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What Would Your Children Put in Their Bags? August 21, 2017 15:17

My grandson just started second grade. His first homework assignment was to fill a bag with five items that would tell the class something about him. He gave it great thought and placed the following items in his bag: 

  • A medal he earned from swim team that required lots of practice to show improvement
  • A belt that he earned in Tai Kwon Do
  • A medal he earned in diving that only came after many back and belly flops
  • His Par Core Band 
  • A badge he earned in Cub Scouts

I thought he would put in a dinosaur because he used to spend hours playing with them. Each of his choices are centered around something that didn't come as a gift, but instead came only after hard work. His medals weren't the "you tried and so you deserve a medal" kind. They represented a symbol of hard work. Not one of the items were connected to anyone helping him.

There were times when he wanted to quit, because he wasn't making progress. My daughter encouraged him to keep working at it. She retold stories of people who gave up on mountain climbs one foot from the top of the mountain. He heard stories of Michael Jordan, who was told he would never make the high school team, but kept practicing until he did. 

So when we want to step in and help our children do that which they can do for themselves, we need to remember the struggle is what holds the real value. We simply need to coach in strategies that will allow them to experience the joy of the journey and obstacles they overcome. They will come to realize the real joy is in the struggle and not the medal, grade, or award.

Be sure to take time to celebrate every struggle as a means to an end. When they achieve their goal, celebrate the struggle that led to the success. Tap into how the struggle felt and how the achievement feels. Tapping into the emotions will assure them of continuing the work toward future goals.


To Guarantee a Successful Year-Start at the End! August 18, 2017 07:17

It’s a new school year and an opportunity for students to get a fresh start. Now is the time to decide what they want to accomplish this year. 

The best way to have a good year is to start at the end. This may sound odd, but I am a firm believer in creating a clear picture of what one wants to accomplish and the specific reasons as to why. 

I ask students to write what they would like to see on their report cards at the end of the semester. Some of the comments might be, “Susan was an active participant in the class,” or “Jane never gave up and when things got hard, she eagerly asked for support.” I focus on the behaviors they might exhibit rather than on grades.

If students initially focus on the grade, I ask them to define the behaviors or actions to demonstrate in order to achieve the desired grade. It is helpful to coach students with some of the following statements:

To get an “A” I will need to:

  1. Listen intently in class.
  2. Pay attention to what the teacher writes on the board.
  3. Remember to ask for material I miss when I am ill or out of class.
  4. Preview chapters and form questions about what I think I will learn.
  5. Read the questions first on all assignments before reading the material and before the concept is being taught. This will allow me to focus better on the things I need to learn.
  6. Read written work aloud several times to both proofread and check that it makes sense.
  7. Ask for clarification to be sure I understand the teacher’s instructions. 
  8. Make note cards to use for studying and review material regularly.
  9. Ask questions when I am unsure of what the teacher is explaining.
  10. Pay attention to homework assignments when I enter the classroom, so I know what I am expected to complete after school. Plan to get started during recess, if I have a lot to do after school. 
  11. Pre-read homework assignments to see what I do not know and ask questions before I leave class. 
  12. Do nightly homework and turn on time.
  13. Check over graded work and find out why I missed problems.
  14. Have someone quiz me before tests, so I am sure I understand the material.
  15. Use only positive comments when thinking or speaking about my abilities.
  16. When I do not do as well as I expect, I immediately make an appointment with the teacher to ask for strategies to improve. 
  17. Write reasons I made mistakes on my corrected work.
  18. Review all tests for information to check to see if there were possibly errors in correction and to find out what I didn’t know.
  19. {Made a separate item.} When studying for a semester or year exam, I will make sure to determine the correct answers and make note cards for review.
  20. Use the teacher’s office hours to discuss my progress.
  21. Keep a running record of my grades so I know where I stand at all times. 

I ask students to visualize themselves opening their report card at the end of the semester and reading all the wonderful comments and seeing the desired grades. I want them to tap into the wonderful feeling they get when they achieve what they have planned. Tapping into that feeling is a crucial step towards insuring they stay on task. 

Then they are to type up a copy of their goals to review each morning when they are brushing their teeth. It can be posted on the bathroom mirror as a constant reminder of the things they need to do daily to achieve their goals. 

All students can benefit from using the list provided above, however, high school and college students often have to take classes they don’t want to take to meet a school requirement. There has to be a reward in it for them in order to create the desire to make it through the class. I ask them to list three reasons they are taking the class and three ways it benefits them.

Examples:

I am taking counseling in order to get a clearer picture of what I want to do for a career. Then I will know what classes to take, and understand the way I learn, and school will be easier for me.

I am taking photography to learn new skills because I love taking pictures. It will give me personal satisfaction, and I can learn about career options related to photography. 

I am taking anthropology because I need to improve my grade, and taking it again give me a better chance of getting into a four-year college.

It will also allow me to try out my new study strategies, because I think they will help to improve my grade.

With an image of the end of the semester clearly in their minds, students will find it much easier to achieve their goals. 


Summer: A Great Time for Grit Building July 02, 2017 08:58

One of the attributes of truly successful people is they have grit. Grit is the courage and resolve to complete what one has started no matter what obstacles are met. I do not believe grit builders are just born that way. I believe they learn it at a very young age. This summer, I will be sharing different strategies for facilitate grit building. 

Grit building comes from an environment that allows for mistakes and imperfections. It doesn’t expect a perfect product, but celebrates the process a child goes through in completing a goal. It celebrates mistakes as opportunities for change, and it is an optimistic environment where all things are possible.

Working with children over the years, I have come across a lot of parents who do things naturally that we can all learn from to help our children. I want to share the wisdom of a mother I met several years ago whose child clearly possessed grit before he entered school.

I recall observing her son on the Pre-K playground trying to figure out how to put the blocks together in just the right way to create a tunnel through which others could crawl. The tunnel would collapse, but that didn’t stop this little fellow. He tried a different configuration. It didn’t work. He continued working the entire recess. When the bell rang, he begged the teacher to leave the blocks the way they were so he could continue working on his plan.

His teacher shared that it took him two days to finally find the right configuration. She shared how he celebrated quietly with some “Yes, I did it,” hand gestures and promptly called his classmates over to test it out.

 How did he learn this? I was curious, so I asked his mother about the motivational strategies she used to help her son stick with a job until it was successful. She said it simply, “I just always felt he could work things out. A puzzle frustrated him, so I just kept telling him to try something else. I didn’t play into his crying like I have seen other mothers do by showing him how to do it. I just had confidence that he would eventually get it. He didn’t that day or even the next week. I think it was a month later while he was in the playroom, that I finally heard a shout of excitement that indicated he had achieved success at something. When I went to see what the shouting was about, he held up the puzzle and showed me he had done it. I didn’t want to praise the product, but I did want to praise his effort and the fact he didn’t give up, so I asked, 'Aren’t you glad you didn’t give up?' He was definitely glad he didn’t. I think this is why he sticks with a project until he gets it complete. I was not one who tolerated crying. But I did recognize the frustration when it didn’t work. I would tell him, “I get that this is frustrating. Put it away for now and come back to it when you feel like you want to try it again. Crying won’t help put the puzzle together, so go play outside for a while and you can try it later.”

This mother was helping her son develop strong character and at the same time was providing him with strategies for coping with challenges that he will use for his entire life.

It's easier to do things for frustrated children, but that does not build grit. It eventually creates co-dependency. Grit building can begin today, by establishing a mindset reset about our children’s challenges. If we see them as opportunities to try a different way, our children are more likely to develop the girt necessary to experience success in whatever they pursue.

How can you do it today? Try teaching your child a new game. Pick something that would not be easy, but something that the child could get better at with practice. My mother never let us win. We had to win legitimately. I played Scrabble with her for years and it wasn’t until I was 65 that I was able to beat her. I was so proud of that win that I posted my success on Facebook.  Throwing a game so the child can feel good now does not teach grit. Being a gracious looser and learning to try again will help build grit. Offer to share a few strategies, if the child wants it. Giving up is not an option. Extrinsic rewards for the effort a child puts into playing a game or learning a new are not as helpful as praising their effort and the the fact they did not give up. Take time to recognize improvements your child has made and encourage them to keep at it, because practice will improve performance.  

 

 


What I've Learned From My Students June 14, 2017 06:59

Two things I have learned: I can't read minds! I am not a magician.

I am entering my 23rd year of teaching third grade. In my 45 year in this profession, I think I have enjoyed what I have learned from my students more than anything. I think the one most important thing I've learned from them and an Ah Ha I would want new teachers to know about is I can't read their minds. 

When I finally realized that I could not predict what my students would glean from my words of wisdom, I became a more effective teacher. It was when I stopped teaching concepts and started answering their questions that real engagement occurred. Yes, the good old Socratic method of teaching. It is by far the most effective way of engaging students I have found to date.

Students today are more self-centered than in the past. The influence of technology has changed the way they think. They want immediate gratification and have little patient for long drawn out instruction. I can't model their games, so I just have to cut to the chase. I begin by sharing with them the following words, "I don't know what you don't know. I want to know what you don't know, because I don't want to teach you what you know already because that would not be interesting. I tried taking mind reading classes and have been hugely unsuccessful. So, since I don't know what you don't know by looking at you, how am I going to know?" Of course, it takes them a few minutes to process what I have said, so I often repeat it. It gets a chuckle and then one student raises his/her hand and answers, "If we tell you?" Then that follows with how can you tell me what you don't know? The obvious answer is by asking questions. 

Why does this method engage so beautifully? Think about our engagement when we ask someone a question. We want to hear the answer. 

The one challenge with this method was getting students to recognize the value of listening to their classmates questions. So, I ask them, "Whose question is more important than your own? It is your classmates. They are going to ask something that you didn't even think of asking and alert you to something you didn't realize you needed to ask. When others ask questions, think to yourself, 'Can I answer that?'" 

I love this method of instruction. It puts the students in the driver's seat and allows for natural differentiation of instruction. I have been teaching the curriculum for 22 years and I always get questions I have never heard before. It really takes the boredom out of teaching for me. 


Even the Worst Teachers Can Offer Valuable Lessons May 16, 2017 21:02

This sounds wrong. How can a terrible teacher be the best teacher for a child? 

As my children traveled the educational highway, they hit many potholes along the way. Some of these obstacles were the teachers they encountered. I was like any parent and wanted great teachers for my children. They lucked out most years with teachers who loved what they did, but there were a few teachers who clearly had chosen teaching for the summers off. 

Like any mama bear, I wanted to protect my children from teachers who treated students poorly. Since my policy was never to go to battle for my childrenI did what a friend said she would do I armed them for battle by teaching them how to diffuse and process comments that were less than supportive.  What I discovered along the path was poor teachers would offer me opportunities to teach my children how to talk to and deal with people who didn't appear to care about them nor their education. I now realize these teachers were offering my children opportunities to learn life skills that would take them far in their secondary education and beyond. The skills they learned by interacting with difficult people has served them well in their careers. 

As a student educational coach, I have come across students who have also formed negative self-images because of an unkind comment from a teacher. 

One middle school girl came to me for tutoring in math. As a tutor, I don't do the instruction. I coach children how to ask questions of their teachers which helps the teacher become more effective. It also empowers students to get what they need from their instructors. This method ultimately ends the need for tutoring. 

As I worked with this twelve year old (let's call her Svenia), I discovered her questions indicated how bright she was. I asked her, "When did you decide you weren't smart in math?"

This question sparked a memory that brought tears to her eyes. She shared that the question caused her to see a green eyed monster and heard her say, "You are so smart in everything else, how can you be so dumb in math?" 

After much questioning, we were able to determine that it was possible for the teacher to have said that she found it funny that math was so hard for Svenia. This middle schooler had added her own interpretation of this comment because she found math to be her only challenging subject in school. She didn't realize that although math was not her strongest subject, it didn't mean she was dumb. She spent years suffering with this idea, which translated into her giving up any time there was a challenge. 

At the time, her mother just got mad and blamed the teacher for not understanding her daughter. This teacher had offered Svenia a great opportunity had her mother capitalized upon it. 

When Svenia first complained that she felt stupid in math, her mother could have asked a few questions: Why do you feel that way? Did something happen to make you feel that way? 

Svenia needed reassurance that a struggle did not indicate she was dumb. She never learned that a struggle means one needs to ask some questions and persevere

When I shared this story with another mother, she said, "Well, there are some teachers who judge children and don't like it when they ask questions. And when they do, they get criticized for it and are told they aren't smart enough."

My daughters had a few of those types of teachers. They discovered two of them in middle school and a few in high school and a lot of them in college.

The first experience my daughter had was in middle school math. She worked very hard to do well in math. She found her questions resulted in getting one-to-one instruction from previous teachers.

In seventh grade she came across one of 'those' teachers who didn't seem to like children. He had formerly been a high school math teacher. He didn't have time to deal with questions in the short time he had the students. However, my daughter knew the power of asking questions, because they had been so powerful in the past. She was a little frustrated because this teacher had made students feel stupid when they asked questions. Because she didn't know how to deal with this type of teacher, we role played how she could ask for support. We practiced scenarios she might encounter, until she felt comfortable asking him for support. She asked for a conference with him during lunch. He surprising agreed to it, but he stipulated she would need to make it fast. 

My daughter shared the following with him"I know it can be frustrating answering questions when you have so much to teach. I am not sure why I don't know this one step, but I really want to do well in this class, and I'm afraid if I don't understand this formula, I'll get lost with new lessons. Could you show me where I went wrong with this problem?" She showed him her attempt to out work the problem. He looked at it and said, "I'm so glad you made an appointment. It is hard to deal with questions in class." He proceeded to show her where she had gone wrong, and then he spent the entire lunch helping her clear up her thinking.  

From that point on, he would stop by her desk and ask her to show him her work to be sure she was doing it right. 

My own daughters' experiences with poor teachers have been wonderful opportunities to teach something that was not on the curriculum: How to deal with mean people who don't always have common sense (seem to lack compassion???).  

What I have learned over the years, is that when students have teachers who respond in rude and/or negative ways, it creates opportunities to learn a great deal beyond the curriculum: 

How to survive in less than desirable conditions.

How to recover from snide comments, rise above them, and still communicate in ways to get their needs met.

How to diffuse an angry person. 

How to persevere.

If I had stepped in, my daughters would never have learned how to diffuse the difficult people they have since had to work with in their professional lives. One daughter is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and is very comfortable respectfully questioning doctors about the protocols they may have prescribed for their patients, when she feels it's in the best interest of those patients. Quite simply, those early potholes were truly teachable moments for the realities of life. 

For this reason, I am grateful to those 'less than wonderful teachers' who taught my children that there is much more to education than academics. 


Nuts and Bolts Not Included March 18, 2017 09:36

Very few people read directions carefully which can be very time consuming. I am no exception. Students rarely read directions to their homework and projects 'as if' they are going to tackle their assignments right away. So, it stands to reason they experience challenges once they get home.

I encourage them to read the directions so they can ask clarifying quesitons. Many of students read the directions like I did when I went to the store to purchase a "Do-It-Yourself" bookcase. I looked at the directions on the box and determined I could do it. I purchased the bookcase and proceeded home. The trip took a half an hour, but once home and changed, I took out the toolbox I inherited from my father's. Remembering all his instructions about construction, I felt confident to do the job. 

I laid out the pieces on the floor and opened the directions. The first direction said, "Attach piece "A" to piece "B" with a quarter inch bolt."

I looked inside the box and didn't find any nuts and bolts. I thought they might have been taped to one of the pieces, but alas, they were not. 

So I read the directions more carefully. The last thing on the directions was, "Nuts and Bolts NOT Included."

Imagine my frustration. I had to get dressed, get back in the car, go to the store, and find the right sized nuts and bolts. An hour and a half later, I was able to start the construction. 

I tell this story to the students to emphasize the need to read their directions carefully, or they will waste time like I did.

Their homework will take 1/3 the time if they ask about it before they leave the class. Half the work is done when they examine it carefully enough to ask questions. The act of asking actually improves memory, which will make the assignment easier to complete. 

 

 


Stories From the Classroom-Stopping Blurters March 17, 2017 06:44

My students have taught me more than I think I have taught them.

I had tried several different strategies in my bag of tricks to get students to be respectful of one another and wait their turn to share ideas. Most of them worked for a short time, but would not have a lasting affect on the repeat blurters.

Last week, I finally found a strategy (by accident) that has had the longest lasting affect than any others I have tried in the past. 

A student was sharing her idea during a classroom discussion. She could barely get her idea out before ir stimulated several other comments. The expression on her face told me she was very frustrated, so I asked her, "Sweetie, how did it feel when you were trying to share your idea and your classmates started talking over you?"

Her response opened up further conversation. "I felt like no one wanted to hear what I had to said."

I asked the class if they had ever had others talk over them or cut them off. Every student in the class had friends or parents cut them off while sharing ideas. So, I asked the class, "How did it feel when you had something really important to share and the person you were talking to wouldn't let you finish?" 

The following were their responses:  

"I felt like I didn't exist."  

"I felt like the other person didn't care what I had to say."

"I felt like I wasn't important."

"I felt frustrated when I was trying to share my ideas."

"I felt like they didn't think what I had to say was important."

"I felt like my idea were wrong and their's were right, and they wouldn't even give me a chance to tell them what I was thinking. It was like they didn't care about my idea and only cared about being right."

I was amazed at how well these 8 and 9 year olds could articulate their feelings.                                                                                       
I followed up with another questions, "Do you think the people that cut you off do it to make you feel this way?" "Why?"                         
The students realized that those who consistently cut others off didn't realize how it made the others feel when they were interrupting them.                                                                                     
I had no idea how powerful this dialogue was going to be. From that point on, we have had five class discussions and a group assignment. In each case, the students have been great listeners who allow their classmates to complete their thoughts before sharing their own ideas.      
                                                                       
Yesterday, the students worked in groups of three and were asked to construct a paragraph in response to a social studies question.      
The paragraphs were great and definitely the result of a collaborative effort. The best part of all wasn't the amazing paragraphs they constructed, it was the comments afterwards.
"I felt like they were open to my ideas."
"I got to share my idea and my friends helped me see why I wasn't correct."                                                                                               
Every child felt heard. I'm holidng my fingers crossed that this will continue. I'll keep you updated.                                                                                               
It only took forty-four years to find this strategy. 
It is June and I can say that the children have not forgotten the discussion we had in October. There are still a few who get very excited and forget, but on the whole this has definitely been one of those strategies I will write in my journal as a must do next year. 

Secrets Students Should Know #7 March 12, 2017 10:27

Secret #7: Secret Makes Mistakes, Too!

Because teachers make mistakes in grading or when writing on the board, it is important for students to keep a watchful eye and be respectful when they catch an error.

Instead of shouting, "You left out a 't'," it would be more productive to ask for clarification about how the word is spelled. For example, one could ask, "I might be wrong, but I think the word has a "t" in it." 

The mistakes on tests are more important for students than getting 95%. They tell the student what they didn't know. It is very important that they get used to reviewing their corrected papers to find out what they missed. 

If a mistake is detected, telling the teacher they made a mistake is not an effective form of communication. Instead, state, "I think I got number five right because......(state the proof). Can you tell me why I got it wrong?" 

This approach will demonstrate students' thinking about the question and aides the teacher in offering more effective instruction. 

Teachers often write questions with one answer in mind, and they don't realize the other possibilities until students bring them to their attention. If students support their answers with facts and reasons, they will demonstrate their true understanding and gain favor in the teachers' eyes.

Through their questions, students can alert teachers to a question that needs rewording. 

Students can also improve their grade in three ways by advocating for themselves:

1. They may be correct and an error was made in grading which will raise their score.

2. Grading is subjective. Therefore, if a student is wavering between a B+ and an A-, the teacher will feel comfortable giving the A- if the student has been a respectful self-advocate.

3. Asking about errors on tests helps students think about the questions and improves memory for later recall. 


Secrets Students Need to Know #6 March 09, 2017 09:48

Secret #6: Teachers Don't Love Grading Papers!

Students need to know that presenting teachers with messy papers isn't a good idea, since not all teachers love grading. If teachers are not in a good frame of mind about grading in the first place, they aren't going be any happier if the paper looks unorganized, dirty, or crumpled. 

Paper grading is subjective. If a teacher is vacillating between a B+ and an A-, the look of the paper can make a big difference in deciding which way to go.

Want to impress teachers before they grade your papers? 

  1. Make your paper look organized by using heading and margins.
  2. Present teachers with legible work.
  3. Self-edit your work by pretending you are grading someone's paper you do not like.
  4. Read your work backwards to make sure you spelled words correctly and used punctuation.

 

 


Secrets Students Need to Know #5 March 07, 2017 14:03

Secret #5 Teachers Won't Do For You What You Can Do Yourself

Children need to learn how to work things out themselves. Offering problem solving strategies is all that is necessary to empower children to find their independence. They learn to dig deep and find the infinite ability they possess to be problem solvers.

If we read directions aloud for them, we are disabling them. Reading word problems and detail directions are best done aloud, but if students feel they always have to have someone do it for them, they never find the power they possess. 


Secrets Students Need to Know #2 March 01, 2017 07:09

Secret #2: Teachers don't hit pause when you leave the room.

One secret I love sharing with the children is one I received from Marianne Gazille, a retired elementary school teacher. She was experiencing an increase in children leaving the class to use the restroom. In her frustration she came up with this pearl and my second secret about teachers, "You know I don't hit pause when you leave the classroom. You might miss something while you're gone."

I love this quote. I use it frequently, especially when we are reviewing over a test and students insist they missed problems because I never covered the material. 

 


Homework! Oh Homework! February 26, 2017 13:03

Homework, Oh Homework,

I hate you, you stink!

With all these projects, I'm right on the brink!

What will be next?  A project? A report? I can't wait to see,

Have no fear, I can do this,

I'm sure you'll agree.

He'll be done with college and I'll finally be FREE.

Victoria Olivadoti & Phyllis Matzkin

My mother and I wrote this poem after receiving a call from my youngest daughter from the Penn State library her freshman year. She had to report an incident she witnessed while working in the computer lab. One of her classmates had announced, "My mother's come through again!" as she printed off the first assignment of the year. She bragged that her mother wrote all her high school essays and even wrote her college essay. 

Fast forward ten years. This  young lady graduated and has moved from one job to another. At age 37, she is currently unemployed and living at home with her parents. Her mother can't help her keep a job, even though she tried to save her daughter's job a few times. 

This is an extreme situation, but emphasizes the need to empower our children to work through the hard stuff independently. Rescuing them isn't helping them find their own power to solve challenges. Each child possesses the innate ability to find solutions to every challenge. The parent's role is to believe their children can.


Tom Brady's Story February 13, 2017 06:52

Tom Brady wasn't the best player in high school, but did prepared himself to be ready when opportunities arose. He played as if he was going to be the starter quarterback. 

Tom Brady wasn't the first choice of the Michigan coaches. He didn't fit the profile of a starting quarterback, so he wasn't sought out by recruiters.

He, however, was living with a different story. He had a vision of his future that didn't go by the same rules of those around him.

He could have gone into major league baseball for Montreal right out of high school, but he had a dream. He wanted to play college football. He didn't get natural recognition, so he got creative. If he was to play in college, it was up to him to get recognized. So he sent out tapes to the colleges of his choice.

He settled on Michigan, who offered him a place as seventh in line to play quarterback. He never got on the field his first two years. this would have defeated most young men, but not Tom. He hung in, practicing daily as if he could be called in at any time. He got himself ready for what he knew would come his way.

Even going into the NFL, he was the  sixth round draft. How can someone who didn't have the "right stuff" become a huge Super Bowl record breaker? He didn't listen to anyone else's story.  He believed in himself, kept his vision alive daily, and just played each day with joy and confidence. 

Those who knew him in college say he was easy going and never let being seventh deep in the quarterback line bother him. 

He always practiced "as if" he was going to start and kept a positive attitude. 

I love the message he sends loud and clear to all of us. Enjoy today and live it as if your dreams will come true. The rest will take care of itself.


Anxiety in Parents and Students February 12, 2017 10:08

When did parents stop trusting our educational system and anxiety begin building in our children?

As an educator, I can remember the shift. My fifth and sixth students in the early 70's did not experience the high anxiety of the children today. They were very productive young people who enjoyed the learning process. They were challenged, but responded to challenges differently.

The shift began when the newspapers began posting standardized test scores and reporting that the schools were failing our children. That started the public looking for any evidence that we had failed our children.

What resulted was a hyper focus on tests scores instead of the real evidence that we were, in fact, successful. Parents trusted us until the media bashed the system in place. As their distrust grew, we began seeing heightened anxiety in our students.

Was the system perfect? No, but it was not a failure.

Winning back the trust of parents is hard when the media continues to show how we are failing and not how we are succeeding. This instills fears in parents that did not exist when I first began teaching.

We also have to contend with those who gain financially from parent's fears and offer expensive programs that guarantee students will score well. Who really gains from this?

I don't know about you, but I would prefer my students learn how to navigate challenges and become problem solvers rather than be good test takers. 


Intend to Attend February 02, 2017 06:58

I love the sayings on my wall in my classroom:

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performances!
Proper Prior Practice Prevents Poor Performances!
Get the Edison Ethic!
ASK!

 

I’ve added a new one.

Intend to Attend!

My third grader reading class students are very precocious. They somehow got the impression that being smart meant they needed to be good at everything. So, when they come into my den of learners, they find the first challenge most have had since they entered school. Imagine determining their ability to achieve at such a young age even without having been introduced to problem solving strategies. When we delve into the topic, some confess they are afraid to let the teaches know they don’t know how to do something because they get the response, “You can figure this out, you are smart.’ Wow, that is a powerful message. Since they are bright, they form the opinion that they have to know everything or they aren’t smart. In other cases, they have people who automatically do everything to make things easy, so when they hit a challenge they can’t solve independently, they don’t feel they are as smart as others have told them.

 

Since these students are competent readers when they came into third grade, I step up the demands, but not without many discussions about how the activities make them feel.

The first assignment always is a half page story. The questions require inferential answers. I assure the children that this is an assignment that they are free to leave blanks if they can’t find the answer. They look at the paper and think, “She doesn’t know how smart we are,” and deduce it is an easy assignment because of its length. Then they proceed to speed through it. It isn’t long before I begin to see squirming and in some cases outward signs of distress. It all starts with the first child crying. Then another comes to me privately with expression of frustration. It is clear by the lack of answers on the papers, that I have achieved my objective. My goal is to deal with how these types of activities make them feel.

 

In a Socratic dialogue circle, we discuss how this assignment made them feel. It takes a little staging to get them to be honest. I always share how this type of assignment made me feel. “I hated these assignments. It didn’t help when the kid next to me finished in ten minutes and celebrated his completion. Then I felt even dumber. Anyone share my experience?“ The following responses followed:

“I pride myself on finding the right answers and I couldn’t in this assignment and I felt like ripping up the paper.”

“I’ve been told I have to get 100% on everything, or I wasn’t a good enough student to stay at this school.”

“I should have been able to do this, Everything else has been easy and this is the first hard reading assignment I’ve had.”

“I felt frustrated and thought I shouldn’t be in this class if I couldn’t do this paper.”

“If I don’t do well on all my work, my parents make me go to a tutor.”

There wasn’t a child in the class of 26 that didn’t share their feelings. What they needed to know was they were in good company and others shared their feelings.

The semester has been spent with delving into different types of text and exploring different strategies for each type. As a result, when I gave them another short story to read their responses changed, “Oh cool, I can do this.”

 

They felt empowered until they discovered I increased the difficulty one more time.They handed the frustration so much better and tried many of the strategies they had learned. I had a few asked to read the assignment aloud outside. Before I knew it, there were more children outside then inside.

The right amount of frustration is good if, and only if, it is followed up with a means for relief.

It was clear they had reached another level of frustration and needed more strategies. This provided an excellent opportunity to touch on the topic of automatic negative thoughts. The negative thoughts set off the amygdala and block their ability to see the answers.  My job was to demonstrated how the negative thoughts about this assignment was impacting their ability to complete it successfully.

“If you have already decided you can’t find the answers, you have told your hippocampus to stop looking, so put down your pencils down and don’t do anything more because you won;t find the answer with that mindset. However, if you have decided that you haven’t found the answers yet and have told yourself you are not giving until you do, continue re-reading the passage differently until you do. Your brain will keep searching until it finds it. You may have to read it seventeen times using different tones each time. If you decide before that you couldn’t find the answers, change your thinking and you will change your results.”

I demonstrated seven ways to read the first two words, “Mother! Mother!” Just in those readings, three children realized that the third way I read it helped him find the answer. The children continued to reread the story and smiles began to appear on faces around the room. They had acquired yet another strategy and validation that they were in fact smart.

 

They decided to “Intend to Attend” until they found the answer.


Cure For Hissy Fits Over Homework October 02, 2016 08:32

"When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change." Theory on Learned Helplessness

"I am going to get into trouble because I forgot an assignment. The teacher is going to yell at me and embarrass me in front of the class. I don't want to go to school tomorrow. I want to change schools. I hate my teacher!" Susie screamed after she realized she left her workbook page at home. Her mom stepped in and tried to console her, but she didn't get anywhere because Susie was unconsolable. She was certain of the outcome of forgetting a paper. So, her mom did what many mothers do, she got angry at the teacher and threatened to report her to the principal, "No teacher should make fun of a child who forgets a paper! I'll just have to do something about this." 

Susie's mother made an appointment with the principal the next day, and the principal asked her to speak with the teacher. Susie's mom met with the teacher reluctantly. She really wanted to tell her off for being so mean, but she quickly discovered the teacher was very sweet about the missing assignment, "We all forget things and this will not be the last time Susie forgets something. I will make sure she knows that it is not a big deal. We are working on strategies in the class to help children resolve issues like forgetting assignments. When children have strategies for handling challenges, they will stop with the meltdowns. Should Susie get upset again, please reassure her that all she has to do is come to me and let me know she had a challenge, and we can discuss ways to avoid the same mistake again." 

Susie was conditioned to respond to mistakes in a learned helplessness way. Her mother would respond emotionally each time and step in to resolve the problem. Susie's mom became the momma bear ready to protect her disturbed cub. Susie had FEARS: Feelings and Emotions that Appeared Real to her. Her mother's reaction validated the unrealistic fears. Both Susie and her mother lacked strategies for handling challenges related to the homework. 

With the support of Susie's teacher, Susie's mom was able to fill her toolbox with strategies to help Susie manage future challenges. 

Homework Solutions for Weary Students and Their Parents offers 32 different challenges students face and the possible solutions which will fill student's toolboxes and empower them to no longer feel helpless. 


I'm Beaming September 04, 2016 06:29

It was September 2012 when I first taught my granddaughter how to do her first night of homework scheduling. She is a strong willed child and my daughter thought I could deal with this task while she went to Back to School for the kindergarteners. Alex had just turned five, and as any proud grandparent would tell you, she is very bright.

Most people would think I was crazy doing a 5 day schedule with a five year old, but she took to it like a duck to water. I asked her to decide if she was going to do her homework before dinner or after. We discussed showering and when she would watch a little television. Her response, "I think I'll do it tomorrow." That was not an offered option. We discussed the ramifications if she overslept or if the work took longer than she'd predicted. She was told she would not get to go to gymnastics on Thursday if her homework wasn't done by Wednesday night.  That was enough for her to stick to doing work in the afternoon. 

Since dinner was a fixed time, she decided when she would shower, put out her clothes for the next day, do her homework, play, and watch television. 

Fast forward to September 2016. My daughter presented my granddaughter with five daily plan sheets for her to schedule her coming week. I asked her to share her thinking process with me as she completed each pay. I was blown away by this nine year old. I heard things like, "I have to be in bed by eight. I want to read a little, so I really need to get to bed by 7:30. I don't want to go to bed with wet hair, so I will need to shower before dinner which is 5 o'clock. I will have to shower at 4:30 to give my hair time to dry. I want to play a little Mine Craft, but I know I need time to come down from playing, so I think I'll do that right after I eat dinner at 5:45 until 6:30. I'll make my lunch at 6:30. Then I'll still have time to talk to mom and dad if they are available. If they aren't, I can read or play with my Legos. That means I'll need to do my homework before I shower. I guess I'll do my homework right when I get home. I'll put it at 3:45, so I have enough time to have a snack. I'm starved after school. That gives me 45 minutes to do homework and if I need more time, I just wont' play Mine Craft or read." 

I was amazed at her backwards planning. She started at the last thing she was going to do and planned the rest from there.

This was no accident. There there many failures since 2012. They, however, were viewed as learning opportunities. She did go to bed with an uncomfortable wet head, which she lived through but did not like. There were natural consequences such as incomplete assignments and forgotten lunches and backpacks. Though uncomfortable, she survived and is still motivated to avoid them to this day. 

It's much like traffic school for adults. We hate it, but it does motivate us to watch our driving closely for at least a little while afterwards. 


A New Year - A New Start August 23, 2016 20:32

When I see school supplies in the stores, I am instantaneously taken back to a very pivotal September. It was in 1982 when seeing the same supplies gave me a panic attack. On that day seeing pencil bags, pens, paper, folders, and new backpacks sent a message to me, “Your lazy carefree days of summer are over.” I knew the following days would be filled with carpools and the dreaded nights packed homework struggles. Being a teacher didn’t help my situation, because to my children, I was their mother, not the teacher. I really didn’t think I could bear another year of struggles. At the same time, I had a game changing event happen in my classroom. Susie, who wasn’t listening, told me it was okay if she didn’t listen in class because her mother would help her at home. I realized she had no reason to listen because she could rely on outside help. So I made a decision. I decided to stop parent involvement in homework for my students, and I removed myself from my daughter’s.

I began the year by informing my daughter that I was not going to be able to help her with her homework, because I had not idea how to do it. As a result, I asked her to be sure she could do every item on her homework before she left class. If she couldn’t, she was instructed to ask the teacher for help. Playing dumb was very powerful. Her first response was one of FEAR. She had several reasons that this new situation was not going to work: The teacher will get mad. There isn’t time to ask questions. I’ll get in trouble for asking a question. With a little role playing of how to ask for the help, my daughter hesitantly went off to school. I am a little sneaky, but I knew I would have to elicit the help of the teacher for this new approach to work. As my daughter left for school, I phoned the teacher and was fortunate enough to reach her. I shared my new approach and that my scared daughter was going to reluctantly talk to her about the type of help she would need this year. I also asked if she could help put my daughter’s unrealistic fears of getting in trouble for asking questions to rest. Her teacher was very responsive  and it set the stage of self-advocacy for my daughter. It also ended to our nightly stress from homework. I didn’t need to do much after that other than rehearse some ways my daughter could ask questions effectively. There were teachers who were less than open to her questions, but we role played dealing with them. To this day my daughter swears those role-playing sessions helped with her interactions with supervisors she encountered in her career. Try it. You’ll love it.

 

For more support on making the transition to No Help Homework, check out my Homework Solutions: A Teacher’s Guide and Homework Solutions: A Parent’s Guide.

 


Combating Confabulation February 28, 2016 14:47

To combat the negative affects of confabulation. students can ask for clarification during instruction to be sure they are receiving the information in the manner it was intended.

Reviewing all graded work for what was marked wrong and asking the teacher why the problems were incorrect will help clarify thinking.

It isn't enough to tell students to ask for clarification. They need strong model questions to use to clear up confusion. The following are questions I trained my daughters and students to use to get the support they needed and to be sure they were receiving the information in the way it was intended:

"Am I correct to believe that you said...............?"

"Can you show me where I went wrong on this question?"

"Is there another way to show me how to do this problem? I am not making sense of it, and I want to be sure I am understanding the instruction."

"Am I correct the you want us to ............. for this project?"

Do a sample of what the project looks like

When a paper comes back incorrect, the student can always say,"I think I must have been confabulating and I thought you meant...... Will you show me where I went wrong/"

Each situation will require a different type of question. Brainstorming with students how they could ask supporting questions will help fill their backpacks with questions they can use later as situations occur. 

Simply sharing the meaning of confabulation and how the brain can cause a misunderstanding for them will encourage students to ask questions when they otherwise would be embarrassed.  Overcoming the fear of asking questions will be addressed later. 

Click Here to Received Future Mindset Minutes With Victoria


Learning to Fail Successfully Guarantees Success February 27, 2016 23:40

Learning to fail successfully is the foundation of the Homework Solutions' Method of instruction. Too many children are afraid to fail, because they don't see the value of it or know how to benefit from what it tells them. 

John Maxwell is a motivation speaker and success coach. His blog this week focused on developing grit in children and I wanted to share it with you. It is worth your time, so I hope you enjoy it. 

This Blog post was created by John Maxwell and can be viewed at his website at John Maxwell.com

"It turns out success has little to do with intelligence, personality, appearance and social standing. And the long-stand measure IQ is not difference between great and passable performance. Research today says,  all kids and adults are capable of success, but what we need is a better understanding of what motivates us in our pursuits. It’s not all about acting quickly and easily, it’s about who can get gritty and outlast the rest, the ones who make it despite challenges along the way.

Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, studied cadets at West Point military academy, students in the Chicago public school systems and participants in The National Spelling Bee. In her research, she discovered that kids with solid work ethic, marathon-like motivation and self-discipline are the most successful. These are kids with what she calls, “a growth mindset,”This means they have the ability to learn and understand that they can change the outcome of a problem with effort. When kids realize that failure is not a permanent condition, then they keep trying and keep going. They get “grit.”

Grit as defined by Duckworth, is passion and perseverance on a daily basis. It is a belief ingrained in the mind that success takes years, it takes commitment and resilience to make a future dream a reality. Simply put, it’s living life like a marathon, not a sprint.

Through her research, Duckworth also debunked the misconception that the more talent a person has, the more successful they will be. She showed that talent is inversely related to success, meaning that kids with talent have more trouble overcoming challenges than those who accept their lack of skill in an area early on.

It becomes a choice of will. Being willing to be wrong. Being willing to start over. Being gritty.


How do you do it? How do you teach a tee ball team with a losing streak or a tune-deaf amateur piano player to try again? John C. Maxwell gives us four practical skills to hone as adults and pass down to the ones just a few steps behind us as we harness grit and resilience in our daily living.

1. STAY OPTIMISTIC.

Optimism is not naïveté. Expect that failure is an option and it’s one more “way to do something.” It might be a wrong way, but recognize that you’ve eliminated a method or approach that doesn’t work and therefore, you learned something good and valuable. Choose optimism and choose to keep moving forward.

Ask: What did I just learn and how can I use what I learned to make it better?

2. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.

Failure generally doesn’t happen in a vacuum; others can always be pointed to or passed the responsibility for what went wrong. Owning our part in the breakdown will provide a moment for reflection, refinement and ultimately reward. Taking responsibility creates maturity, understanding and wisdom in the one who practices it.

Ask: What did I do to contribute to this situation and what can I do better next time?

3. REMAIN RESILIENT.

Move on and don’t look back. Remember what you learned, but don’t stay stuck on the pain of the present. Carrying the burden of failure overtime makes us weak to our problems. We allow failure to gnaw at us instead of having control over thoughts and feelings. Be mindful of comparison, rationalization, isolation, regret and bitterness toward others. These are signs that you’re getting stuck and you need to evaluate your thinking.

Ask: How am I thinking about this? What does my self-talk sound like? How can I force myself to stand up against it?

4. GET GRITTY.

Once you’ve reflected on your failure, it’s time to try again, and quickly. There’s nothing worse than time to let fear flourish. Recognize the reality of where you are and then act your way into facing your failure head on. Get back on your two-wheel bike, approach the person who’s gossiping about you, take the test again, try out for the team once more, and this time, be courageous, be bold, and get your grit.

Ask: What do I need to try again, and this time be ready to fail without fear?"

Please share you felt about this article.


Cell Phones For Children February 27, 2016 17:22 3 Comments

Sleep issues plague my students. Recently a student approached me for help with her sleep problems. It was clear that the culprit of her sleep deprivation was due to the endless group texts that continued binging until eleven o'clock at night. 

One would not be surprised if this comment was made by a middle schooler, but I am a third grade teacher. Apparently, this is a common problem amongst my eight year old students.

The first reaction of most is to past judgment on the parents for letting the children have a phone or ipad of their own in the first place. There is a belief held that parents should control its use. 

I love technology and all it has to offer, however I am aware of the negative impact of using these devices. A few come to mind: sleep deprivation, early onset of cataracts in thirty-somethings which usually don't appear until one is a senior citizen, computer vision syndrome, and social media/game addiction. 

Some pediatricians feel children should never be exposed to technology until they are forced to use it once they reach school age. Others believe children should not have a phone of their own until they are at least eleven. Those selling apps for children's use will tell you the technology will make children smarter and more competitive. Of course, their data is designed to sell a product. 

What do you think? Please weigh-in with you opinion in below.

 

 


The Value of Play is Highly Underrated October 13, 2015 06:54

"Ask any children what they do for fun. You will be amazed at what they consider play. One little girl stated she liked to play dress-up. When asked how she played, she responded, "I have this program, and I get to click on the dress I want the doll to wear." Author Unknown

This child is missing the experiences and the fine motor development children of the past benefitted from. She is missing the cutting out of dresses, folding the tabs, and then carefully placing the dress on the doll so that it wouldn't fall off. She is missing the experiences that paper dolls offers. She is using one finger. 

If she really played dress-up, she would gain strength in her abs as she dressed in over-sized pants. Putting one leg in a pant leg forces the other leg to engage muscles and strengthen the core. Weak cores translates into difficulty completing tasks and sustaining attention in class. 

Unstructured play that engages the entire body and all of the senses can help children grow cognitively in ways that no amounts of tutoring or computer programs can replace.  In the following excerpt from my new book, I tell a story of one of our field trips and offer some suggestions to help children improve their writing ability. 

We had a wonderful trip to Shipley Nature Center. When we arrived, a student was heard saying, What are we going to do for thirty minutes? Is there playground equipment? Did we bring balls?We replied by saying, You have nature to play with. See what games you can come up with.They quickly found trees to climb, sticks to use as building materials, as well ducks to follow and watch. Games of tag and running around the park also followed lunch. As we explored the habitat of the Tongva during our time at Shipley, we were doing more than sharing the history of a people who lived in this region; we were teaching the children how to observe their surroundings. With their enthusiasm for the rabbits, spider webs, lizards, and butterflies, we knew they would have plenty to write about when they returned.

 

We know parents want to help their children maximize their performance in class. If youd like to help you child become a better writer, forego extracurricular writing classes and try some of the following free programs:

 

  1. Ask your children to turn off their devices and look out the window.
  2. Play I Spycar games. This is a game that has children describe what they see outside and the other passengers guess what it is that was spied.
  3. Take your children to the park with nothing other than a lunch and a blanket. Engage all senses by sharing what you hear, see, smell, and feel. Touching leaves, the grass, and tree bark and then describing it is offering sensory experiences that will give children something to write about.  Lie on the blanket and look up at the sky and share what you see. This is great on cloudy days, but also good when there isnt a cloud in the sky. Ask your children to wonderabout what they see. i.e., I wonder why the bark on that tree looks like it is peeling?or I wonder what is living high in those branches?” Go for a walk and talk about what you see and ask them to share. Encourage them to look at the colors in leaves and grass. Sharing these experiences is front-loading childrens writing with beautiful images. Verbalizing observations later translates into excellent writing.
  4. Go to the beach and build a sand castle together. Discuss how the sand feels. Observe what happens when the water is poured onto dry sand over and over again. Take time to let your senses experience the trip. Have them stop and take a few minutes to observe what they smell, see, hear, and feel. The texture of dry and wet sand offers great opportunities to share how each feels and why there is a difference.

If we were to translate the dollar value of these experiences, it would be far more than what the extracurricular programs cost, and have a further reaching benefit for the children. When they learn how to observe their environment, they will begin to do it automatically.




 

Anecdote: Mr. Helliwell and Ms O went on a several trips together.. Mrs. H noticed that Ms. O  was moving so fast, she was missing a lot. So, she suggested Ms. O sit in one place, carve out a one square foot section in the sand and just observe it for ten minutes. What could one see in a 1 square foot of sand is amazing, but how many of us take the time to do that. Try it, you will be surprised. 

 

The value of unstructured play and free exploration is highly underrated."


Recommended Reading October 11, 2015 19:29

I highly recommend Goldie Hawn's book 10 Mindful Minutes. It is amazing how much students performance can improve when they learn how to be mindful. There are many books available that offer strategies that I will share in the future. For now, her book offers strategies that gives students and ourselves the social and emotional skills to reduce stress and anxiety for happier and healthier lives.

Know-It-Alls With Comprehension Problems August 27, 2015 05:54


Since we can all learn from each other, I would like to share questions a parent posed about her son recently at one of my trainings and my answer. I hope this helps other parents struggling with the same thing.

Questions: She shared that she is concerned about her first grade Know-It-All son who struggles with reading comprehension.  He is going to be in a first grade accelerated class in the fall. What should I do?

This is my answer to her:

It is hard for parents to know exactly how much to push their children and when to back off. I have the advantage of having seen children grow and develop over the years. Firstly, the know-it-all child doesn't always grow into the know-it-all adult. If your fear is that he will become that adult that no one can stand, I can assure you that he will quickly be leveled by his teachers, peers, and the reality of the real world.

"Know-it-alls" tend to be more insecure and that is how they cope. It can be a coverup for knowing he isn't as smart as everything thinks he is. Young children coverup not knowing how to do something by saying it is boring or they already know it. If he begins avoiding work and doesn't do assignments because they are "boring," he will be sending the message that he is struggling. In the minds of bright children, it isn't okay to struggle. They don't realize that even bright people struggle. Helping him identify that he is labeling hard things boring and offering strategies to solve the challenge will help him more in the long run. Reassure him that hard is okay for even bright children. 

Since he is going to be in an acceleratd class, I encourage you to watch his reactions to those things that are challenging.

If he is a strong math student, he may not be great at writing. He may be a good reader, but his comprehension skills do not match his oral reading fluency. This is not uncommon for young readers. They are so focused on reading the words, which is what they are learning to do at that age, that they haven't yet develped the ability to retain what they have read.

I can read a whole chapter to my class, have them engaged because I am reading with feeling, but I won't remember the next day if I read that chapter.

Reading words and retaining the meaning are two separate skills created in two separate parts of the brain. The left brain is reading and the right brain is forming images to retain the meaning. They don't often come together, especially for boys, until later. For this reason, your son may not remember what he has read. If someone pressures him, he will feel inadequate and resort to being a know-it-all. It's all a coverup. I would recommend having him stop after each sentence and see if he can picture what he read in his mind. Then have hime retell the story. That is training for real comprehension. 

Watch my video on the brain. It will explain what will happen to him when someone asks him questions about what he read that puts him into stress mode. He will not remember his name if he is stressed enough. 

One more point: Most early readers skil the important skill of learning the rules of phonics. They make the connections between letters and sound, but because they come in with reading, they are skipped into a program that doesn't teach phonics. As a result, when they are older and the words become more difficult, they don't always know how to break them apart. If you see that happen, I would alert the teacher about his never being taught phonics and that he might need some training in the rules of syllabicaiton and irregular sounds.