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Homework: Transparency is Key

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The many benefits of assigning homework are readily evident to all of us educators. Students are able to practice the skills learned in class on their own; teachers are better able to identify areas of confusion; and parents are able to see the concepts that are being taught in the classroom. Overall, homework is a necessary aspect of education.

The benefits of homework are not always transparent for students, however. Much of the time, the homework announcement is met with groans and eye-rolls. In those moments, there are a few things that I’d like my students to know:

  • The homework that I assign is meant to give you additional practice on the skills that we discussed today. It is not intended to torture you, occupy your evening, or cause you frustration. If this is ever the case, please tell me—because that is certainly not the point of my homework assignments.
  • I do not expect, nor do I necessarily want, your parents to coax you through your homework. If this is happening, it means that I did not adequately prepare you to tackle the assignment. I’d rather you attempt what you can and explain your confusion the following day. It is certainly not your parent’s job to complete your homework—and again, this tells me nothing about what you’ve learned.
  • Homework is also intended to provide students with a grade cushion. While we are certainly not chasing the grade, many of you consider the final grade to be very important. That said, homework provides you the opportunity to pad your grade simply by putting forth effort. This is your chance to show me that you are trying to learn the content.   
  • I do not expect you to achieve 100% correctness on homework assignments. Instead, I’d rather see 100% effort on assignments. A vital aspect of education is work ethic and determination—homework is simply one way to display your intrinsic motivation.
  • Homework is not intended to be “busy work.” Again, the point of homework is to assess comprehension of the skills taught in the classroom. While assignments should not frustrate you, they should challenge you. An assignment should not be mindlessly easy—it should not feel like busy work.  Again, my goal is to assess our progress in class, not bore you to tears or occupy all of your free-time.

While we, as teachers, may never persuade our students to love completing work outside of the classroom, transparency about the purpose of homework assignments is key to getting students to buy in. We should talk to students about homework practices and policies and request their feedback regarding homework frequency and level of difficulty.

Homework Time Made Easier

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Homework is simply a fact of life for today’s students. As early as kindergarten, children are bringing homework home from school. While homework has its many benefits, the majority of students would rather forget about the additional practices, projects, and papers. With such an aversion, homework time at home can be a real battle. Yet, it does not have to be. There are many tried-and-true strategies when it comes to alleviating the stress of homework.

Here are some of our favorites.

First and foremost, a key to easing homework stress is to make sure that the homework actually makes it home. Depending on your child’s age, it may be a struggle to simply keep track of the many worksheets that need to travel to and from school. Keeping your child’s work organized can make all the difference when sitting down to work. Try using a homework folder designated for nightly assignments. Use color-coded tabs or sticky notes to manage daily assignments and due dates. Staying organized is a significant start to managing the homework routine.

Set a Schedule

Set expectations by creating a homework schedule. Between the many afterschool activities and busy schedules that each family undoubtedly juggles, homework may become an afterthought. Make sure that your child knows when and where he or she should be completing homework each night. Set limits on the use of technology during homework time. Cell phones, television, and other distractions can make homework completion impossible, so it is best that these things remain off limits until homework is completed.

Break It Down

When homework has mounted to a seemingly unmanageable level, break the assignments down to avoid a mental meltdown. Especially during the middle and high school years, the amount of homework assignments can increase greatly. Staring down a mountain of papers can stress out both you and your child. If your child is unable to chunk the assignments into manageable pieces, help them out by creating an “order of importance” list. Arrange the work into a schedule based on difficulty and due date. This way, you and your child can prioritize the homework and alleviate any stress from the many assignments.

Promote Practice, Not Perfection

When it comes to difficult assignments, emphasize the importance of effort and completion, not necessarily perfection or 100% correctness. When homework becomes a frustrating tear-session for your child, explain that homework is meant to be practice. Too often, students stress over the need to answer questions and submit flawless assignments. Yes, that is the eventual goal, but homework is meant to provide practice—not display perfection. In fact, most homework assignments are intended to show the teacher whether or not students understood the content. Teachers also use homework assignments as a way to gauge the pacing of lessons or content. So, when the tears start welling, remind your child that homework is for practice.

Homework Time Made Easier

board-928381_1920

Homework is simply a fact of life for today’s students. As early as kindergarten, children are bringing homework home from school. While homework has its many benefits, the majority of students would rather forget about the additional practices, projects, and papers. With such an aversion, homework time at home can be a real battle. Yet, it does not have to be. There are many tried-and-true strategies when it comes to alleviating the stress of homework.

Here are some of our favorites.

First and foremost, a key to easing homework stress is to make sure that the homework actually makes it home. Depending on your child’s age, it may be a struggle to simply keep track of the many worksheets that need to travel to and from school. Keeping your child’s work organized can make all the difference when sitting down to work. Try using a homework folder designated for nightly assignments. Use color-coded tabs or sticky notes to manage daily assignments and due dates. Staying organized is a significant start to managing the homework routine.

Set a Schedule

Set expectations by creating a homework schedule. Between the many afterschool activities and busy schedules that each family undoubtedly juggles, homework may become an afterthought. Make sure that your child knows when and where he or she should be completing homework each night. Set limits on the use of technology during homework time. Cell phones, television, and other distractions can make homework completion impossible, so it is best that these things remain off limits until homework is completed.

Break It Down

When homework has mounted to a seemingly unmanageable level, break the assignments down to avoid a mental meltdown. Especially during the middle and high school years, the amount of homework assignments can increase greatly. Staring down a mountain of papers can stress out both you and your child. If your child is unable to chunk the assignments into manageable pieces, help them out by creating an “order of importance” list. Arrange the work into a schedule based on difficulty and due date. This way, you and your child can prioritize the homework and alleviate any stress from the many assignments.

Promote Practice, Not Perfection

When it comes to difficult assignments, emphasize the importance of effort and completion, not necessarily perfection or 100% correctness. When homework becomes a frustrating tear-session for your child, explain that homework is meant to be practice. Too often, students stress over the need to answer questions and submit flawless assignments. Yes, that is the eventual goal, but homework is meant to provide practice—not display perfection. In fact, most homework assignments are intended to show the teacher whether or not students understood the content. Teachers also use homework assignments as a way to gauge the pacing of lessons or content. So, when the tears start welling, remind your child that homework is for practice.

How to Deal With Frustration: Bad Day Remedies For Your Child

How to Deal With Frustration: Bad Day Remedies For Your Child

We’ve all experienced different degrees of frustration at some point. Our boiling points can fall on a scale from spilled coffee or a flat tire, to a traffic collision or a serious health condition. Frustration is commonly defined as, “a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs” (Merriam-Webster).  Knowing this, one could conclude that frustration is typically linked to a lack of control over one’s situation.

Frustration is not an emotion limited to adults, however. Newborns experience frustration, too. In fact, frustration in babies and children may be greater due to the fact that they have less control over what goes on in their world. So how can we teach children to recognize, cope with, and manage frustration? In the same way that we ourselves must deal with it.

Be Positive

Seeing the silver lining is not always easy to do in the moment, especially for youngsters. Because the concept of the future is not something that young children readily consider, it is especially difficult for them to see beyond this frustrating occurrence. Reassure your child that this frustration that they are feeling is a temporary emotion.

Ask them questions like, “Is this something that will realistically still be upsetting you tomorrow?” Or, “What can we look forward to when this frustrating moment is over?” Asking your child to look beyond the current “bad” situation will help him or her to recognize frustration as a fleeting and temporary feeling.

Ask and Accept

When frustrations arise, many children (and adults, too) are unsure of what to do with this emotion. When children are frustrated, have them ask themselves what exactly it is that is upsetting them. It may help to have them write down the events that instigated the initial frustration. By pinpointing the root of the stress, children can begin to understand how to better deal with a similar situation in the future.

Likewise, when reflecting on the day, most people will find that the catalyst of the frustration was something that was beyond their control. It is important for children to learn that things are going to happen that they cannot change. Sometimes, the only thing that we can control is our reactions to situations. This is especially difficult for youngsters, whose impulsive nature can sometimes get the best of them. Acceptance is a necessary part of managing stress and frustration.

Plan For Next Time

Perhaps the benefit of experiencing frustration is that it gives children a chance to learn something. When children look closely at their frustrations, they will begin to see that even little things, such as oversleeping on a school day, could have unforeseen consequences. A moment of frustration could teach them to set an extra alarm, study a few days in advance, tell the truth the first time, clean up after themselves, etc. Either way, talking about actions and their effects is a helpful way to show children how to be proactive in the future.
Avoiding frustration is impossible, but managing it is not. The sooner children learn to work through frustrating moments, the better equipped they will be at handling themselves in stressful situations.

Math Anxiety

As much as my English-oriented brain would hate to admit it, math skills are crucial for functioning in the adult world. This means that, no matter one’s personal distaste for the subject, mastering basic math skills will become a necessity at some point. Those lucky left-brained thinkers, who tend to have more of a knack for computation, analytical thinking, and logical reasoning, relish in their ability to master mathematical concepts. However, psychology research states that nearly 20% of American adults suffer from high levels of math anxiety.

If math anxiety persists over time, adult tasks such as managing time, budgeting money, organizing itineraries, following directions/recipes, remodeling a space, and even shopping can prove difficult. Therefore, it is important that students learn early on about growth mindset and methods for improving their math skills.

Mindset

Math anxiety is often a result of continued negative experiences involving math or the use of related skills. A student who repeatedly struggles with calculations begins to internalize those difficulties and associate the struggle with their own perceived inability to perform. Almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy, these students may develop a fixed mindset about their math skills, meaning that they will believe that they will never be good at math.

Teachers and parents can combat a fixed mindset by discussing the damage that negative self-talk can do. A child who constantly says, “I’m bad at math,” “I’ll never understand this,” or, “It’s too hard for me,” is only solidifying this notion of failure. Instead, model phrases that promote a growth mindset when children are exhibiting math anxiety. Phrases include:

 

  • It’s challenging, but I can do it.
  • I’ll try again.
  • Effort never fails.
  • My mistakes help me understand that I need to try a different strategy.

 

Consider mixed grouping 

When working on math concepts in the classroom, one positive way to reduce math anxiety is to utilize mixed grouping, meaning each group should include a heterogeneous mix of students based on their math capabilities. Varying the groups this way allows students to support one another in a low-pressure, collaborative setting. The higher achieving students are given the opportunity to lead, explain, strategize, and encourage. Simultaneously, the lower achieving students are able to practice their skills with peers and watch how students are successfully approaching math problems. Additionally, students who require more support are given the opportunity to take their time and ask questions in a smaller setting, as opposed to putting themselves on the spot for the whole class.

Use hands-on approaches

Another way to combat math misery is to front load the concept with fun. For instance, if children are beginning to explore fractions, the concept can be abstract and daunting. To ease anxiety, break out the baking supplies and show children how fractions are visually represented. Measuring cups provide a hands-on method for working with fractions. If children want a super chocolatey, chocolate chip cookie, present them with ½ cup of chocolate chips and ¾ cup chocolate chips. Ask which fraction is greater? Finished baking? Slice a cookie into fourths and eat one of the fourths to demonstrate subtraction.

Hard Truths Pt. 1

The middle and high school years are transformative for students, marked by varied sets of challenges and mishaps. In a sense, educators have a front row seat to watch as students learn, grow, mature, and navigate their way through adolescence. Among the daily academic lessons, unit goals, and semester objectives, teachers are also given the opportunity to impart various life lessons. These hard truths are sometimes relayed covertly, often through scenarios that subtly allow students to seemingly come to these conclusions on their own. Other times, teachers impart these life lessons using a direct and straightforward delivery. Whichever the case, I’ve found that some of my most pivotal moments in the classroom, those moments in which relationships are formed and a culture of care is crafted, happen when students are gaining life lessons, rather than focusing solely on academic content.

 

Friendships will change—this is to be expected as people discover who they really are

This concept is especially challenging for middle schoolers, where peer acceptance is paramount. It is important for children and teens to understand that friendships are fluid, and while some friendships can truly last a lifetime, most are fleeting and circumstantial. Remind adolescents that as they grow older, begin to understand themselves better, and branch out socially, they will be more likely to make genuine connections with peers on a deeper level. With these sincere friendships comes the realization that perhaps other acquaintances were more surface level or temporary.

 

You will not always like everyone; not everyone will always like you

Similarly to finding their more authentic social groups, the teenage years are when students begin to discover that, while kindness is essential, there will be plenty of people that simply rub them the wrong way. It is okay and even expected that adolescents will encounter people that they simply do not care to be around. The hard truth, however, is that these “undesirable” peers are in fact going to be around. The key is to learn how to not only coexist, but to cooperate civilly. Does this mean you must befriend everyone you encounter? No, that is not realistic. But just because you are not someone’s biggest fan, does not give you the right to treat them any differently. Common courtesy is not conditional—your rudeness says more about you than it does the person you might dislike.

 

If the smartest, most educated person in the applicant pool cannot work well with others, they are likely to lose that position to a more collaborative/agreeable person with the more modest resume

For high achieving students, this hard truth is, well, hard to hear. Students are used to striving to be the best, know the most, and score the highest. However, that “every man for himself” strategy is becoming less and less desirable in the workplace. Admissions officers, project managers, and even chiefs of surgery will be seeking qualified applicants who are able to work well in collaborative settings. The person who always has to be right, or first, or fastest, or the best is also probably pretty tough to work alongside. This is where social skills truly set people apart. Remind teens that listening, cooperative learning, perspective-taking, and compromise are all exceptionally valuable skills.

Motivating the Unmotivated

While motivation is often linked to academic achievement, the same is not necessarily true for motivation and intelligence. We are all familiar with the naturally gifted student who fails consistently, not for lack of intelligence, but because of his or her lack of motivation. These seemingly hopeless situations can be difficult for parents, especially when they know that their child has all the potential and wherewithal. But what can be done to boost motivation? How can we inspire and incite action when the foundation is nonexistent?

 

Investigate the root of the problem

Oftentimes, a lack of motivation is the result of a bigger issue. For unmotivated children, there is likely some sort of deterrent or impediment between the child and the task. Sometimes the issue stems from a learning obstacle, such as a disability or cognitive barrier. Other times, unmotivated students have had multiple or severely negative experiences in school that have caused them to be “turned off” or “checked out.” It is also possible that the child simply does not see the value in putting forth effort and exhibiting self-motivation. Whatever the case may be, parents can begin to establish motivation by examining the reason behind its absence. Talk to children about why they truly do not want to try something. Is there a reason that they are so opposed to showing effort or enthusiasm for learning? Pose the questions so that they do not sound interrogative, but instead seek to understand the child’s position.

 

Set longterm and shortterm goals

Even the most unmotivated child has some sort of goal or aspiration. Parents should tap into these interests as a means to foster motivation, both in the immediate and distant future. Ask your child what he or she would like to accomplish tomorrow. Allow that answer to span outside of the academic realm. For instance, if your child is lacking motivation in school, but shows an interest in making the club soccer team, encourage that level of interest first as a springboard. Perhaps tomorrow’s goal is to juggle the soccer ball 30 times without dropping it, but this year’s goal is to make the soccer team. Talk about how these short-term goals are essentially the building blocks towards reaching the long term goal. Hone in on the fact that practicing, strategizing, focusing, and modifying will be key for reaching that short-term goal. And that while failure and outside obstacles are going to occur, resilience and motivation are 100% controllable internal factors. Then, when the topic of academics arises, remind that unmotivated student of the steps and lengths that he went to in order to accomplish the juggling goal. Discuss how you can translate that motivation into effort towards schoolwork.

 

Express excitement and admiration when they do show motivation towards anything

Kids, especially young children, may not fully conceptualize the notion of intrinsic motivation—they don’t necessarily know why they care, they just do. To boost their understanding of building and maintaining motivation, praise their effort when they exhibit it. Acknowledge their focus and drive for whatever it may be that they’re working on—the more you point out this motivation, the more likely they are to internalize this concept of self-motivation and effort.

 

Lead by example

We all know that attitude is contagious; the same can be said for effort and motivation. When children see motivated parents with their own interests and passions, they begin to see that effort comes from a true desire to achieve, create, accomplish, and grow. Passionate people inspire those around them, so parents can certainly boost motivation at home by expressing their own efforts and motivation for their genuine interests.

 

Instruct with positive and negative consequences

Different from bribery, positive and negative consequences ensure that children learn how to take ownership for their actions and level of effort (or lack thereof). Of course, no child will be intrinsically motivated to make his bed. Instead, parents should remind children that failure to complete their chores will result in a consequence—essentially, children will recognize that they’re actually punishing themselves by choosing to neglect their tasks. Thus, they become motivated by the desire to avoid the negative consequence. Consequently, a positive outcome from doing one’s chores can boost motivation and the desire to accomplish tasks in the sense that the child connects his or her effort to the reward or positive result.

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!!! Organization Style. Part 1 of 6

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Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!!

Organization Style

It’s that time again—the back-to-school commercials are in full swing! Backpacks, lunch boxes, clothes, and school supplies are some of the things occupying the minds of parents these days. As the sun sets on summer 2016, it is important to ensure that your child is given every advantage to begin the school year with a bang!

While much focus is put on school supplies and the “necessary” materials, one key element in preparing for a successful year ahead is to put organization in the forefront. And, as they say, practice truly makes perfect—or close to it. Organization applies to a multitude of facets in the educational realm. While all are important, organizing time or “time management” is essential. For example, consider if a student has color-coordinated references, organized notes, and an impeccable outline for a research paper, yet that same “organized” student gives himself Sunday night to complete the final draft of his research paper. All of the prior organization becomes a futile attempt if time was poorly organized.

Organization, specifically time management, is a skill that comes with practice. Even as adults, we sometimes drop the ball by failing to plan ahead accordingly. Here are some tips to ensure that time management makes its way into your household this school year.

Start from the beginning. As we all know, it is much easier to prevent negative habits than to correct them later on. Right from the start, discuss a realistic daily schedule that includes designated homework/reading time, after-school activities, family time, and reasonable sleep/wake times. Of course, be prepared to be flexible when things inevitably come up. But, for the most part, a set schedule will help your child to maintain balance and assuage the stress that comes with cramming.
Model the practice of planning ahead. Especially in the middle and upper grades, projects and assignments become more labor-intensive. With several steps, check-in points, and deadlines, it is easy for students to quickly lose track or get overwhelmed. As with many difficult tasks, showing is more beneficial than telling. Show your child how to organize by breaking down large assignments and setting at home check-in points in advance of the actual due dates. Also, show them how to prioritize more difficult tasks. For example, a five-paragraph argumentative essay is going to need more attention than a vocabulary practice sheet.
Be proactive with organizing your time. It is important to anticipate certain roadblocks to prevent last-minute school stressors. Check the printer for ink before the paper is due; plan for picture day so that the outfit of choice is clean and pressed; pack gym clothes with extra socks so that the morning rush through the dryer can be avoided; email teachers about foreseen absences ahead of time to get any missed work or important information; have a plan for sick days, in which your child has a buddy in the neighborhood to bring work back.

Teaching students how to organize their time is a skill that will prove beneficial throughout their academic and adult lives.

NEED MORE?

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: https://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: https://learningessentialsedu.com/brain-camps/

Homework: Transparency is Key

homework-787270_1280

The many benefits of assigning homework are readily evident to all of us educators. Students are able to practice the skills learned in class on their own; teachers are better able to identify areas of confusion; and parents are able to see the concepts that are being taught in the classroom. Overall, homework is a necessary aspect of education.

The benefits of homework are not always transparent for students, however. Much of the time, the homework announcement is met with groans and eye-rolls. In those moments, there are a few things that I’d like my students to know:

  • The homework that I assign is meant to give you additional practice on the skills that we discussed today. It is not intended to torture you, occupy your evening, or cause you frustration. If this is ever the case, please tell me—because that is certainly not the point of my homework assignments.
  • I do not expect, nor do I necessarily want, your parents to coax you through your homework. If this is happening, it means that I did not adequately prepare you to tackle the assignment. I’d rather you attempt what you can and explain your confusion the following day. It is certainly not your parent’s job to complete your homework—and again, this tells me nothing about what you’ve learned.
  • Homework is also intended to provide students with a grade cushion. While we are certainly not chasing the grade, many of you consider the final grade to be very important. That said, homework provides you the opportunity to pad your grade simply by putting forth effort. This is your chance to show me that you are trying to learn the content.   
  • I do not expect you to achieve 100% correctness on homework assignments. Instead, I’d rather see 100% effort on assignments. A vital aspect of education is work ethic and determination—homework is simply one way to display your intrinsic motivation.
  • Homework is not intended to be “busy work.” Again, the point of homework is to assess comprehension of the skills taught in the classroom. While assignments should not frustrate you, they should challenge you. An assignment should not be mindlessly easy—it should not feel like busy work.  Again, my goal is to assess our progress in class, not bore you to tears or occupy all of your free-time.

While we, as teachers, may never persuade our students to love completing work outside of the classroom, transparency about the purpose of homework assignments is key to getting students to buy in. We should talk to students about homework practices and policies and request their feedback regarding homework frequency and level of difficulty.