….becoming the teacher's best friend!

Making Failure a Favor.

It has been preached for decades that those who fail come back with a new desire to achieve and have, at some point, learned from their lack of initial success. The most recent studies focus on entrepreneurial ventures and statistical data on failure based on previous experiences. But, for young learners, failure, in the allusive form of a capital F, comes early.

The school where I teach uses an aggressive math curriculum that is not designed for mid-year integration. It intentionally limits review of previous concepts and assumes that students have used the curriculum in previous grades. Because of this, the required unit tests (which are cumulative) cause many failing scores. I have a handful of students who know the basic principals of the content, but cannot see the complex nature of the multi-step word problems. They come home with tests where they scored 2 out of 10 points.

Because I am sensitive to the confidence of my math students, I limit the red ink, writing only Socratic questions next to mistakes and don’t put a percentage or letter grade score at the top. Instead, I ask students to take their test home and fix it.

For a few parents, the daunting task of fixing 8 impossible questions on a quiz that the student didn’t understand hours ago is a nightmare. For others, it is an opportunity to learn along side their child and to capitalize on the available time they can dedicate to gaining understanding of these math concepts. Parents are encouraged to sit down with their student and ask why they think their guess was wrong. Then, they have the student follow a process of explaining what the question is asking and what the steps in solving will be. Parents don’t realize that their investment of one-to-one time can make a big difference. Most parents visualize the teacher sitting down with their student to have the same lengthy conversations about a problem, but that is just not the case. Parents and tutors have the best opportunity to have face-time with a child and should do it whenever possible.

After a longer-than-usual homework session, students come to me the next morning, failed test in hand, claiming that they worked really hard and “got them all right”! I have parents approach me to say that they were proud of how hard their child worked and feel like they have come a long way with simply fixing a test.  To have a parent and teacher overcome the initial shock of a failed test and come together the next day to talk about success, is an awesome thing.

It’s not always that easy. My first year teaching this math curriculum was like a war zone with shrapnel coming from every direction. Parents would email the principal asking whether I knew how to teach math in the first place. Parents would gather in the hall and talk about their child’s failing grades. Of course, the parents of students who aced the test were not ready or willing to chime in and set everyone straight. I sought the expertise of my fellow teachers and they only suggested that I curve tests or drop harder questions!  With that, I would lose every opportunity to see how my advanced math students would score. And if I gave different tests for different students, I would have to explain it to the already-content parents. That’s when I decided to give the opportunity of learning from mistakes.

For those who passed a test with ease, they were praised. Their confidence was soaring and they learned to ask for more. For those who failed, they were asked to fix mistakes at home that night and the praise came the next day. To get every question right on a test, initially or after a second go, is a feat worth celebrating. My class discussions are now full of comments about how a student got a problem wrong initially and learned to navigate their incorrect thought process and come to the right conclusion. Parents know that it will take at least one full academic year to integrate into the math program and that the growth from pre-test scores to fixed post-test scores is a better gauge than the report card grade. More importantly, I take the time to tell them that I see improvement in the classroom and that their child is learning more than they had in previous math programs.  Now, with parents on my side and the students focused on finishing and not failing, I’m done with the warfare.


Filed under: pass or fail, supporting teacher, , , , , , , , ,

What Parents Can Buy So Teachers Don’t Have to Splurge.

Most people know that teachers spend between $500 and $600 of their personal monies on classroom supplies and teacher resources each academic year. With nation-wide budget cuts, this number may continue to climb. One thing parents can do to help is to buy those items that we would all rather not see coming out of teacher’s pocket or from the classroom budget. If a teacher has $25 to spend before the month is over, would you rather that go to Clorox wipes or a classroom subscription to the newest online resource for teaching relevant subject matter?

Here are a few things teachers probably hate spending $ on. You make a great impression by purchasing a gift to the classroom. It sends the right message to your child about supporting education as well as a small break for the budget-weary teacher who will inevitably buy it out of her paycheck.

Teachers, if you have other ideas, please comment! Also, update your spending habits at Edutopia’s Annual Reader’s Survey.

1.  “Swine Flu Paraphanalia” (Kleenex, Clorox Wipes and Hand Sanitizer)

2. Other cleaning supplies such as Febreeze, Baby Wipes. Whiteboard cleaner costs about $80 per gallon!

3. That new-release hardback novel that the teacher will need to read before adding to the classroom library!

4. White board markers. Low-Odor ensures minimal marker-sniffing side-effects on the brain.

5. Pencils…sharpened.

6. Develop photos of class activities for portfolios or reflection lessons. Or donate disposable cameras and offer to develop. photobucket.com flickr.com

7. A low-maintenance plant. Watching a plant grow or die throughout the year is a lesson in itself.

8. Replacement recess equipment like jump ropes, balls, frisbees. These things are terribly cheap and break or are lost every few months.

9. Magazine subscription to Time for Kids, Kids Discover or National Geographic Kids.

10. A set of nice thank-you notes for teacher to send out for all the kind gifts to her class!

Add you own thoughts by commenting on this post!

Filed under: parenting advice, supporting teacher, , , , , , ,

Missing Link? Students Get Home and Forget How to Help Themselves.

Ever check in on your child while they are doing homework and find them staring at a worksheet with no idea where to start? It begs the question, “Were you listening during class today?” The automated response to such a question will be, “yes”. But a better question is why your student comes home with extra practice that they are unable to do independently. Perhaps they showed temporary understanding of the concept in class, giving the teacher the message that they could do it again 5 hours later. The teacher may be required to use a curriculum that does not slow down for a student who needs extra practice of a foundational concept before moving on. This is why it is so important to communicate a “missing link” between the lesson in class and your child’s ability to recall information at home. Should the teacher have the ability to “individualize” student work, this message will allow you to have resources at home that build up to the assigned work.

Laurena, a fifth-grader in Denver, Colorado experiences temporary gaps in understanding caused by a change in math curriculums two years in a row. In class, she appears to understand the concepts and seems ready to practice later that night with a homework assignment. At home, mom tells a different story. It is very apparent that Laurena needs more practice before she can work independently, especially on a complex word problem. Laurena’s mom has turned to a tutor to help shorten the gap as well as help Laurena gain confidence in her ability as the math continues to become more challenging.

In this case, the tutor helped to identify specific skills that Laurena needed to practice. She coaches her in study techniques and boosts overall confidence. However, the message needs to get back to the teacher that the student is not working alone. A teacher can easily mis-identify completed, accurate homework done with a parent or a tutor as evidence that the student is ready for more challenging work. Helping too much can also cause a student to ace homework assignments, but fail tests or quizzes. When helping your student with homework, look for a few indicators that your assistance is becoming a crutch.

1) Your child won’t get their homework out and get started until you are sitting right there with them.
2) You and your child revel in how “evil” the homework assignments are together.
3) You often argue with your child about what they are supposed to do on an assignment.
4) Your child is afraid to turn in an assignment unless it was done with you.

Parent help with homework is often expected and an American tradition. But when you must communicate a “missing link” between lessons in class and expectations on homework assignments, things get tricky. First, check that you are following the advice of “homework experts”.  If your child craves a clean, quiet work space….provide that. Start homework by helping your student review the assignments for that night or week. Ensure that they know what they are to do and let them go. Tell them that you are available if they are unsure, but make an attempt to get out of the area. If an assignment comes home that your student cannot complete without you basically doing it for them, it’s time to talk to teacher. At least you can start the conversation by saying you’ve tried everything!

That Parent: Scribbles a nasty note on the assignment, expressing their opinion that the assignment was wrong or inappropriate for the abilities of their student. They may also storm the classroom 5 minutes prior to class starting to show that their student could only do the first two problems. This will set the tone for many conversations to come if the student has real challenges and needs lots of support.

Favorite Parent: Takes a deep breath and assures their child that as long as they understood the lesson in class, they should be able to complete their homework. But sometimes homework assignments cover older topics or ask for more than what students practiced in class. This parent encourages their student to try their best to show the teacher what they can do alone. After some guidance, the Favorite Parent shoots a quick email to the teacher indicating that the assignment was too hard for their student to do independently. They share any insightful details of what went right and what went wrong. Then, the Favorite Parent asks the teacher if the assignment was designed for parents to assist with. This will communicate to the teacher that it was assumed that the student can do the work on their own. If the teacher feels that a student needs nightly homework assistance by a parent or tutor, it should be formally recommended. Next, the Favorite Parent will keep track of assignments that were “too hard” to look for patterns or to help guide them to the path of identifying what additional resources or support they may need outside of school.

According to a 2006 study, seven in ten parents (73 percent) say they have used the Internet to assist their middle school-aged child with after-school work. The study, comissioned by LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. in conjunction with the National Education Association reveals that nearly nine in ten (86 percent) middle school students say that they still turn to their parents for homework help.

If you choose to support your student by doing extra work at home to fill holes, turn to the internet. Though many “homework help” sites require membership, fees or are ridden with ads, there are a few that are used in the classroom and are appropriate at home. Visit these blogs to find an updated, content-rich list of technology for the classroom and your home.


Filed under: asking for help, parenting advice, resources for home, , , , , ,

Update Your Relationship Status on Facebook But Don’t Forget the Teacher.

With so many families going through dynamic changes every year, it is hard to keep tabs with who is at which stage of a separation, divorce or even a career change. But there’s one person that can usually tell that something has changed at your home, though they’ve never been there and you’ve never talked to them about your personal life. That would be your kid’s teacher. Kids have such amazing coping mechanisms, yet are so fragile when it comes to change. A subtle tiff at the breakfast table can ruin their entire day. Yet the announcement of parents divorcing can send them to school in denial and under the guise of business-as-usual.

inthemiddleTeachers don’t need to know the details or even why or who or how. But a good parent will give the teacher a heads up if they anticipate major changes at home. Without calling an all-parties-involved conference, subtly ask the teacher if you can speak privately about some recent changes at home. In the case of a divorce or separation, both parents should initiate the conversation. In the case of a serious illness or death in the family, remember to ask for support and empathy around the situation. Offer to follow-up and stay in communication with the teacher about if and how this has changed your child’s school day. In the end, you may find little judgement passed, but a ton of empathy and support for you and your kid.

That Parent: School year just started and she forgets to mention that the family ise all packed up and ready to move as soon as the house sells. Their child’s room is “barely there” with all books, clothing and toys in boxes. When the house sells, she forgoes the opportunity to tell the teacher and instead mentions it weeks later when updating contact information. She didn’t make the link between behavior issues and dropping grades during this transition.

Favorite Parent: Knows that moving is a major life change for young kids. The stress and time spent on such an ordeal goes noticed by kids and this heightened anxiety can play out at school. The Favorite Parent sends a quick note to the teacher indicating that they are in the process of selling the house, though it’s not a move that would cause their student to change schools. She tells the teacher that they are keeping essentials unpacked so that her child has the materials to feel safe and comfortable at home and the ability to do schoolwork without having to sift through boxes. Once the move is under way, she updates the teacher, letting her know that it will be a long, tiring weekend and that her chid is excited to get a new bedroom and new neighborhood friends. This way, the teacher can capitalize on the positives of this change and be empathetic to the natural stresses created when moving during the school year.

Filed under: asking for help, parenting advice, , , , , , ,

Whole grain, 2% American Cheese, Fat-free mayo and TWO DESSERTS!

lunchableWhen you peek in the classroom each morning and again at the end of the day to pick-up, you see kids in the classroom participating in some organized routine. Perhaps they are starting a writing assignment or participating in a “morning meeting” and get going once everyone is there. On Monday mornings, most kids fall into the categories of being fed, being rushed and wishing it was still Saturday. Once the teacher gets everyone into the groove, things pick up. Brains turn on. Groups form. Activities are under way. But around 11:30, tummies start to rumble. Kids look forward to seeing what mom packed for lunch. Teachers look forward to teaching well-fed students for the after-noon stretch. Will the the pre-packaged, on-sale, “everyone smiles” product off the grocery shelf  come back to bite?

You read: “Whole-grain mini-sub sandwhich.” This product label should make any mom feel good about her purchase. But you’d be surprised if you volunteered for lunch duty at your kid’s school. Browse the rows of tables and see what kids are eating. Read the packaging. Then, look to see what is left over after the Chips-Ahoy! Cookies, Sugar-free Jello and Tropical Punch Kool-Aid are consumed. It’s that whole-grain mini-sub made with lean ham! With all the chit-chatter and freedom to start with dessert(s), kids wrap up their 20-30 minute eating session without digesting the only item with some real nutrients. The protein, whole-grain, dairy and vitamins are deposited in the trash bin. Now back to the classroom…

Teachers, parents and scientists have long debated the affects of sugar, aspertame and red dye on young kids. Without getting into that “un-dye-ing” arguement, let’s think for a minute about whether we would want the reverse as parents. What if teacher called you at noon to pick up our kid? They have just consumed about 21 grams of sugar and now you need to spend the next 3 hours working with your kid on a long-division packet and create a skit about algae reproduction! Now imagine how productive that afternoon would have been for your kid at school. Remember this is territory that most teachers stay out of. They deal with the cards they’ve been dealt and don’t cross that line of “parenting advice”.

That Parent: Figures her kid is lucky she has time to pack backpacks, get kids to school, remember all of the doctor’s appointments, help with homework, do the grocery shopping, and make sure the food even gets to school. Packing a fancy gourmet lunch for a 7-year-old is not on the top half of her list of important things to do or think about.

Favorite Parent: Tests at home. Give your kid 30 minutes to eat a lunch similar to what you pack for school and see what happens. You might see that they don’t like half of it and would rather starve. You might see them go into a sugar-coma after drinking red Kool-Aid. You might see that they eat their food and behave normally, but are hungry 15 minutes later and crave something else. Next, ask your kid’s teacher if he complains of being hungry, thirsty, constipated or tired after lunch. Perhaps the leftover turkey or halloween candy was something she wanted to mention, but didn’t want to offend. By bringing it up, you are telling the teacher that you care about your kid’s diet and performance in class.

Filed under: asking for help, , , ,

“Boys Will Be Boys?” Cliche Excuses Roll Off the Tongues of Teachers & Parents Alike.

There’s this age-old joke at my son’s school about how the entire Lost & Found bin is full of clothing from one family. A family with three boys. A family of three “wild” boys. So wild, they can’t remember to pick up a jacket after recess. They leave their books behind. Their lunchboxes mysteriously stake out vacant spots in bathroom stalls. And who should bring up the touchy subject that one day, these three boys may want to improve their executive functioning skills? The teacher. And guess what she was told? “Boys Will Be Boys.”

It’s true that the boys in class will get away with one more shove and even some dramatic fight scenes at recess. But that inevitable response, “Boys Will Be Boys”, sends everyone back 40 years. The short saying ends all conversation around how parents and teachers can help a young boy overcome behavior that may be unique to him and a few friends. Rarely is a teacher expressing a concern about ALL the boys in class. If she talks to you, it’s likely about your guy. Don’t stop the conversation before it can start. 

When explaining a scenario to parents, a teacher may re-create a timeline of events that build up to one or two young boys crossing that line of, “I’m here to learn.” to “I’m here to screw around with my friends.” If a teacher feels like the behavior has impacted the safety of other students or the effectiveness of the learning environment, she may bring it up with the parents. This is a perfect time for her to talk about how the behavior is different than other students, specifically boys within his peer group. Parents should avoid looking back into their own past. Times have changed even in the last 20 years. To write off  “boy behavior” as expected and allowed only puts off a very hard conversation until middle- or high-school years. However, many teachers oblige, assuming the parent preaches “Boys Will Be Boys” at the dinner table and it’s a done deal.

Many boys find a pencil in their desk and it magically transforms into a Star Wars light saber during the entire math test. Others have a full-on make-believe batallion ready for recess battle. Such gender stereotypes are still real and evident on every playground….and they’re not bad. But when these boys race inside after recess, the games don’t stop for a few. Many teachers are dying to talk to a parent about the stereotypical behavior, but fear the excuses.

HOW TO WIN OVER THE TEACHER: Parents, omit the cliche excuses from your conversation. Ask the teacher when and how often your boy “misbehaves”. Ask if he makes bad choices more often than others in his peer group. Ask the teacher what sort of activities she has during the day that meet the needs of an active or competitive boy. Ask the teacher if she thinks you can change expectations for behavior at home. Next, ask if she will give you updates on whether this is evident in the classroom. Most teachers would jump at the chance to detail changes in behavior based on experiments for improvement at home. Studies show that focusing on changing one behavior (rather than constantly nagging about all) results in better response from young children.

Other silly excuses used by parents and teachers:
“I can’t control him. That’s your job.”
“So he’s more active and interesting than other boys. It will pay off later.”
“He’s a daydreamer.”
“I was like that as a kid and look at me now.”
“It’s not that big of a deal right now, but keep an eye on it as he gets older.”
“He gets it from having older brothers.”
“He’s fine in my class. It’s just in the hall or P.E.”

Filed under: excuses, , , , ,

Fall Conferences..Yikes! Time to air out the dirty laundry…

Do you and your spouse hash it out in front of the teacher at conferences? It’s hard to watch from the hallway for months, only seeing snippets of your student’s work and feverishly reading into every email and newsletter. When conferences come, most parents have a laundry list of questions or don’t have a think to talk about. There’s few in the middle. But the worst is when parents don’t agree at a conference. It’s awkward for a teacher to listen to parents talk about who helps with homework more appropriately or who misbehaved as a youngster and therefore brought such misfortune to the new gene pool. Though this may make great conversation back at home, it’s best to keep the teacher un-informed about who is isn’t carrying their weight at home! Make a commitment to improve and leave it at that.

Filed under: conferences, , , , ,

Follow this Tweecher on Twitter!

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.