desire to learn, his wonder for the world, to be squashed because he needs to learn to fit the mold, to pass the test.

 

Parents (myself included) need to start speaking out.  We have to find some ways to get this trend to shift so that real learning is valued, and testing is reserved for the final years of high school where students benefit from learning how to take tests.  More earlier is NOT the answer!  More appropriate, at the right time, with passion and excitement IS the answer.

 

 

Edited to add after conversation with friends- High expectations and complex skills are not a problem.  Being required to show understanding independently and in abstract ways is the area where I take issue 🙂

Standardized Testing and Early Childhood Education – Originally Posted January 19, 2014

 I am not an expert in early childhood education.  Ten years ago, II studied it as much as I could while I did my K-8 teaching certificate and MA in Education.  I knew that I wanted to work with children in the younger age ranges in the public school system, and they are still considered under the umbrella of ECE until they are 8. I wanted to focus on the role of play within learning, and how we can teach through play.

 

I found out some interesting things about child development.  I discovered that children construct their own learning best through play, and that just because it doesn’t look like “learning”, doesn’t mean that they aren’t learning wonderful things. I learned that natural learning takes different forms for each child, and that a rich learning environment allows for differences in learning by creating open ended tasks.  Challenging and supporting young learners doesn’t come from having the best workbooks, but from having relationships with children, and small enough ratios that adults can really interact with children.

 

Let’s contrast two fictional first grade learning environments.  In environment A, the focus is on developmentally appropriate learning, while in environment B, the focus is on having all children “meet standards”.  Both groups are working on division.

 

Environment A:

Children are given collections of materials to play with (shells, keys, stones…).  They spend a little while familiarizing themselves with these materials, sorting them in different ways and noticing their characteristics.

The teacher presents a task.  All children count out 10 objects, and put the rest back into the box.  Then the teacher challenges the students to fairly share their objects among 2 stuffed animals.  The teacher interacts with the children, giving suggestions and using appropriate vocabulary.  The children also help one another, problem solving together. Once the children have shared their objects among the animals, they talk about how they made their decisions.   The teacher talks about how important it is to divide the items evenly.  The conversation could continue to include conversations about what to do if there was one more object.  What would they do?  Would it be an item they could split to make it fair (fractions), or something that would have to be leftover (remainders).  Students go and try it to find out.  They repeat this activity with different numbers of objects and continue to explore and discuss their findings, encouraged to use the correct vocabulary by the teacher.  Throughout the lesson, fast finishers are encouraged to try different strategies, and to help their peers, further solidifying their learning, while those who are struggling with the concept are having fun with the materials, and are attempting to figure it out.  Most students are engaged in the task throughout, requiring few redirections from the teacher.

 

Environment B:

The teacher introduces the concept of division by talking about forming equal groups.  Next she hands out a worksheet with story problems describing a situation in which children might need to divide.  She models drawing the objects in equal groups and sends the children to their desks to work on the task.   She then circulates and helps the children read the story problem, as many  of them struggle with the wording, since they are beginning readers.  Children who are waiting for help quickly get off task, requiring redirection, while fast finishers are already hard at work.  The teacher continues to circulate to help students one on one.   Many children are not yet ready for the abstraction of drawing to represent objects, and are frustrated at having to erase mistakes.  They notice their fast finishing peers come up to the teacher to ask what they should do now that they are finished, and feel defeated because they are still struggling with the first problem.  Students with learning disabilities in reading, and students who are learning English stand out.  Children start trying to help each other while they wait for the teacher to get over to them, but are asked to be quite so everyone can concentrate.  The teacher is frustrated as well.  She has chosen this task because the children need to be able to answer these types of  teaching them the technology skills as well as the actual math.  She knows her kids are not quite ready for this level of abstraction, but feels trapped by the test requirements, and doesn’t think they have enough time to learn through play and discovery.

 

The purpose of this conversation isn’t to say that kids can’t handle the rigorous standards we are asking of them.  I am trying to show that the concepts can certainly be taught to young children, and they can have fun learning them!  When presented with worksheets, kids (and adults) tend to get task focused.  When a child hasn’t finished a worksheet and it comes home to a parent, that parent is worried.  When a task is finite and abstract, it discourages kids from thinking hard about what they are doing and why they are doing it.  They tend to label themselves as “good” or “bad”, and the negative self given labels tend to stick with kids long after they have actually mastered the concepts in question.

 

Without the pressure of “teaching to the test”, teachers can relax, spend more time interacting with their kids doing real learning activities that build a strong foundation.  With that strong foundation, when we formally introduce the abstracts, kids are ready and find it exciting and fun.  Great teachers try to do this anyway, but we also know that we shouldn’t test kids in formats they haven’t practiced in, and learning format tricks is very significant for passing the current (and most likely future) standardized tests.  

 

Finally, the attitude seems to have become “well, they are going to have to learn it soon, so we better get them used to it.”  Again, when it’s open ended, hands on, and fun, it’ll probably be fine.  When it’s stuff kids just are ready for and they feel the pressure of the task-based assignments, it results in a lot of stress for everyone.

 

Can we look at kids as individuals, and enjoy exploring learning through play with them?  Fun and games aren’t ‘testable’, but teach so many skills that we truly value, more than 6-year-olds spitting out random facts they don’t understand.  What do we really value in education and why aren’t we focusing on that?

Mutually Exclusive? – Originally Posted March 14, 2013

I read this blog post a while ago, and even had someone post it to my “Wall” because it made them think of me: Please Don’t Help My Kids

http://alameda.patch.com/blog_posts/please-dont-help-my-kids

 

I read this blog post today: Please Help My Kids

http://www.ourmuddyboots.com/please-help-my-kids/

 

 

I happen to agree with both.

 

Can you be encouraging a child to find his/her own limits and then exceed them while helping, encouraging, and supporting?  I don’t see why not.

 

Here’s the reality.  I’m more likely to NOT be sitting on the bench.  Instead, I’m probably nearby, supporting and encouraging, helping when asked, but not jumping in to rescue. I might be taking pictures with my phone, or even checking Facebook (let’s face it, I’m an addict), but I’m still physically close, and paying more attention to my kid than to my virtual life on a tiny screen.

 

I don’t mind if others help my kid out too.  I have found that I need to do a little community parenting at the park too.

 

When I took Tazio to the park when he was tiny, just crawling over the equipment, I always tried to start out with the relationship I was going to need with the bigger children playing. As soon as they slowed down or noticed the baby, I noticed them doing it.  Saying something like, “You are really paying attention and being careful around the baby. Thank you.” set the stage for them to remember that they needed to slow down a little and watch where they were going so that no one got hurt. I wasn’t waiting for their parent to do this, since it was my child’s safety in question.  If they were not responsive to this, we generally moved on to a different part of the playground.  Most kids were awesome at being careful and gentle, especially once they were noticed and appreciated doing it.  Some parents might think that I was in their business, but most saw this as good preventative practice.

 

As for as helping my child, I think that supporting your child as he explores his world and abilities is natural and wonderful.  This doesn’t mean lifting them to the top of the ladder when they stood there looking up.  This means letting them attempt the skills, give it a few tries in different ways, assess the options, of which asking for help is one, and making a decision.

 

I have no problem helping my child, usually with modeling, a little boost, or spotting to make sure he doesn’t fall.  These do not rescue my child from the situation.  These are options, just like going over to the stairs are an option.  Sometimes I lift him up, if there is no way he can get there on his own. He utters his little, “ank oo” and grins gleefully as he slides down.

 

I think the kind of help the person in the first article is talking about is more the parents who over-protect, hover, and look for opportunities to judge.  The parent who helps your child while shooting you dirty looks, and who steps in to help before the child has indicated a need.

 

As a teacher, I see these parents delivering the lunch box to school before the child even notices is is missing.  I also see children who EXPECT to be rescued from everything that is difficult, rather than guided, encouraged, and supported.  Can you guess what happens with these children when there is one teacher and 24 kids, and the work is difficult?  They haven’t learned that they can try different solutions while waiting for help.  They have a tendency to give up before they even begin!

 

I want to raise my son to trust that people are good and kind and helpful.  I want him to believe that others will be watching out for him and be ready and willing to help him when needed.  I want him to think that he can figure many things out.  I want him to try before he asks for help, and I want him to mostly receive help that empowering and contributes to his learning of the skills he’s attempting.  I want him to be determined (like that’s an issue!) and enthusiastic, and willing to try and fail many times until he succeeds. I want the people in his life to see and notice his achievements, and celebrate them with him so that he feels proud of himself, as he should.

 

I just don’t see these two articles as mutually exclusive.

 

Also, as a general rule, all parents who are at the park when it’s pouring rain and awesome people, and they can help my kid out any time.

 

Homework – Originally Posted February 9, 2013

No one knows your child like you do.  You know his strengths and challenges, his joys and frustrations… everything!   You’ve watched your child grow from a baby into the amazingly competent child you send to our school each day.  He comes home with new knowledge and ideas, new problems and new achievements.  You share his joys and support him through his difficulties.  You talk to him about how to apply his family values while at school.  You give him hugs of understanding on the tough days, and hugs of joy on the wonderful ones.

 

As you know, each child is different.  Each child brings his own special spark to the classroom, and of course has his own learning needs.  In a classroom of so many, your child’s teacher wants to know your child too.  Your child’s teacher wants to see his creativity, his strengths, his abilities, his potential, and his needs.  She wants to help guide your child academically to bring out his best, and to give him the skills to work through the tough parts.  She can be amazing, but your child’s teacher needs your help.

 

From Kindergarten, your child probably started bringing home homework. It looks different for each grade level, classroom and teacher, and can vary by school as well. Homework is your opportunity to help your child one on one in a way no teacher can.

 

The most common homework assigned is nightly reading.  We’ve been told about the importance of reading with our children since infancy, and sometimes it’s easy to find the time, and sometimes it’s very difficult. As a teacher, if I could choose only one homework assignment, it would be nightly reading.  That being said, it’s the most commonly skipped element in my homework, every year.

 

Structuring for Successful Home Reading:

1)    Provide a reading-friendly environment.  Ideally, this means no TV or computers on, and nothing distracting going on, especially for reluctant readers.

2)    Model reading for your child.  Show your child that you read too.  This means reading anything, but reading where your child can see you read, and ideally talking about what you read, why you read it, and what it made you think about.

3)    Read with your child.  Even big kids who are great readers love to snuggle with an adult and share a book.  When you read aloud to your child, you are modeling expression and fluency, You can also enrich the experience, pausing to make your own predictions about what might happen, as well as your observations about character, setting, and plot.  Reading aloud also allows your child to access texts that are a little too difficult, but with content that interests your child.  If your child is a reluctant reader or is having trouble selecting appropriate literature, take a break from having him read to you, and read to him instead!

4)    Interact with your child about his reading.  Even with a child who is a competent reader who can read independently, ask him about the story!  Be excited about what he’s reading, even if you have to pretend a little.  Help him set reading goals and stick to them, especially if your child has a tendency of moving on to a different book without finishing the first.

5)    Remember that it’s OK for homework to be enjoyable.  Sometimes parents stop making time for home reading just because their child is loving reading and does it without prompting.  Homework doesn’t need to be torturous!  Help your child feel successful academically if he is enjoying the reading.  It’ll give him the strength and strong self image to work hard on the areas of schoolwork where he struggles.

 

Many teachers also assign other activities, such as math practice, cursive practice, MSP practice, writing assignments, or longer activities such as book reports, science projects, social studies projects etc.  Choosing homework assignments is difficult, since every child’s needs are different, and yet it’s not feasible to individualize homework assignments for so many children who are all at different points in their learning.

 

For most families, fitting in homework is a real challenge.  Sports practices, music lessons, dance classes, not to mention time for some creative play, often make for busy evenings.  Benefits of assigning homework include letting parents know what their child is learning and helping parents see their child progress first hand, as well as building good study habits.  Most of all, it provides the child with the opportunity for your child to work one on one with an adult, getting immediate feedback and coaching in a way that we just cannot provide during the school day.

 

You’ll notice in the bulk of homework assignments, they are practice activities, designed to strengthen skills introduced at school.  They seldom contain new content. Nor are they supposed to be assessment activities.   Teachers hope that you will be working with your child to prevent incorrect practice.  In most cases, practicing wrong is worse than not practicing at all!

 

Some Suggestions for Quality Homework Practice:

 

1)    Check for understanding before your child begins.  Just because the teacher taught the material before assigning it as homework doesn’t mean that your child has fully processed how to do it. Ask your child to explain to you what he needs to do before beginning the assignment.  Doing the first part of the assignment together is another great way to check for understanding.  Verbally explaining to you helps your child know you’re engaged in his learning, and also helps set him up for success on his work since the directions are now fresh in his mind.

2)    Monitor your child’s progress. As your child working on the assignment, check in to make sure he’s practicing correctly. Have him defend answers both correct and incorrect so that you asking isn’t a trigger for him to know it’s wrong.  When your child has a mistake, tell him it’s wrong but have him problem-solve where he went wrong himself with a little coaching.  Help him fix the problem before moving on to the next question.

3)    Choose homework time carefully. Some children are eager to finish their homework and start it on the bus on the way home.   Others are reluctant to get started and will argue, bargain, distract and find any way to get out of it.  Children who most need extra practice are also often the ones who are tired from a long day of hard work at school.  Generally, kids who are struggling with school work don’t need to be greeted at the door with more of the same.  They need that time to do some physical play, to be creative, loud, and do things they are really good at for a while.  You probably already know your child’s homework profile and which times work best for your family.

4)    Trust what you know about your child. If the homework your child’s teacher has assigned it not working for your child, open a conversation about it. As I mentioned previously, it’s difficult to assign homework that is open-ended enough to meet the needs of so many students.  Therefore, you may want to find additional work for your advanced child, or ask if you can modify the amount required for your struggling learner.  Talk to the teacher about prioritizing tasks so that if your child is unable to complete the list in a reasonable amount of quality work time, he is getting the most benefit out of the time spent. You can also ask about ways to modify assignments to make them more approachable for your child.

5)    <!– p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }ol { margin-bottom: 0in; }ul { margin-bottom: 0in; } –> Choose the order of activities.  A friend of mine was working with her daughter on the violin. The assigned practice started with the easy tasks and worked up to the more difficult ones.  Her daughter was at full melt down mode by the end of the practice sessions.  My friend switched the order, tackling the hardest pieces first and then ending with the ones her daughter felt were easy.  Having your child choose which activities to do first can also help him feel like he has some control over the situation.  Choice is a powerful tool!

6)    Suggestions for additional work. If you have a child who needs some extra challenge, you may wish to supplement the homework provided by your child’s classroom teacher.  There are many online practice activities such as Sumdog.com or Sheppardsoftware.com as well as Starfall.com where kids can get immediate feedback.  You can also find many wonderful learning games and printable worksheets for free online with a simple Google search.  If you’re looking for ‘kitchen table’ kind of work, you can take your child shopping for a workbook and choose one together.  Other children are more kinesthetic learners who blossom with stealthy learning activities, such as fractions practice by making cookies together, addition practice by spending a little money at the grocery store and doing the math.  Writing a book together based on vacation photos, finding a place to post a book review online, writing a blog about something that interests your child… the ideas for learning are endless when you realize that children are really wired to learn.

 

Making time for homework in our busy lives is tough.  Thank you for putting in the energy into your child’s learning.  Thank you for helping him find joy in learning, for helping him through the tough spots, guiding rather than rescuing, and making sure your child isn’t just doing any old thing to get the assignment done in record time to move on to the things he really wants to do.  Thank you for making learning fun for your child, giving him the chance to build with boxes, make ramps for toy cars, create a maze out of boxes, or a fort out of cushions, draw designs for a dream doll house and make plans how to build it, do kitchen science and math together… Just because your child will need to be able to do hours of structured homework a night in university doesn’t mean it’s appropriate or useful for a 6-year-old.  Remember that learning takes many forms, and just because it doesn’t involve paper and pencil doesn’t mean that your child isn’t learning!