Increasing Motivation at Home

Dinner table questions about your child’s day may occasionally allude to the idea of motivation, but how often is motivation put at the forefront of the discussion? Since motivation is not something that we can readily teach, measure, or initiate, we may focus our attention more directly on grades, athletics, etc. However, one could argue that motivation is a major key to academic and extracurricular success. While motivation is not a one-size-fits-all skill to be acquired, there are ways that parents can encourage motivation and the strategies to boost it.

So, how exactly can parents teach the concept and importance of motivation to their children? One way of introducing the conversation is to discuss the future. This may sound cliché, but many adolescents and teens are very much focused on the here and now. Prompting thoughtful consideration of the future can be a great way to open the door on the topic of motivation. Asking questions like, “What is one sport, skill, or activity that you would like to try at some point?” Or, “What can you see yourself NOT doing as a career after school?” These questions not only encourage an interesting conversation, rather they also facilitate follow up questions directly related to motivation. For instance, if your teen says that she would love to travel abroad at some point in her schooling, talk about realistic steps that she would have to take to allow that to be an option. Is there a specific program that she has to qualify for? Are there GPA guidelines? How much money would she have to save to put towards the trip? Can she qualify for any sort of scholarship to help pay for the trip? All of these questions stem from one consideration that your child has mentioned. Yet, that one topic—traveling abroad—opens the door to discuss how your child is going to achieve that opportunity.  Having any sort of end goal in mind acts as a wonderful motivator. Likewise, teens can begin to see that much of their goals are directly related to the effort or steps that they take. They have control over the process and the achievement.

Similarly, the notion that “No one is going to do it for me, so I had better make sure that I do it for myself” is also an important motivational message. Other questions to ask your adolescent could be, “What did you accomplish all on your own today? What made you strive to achieve that goal?” Discussing motivation as a means of controlling one’s own destiny is another way to begin the conversation. In a world where adolescents and teens believe that many of their decisions are made for them by parents, teachers, or other adults, this mindset and idea of autonomy allows young people to see themselves as rulers of their own future. They must realizelike we all have at some point in our livesthat they have to make a conscious choice to “show up” in their everyday activities. They have to be willing and open to hard work and growth.

Engaging in positive self-talk is another great way to build motivation. As people, we engage in self-talk continuously and subconsciously. To ensure that teens’ inner dialogue is more positive and motivating, ask your child to jot down any self-talk that he recognizes in the moment. Try this for one day and discuss the types of things that each family member said to or about themselves. Discuss where the negative talk comes in and how it can inhibit motivation and success.

Build motivation at home and empower your child to chart and achieve his or her own destiny.

International Ask a Question Day: An Educator’s Observation

March 14th marks the somewhat underrated “holiday” devoted to asking questions. Suitably falling on Albert Einstein’s birthday, International Ask a Question Day is meant to encourage the practice of seeking knowledge. In the world of education, questions are paramount in the learning process. In my own experience—and I think most teachers would agree—our job in the classroom involves asking, answering, and clarifying questions.

True story: Purely out of my own curiosity, I decided to tally the number of questions I was asked during a random school day. Any question counted—from, “Can I go to the water fountain?” to, “Should I underline the title of an article?” By the final period of the day, I knew I had a significant number of hash marks, but the exact amount of questions that had been asked far exceeded what I had anticipated. The number of questions was somewhere in the 300’s—and it was an early-dismissal day.

The point of this anecdote is to express the extent to which questions drive our work in the classroom. Students expect to get answers. Many may quantify those answers as learning. However, the real learning occurs when questions are formulated. To drum up a question, a student must first separate what he knows from what he does not know. This practice of sifting through knowledge and categorizing skills by competency takes a great deal of reflection. The saying “You don’t know what you don’t know” is thought to ring true for many students, yet in my observations, students are somewhat experts at recognizing what they do not know.

So, how can we use this almost innate penchant for curiosity and inquiry to best benefit our students?

Encourage your quiet students to “speak up” by allowing multiple ways of asking questions in class. This could mean keeping a question box or post-it notes available for students to jot down questions that they may be too shy to ask. You could also take a similar digital approach using Padlet or Google Classroom. Students are able to post questions to an online forum or webpage; they can also respond to others’ posts as well.

When reviewing for an assessment, have students create practice questions that they would anticipate seeing on the test. Have students submit or swap questions so that students can practice answering each other’s questions. If questions are well-written and relevant, use some student-derived questions on the actual assessment. This is also a way for teachers to gauge the students’ preparation for an upcoming assessment.

Play the well-known party game “just questions” in which students are only able to communicate using interrogative statements. This improv theater exercise encourages students to practice consciously phrasing and rephrasing questions. Students must think on their toes and apply knowledge of appropriate word choice and sentence structures in order to continue the conversation.

Provide students with broad or general questions like, “What is the setting of the story?” Then have students kick that question up a notch by adding another component or more complex level of inquiry. For instance, they might change the original question about setting to, “How does the setting affect the conflict that the character faces?” This practice allows students to add a layer of deeper analysis to a general question. Furthermore, this activity allows for plenty of differentiation depending on student ability.

How-To Stay in the Know: News for High Schoolers

With the almost constant connectivity and media availability for today’s adolescents, high schoolers have the option to remain in the know at all times. Especially today, while major national and global news stories are constantly rolled out, students should have no issue staying informed. However, like all technology and social media, students need to be careful with what they are watching and the information that they are receiving. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with high school-aged students.

Be aware of the inevitable biases present in news media. Whether reading articles, watching national or local news outlets, or simply receiving social media updates and tweets, teens need to be aware of the fact that nearly every news story contains some thread of subjectivity or bias. Of course, people in the business of reporting the news go to great lengths to simply report—with total impartiality. However, the human component of news just inevitably does not allow for stories to remain 100 percent neutral at all times. For this reason, students should know how to identify bias in anything they watch or read involving news. Questions to ask include: What is the purpose of relaying this particular story, i.e., who will benefit from knowing or learning about this? Who might this news story be targeting? Is there a recognizable tone in the story or clip?

Know the difference between credibility unreliability. Hopefully, by high school, students have experienced and completed enough research assignments to identify credible sources. However, when it comes to news stories, news media is so prevalent these days that accurate stories can easily be spun or altered and quickly posted to a pseudo-reliable news source. Fact-checking is something that high school students can do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Of course, Wikipedia, every high schoolers favorite resource for “research,” can be helpful, but only if students fact-check the links and sources at the bottom of the Wikipedia pages.

Teens should utilize age-appropriate outlets to ensure that the news is something that they can understand and appreciate. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for high schoolers.

Homework Strategies for Easy and Effective Practice at Home

Now more than ever, students are experiencing astounding amounts of work outside of school. Instead of an hour of homework per night, many students and parents are now seeing an hour of work per content area each night. Depending on grade level, this may mean as much as 5+ hours of homework on any given school night. With so much time going to homework, it is important to make sure that work time at home is as stress-free as possible. So, how can parents help to alleviate homework woes? It is as easy as 1-2-3.

Praise effort. Much of the stress affiliated with homework revolves around the ideal of homework perfection. Yes, correctness is important, and students need to be ready to exhibit mastery when it comes to major projects and assessments. However, the everyday homework assignments that come home are likely for practice—not perfection. Instead of hours of struggling to arrive at the correct answer for every question on every assignment, encourage the honest effort put forth. The importance of homework is to provide opportunities to practice and seek clarity for new concepts or skills. Students should feel allowed to make blunders or experience difficulty when completing homework so that they are prepared to ask questions, analyze errors, and reflect on their practices when they arrive back in the classroom.

So, if you find your child in tears or stressed over the presumed need to arrive at the correct answer for every homework assignment, remind him that practice involves making mistakes. Errors not only help young learners to develop grit and determination, but they also allow students to begin to understand themselves as critical thinkers.

Speak with teachers about homework issues—and encourage your child to do the same. When homework, projects, and exams seem to be weighing down the dinner table, chances are the stress is weighing on your child as well. When this happens, reach out to your child’s teacher(s) about your concerns. Send a quick email or a note to school expressing how hard your child worked on the assignment, but that is was not possible to fully complete the work. Again, effort is the key—and teachers will understand that the student truly attempted the work. Homework is meant to be a scaffold or support, one which provides students with opportunities to practice skills. But, if the assignments are too lengthy, redundant, or complicated, students are likely to shut down or break down at home—neither of which is beneficial to academic success.  

Remove distractions—all of them. Parents must set the tone for effective homework time. Allow children to choose a comfortable, quiet area to settle in and complete assignments. Make sure that their workplace is well-lit and contains everything that they will need to work in terms of supplies and work space. Remove distractions such as iPads, cell phones, television, etc. Parents can set a good example by picking up a book and reading quietly while children complete homework.

Providing short breaks between assignments or lengthy projects will help as well. Energy and focus start to lag when working for long stints of time. Encourage your child to take a short 5-10 minute break every 45 minutes or so. Eating a little snack and grabbing a bottle of water while taking a brisk walk around the block will help to rejuvenate and refocus a child who has been working steadily.

Creating a checklist adds to the gratification of completing assignments at home. Much like the to-do lists that we all create, children can also benefit from the checklist in multiple ways. A checklist ensures that children know exactly what must be completed in a given block of time. It is a studious practice—one which helps to keep youngsters organized and promotes self-advocacy. Not only that, but creating a list of assignments is a simple method of boosting intrinsic motivation—crossing off tasks as they are completed is a great way to acknowledge the hard work.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: High School

The widespread use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. By high school, students are expected to proficiently access information in the digital world. It is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, what specific skills should high schoolers attain before graduating? Let’s take a look.

Technology Skills for College and Career Readiness

Typing skills are one of those abilities that many people disregard. While most schools have done away with mandatory typing courses as a graduation requirement, the skill is more valuable than people think. Not only does the one-finger “pecking” appear juvenile or unprofessional, but it is also not efficient. Especially when students head off into the world of higher education, they will need to be able to type with precision and ease for lectures, papers, research, etc. The great news is that technology has greatly improved the methods for building standard typing skills. With games, races, and levels, students are much more engaged and able to easily track their improvement.

Email and technology etiquette is also up there in terms of skills that high schoolers should acquire before graduating. The key here is that, by high school, students have been completely immersed in the informal realm of texting and social media. With all of this connectedness comes the likelihood that high schoolers have gotten comfortable with internet “slang” or informal communication styles. Between the emojis, neglect of appropriate punctuation, and familiarity with an informal tone, students are often ill-prepared to correspond professionally via email. That said, content area courses should be sure to address the need for a formal tone and appropriate formatting when it comes to email in the academic or professional realm.

Research skills offer huge benefits to students, no matter what career goals they may have for the future. The truth is, research is not just limited to college coursework—we perform research every day in our personal lives without even realizing it. Effective research skills ensure that the information collected and created by students will not only hold up, but help to grow their understanding of a concept.

Proofreading and editing is another digitally-based skill that high schoolers would be wise to master. Of course, the crutch of spellcheck has resulted in today’s students being somewhat lazy in terms of editing abilities. The best way to improve proofreading skills is simply to practice it. There are many editing forums and technologies that greatly assist in the process of self-checking and peer editing.

The Significance of Struggling

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In honor of International Mountain Day on December 11th, designated by the United Nations General Assembly, it is time to take a look at mountains in the metaphorical sense. The holiday itself is meant to look closely at sustaining the food and water supplied by mountain regions. However, classrooms are chock-full of mountains as well—challenges presented in an effort to garner grit, perseverance, and problem-solving. As much as our students may prefer to resist or bypass struggles, it becomes our obligation as educators to provide the very obstacles that students would rather avoid. The point is not to frustrate or deter a sense of success—quite the opposite, rather. Skills are best acquired when learners are presented with increased difficulty and complexity. The struggles—or mountains, if you will—teach our students innumerable life lessons about how to be successful learners.

Lesson 1: Struggles teach young people about the real world.
One difficult aspect of education is the microcosm effect—as much as we educators present real-world problems, realistic scenarios, and connections to our students’ lives as much as possible, what we do in the classroom is merely practice. Thus, we must be sure to provide practice that is rigorous, unfamiliar, and exceptionally difficult at times. By creating opportunities for students to encounter advanced material, we also prepare them for life lessons in the real world. College and adulthood can prove to be a rude awakening for many students. Beyond the difficulty with transitioning, it can often be the first time in young people’s lives that they have to rely solely on themselves. Providing students with the opportunity to practice perseverance before heading into the real world of adulthood allows them time to live and learn—to make mistakes before the serious consequences come into effect. The greatest lesson to be learned from falling down is how to pick yourself back up.

Lesson 2: Struggles allow students to see what they’re really made of.
Avoiding difficult tasks and challenges is a sure way to evade failure and mistakes. However, by circumventing the struggles, students also forfeit the opportunity to push themselves to a greater potential. The adage, “nothing worth having is easy” applies here. Battling through an unusually difficult task teaches students to muster up their own greatness—that no matter how tricky something might be, pure grit and the desire to achieve can overcome even the most formidable opponents or challenges.

Lesson 3: Struggles prompt creative thinking.
Consider this: students in our classrooms today are challenged with tasks involving problem-solving and critical thinking skills. If the “problems” that we place in front of students are elementary or mundane, how can we expect to cultivate the creative thinkers of the future? Much like the beliefs behind Socratic methods and principles, we must present students with opportunities to investigate, question, and analyze real-world problems for which even we, as educators, do not have all of the answers. By creating authentically difficult challenges, we are prompting students to think outside of the box—try something that no one else has considered. It may fail, but with that failure comes a slew of lessons and strategies to employ for the next attempt.

When in Doubt, Talk it Out: Tips for Resolving Conflicts at Home

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It’s no secret that adolescents’ emotions fluctuate—in fact, that may even be a kind understatement. Between puberty, hormones, issues with self-esteem, and peer pressure, it is no wonder why conflicts are plentiful among preteens and teenagers. As a parent, watching these melodramas escalate into full-blown conflicts can be not only difficult, but also confusing. Do I stay out of it? Do I offer advice? Is this a serious issue, or something that will blow over? What your teen really needs is an opportunity to talk it through with a willing listener.

Like many of us remember, small conflicts, whether between siblings or friends, can quickly escalate and become blown out of proportion. Our adult mindset likely wants to tell a worked-up youngster to simply calm down. However, nothing revs up adolescents like telling them to calm down…

Instead of telling your teen to “calm down,” model the appropriate behavior. Show him or her different methods for relaxing. It could be as simple as taking a quick “cool down” moment to process their emotions before reacting. Some find exercising, reading, or doodling to be therapeutic methods for redirecting negative energy. Whatever the case may be, the take-away here is that nothing good can come from impulsive, emotional reactions during a conflict. Explain that a rational discussion is always more beneficial than a heated argument.

After a chance to think through his or her emotions, ask your teen to talk out the issue. What prompted the conflict in the first place? How did communication lines get crossed? What was the other person trying to achieve in the moment? This reflective process allows teens to practice perspective-taking, a skill that is not necessarily developed until later.
Discuss how to apologize well. This is a skill that some adults still struggle with from time to time. An insincere apology is no better than no apology at all—both are equally void of any true remorse or understanding. Teach your teen the value of an apology—that even when it is hard to do, articulating remorse is a social skill that he or she will need to have developed by adulthood. Will it always come easily? No. We all have moments when our stubborn need to prove correct outweighs the desire for amity. However, ask teens what they think will be more important in the long-run. Is this conflict something that they must play out? Or, is the friendship/relationship more valuable than the desire to be “right?

Remind adolescents that conflict resolution is not a one-size-fits-all. Depending on the person(s) involved and the circumstances attached to the disagreement, each conflict will need to be handled differently. It should also be said that conflicts are not always resolved at the drop of a hat—it is a process, one that takes time and patience on behalf of both parties. Explain that, much like any important skill, resolving a conflict is tricky, and it’s okay to stumble along the way.

By serving as a confidant and role model, you can ensure that your teen acquires the skills to assess and resolve conflicts large and small.

How to Keep Up After an Absence: High School Part 3 of 3

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Tis the season…for absences. With any absence from school, there will certainly be some amount of make-up work. The unfortunate truth is that prolonged absence from school can be detrimental for high school students—especially those students who are taking advanced placement classes. The height of flu season, combined with the holiday season, tends to create a notable increase in student absences from school. Whether families are traveling over the holidays, vacationing, or fighting off illness, this time of year means that, for one reason or another, high schoolers are missing more school.

So what can be done to ease the stress of returning to school after a long absence? For high schoolers, it is time for the student to take the reins. Not surprisingly, elementary and middle schoolers still rely on parent involvement when it comes to managing make-up work. High school is when the tides truly turn—now, the student should be primarily responsible for planning for and managing work in preparation of a long absence.

Be proactive

Not every extended absence is planned—the stomach flu is not going to afford a family the opportunity to plan ahead for a multi-day absence. However, vacations, family visits, or religious observances are things that can and should be planned for. High school students should be sure to email the school a week or two prior to the absence. As a parent, you can certainly remind your high schooler to contact his or her teachers, but it is important that students be accountable at this point in their education.

Take work home

Encourage your high schooler to ask for work prior to the absence. Especially if your child is taking advanced or honors courses, he or she will need every opportunity to get ahead if missing multiple days of instruction. Staying afloat will also reduce stress or anxiety for students, as they can better manage the workload ahead of time. Encourage your high schooler to complete the work in small bits during any downtime while absent. It may be necessary to carve out specific work times during the absence to help manage time, as well. Also, be sure that your high schooler has written all assignments, due dates, and assessments prior to the absence.

Utilize technology

If possible, bring a tablet or laptop along for the trip or holiday. Encourage your high schooler to stay in contact with peers from class if multiple days will be missed. This will also allow your child to check online assignments posted to Edline or Google classroom. If your high schooler is currently reading a novel in class or for a research project, seek an audio version before the absence. Many audiobooks can be found for free on youtube. A set of headphones and a tablet are all that’s needed to keep your teen from lagging behind in his or her schoolwork.

Prioritize the workload

High school often provides students with plenty of homework outside of school. Sometimes, as we all know, the workload can be downright overwhelming. Provide reassurance by reminding your high schooler to be realistic about completing the work. If assignments have piled up to an unrealistic amount, choose the most important assignments or readings—then be sure that your teen speaks with his or her teachers.

Problems at School: For Parents of High Schoolers

 

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Challenges at school are sure to emerge at one point or another. Of course, these challenges will vary in frequency and type, just as all learners are met with different trials as they make their way through their education. As a parent, you have been there for your learner every step of the way. Advocating, motivating, and assisting in every manner that you can, you have managed to see your child through to high school. However, now that the stakes are higher, the challenges or problems are likely more substantial, as well. So, how can you best manage to help your high schooler as he or she navigates some of the more crucial years of his or her education? The truth is, there is no quick fix or recipe for success when it comes to parental involvement at school. There are, however, a few suggestions to answer parents’ frequently asked questions.

FAQ: How can I help my high schooler if his or her grades are slipping?

Be sure to begin with a conversation at home. Often times, if parents go over their child’s head and take it directly to the teacher, the child will view this as a negative move. Not only are you disregarding your child’s place in the conversation, but you are also sending the message that he or she needs you to fix the problems or clean up the messes at school. Instead of immediately contacting the teacher, have an open and honest conversation about what is happening with recent school work. Allow your child to explain how he is struggling. Then brainstorm suggestions and methods for your child to get extra help on his or her own.

FAQ: What should I do if I think my child is being bullied?

First, be sure to validate your child’s concerns and feelings about the social issue at school. When children are systematically bullied, they are made to feel isolated and insecure. The first thing that they need is to know that you are in their corner. Do not downplay the bullying; do not minimize the impact or imply that your child should toughen up. Consider your emotions before involving the school. Bullying is an extremely sensitive issue for children, and therefore, their parents. Your first instinct may be to demand action on part of the school. Before contacting administrators and school counselors, be sure to have your ducks in a row with regard to the instances of bullying. As thoroughly as possible, gather details about each incident, such as who, what, when, and where the bullying occurred. Remember, bullying is often defined as repeated instances of aggression, intimidation, or humiliation revolving around an imbalance of power or strength. One rude comment or act is not classified as bullying. If the bullying is happening in a cyber realm, document and print the evidence of cyberbullying. When meeting with the school, ask to meet before or after school hours. This will alleviate your child’s anxiety about the bullying increasing by “tattling.”

FAQ: What do I do if my child is lacking academic motivation?

High schoolers may experience a drop in motivation or drive. While this is somewhat typical, it is equally disheartening for parents, especially considering that high school years are pivotal for determining college and career readiness. Your high school aged child is at a point where a lack of motivation can dramatically affect his or her options for the future. This is the time for an honest conversation, a reality check if you will, that is crucial to have with your child. Ask her what her plans are for the future. Ask what the ultimate career goal would be if success were guaranteed. Then, follow that up with a discussion on realistic steps to take in order to reach these goals. Goals aren’t achieved by hoping for the best—proactive steps toward achievement are essential. Set a game plan for getting your child back on track in terms of motivation.

How-to Check for Comprehension: High School

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Comprehension: though this term has a simple definition, it is far from a simple concept. Comprehension centers on one’s ability to understand or make sense of something. It is truly a complex cognitive ability that can be difficult to measure and varies person to person.

Once adolescents arrive at the high-school level of their education, comprehension is an expectation in the classroom. Having progressed through years of schooling, high schoolers have had their comprehension assessed countless times. The methods for which to assess them over the years is just as varied. Whether via formal or informal assessments, comprehension at the high school level leaves no room for gray areas—students either comprehend a concept, or they do not. This is different from the lower grades, when students are still developing comprehension skills. So how can high schoolers check for and improve comprehension skills? The three-step strategy below is a proven process which expands a student’s comprehension skills.

  1. Annotate texts, assignment sheets, rubrics, etc. Essentially, any text can be annotated to check for understanding. When students receive an article, report, novel, etc., they should immediately assume the role of an active reader and writer. This means that, when reading, students should have a pencil and/or highlighter in hand, ready to record as they read. This is not an innate skill; it takes practice and consideration. Highlighting is not merely enough—students have to indicate why they have highlighted something, which is where margin notes come into play. This process helps to ensure that students are actively engaged in the text, following along and thinking critically as they read.
  2. Employ close reading, of which annotating is an important aspect. Close reading involves a critical analysis of a text that requires the reader to engage closely with the text by focusing on significant details, patterns, and other distinguishable aspects of the author’s writing. Close reading asks that readers question or critique the artistic choices of the author, i.e., Why did he include that simile? What is the meaning of that term as it is used in the context of the paragraph? What is the greater message that the author may have been trying to convey? Close reading encourages readers to look at the text in layers, similar to that of an onion. As we peel back the layers, we ask different questions of the text. First, what is the author saying? Then, how is the author saying it? And finally, why would the author choose to say it in such a way?
  3. Respond to the text. Having annotated and performed a close reading of the text, a final method for ensuring comprehension is to respond to the text. With the notes that the student has taken, and the observations and critiques that have been made, high schoolers can exhibit further comprehension by responding in various forms, but likely a written response. High school students can create book reviews, author reviews, argumentative or persuasive pieces, etc. By commenting on a text in a critical way, students are able to show that they have not only comprehended the material, but also analyzed it critically.