How-To Stay in the Know: News for Elementary-Age Groups

For elementary students, the topic of news or current events may likely be met with confused faces or outright groans of boredom. I can certainly remember my eyes glazing over when Nightly News occupied the television in my house growing up. And today’s elementary schoolers are no different—they may not be 100 percent enthralled with current events. However, today’s technology means that current events are not only readily available, they are also available to all levels of readers and viewers. For the elementary age group, news events and stories shared with children must be age and reader-appropriate. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with elementary students.

Be sure to preview all news stories, articles, and broadcasts before having students participate. Thankfully, today’s technology and vast number of children’s programs ensure that current events and news articles can be easily assessed for age-appropriate content. Several educational news outlets do this work for us by categorizing material by age group and Lexile range. While it is important that students understand what they are reading, it is equally, if not more important, to be sure that the material is suitable for children. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Discovery Channel, Channel One, Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for elementary schoolers.

Keep the news relevant but light. Of course, we want students to be aware of some of the important events happening around them. But, at the same time, we must be sure not to expose them to anything that is too jarring or upsetting. News stories for elementary-age groups should involve topics to which students can relate. Make sure that the information they are getting connects to something in their own lives. This is a great way for students to begin to connect to the outside world, as well as recognize their place in it.

Encourage questions. 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? How does this story or event affect the people around me? How do I benefit from knowing about this story or current event? Again, these questions prompt students to consider what they have just learned.

Know the difference between credibility and unreliability. Again, this is a new concept for elementary schoolers. 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 elementary school students can begin to do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Today’s school libraries and media centers have wonderful resources that help with providing credible sources. Whether primary or secondary sources, schools purchase multiple paid forums, anthologies, and online databases for students to conduct research or investigate specific topics.

Secrets of a Great Student: Part II

Great students have many characteristics in common—prioritizing, accepting challenges, adopting a positive outlook, self-checking, and advocating, among others. Of course, every learner is different, and what works for one will not necessarily suit another. However, here are five additional commonalities among great students.

1. Great students recognize the importance of learning. This may sound obvious, but education is not necessarily immediately appreciated by young learners. For many, school can be frustrating or boring—a negative experience at times. No matter how eager a learner, every student is going to be met with bouts of repetition, memorization, and deep focus—not always mentally-stimulating practices. However, academic success comes with the knowledge that learning can and should be a challenge—that anything difficult is going to come with frustration, but will be immeasurably beneficial.

2. Successful students step outside of their comfort zones to pick up new skills, hobbies, and talents. In the same way that we know that learning never ends, great learners embrace the idea of constantly trying to build their repertoire of knowledge. Whether it be a new topic, sport, artistic skill, social goal, or unfamiliar hobby, successful students are not satisfied unless they are soaking in something new. Their thirst for knowledge transcends what they know they are already good at—instead, they want to try for more. Great learners do not rest on their laurels, but rather recognize that past achievements are mere stepping stones for continuous growth.

3. Great students seek help from others. Much like advocating for oneself by asking questions and seeking help from teachers, learners work through struggles and difficulties by reaching out for assistance and advice from others. Whether this be advice from adults or peers, adolescents find success through collaboration and cooperation. The ability to recognize their own weaknesses as strengths in others helps students begin to utilize their peers. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness—this is a sign of self-recognition and self-awareness. To know what you need help with is to strive for more knowledge from others.

4. Successful learners are eager to teach and/or share what they have learned. As many educators know, mastery of content or skill is best exhibited when students are able to instruct others. To teach someone else indicates that a student understands the inner workings of a concept. It is a crucial opportunity to take information or skills absorbed and articulate the concept in one’s own words.

5.  Successful students practice creativity and innovation. Again, to step outside of the box is a risk and is not always comfortable for young learners. However, this ability to try a new way of doing something exhibits strength, confidence, and ingenuity. Learning is all about growth and development of skills and knowledge. Great learners know that there are multiple roads to success in any given goal. Whether addressing a simple math problem or mapping out a plan for the future, great students know that trails to success are paved individually and creatively.

Secrets of a Great Student: Part I

Being studious is not necessarily innate. Sure, there are some children that seem to take to academia more readily; however, there is no denying that children can improve their propensity for learning. In fact, an important notion of education is that learning is infinite—it is never “over” or “maxed out.” Since learning truly never ends, we can also presume that learners are always improving and growing. So, what exactly do great students do to achieve greatness in the academic realm?  

A great student is sure to prioritize. This is not always easy, especially nowadays when children are overscheduled like never before. Practices, rehearsals, tournamentsall of these activities are likely familiar to school-age children. Families today are packing as much activity as possible into any given weekday. And, as much as athletics, arts, music, and other extracurricular activities are an integral part of education, successful students know that academics must take a top spot on the list of priorities.   

Great students accept and embrace challenges. The wise saying “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” certainly applies here. Students who not only accept challenges, but readily chase them, exhibit a few strong characteristics of great students. The pursuit of something difficult means that students are not afraid or intimidated by failure. They are likely confident in their abilities, but also, they know that failure is often a valuable learning experience. The notion that struggle makes you stronger is one that great students try to keep in the forefront when faced with difficulty.

With the grit and hardworking mentality of a great student also comes a positive outlook. Great students not only embrace challenges as mentioned above, they also keep a positive mindset during their endeavors. Remaining positive is quite possibly the most difficult practice for great students. It is natural to feel let down or discouraged when things do not go as planned. However, great students harness those feelings and use them as motivating factors for moving forward—they turn lemons into lemonade, so to speak.

Great students self-check. They are able to recognize their weaknesses and areas of need in order to succeed. Because they are so in-touch with themselves as learners, they know how to study, organize, draft, and execute school work efficiently and effectively. They recognize when they have been able to retain information, and, conversely, when they may have zoned out or missed the mark. Being in tune with how they learn best ensures that time and energy is never wasted when studying or working.

Great students advocate for themselves. This type of productive accountability is often difficult to achieve in elementary school. Students with shy or reserved personalities tend to struggle with this concept at first—speaking to adults can be intimidating for them. As uncomfortable as it may be at first, great students learn to speak up, ask questions, and seek help when necessary. When students take initiative, this type of go-getter attitude also builds self-confidence.

The Value in Letting them Fall or Fail

It goes without saying that a strong support system at home can mean all of the difference when it comes to student academic success. Yes, parents play the most influential role when it comes to motivation and achievement. However, one flipside to the supportive and involved parent is when caring becomes coddling. Circumstances vary from family to family, and even from child to child within the same family—what helps one learner could hinder another. However, at a certain point, it becomes obvious, especially to educators, that some students have simply never been given the opportunity to struggle.

Given the opportunity to struggle? Why, you may ask, would any parent or teacher want students to experience such an opportunity? The reasoning is quite simple: children whose parents fix their every problem, mend their every snag, intercept their every challenge, become reliant instead of resilient. When speaking of mountains, hurdles, or obstacles, it is of course a natural response for parents to want to absorb or shoulder those struggles—to ensure that their child sails smoothly through their education. However, as Franklin D. Roosevelt so eloquently stated, “Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor.”

Roosevelt’s quote rings astoundingly true in an educational sense—a child who never encounters difficulties, challenges, or “rough waters” while learning will be ill-equipped when it comes to real world difficulties. Failure is not something that parents anxiously await; however, there is much to be said about the resilience of a young learner when he or she knows that failure is a necessary part of the learning process. Without the difficulties, a student will simply expect “smooth sailing.” Much like the inexperienced sailor, these learners will likely capsize at the first sign of rough waters ahead. Instead, parents must be willing to, however reluctantly, stand aside and allow their children to navigate the obstacles on their own. This is no easy feat—it is against all natural inclinations to watch their own children struggle. But, in these moments, it is important that parents find comfort in the fact that these “failures” or challenging times are securing a child’s ability to recognize self-advocacy, independence, self-reliance, responsibility, self-confidence, and motivation. The gains are truly infinite when children learn to stand on their own two feet.

Now, of course, there will always be occasions when a student may need help to keep his head above water. As a parent, you will recognize these instances in your child’s education better than anyone else. When this happens, step in as the experienced captain or simply provide a little bit more of a guiding light. But remember, as they say, experience is the best teacher, and the worst experiences often end up teaching us the greatest lessons.    

ADHD MONTH: Looks can be deceiving

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Since the classroom environment lends itself to tasks involving focus, attentiveness, attention to detail, cooperative learning, and time management skills, educators are sometimes the first to notice the growing prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the symptoms that accompany the disorder. More and more children are exhibiting attention issues in and out of the classroom—the CDC reports that over 10 percent of children and teens have ADHD. With this significant percentage of cases comes just as many ways for the disorder to manifest itself—and every child is different.

As educators, we pretty much get a daily bird’s eye view of how each student learns, or struggles to learn. Even so, we occasionally (and inadvertently) forget that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can reveal itself in drastically different ways. On a personal note, just last week, I held a student after class to discuss his constant roaming around the classroom. After asking him to be seated several times during instruction, my patience had admittedly dwindled.

He very calmly and candidly explained that, especially during the long block periods, he finds it difficult to focus while seated at his desk for too long. While this particular student did not show up to my class with documentation of an attention disorder, his need to move, at first misunderstood, is no less legitimate.

As demonstrated above, students with ADHD symptoms can be mistaken as disruptive, disinterested, disorganized, etc. It is important to be mindful of the catalysts to those behaviors—i.e., what do these behaviors truly mean?

ASSIGNMENT COMPLETION

When a student’s focus drifts during class or at home, assignments can be left by the wayside, going uncompleted or altogether neglected. Educators need to distinguish the difference between carelessness or disinterest and a student’s tendency to be distracted and drift. An incomplete project or homework assignment does not necessarily signify a lack of attempt. Anything from noise in the classroom to a transition during instruction can deter a student’s focus, making it difficult for him or her to complete the assigned work in the provided block of time. Again, this is not due to laziness or lack of interest.

Group work can also add a layer of difficulty to assignment completion. Students with ADHD can benefit from the conversation and movement that group work provides. However, these components can be just as equally distracting if the group’s conversation shifts off task. The group work can become overwhelming to the point that the student will drift and separate from the group. Again, this is not indicative of the student’s unwillingness to participate.

BEHAVIOR

As in the case of my “wandering student” above, children and teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often find it beneficial to move about the room. This constant need to move is not only distracting to other students, but may also be seen as an avoidance technique. While this may be true in some cases, most often the student is moving because it helps him to focus or expend any excess energy. Frequent breaks, rotation stations, or standing and working from a clipboard are all methods to help alleviate the need to roam. These small bouts of movement also allow the student to focus.

If a student appears to be reading, doodling, or is otherwise “off task,” it may not be an indication that she is intentionally ignoring instruction or avoiding work. These seemingly defiant behaviors are actually a method of channeling a student’s focus—a self-soothing method, if you will. For some students, especially those with ADHD, putting their hands to work is a way of keeping themselves centered and attentive. A stress ball is also helpful for students whose attention is benefited from multitasking.  

As educators, we need to focus our attention not only on what we are teaching, but also to whom we are teaching. By paying careful attention to the learning needs and styles of our students, we can not only help our easily distracted students to learn more effectively, but also improve the overall learning environment for our entire class.  

 

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Note taking skills: Part 6 of 6

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Note taking is arguably one of the more frustrating aspects of classroom instruction. For many, it requires stamina, both in attentiveness and fine motor abilities. As students get older, note taking becomes both more prevalent and more independent. When post-secondary education comes into play, note-taking skills can truly make or break a lecture, class, or semester. With such an emphasis on this skill, it is a wonder that more secondary schools don’t offer classes on note taking. Whatever the case may be, each learner must adopt his or her own preference when it comes to taking notes in class.

  • The first thing to consider is the different benefits of note taking. For instance, depending on the student and material, notes may be taken to help aid memory, comprehension, organization, or a combination of those skills.

 

  • When taking notes in order to memorize information, it is important that students spend the time and energy writing only what they do not already know from memory. They can apply your prior knowledge later when studying, but during the class or lecture, they should limit their notes to new information. This not only saves time, but also allows students to focus in on the new or unfamiliar information.

 

  • Abbreviations are another important aspect of note taking. Again, abbreviating notes can be very individualized. It is important that the note taker stick to a system or style of abbreviating, as to better ensure that the notes will make sense later on. Abbreviations can be done by shortening words, summarizing phrases, or even using symbols in place of text. But remember, an abbreviation is only helpful if it maintains the clarity of the notes.

 

  • Keep notes organized. This is essential for studying and retaining the information later on. Students may prepare note sections ahead of time so that they can focus primarily on the lecture and less on the set-up of the page. For instance, if their teacher is introducing vocabulary prior to a history lesson, they can set up a section strictly for definitions and then add content notes on a separate page.

 

  • Put a date on the notes. This way, if there is any confusion when looking back at the notes, students can speak with their teacher or peer about the specific lesson or lecture. Dates also help when taking notes because they allow students to see the progression of the concept, information, or task in a sequential manner.

 

  • Rewrite notes when necessary. There are a few benefits to this technique. Rewriting not only gives students an opportunity to clean up or organize the material a little better, but it also aids in memorization. Rewriting something, especially if students paraphrase or explain the notes in their own words, allows them to test their knowledge of the material. Simply writing something down doesn’t guarantee comprehension—rephrasing notes allows note takers to break down and articulate the information as they make sense of it.

 

  • Highlighting is also recommended when rewriting or editing notes. Research indicates a link between color and memory; it also helps to focus students’ attention on the more vital information when studying.

 

Join us for “Homework. Got an Easy Button?”, a free, highly interactive 60-minute session designed to provide parents with concrete ideas and practical tools to support their student’s study practice at home. For more information, click here: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

 

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Managing long term assignments: Part 5 of 6

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As much as some students would like to deny this, the fact is that essays, projects, and long-term assignments are right around the corner. With the start of the school year comes many great things—the opportunity for students to show what they know is one of them, whether they want to admit it or not. One of the more difficult tasks during the school year can be the larger, multi-step assignments that transpire over several weeks. Here are some tried and true tips from an educator to assist with the task of managing long-term assignments.

Plan It Out

Often times, teachers will provide students with a suggested schedule, graphic organizer, or guide for completing the assignment in a manageable and timely fashion. These suggestions often come strongly recommended, whether they are officially deemed as graded checkpoints or not. Since teachers are the ones who have created the assignment to begin with, it is reasonable to expect that they have a solid understanding of how to appropriately plan for such a task. If the teacher has not provided an outline or any sort of mandatory checkpoints, it is strongly recommended that the student map out a personal schedule. This is beneficial in several different ways—it holds the student accountable for each aspect of the task; it allows the student to view the task holistically, while simultaneously grasping the requirements of each portion; and it supports time management and organization.

Ask Questions

If a student is confused about any aspect of the long-term assignment, it is imperative that he ask his teacher for clarification. Playing the guessing game or “winging it” is never recommended. Asking questions immediately sidesteps the issue of having to start over, which saves time and frustration. It also helps the teacher to see the assignment from the student’s perspective, allowing her to provide further instruction or clarification for the class. Asking questions from the start allows the student to fully grasp the objectives of the assignment, thus helping him meet the expectation.

Study the Rubric

A long-term assignment should always be accompanied by a rubric or checklist of some sort. This item indicates how the task is going to be scored or assessed. Students should not only read through, but also look carefully at the rubric to ensure that they have every opportunity to succeed on the assignment. Again, asking questions for clarity is a wonderful way to gain a better understanding of what exactly is required of the student.

Speak to Your Teacher if Falling Behind

Students often forget that teachers were once young learners themselves—we are caring, accommodating, and understanding. We are also in tune with our students’ capabilities. If the task or assignment is truly overwhelming or unmanageable, students should be able to speak openly with the teacher about the difficulties. Of course, be proactive about this discussion. DO NOT wait until the due date to ask for an extension or clarification—this will likely not be met with an obliging response. Speak up as soon as you find yourself in the weeds. This way, your teacher knows that you are not procrastinating—you simply need some assistance.  

Join us for “Homework. Got an Easy Button?”, a free, highly interactive 60-minute session designed to provide parents with concrete ideas and practical tools to support their student’s study practice at home. For more information, click here: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

 

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Learning Styles and Techniques: Part 4 of 6

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When it comes to learning strategies, styles, and techniques, learning cannot be explained as a “one size fits all” method. As much as we are told that there are kinesthetic, auditory, visual, and read/write learners, learning processes and preferences are truly more complex than these labels. While there are truths to the different categories of learners, we cannot assume that each young learner fits perfectly and fixedly into one specific category. In fact, depending on a learner’s strengths and weaknesses, he or she will employ different techniques from different categories to best suit the task.

Consider this personal example: a learner, like myself, with a propensity for reading and writing would likely excel in tasks involving creative writing techniques, close reading skills, vocabulary, etc. In the mathematical realm, however, this same learner may need to employ a different learning style. One may assume that a word problem would suit this type of read/write learner. However, for a learner such as myself, the wordiness of a math problem actually got in the way of comprehension. Instead, I would employ visual strategies, such as sketching, diagramming, or graphing to visually break down the word problem.

Depending on the task, a strong learner will know how and when to employ different strategies. This type of fluidity in learning styles takes practice. For instance, in the above example, a read/write learner like myself would likely read a confusing word problem many times before realizing that a visual illustration would actually be more beneficial.

Thus, the best way to help young learners is to provide them with numerous learning strategies and techniques. Then, let the learner decide which different strategies are helpful in certain circumstances. Below are just a few strategies organized by learning style.

VISUAL

  • Use diagrams, illustrations and graphic organizers to visually conceptualize a task. For instance, a visual learner may benefit from a prewriting outline before beginning a lengthy essay assignment.
  • Color code when taking notes to visually organize information on the page; this can also help with memory.
  • Highlight key words when reading or studying to help retain the information.
  • Rewrite notes or perform demonstrations of the task to better see and memorize the information after the initial lesson.

AUDITORY

  • Restate the information in your own words to solidify comprehension and memorization.
  • Create mnemonic devices while studying.
  • Organize information into a song, rhythm, or rhyme to help with recall.
  • Reread information aloud.
  • Ask and answer questions aloud during lessons or lectures.

KINESTHETIC

  • Pace or move about while studying notes to help with memorization.
  • Fold the corners of textbook pages to refer back to important information.
  • Stand while reading or reciting.
  • Take small, frequent breaks when working on large assignments.
  • Reenact the concept or task; this is especially helpful for science labs, physical or athletic skills, or theater-related tasks.
  • Sit on a yoga ball while reviewing material or studying for extended periods of time.
  • Use a line-reader or cover the text on the page when reading; this helps kinesthetic learners to focus on a text line by line, as opposed to getting overwhelmed by a wordy page.

Join us for “Homework. Got an Easy Button?”, a free, highly interactive 60-minute session designed to provide parents with concrete ideas and practical tools to support their student’s study practice at home. For more information, click here: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Learning is a Process: Part 3 of 6

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What exactly does it mean to learn something? How can we know that we have adequately learned it? Are there better or more effective ways in which to learn? These are just a few questions surrounding the art of learningand what better time to ponder these thoughts than at the start of a brand new year of learning? Now, of course, just as every child is unique, each child’s learning style is equally unique. It’s time that we learn a little more about the process of learning.

Learning is a processbut what does this mean? Obviously, children do not simply learn by hearing something. Unfortunately, the human brain is not a recording device or database. Instead, truly learning something involves severalsometimes manydeliberate interactions with the concept.

Let’s use baking as an example. Before learning to bake a cake, the amateur chef will need to be introduced to the concept of cake. The chef may take a bite, look at a photo, or watch a how-to video about cake baking. This introduction prepares the chef for what is to come, and ideally demonstrates the end goal or product—a cake.

After tasting a sample of cake, the chef will seek to know more about cake before baking his own. For instance, he may research different flavor combinations, baking methods, or icing techniques. By seeking further information, the chef begins to get a better understanding of cake and how it is made.

Next, the chef will attempt the task of baking a cake. Taking all of the knowledge that he’s compiled, the chef will now actually get his hands dirty and try baking a cake on his own.

After baking, the chef will obtain feedback from taste testers. Ideally, these taste testers should be expert chefs who have experience baking cakes, or at least some novice chef peers who know how a good cake is supposed to taste.

Taking the feedback into consideration, the amateur chef will now look back at the recipe and baking techniques and make adjustments based on his reflections.

The chef can decide to circle back to any of the previous steps in order to perfect his cake. Perhaps he needs to taste other types of pastry, take an extra baking class, alter the ingredients or measurements, or read another cook book. Either way, the chef continues to work towards his goal of creating a delicious cake. And, since a cake can never be too delicious, the chef’s learning is never finished.


Just as the amateur chef’s journey to the perfect cake is a process, children’s acquisition of knowledge and new skills proceeds in a similar fashion. Learning does not occur in one fell swoop; it is not instantaneous; it is not a uniform recipe or sure-fire set of instructions. Learning takes time, intrinsic motivation, creativity, and patience. When children struggle to learn something, frustration arises. It is important to let your child know that learning is a process which involves trial and errorfailure is a necessary step in this process. No matter the setbacks, we must teach children to overcome and persevere.

Because, just as the amateur chef knows all too well, triumph after failure is even sweeter!

Join us for “Homework. Got an Easy Button?”, a free, highly interactive 60-minute session designed to provide parents with concrete ideas and practical tools to support their student’s study practice at home. For more information, click here: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/