The Significance of Struggling

graduation-317121_1280

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

heartsickness-428103_1280

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

girl-410175_1280

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

 

graduation-995042_1280

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

read-515531_1280

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.

Writing a Paragraph: High School

studying-951818_1280

Writing is arguably one of the most beneficial skills taught in the academic realm. Since strong writing abilities are valuable in every content area and career down the road, mastery of this skill is essential. As with most undertakings, practice is key to developing a student’s writingthe more a child writes, the better that child will progress as he advances through his education. Once in high school, students are expected to have mastered writing concepts such as organization, mechanics, and varied sentence structure.

At the high school level, the expectations for writing tasks are elevated. It is assumed that students have a proficient grasp on the basics and are now prepared to tackle concepts such as writing for a specific audience and maintaining tone and fluidity. These concepts are touched upon in the middle grades; however, they really become the focus of higher level academic writing when assignments are required to serve a specific purpose.

No matter the content area, secondary level writing assignments involve persuasive, argumentative, and expository writing techniques. From the chemistry lab to the AP government classroom, students will be required to juggle and synthesize many small parts to compose a fluid paper. Some of these writing skills include:

  • Stating a claim
  • Supporting that claim with clear evidence and/or research
  • Providing analysis of the evidence (i.e. how does the research support your claim?)
  • Embedding quotations
  • Paraphrasing or making inferences from direct quotations
  • Drawing the argument to a final conclusion  

Considering the number of key components involved, as well as the high level thinking skills required to accomplish these components, it is no wonder that writing at the high school level can be stressful and strenuous. Here are a few helpful tips from the teacher to avoid future headaches with high school writing.

Utilize the organizer. While graphic organizers are sometimes viewed as elementary tools, high schoolers and college students can greatly benefit from an outline. Of course, these outlines and organizers will not always be provided by the teacher—students will have to do the prewriting legwork. The extra step may deter your high schooler at first, especially those students who prefer to cut corners. However, an outline is a proven strategy to ensure that a large writing assignment is organized, cohesive, and complete. The outline also allows for students to see that they have gathered all of the essential pieces before beginning the writing process. Thus, an outline will save your high schooler time and hassle in the end.

Read examples and samples of similar writing pieces. This is especially helpful when a section of the assignment or essay is more complex, like parenthetical documentation. Viewing samples of how other writers have constructed these components provides students with additional help, almost like a step-by-step guide.

Be sure to proofread. Again, high schoolers who are reluctant writers to begin with will likely shy away from the editing process. However, rereading written work aloud is the only way to ensure that the writing flows, maintains clarity, and adheres to the claim throughout. This fluidity piece is essential for secondary writing assignments.

Use the rubric to assess the writing before submitting. This additional step is yet another strategy that many students choose to disregard. However, “grading” themselves before submitting a paper allows students to look at the writing from another angle. Since the rubric is created by the teacher, and will be used to assess the writing piece, it only makes sense for high schoolers to perform a self-check of the assignment according to the criteria.  
While high schoolers may be loathe to add any more steps to their writing assignment, these strategies will help to focus their efforts and ease them into the writing process. And, best of all, these strategies can help them to enhance their written work!