Mindset Matters: Growth Mindset for the Elementary Schooler


Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset is a very hot topic in the education world right now. What began as a pedagogical, research-based concept coined by Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, has now trickled down even into kindergarten classrooms. A basic explanation for a not-so-basic concept is the fact that
people can improve their achievement, motivation, and even their intellect by adopting a growth mindset and strategies that correspond to such a mindset.

Growth vs. Fixed

Teaching young learners about growth mindset involves countering thought processes that they may have already begun to acquire. Students in elementary school have likely already begun to find their strengths and weaknesses. We all have certain talents, but elementary schoolers can adopt a growth mindset by refusing to limit themselves based on areas of weakness. Teaching growth mindset to younger learners can be as simple as swapping out our language and praise in the classroom.

Stressing only natural-born talents can be detrimental to adopting a growth mindset. While some of us are born with natural gifts, such as artistic, athletic, or musical strengths, the flipside to stressing the importance of natural gifts is the fact that children will believe that, if they are not born with these abilities, they cannot acquire them. Additionally, this fixed mindset does not encourage learners to accept challenges. Instead of attempting something outside of their comfort zone, children with a fixed mindset may rest on their laurels—believing that, unless it is one of their innate gifts, they will never be good at it.

Instead, stress the importance of acquiring new skills. Yes, natural abilities are wonderful in that they are innately effortless. However, do not forget to encourage children to practice skills, activities, or hobbies outside of their natural realm of abilities. Growth mindset involves a belief system that ability is limitless, so long as the strategies are there. Again, this is about embracing challenges with the realization that, while we may not be the best at a new skill right away, we can take charge of the challenge by practice, learning, and growing.

Emphasizing success while downplaying failure ignores the essential process for improvement. Children with a fixed mindset consider failure to be inevitable if the task involves something that they deem that they are simply “not good at.” This discourages any amount of effort or motivation because they truly believe that “once a multiplication failure, always a multiplication failure.” In this sense, people with a fixed mindset internalize failure. They believe that they are not good at something, therefore they will never be good at it, so what is the point of putting forth excessive effort? In a sense, a fixed mindset creates its own roadblocks.

Help children to look closely at and analyze possible reasons for moments of difficulty or perceived failure. Don’t shy away from discussing why your child struggled with something. Instead, have open and honest conversations about how they could use different strategies the next time. Growth mindset revolves around the idea that intellect and ability are fluid—and that we can control our success rates by practicing and strategizing.

A child with a fixed mindset will often strive for perfection. What’s the problem with that? Well, for one, perfection is a relative term. There is no way to measure “perfection.” It also discourages or discredits hard work unless the child received 100% on an assignment. In a child’s fixed mindset, it is either 100% or nothing.

While a fixed mindset ignores the concept of improvement and growth, the alternative praises evidence of improvement. Yes, you may have gotten a C on your math test; however, that score is leaps and bounds above the D you got 3 weeks ago. When having children examine and analyze their own growth, they begin to find trends in their learning process. These trends help them to identify which strategies are most beneficial to them as learners. So yes, the C grade may not be as exciting as the A+, but the steady improvement tells us a lot about how a child has acquired new learning strategies.

Group Work: How to Make it Work


Cooperative learning, collaborative strategies, group rotations—whatever we decide to call it, the research behind group work in the classroom makes a strong case for embracing collaborative learning. As beneficial as it is, however, group work can easily go awry if the planning and structures are not in place. Here are some suggestions for well-managed group work in the classroom.

  1. Consistency is key when introducing group structures and routines. Rotations, stations, and group collaboration involve much more than having students circulate through different activities together. Before you can even begin the actual group work, students need to be explicitly instructed on how they will form and work in their groups. Devote some time to having students practice moving into their groups in a quick and organized manner. Encourage students to have only necessary materials out during group work. Practice timed cleanup so that groups familiarize themselves with the amount of time needed to wrap up a work session.
  2. Teacher-derived groups should be deliberate on multiple levels. Be sure that groups contain personalities that will jive and complement one another. Also be careful to level the groups so that there are higher-ability and lower-ability group members in each group. When possible, groups should be gender-balanced and small enough that every person will play a vital role in the process and product. For the typical classroom, groups should be kept to 4 students or smaller to allow for accountability.
  3. Begin implementing group work by stressing the importance of the process, not necessarily the product. Of course the end result is important; however, cooperative dialogue, perspective-taking, and synergy are the foundations for a successful group—perfecting the product will come later. You want the groups to work like a well-oiled machine in the sense that each person knows that her individual input is necessary to achieve the end goal.
  4. Have open dialogue about that end goal. Part of the nuisance of group work is the fact that every group member has a different work ethic, mindset, motivation, and concept of the result. We have all experienced the headache and stress of completing “group work” individually because a partner or group mates were banking on someone else completing the job. To avoid this common pitfall, encourage groups to discuss what each individual’s end goal is and work on compromising from there. If one person’s goal is to complete the task in as little time as possible, assign that person one of the initial planning, prewriting, or beginning tasks for the project. If another person expresses a deep desire to perfect the group’s project, put that person in charge of checking the final product against the rubric and making edits or adjustments as needed. If one person simply aims to turn something in for credit, put him or her in charge of organizing materials, brainstorming ideas, keeping the group’s notes, etc.—the key is to play to each person’s strengths and desires so that everyone’s intrinsic motivation leads the group to the same end goal.

The Other Stuff: How to Approach High-Level Thinking Questions

It is important that educators exude a sense of passion for the content that we teach. Whether it be math, science, English, etc., our love for our subject areas helps to engage our students and keep them motivated. While much of our instruction focuses around the content, we are also tasked with teaching skills that allow students to access the content that we are teaching. Depending on grade level and ability, students could be all over the map when it comes to these essential, foundational skills. We must first assess the tools that our students bring with them to the classroom and then be prepared to focus part of our instruction around these crucial basics.

“Dissecting the question” is a practice that students will encounter in EVERY content area throughout their education. Whether responding to a writing prompt, answering a word problem, or following chemistry lab procedures, students must be aware of the end goal when confronting a task. Often times across content areas, questions or practices are framed in wordy, complex, or very involved language. This type of wording has the potential to not only confuse students, but also to discourage them right from the beginning before they have even considered the question. To hone in on an answer, students must first learn how to identify exactly what the question is asking.  

Consider the following prompt: Authors use many different literary devices to convey mood in a narrative. Identify and analyze two devices that J.K. Rowling uses to convey mood in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone using evidence from the text to support your claim.

Now, this prompt is a tall order in terms of a student’s need to focus in on the actual question. Model the process of “skimming the fat” from the question so that only the essentials are present. For example, have students cross off any “fluff” or unnecessary information in the question. This goes for math, English, science, history, etc. For our example above, students could cross off the entire first sentence in the prompt—this simply frames the context of the prompt.

Next, help students to translate or better comprehend the academic language that all content-area questions will use. Terms like analyze, assess, compare, estimate, and classify may seems straightforward to us; however, students often find these directives to be confusing. Have students practice highlighting the common academic language terms as they encounter them in questions, prompts, and tasks. Then, spend time as a class discussing what these terms actually mean—i.e., what actions will we take as readers when we identify and analyze something? What does it mean by devices? Perhaps students need a refresher on literary devices. This is where graphic organizers and other note-taking strategies will come in handy for students needing a quick review of a concept.

Next, help students understand that identify simply means to find, name, or choose two devices that the author uses, while analyze means to explore, examine, or question how these devices convey, or show, mood. Students that are still struggling to begin responding to the question may benefit from a sentence frame or sample starter. This strategy is great for English and math, where teachers are likely seeking complete sentences or full thoughts in the answers and responses. Consider providing students with something like this as their starting thesis statement:

(AUTHOR’S NAME) uses (DEVICE AND DEVICE) to convey a (SPECIFIC TYPE OF MOOD) in (TITLE).

Once they have filled in the blanks for the thesis statement, prompt the analysis piece by asking leading questions. These suggestive questions will help students with the initial practice of analyzing, assessing, or making connections between their claim and their reasoning or support for the claim. Again, this practice takes time and repetition—attacking a high-level thinking question like this is not something that can be mastered in one class period. The key is to provide students with strategies to help steer their thinking in the direction of the actual meat of the question. By helping to define, explain, eliminate, and order the process of the question, students are much more equipped to begin answering.

So remember:

  • Eliminate fluff
  • Locate key terms/academic language that indicate what is being asked
  • Define those terms for students
  • Provide graphic organizers or refresher notes when necessary
  • Consider providing sentence frames or examples for students to use as a springboard

From a Teacher to a Teacher: Kindness in the Classroom

Dear fellow educator,

I think it goes without saying that these are crucial times for our young people, not only with regard to education, but also in forming the next generation’s principles. All politics aside, our students are coming of age in a time where kindness, empathy, and integrity have been shoved aside in favor of judgment, rivalry, and naiveté. As we move into a new school year, fervent introspection has me focusing on one question: how can we craft and nurture ‘goodness’ in our schools?  

Perhaps one of the biggest perceived roadblocks in our quest to add kindness to the curricula is the fact that we are here to educate, not parent our students. No matter what age, our students come to us with a belief system and moral gauge that far exceeds our reaches. With so many uncontrollable variables at play in our classrooms, how could we possibly begin to stomp out hate that may have been engrained in a child since day one? Is it even acceptable, as mere educators, for us to take on that role or responsibility? These perplexing questions may forever go unanswered.

Instead of looking at changing the child’s cognizance, I’ll begin to nurture kindness by looking at my personal practices in the classroom—let’s consider it a ripple effect of sorts.   

  • Use seating charts to recognize the “lonely students.” This is a concept used by a veteran teacher from Texas throughout her entire career. On Fridays I’ll ask students to write down the names of two people that they would like to sit with next week. I will make clear that these requests are not guaranteed to be granted.  Students will occasionally get their wishes. However, the key here is that I am not concerned with the seating chart in the least—who sits beside whom is of no concern to me. I am looking instead for the names that are not written down—which child is never sought out as a seating partner? Are these missing names indicative of a bullying problem? Do I recognize signs of grief or depression in any of the students that are not requested as seating partners? By analyzing the seating requests, I am better able to reach out to the children that may feel lonely or withdrawn and potentially change the course of their unhappiness.
  • Praise acts of kindness just as much, if not more, than test scores, grades, or GPAs. Academia is designed to breed competition through class rankings, SAT scores, honor roll lists, etc. Several schools in Montgomery County celebrate their seniors’ achievements by posting each student’s college admittance for the coming year in the local newspaper—a great opportunity for young scholars to shine. However, with such recognition comes an inevitable ranking or hierarchy among graduates. Seeing my name and future university in print, followed by so-and-so attending Harvard, would undoubtedly sour my sense of accomplishment. Yes—that’s the real world—someone is always going to be smarter, more successful, better… Consider this: Focusing on achievements in kindness would not take away from anyone’s academic achievements. This praise and acknowledgment would simply be an additional measure of character—one that is just as important (and sometimes as lucrative) as academic success. If a student is struggling academically, try showing appreciation for that student’s kindness. Highlight students that have shown acts of kindness to others—use this as an opportunity to place value on the concept of being a good person.
  • Model empathy at any opportunity. Seeing as I teach middle school, empathy is something that many of my students are still grasping. During the adolescent years, the brain is primed to self-serve. This sometimes creates an inability to see things from another’s perspective. It’s not that they don’t want to—it’s that the adolescent brain is still maturing. Demonstrate how empathy works by expressing your own instances of relating on an emotional level. Try starting the conversation with, “You know that we all make mistakes…” or, “I’m upset that you’re getting down on yourself for one low grade…” or, “I see that you’ve really tried to improve and I admire your effort.”

 

The Science Behind Movement: How to Use it at Home

Movement and kinetic strategies have been hot topics of conversation among educators, developmental psychologists and researchers. Without getting too far into anatomical terms and rhetoric about how the brain works, scientific research supports one major claim about movement and learning: the same part of the brain that processes movement also happens to process learning, attention, and memory—the cerebellum. So in the same way that regular physical activity strengthens the muscles, movement similarly helps construct and strengthen neural pathways. Educators are finding great benefits to the application of movement—the concept of kinetic learning can also be applied at home.

When helping your child review study material for an upcoming assessment, add some aspect of movement to the routine. This can mean reciting information while jumping on the trampoline or juggling a soccer ball. Clapping or patting to keep rhythm while memorizing notes can enhance recall as well. Practice multiplication flashcards while allowing your child to bounce a ball or jump rope while keeping a steady beat. Simply pacing while studying is another small tweak that allows kids to focus solely on the material while moving continuously and methodically.

Parents may find it beneficial to start small with kinetic learning strategies—like providing a stress ball for the child to squeeze while working. The distraction level is minimal, but the concept of movement, focus, and memory still applies. Items like fidget spinners, cubes, or eraser putty, so long as they are being used properly, will have the same effect on focus and attention.

When encouraging summer reading, consider the option to listen to the book. This allows reluctant readers the opportunity to move about while listening to the text on a smartphone, play away, or other audio device. Audiobooks allow struggling readers to follow along while listening to the story. But, for restless or reluctant readers, audiobooks allow for walking, jogging, or virtually any light activity while enjoying a story.

A well-known practice—rewriting notes or study guides—promotes the same reasoning behind kinesthetic learning. The act of physically handwriting the notes, concepts, or definition repeatedly goes further than typing notes. The movement, even at the slight level that handwriting provides, helps to boost memory and recall.

In the same way that sensory tables allow toddlers and preschool-aged children to engage in messy sensory play to develop fine motor skills, cooking can has a similar effect on older children. With parent supervision, children can practice any number of skills while moving about the kitchen mixing, measuring, and whipping up snacks. Equivalent fractions, cause and effect relationships, following instructions—all of these skills take place in the kitchen while children get to move around the kitchen. If encouraging the little ones, allow them to stir cookie dough or hold the mixer on low—even the combining of ingredients can be a great learning experience that incorporates movement for little ones.

Combine movement-based games with learning at home for a fun-filled family game night! Practice vocabulary terms, historic dates, physics terms, etc., while playing charades. Pictionary is another option for the artistically-inclined. For board game lovers, plan a Scrabble match or Boggle challenge, where wordsmiths can spell and strategize while moving game pieces or rolling dice.

Non-Academic Skill Sets and Why They Are Essential

Many skills sets, particularly in the social-emotional category, are not explicit aspects of our academic curricula. As educators, our ultimate goal involves preparing young people for all facets of the real world. Yes, we primarily stick to our content areas; however, certain skill sets are not only cross-curricular, they are also essential to success in adulthood. Whether teaching in the primary, middle, or secondary school setting, we can each play a crucial role when it comes to these non-academic features of college and career readiness.

Primary Grades:

The focus for learning in the primary grades has shifted in the last decade or so. It used to be that those early years in the classroom circled around creativity, imaginative play, relationship building, and simply grasping what it means to learn. While these qualities are still present, academic skills have clearly become more prominent. Yet learning at the elementary level still teaches more than academic rigor and content-specific information.

Early elementary grades teach children how to share and get along with others. These basic social skills and manners are an essential part of development and socialization. For adults, social acuity, or the ability read others’ behavior and act accordingly, is a life skill that many believe to be directly linked to success in adulthood. The ability to understand and relate to others involves critical thinking—and just not in the conscious way that we usually see it in the academic realm. In the same way that students will discuss how a character feels and why they know, children learn to read others’ behavior, body language, facial expressions, and tone. While they may not know that they are performing this sort of analysis, it is arguably one of the more important life skills to acquire to become a successful adult.   

Can this vital life skill be evaluated on a standard grading scale? No, but a child that struggles to relate to and get along with others is very apparent and at a distinct disadvantage in school.

Middle Grades:

The sharing, caring, getting along mentality of the primary grades continues to build and develop during middle school years. In addition to these essential social skills, middle schoolers also begin to develop autonomy, self-advocacy, and accountability. Parents still maintain a significant role in a child’s education; however, more of the responsibility should be shouldered by the student himself. A new level of self-reliance is essential when navigating these transformative years in middle school.

In elementary school, parents typically act as the liaison between child and teacher. At a certain point, it is time to take off the training wheels, so to speak. The age or grade level can vary from child to child, but somewhere around 7th grade, a student should begin to act on her own behalf at school. She forgot to do her homework? She should be the one to explain it to her teacher. He left his project on the kitchen table? He will have to take responsibility and discuss late credit with his teacher. These are difficult life lessons, especially for parents. It is instinctual for parents to want the best for their children and to ease any stress or burden; however, endlessly coming to your child’s rescue does nothing to help him or her develop a sense of responsibility. A child who knows she can always rely on mom or dad to metaphorically “clean up her messes” will struggle to problem solve, take ownership of mistakes, and develop independence.

An extreme example of this lack of culpability is seen at the university level, where professors are now fielding emails and calls from parents asking for clarity on a student’s recent grade. Of course, professors are scoffing at the absurdity of parents’ requests to take another look at a paper, or to offer extra credit for the course. Creating the expectation for self-reliance early will better prepare students down the road.    

Secondary Grades:

Once students reach high school, GPA, extracurricular activities, and future plans become the focus. The life skills that best support students at this stage of their education include multi-tasking and grit. Adult life, as students will soon discover, involves a great deal of juggling. The ability to evaluate multiple tasks, prioritize, and execute them is essential for students entering the workforce. This level of executive functioning occurs throughout a child’s entire education; however, the stakes are higher in high school—no pun intended. Organization is a key when it comes to multitasking. Grit involves the ability to act with resolve and determination even after a failure or setback. The concept of mind over matter applies here—high schoolers need to be able to maintain focus on the end goal, no matter the distractions or obstacles involved.  

The Science Behind Movement: How to Use it to Boost Learning

The classroom, as far as most people remember it, has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. Whether public or private, chalkboards are a thing of the past. Rows of desks are reconfigured; digital documents are replacing paper copies; the library is now considered a media center; and smartboards project interactive lessons, movies, visual aids, and text-to-speech readings. What is fundamentally different about how schools are transforming is the notion of “doing.” Students, educators, and parents are now doing things in a totally different way. For instance, a smartphone app now texts students and parents reminders about upcoming assignments. Teachers can upload live video screenshots of a math lesson so that an absent student can still participate from home. Students are able to create digital representations of a structure they have designed, upload it to the classroom’s website, and receive comments and suggestions from peers in real-time.

Aside from the gains that technology has brought into the classroom, we have also begun to see learning processes in a new light. Of late, movement and kinetic strategies have been the topic of conversation among educators, developmental psychologists, researchers, etc. How exactly does this philosophy work? Are there any drawbacks to movement in the classroom? What can we do to best implement these strategies at home and in school?

Without getting too far down the rabbit hole in anatomical terms and rhetoric about how the brain works, scientific research supports one major claim about movement and learning: the same part of the brain that processes movement also happens to process learning, attention, and memory—the cerebellum. So in the same way that regular physical activity strengthens the muscles, movement similarly helps construct and strengthen neural pathways.  

The push for movement comes about at an interesting time, in which students as young as kindergarten aren’t having recess in order to accommodate the academic rigor of the school day. Some strongly believe that, in the same way that imaginative play has been somewhat marginalized, physical activity has become collateral damage—pushed aside to catch U.S. students up with the rest of the established world in terms of academics. Proponents of kinetic classrooms, however, wish to marry traditional learning with physical activity. In other words, instead of seeing learning time and recess time as separate entities, instruction and learning would be embedded with movement. This could take the form of yoga balls instead of traditional classroom chairs, standing or high-top desks as opposed to typical desks, rotation or station activities to promote constant movement, and hands-on and outdoor learning to provide real-world application and tangible concepts.

At home, this learning with movement philosophy could be different things, depending on the child’s needs and capabilities. For some, simply rolling a bouncy ball across the desk while studying could boost memory and reasoning. For others, it may help to listen to assigned chapters of an audiobook while jumping on the trampoline or juggling a soccer ball. Pacing while studying is a small tweak that allows kids to focus solely on the material while moving continuously and methodically.

Some concerns about shifting the traditional classroom model involve the distractibility of others. Yes, research indicates that movement helps with focus, attention, memory, and logical reasoning. But, could the movement of one student be a distraction to another? Some say yes. In the same way that a student may unknowingly rhythmically tap their pencil or kick the chair in front of them, movement in the classroom poses that issue on a greater scale. Some educators and parents may choose to start small—like providing a stress ball for the child to squeeze while working. The distraction level is minimal, but the concept of movement still applies.

So, what’s the takeaway? Studies show that movement can and does improve learning. It’s up to you and your child to see what movement-based strategies work best–and to make sure these tactics are approved for use in the classroom or reserved for home use. Regardless, it’s time to get a move on kinetic learning!

 

Outdoor Learning

The summer months are notorious for triggering brain drain. The shear gap in time, combined with the hiatus from hours of learning every day, prompts a decline in knowledge acquisition and retention. Now, it is no wonder why summer activities and routines make it difficult to convince children to complete ungraded practices. Kids would much rather ditch the homework and head outside to soak up the sunshine with their friends. So instead, what if we took the learning outside? What if activities were presented as challenges, exploration, observation and inquiry? The impact could be dramatic.

Research and data indicate that outdoor learning can have immense benefits on student achievement. Western European countries have found major benefits to embracing outdoor and out-of-the-classroom learning. Aside from increasing engagement, learning outside the box, so to speak, allows students to experience hands-on practice, first-hand knowledge, real-world application and academic exploration. The value of outdoor learning experiences has been solidly recognized, so it is essential that parents, educators, and schools incorporate some of these ideologies.

This does not mean that teachers and parents should simply plop children down outside to complete a worksheet—the learning needs to be rooted in an aspect of the environment. Much like using educational technology simply for the sake of using technology, venturing outdoors just for the sake of being outdoors is not one of the fundamental concepts of outdoor learning. Some classes like physics, biology, and physical education more readily lend themselves to outdoor learning opportunities. Say you are studying types of clouds during the weather unit in science class. Instead of viewing drawings in a textbook, students could perform outdoor observations of actual clouds. Groups could discuss temperature, wind, and humidity to assess which variety of cloud is most common for the day’s weather. Math students could make use of the nice weather to plan, organize, measure out, and purchase materials for a regulation kickball field, miniature green house, or standing long jump.

Other subjects take a little more creative planning, but they can just as easily utilize the outdoors. If English students are reading poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, they may take the excerpts outdoors to combine the lush descriptions of nature on the page to the physical world surrounding them. If a child is more resistant to spending some parts of summertime explicitly learning or reviewing academic skills, activities can be disguised even further. Ask your child if there are any national parks, landmarks, or other attractions that he would like to visit. Casually seek information about the location by asking questions that would encourage your child to perform some informal research. Once you have gathered enough information, take your child to the park, monument, zoo, or lake. Ask if anything surprised him once you have visited in person—did you recognize any of the aspects that you saw in your research?   

How to Insert Learning into your Summer Plans: For Parents of High Schoolers

It’s about that time: Teens have worked hard all year and are now experiencing the freedom and relaxation that summer brings. It is arguably the best time of year (especially for teachers!), but there is a downside for many. Over the long summer months, learners have a tendency to forget or lose some of the knowledge and skills that they have acquired over the previous school year. Research and statistics indicate that learning and retention declines noticeably during June, July, and August. As expected, if you are not using it, you are losing it—your knowledge, that is. The key here would then be to continue the learning outside of the classroom, which could prove to be a difficult sell for high schoolers eager to follow their own agendas for a few months.

Instead of approaching this sustained study as school work, parents should consider creatively utilizing certain activities so that the learning is there—only presented as a game, puzzle, challenge, etc. Check out some ideas below to help high schoolers retain information over the summer months.

  • Have your high schooler plan the most time and/or cost efficient driving route for the family road trip. Which route allows for fewer toll roads? Which route currently has the least amount of construction? Is there a route without many rest stops that you would like to avoid? Are there any potential attractions along the way that might interest the group? All of these real-world considerations that parents typically consider could mean a great opportunity for your teen to build or expand upon his critical thinking skills. Add in the concept of planning for gas money, and you have another added layer of math practice. Negotiate stereo control or time behind the wheel for the effort they have put into planning the most efficient trip!

  • Read a recent “book to screen” young adult novel together. Be sure to let your teen choose the novel. Discuss the characters, plot, setting, and make predictions about how you think the story will end. Once you have finished the book, rent or go see the movie. Then discuss how the two versions compare. Did the characters appear how you had pictured them? Was anything in the movie noticeably different from the storyline? What creative choices did the filmmaker(s) have to make to translate the text to the screen?

  • Encourage your teen to begin looking into postsecondary education options. Is she especially creative or interested in visual arts, culinary careers, music and performance art? Browse options for liberal arts schools or specialized programs. Is your teen a huge sports fan, athlete, scholar, or philanthropist? Prompt him to peruse options for schools with a large sports following, abundant athletic scholarships, Greek chapters or volunteer programs. Have your teen build a list of non-negotiables when it comes to colleges and universities. Once you have a good idea of what he is looking for, arrange a visit to the campus.

  • Try a competitive activity like golf/mini golf, bowling, Bocce ball where score is kept. Leave the teens in charge of tracking the score and progress of the game to help maintain a strong memory.

  • Get your teen started on a savings plan or spending budget for the summer. Use some money from a yard sale or other chores to start with a base. Set guidelines for the budget, including a minimum amount that must remain in the “account.” Help your high schooler work towards a purchase of some sort, but make sure that she finds the best price for the item by doing research.

  • When doing any summer baking or cooking for a barbeque or party, have your teen help with the measurements. Ask him to double or triple the recipe to suit the large group coming over.

  • Pick up a second (or third!) language together. From the internet to Amazon, disks, apps, and books for language learners are all over the place. Begin by labeling items around the house to familiarize your teen with certain pronunciations. Consider watching a movie with subtitles, then gradually build up from there.

 

Encouraging Student Effort in the Home Stretch

May is the time of the school year when many students and teachers begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, making it a difficult month to focus and persevere. Even as the adult in the classroom, I notice the excitability in the air when the school year has begun to wind down to mere weeks. The difficulty then becomes maintaining the attention of children and teens when, truth be told, they are likely daydreaming about their soon-to-be-realized freedom. Below are tips for holding students’ interest at the end of the school yearand quelling the impatience that comes with it.

  • Fake it until you make it in order to sustain engagement. Yes, this is the opposite of what the body and mind is telling us. Towards the end of the year, students are not the only ones dreaming of long summer days and sleeping in. As the adults in the room, it is our responsibility to set the tone of the classroom, even when all attention is elsewhere. Students, no matter the age group, feed off of the energy that you bring into your lessons. When we lack motivation or energy, students undoubtedly pick up on that lethargy. When this happens, all bets are off for maintaining a focused and engaged classroom. So, even when you are fried—which you certainly will be—remember the mantra above: fake enthusiasm and let the energetic tone be contagious. 
  • Talk to your classes about the importance of follow-through and self-sufficiency. Remind students of all of the hard work that they have done over the course of the school year. Stress the importance of finishing strong and working diligently through the last assignment of the year. Now is not the time to let distractions interfere with the momentum that has been built since day one in the fall. Instead, encourage students to finish the last leg of the race that is the school year as if each assignment decides their final grade. 
  • Keep creative with lessons and assignments. Obvious? Yes, but necessary nonetheless. Try not to let the allure of summer sunshine blind you—plan engaging lessons that allow students to explore, create, or choose from different options in terms of assignments. Avoid the go-to “busy work” plan that leaves students will dull or redundant worksheets. 
  • Think outside of the classroom. When possible, plan activities or lessons that could take place outside. Keep the activities structured and organized, as to maintain control of the learning. Rotation stations allow for collaboration while ensuring that groups are small and productive at the same time. Feel free to have small blocks for silent reading outside. This practice helps students to see reading as a leisure activity, as opposed to simply a completion box to check. 
  • Consider holding catch-up or work periods to ensure that students are thoroughly completing assignments even as they weeks are winding down. Provide students with additional copies of tasks that they may have misplaced, make-up work from absences, reassessments, etc. For students that are all caught up, have options for them to partake in.