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Homework Strategies for Easy and Effective Practice at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Time Management Month: Tips for Parents to Try at Home

Like children and teens, we adults are not always on top of our game when it comes to time management. As much as we would like to be productive 100 percent of the time, that is not always likely—and sometimes, just purely impossible.  As we all know, people naturally tend to avoid doing things that they do not want to do. If even we adults indulge in task avoidance on occasion, it can be expected that adolescents will do the same when it comes to homework and studying. Since what occurs at home directly impacts success at school, putting time management strategies into place as a family will inevitably provide academic benefits in the long run.

Help your child to categorize, then prioritize. It sounds simple enough—just as we plan our errands or to-do lists in a logical, timely, and practical manner, so should your children when they are prioritizing their assignments. However, students with executive functioning deficiencies may find this style of logical order or planning to be exceptionally difficult.

For example, if you know that you need to go to the gym, fill up the gas tank, and go grocery shopping, there is a logical order of operations: gas first, in order to drive, gym, then groceries. Any other means of organizing your errands would leave you stranded on the side of the road or with a car full of spoiled food. Logical? Yes. But easy for all adolescents to grasp? No. They will need your help to prioritize and logically plan their assignments and afterschool obligations. Show them how to assess the time it will take to complete all items of the to-do list. Help them to identify the difference between tasks that are time-consuming versus difficult. If a task is both time-consuming and difficult, it should likely take top priority.

Encourage productivity and effort with bonus slots for free time or weekend activities. Intrinsic motivation is the end goal. But, until that mindset kicks in, it is more than okay to negotiate, praise, or reward hard work. If you notice that your child has spent extra time and effort on a research project, perhaps consider shelving the week’s chores. If your teen has submitted all of her school assignments on time, treat her to a movie of her choice or additional screen time before bed.

Lead by example. When you are asking your child to put down the phone and work, you should try to do the same. Grab a book or catch up on some work while your teen hits the books. Not only are you setting an example, but you are also ensuring that you are not contributing to distractions. Talking on the phone, watching television, or scrolling through social media sends a conflicting message—“you should be working, but I do not have to.” Instead, share in the quiet, productive work time.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: High School

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

Technology Skills for College and Career Readiness

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

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

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

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

The Significance of Struggling

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

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

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

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

Conflict Resolution in the Classroom

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The highly social aspect of the classroom makes it fertile ground for conflict. Due to many variables—from age group and personalities to abilities and backgrounds—classrooms are almost certain to see some sort of conflict on a regular basis. While conflict is typically regarded with a negative connotation, some disagreements or clashes in the classroom are actually welcome. These squabbles indicate that students are expressive, communicative, and opinionated—not necessarily bad traits when learning is involved. If, however, conflicts escalate to tense arguments or heated quarrels, teachers must address the issue before the conflict grows. The goal then becomes swift and thorough mediation between students or groups of students.

Strategies to mediate conflicts can be just as varied as the personalities involved. There are, however, several effective methods to try.

Keep calm and move on
This method is best used when the classroom tiff seems inconsequential. Separate the students involved, allow them minimal time to dwell on the subject, and keep the train moving, so-to-speak. Attention to small arguments like this can only feed the beast. Instead, minimize the damage by quashing it and moving right along.

Consider it a teachable moment
When a conflict becomes larger, it may be time to pump the breaks and have a conversation with the students involved. Allow students some time to cool down before pulling them aside for a conversation, but be swift about the mediating. Letting things boil over when arguments become larger will only exacerbate emotions. Ask each party to explain his/her perspective. Ask about emotions and reactions, i.e., How did you feel? Why do you think you felt that way? How did you react? How could you have reacted differently? Then, ask each party to articulate what the other person said. This sort of instigated perspective-taking allows students to begin to see outside of themselves. Looking at a disagreement from the other’s perspective teaches students to value another person’s feelings and interpretations. This is no simple feat—adolescents do not readily develop empathy in one fell swoop.

Put things into perspective
Without minimizing the feelings and circumstances that led to the argument, try to provide a non-condescending adult perspective. Ask students to genuinely think before responding to the following question: Will this matter in the long run? In the most sincere way possible, you are simply providing students with an opportunity to reconsider the value of an argument. This is not to downplay their feelings. Instead, it prompts students to consider whether the argument is meaningful or trivial.

Elicit help from the expert
Obviously, especially when dealing with adolescents, some conflicts are far too complex. When the argument is ongoing, repetitive, or significantly impactful, refer students to the guidance counselor. The counselor is the “guru” of conflict resolution and will be able to mediate when disagreements prove to be serious issues for the learning environment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be proactive

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

Take work home

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

Utilize technology

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

Prioritize the workload

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

Problems at School: For Parents of High Schoolers

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How-to Check for Comprehension: High School

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

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

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

Writing a Paragraph: High School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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