Saturday, December 31, 2011

What to Do When a Student Will Not Follow Your Instructions

student smoking in the entrance of LibraryImage by Yuba College Public Space via Flickrby Candace Davies

Have you implemented clear, concise and consistent instructions into your lessons but are still having trouble getting one or two students to follow them?

If you are going to get your students to do as you ask, it all has to begin with your attitude. Your attitude is what dictates your approach when dealing with challenging behaviour, so it is very important that you are conveying the appropriate attitude to your students that will result in positive classroom behaviour.

Even though some teachers display good control by utilizing a bullying, punitive and aggressive attitude, their control really only exists on the surface.

It may seem that you have your students under control, but underneath the surface of their reluctant compliance lays embarrassment, fear, hostility, and a desire to either retaliate in some way or get away from you. Certainly this isn’t the ideal way to get the best out of your students or create a healthy classroom environment.

If you shout orders at a child, you’re off to a bad start. The best way to get on the wrong side of someone is to shout at them and tell them to do something they don’t want to do. And with a challenging student you can multiply this effect exponentially.

Add to this the fact that there are probably 30 other kids in the room who enjoy seeing arguments and you can see why this could go badly. Many students actually try to get their teachers to lose their tempers (and their control) because they find it amusing or entertaining. That is why it is so important that you keep your composure when managing a classroom.

A good way to avoid confrontation is to give the student a fair warning. Explain first exactly what they are doing wrong, and what they should be doing instead. This gives them no reason to come back at you because you cannot argue with the truth. You have clearly explained to them what is wrong with their behaviour and what is expected of them. This will make it impossible for them to defend their behaviour.

Also, the other students in the class will see that you are being fair. Students who are being fairly treated find it very difficult to argue with your instructions because they know that the rest of the class will view them as being in the wrong and that’s the last thing that they want.

So, when dealing with challenging and difficult to handle students, always remember to remain calm and consistent. If you consistently follow the same discipline patterns for each student, then no student can argue about you being unfair or playing favourites. This also establishes clear boundaries that students will be very clear about.

Students are always trying to bend and push boundaries, but if you are consistent with your rules and clear on your behaviour standards, they will quickly realize that your rules aren’t bendable and they will comply. And lastly, keeping calm, and refraining from yelling further shows your control of the situation and lack of emotion. After all, most misbehaving students are only looking for attention.

About the Author

Candace Davies, President of A+ Resumes for Teachers, is a Certified Resume Writer, Interview Coach Strategist, and Author of 9 popular educational job search eBooks. She is dedicated to assisting teachers, administrators and other education professionals to advance their careers quickly, easily and with less stress.

Visit her website at or sign up to receive FREE weekly teaching job search tips, interview questions and answers, and other priceless career advice:
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Friday, December 30, 2011

21st-Century Skills - This Will be a Hot Topic for Many Years

Personification of knowledge (Greek Επιστημη, ...Personification of Knowledge: Greek, Episteme - Image via Wikipediaby Bruce D Price

The Education Establishment wants us to believe that American students are burdened by having too much knowledge, and the solution is to teach them more skills.

Isn’t the premise silly? Many American students can’t find Japan on a map.

Anyway, this battle will be unfolding for years and maybe decades. This battle will probably get tangled up with the debate over so-called National Standards.

Here’s something to watch out for: those Standards will be defined as emphasizing skills, and emphasizing skills will turn out to be another way of diminishing content. That’s what the Education Establishment has tended to favor for the last century (why these people disdain content and knowledge is an interesting thing to ponder).

But for now I’m writing only to tell you about two helpful articles:

About a year ago, USA today published an excellent piece about the whole subject of 21st-century skills. You’ll meet Hirsch, Willingham and Kay, three of the big players in this debate. This piece is titled: “What to learn: 'core knowledge' or '21st-century skills'?”

For a shorter article, with less about the present but more historical context, please see my own “21st-Century Skills: Same Old, Lame Old." I try to show that 21st-Century Skills is part of a perennial campaign against teaching or learning foundational knowledge.

Everyone needs to know about this hot topic, and these two articles will certainly do the trick.

I've been researching this whole subject for several years. I was always finding quotes from Dewey and the others, all making the same point: we don't need to bother teaching so many facts. Meanwhile, surveys showed that Americans tended to be culturally illiterate.

There really did seem to be an institutional prejudice against basic information. I finally wrote up all my notes as "45: The Crusade Against Knowledge - The Campaign Against Memory," which is on This article provides what might be called deep background.

About the Author

Bruce Price is the founder of His fifth book is titled THE EDUCATION ENIGMA - What Happened to American Education. has gotten particularly strong on reading - please start with 42: Reading Resources.
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Debating Current Issues

English: student at a debateImage via Wikipediaby Reed Markham

Debating current issues is a great way to develop a student’s critical thinking skills and maximize student participation in the classroom. Successful debates involve the selection of audience centered topics.

In preparation for the debates students utilize research from library databases and the internet. On the day of the debate students should bring copies of research, notes, and speech outlines.

A basic format for the Cross-Examination Debate includes the following:


2 teams - Affirmative and Negative (2 students in each team)
Class - debate judges

Room setup:

Two tables, podium in the center, student debaters face the audience


The constructive speech is designed to give students an opportunity to prepare an extemporaneous speech using the Toulmin Model of Argumentation.

First Affirmative Constructive speech (6 minutes)

Outline format:

Attention getting introduction

Debate Resolution

Definitions - key terms in the debate resolution

Body - utilize a modified Toulmin Model containing a claim statement, evidence (sources must be cited), and impact (personal opinion describing the significance of the argument). Three claims must be presented.

Conclusion - brief conclusion summarizing key arguments and concluding with an attention getter.

Cross Examination (3 minutes) by a member of the Negative team - each participant is expected to participate as a questioner and as a respondent during the debate.

First Negative Constructive speech (6 minutes)

Outline format:

Attention getting introduction

Debate Resolution - negative team indicates that they disagree with the debate resolution

Definitions - key terms in the debate resolution

Body - utilize a modified Toulmin Model containing a claim statement, evidence (sources must be cited), and impact (personal opinion describing the significance of the argument). Three claims must be presented.

Conclusion - brief conclusion summarizing key arguments and concluding with an attention getter.

Cross Examination (3 minutes) by a member of the Affirmative team

Second Affirmative Constructive speech (6 minutes)

Outline format:

Attention getting introduction

The second speaker does not repeat the debate resolution and definitions - goes directly to the body of the speech

Body - utilize a modified Toulmin Model format - claim statement, evidence (sources must be cited), and impact (personal opinion describing the significance of the argument). Second speaker has two must pick one of two options for the body of the speech - (first option) present three, new independent claims (4, 5, 6) on the issue; (second option) reiterate claims presented by the first speaker, adding more evidence - examples, case studies, statistics, quotations.

Conclusion - brief conclusion summarizing key arguments and concluding with an attention getter.

Cross Examination (3 minutes) by a member of the Negative team

Second Negative Constructive speech (6 minutes)

Outline format:

Attention getting introduction

The second speaker does not repeat the debate resolution and definitions - goes directly to the body of the speech.

Body - utilize a modified Toulmin Model format - claim statement, evidence (sources must be cited), and impact (personal opinion describing the significance of the argument). Second speaker has two must pick one of two options for the body of the speech - (first option) present three, new independent claims (4, 5, 6) on the issue; (second option) reiterate claims presented by the first speaker, adding more evidence - examples, case studies, statistics, quotations.

Conclusion - brief conclusion summarizing key arguments and concluding with an attention getter.

Cross Examination (3 minutes) by a member of the Affirmative team

Preparation (prep time) for the rebuttal (5 minutes)

The rebuttal is an impromptu speech designed to give students the opportunity to think critically, analyze their opponents’ arguments, and develop a strong closing statement.

First Affirmative Rebuttal speech (4 minutes)

Outline format:

Attention getting introduction

Body of the speech - focus on at least three voting issues - presenting reasons why the class (acting as judges) should vote for the Affirmative team. Speaker needs to be responsive to opponents’ arguments, identify fallacies, and emphasize key arguments from the constructive speech.

Conclusion - brief summary and attention getter

First Negative Rebuttal speech (4 minutes)

Outline format:

Attention getting introduction

Body of the speech - focus on at least three voting issues- presenting reasons why the class (acting as judges) should vote for the Affirmative team. Speaker needs to be responsive to opponents’ arguments, identify fallacies, and emphasize key arguments from the constructive speech.

Conclusion - brief summary and attention getter.

Second Affirmative Rebuttal speech (4 minutes)

Outline format:

Attention getting introduction

Body of the speech - focus on at least three voting issues - presenting reasons why the class (acting as judges) should vote for the Affirmative team. Speaker needs to be responsive to opponents’ arguments, identify fallacies, and emphasize key arguments from the constructive speech.

Conclusion - brief summary and attention getter.

Second Negative Rebuttal speech (4 minutes)

Outline format:

Attention getting introduction

Body of the speech - focus on at least three voting issues - (presenting reasons) why the class (acting as judges) should vote for the Affirmative team. Speaker needs to be responsive to opponents’ arguments, identify fallacies, and emphasize key arguments from the constructive speech.

Conclusion - brief summary and attention getter.

Cross Examination rules and strategies:

Questioner -

1. Take the time to research and read about arguments on both sides of the issue
2. Prepare questions in advance of the debate (but keep in mind that spontaneous questions have the greatest impact)
3. Use follow up questions, if necessary
4. Avoid general questions
5. Ask specific, probing questions
6. No personal questions (personal questions are irrelevant)
7. Use your research to reference questions
8. You may ask questions about any issue or idea related to the debate topic
9. Face the audience as you ask questions
10. Avoid the shotgun approach to asking questions
11. Don’t let the respondent ramble - feel free to interrupt the respondent after they have given a fair response to a question
12. Use your time wisely - ask your best questions first
13. Take notes during your opponent’s speeches
14. The cross examination is for questions, not rebuttal speeches

Respondent -

1. Take the time to read several resources in preparation for your debate
2. Practice responding to questions with your debate team member in advance of the debate
3. Avoid responding like a politician- make sure you answer the question
4. Take advantage of generalized questions - feel free to elaborate on your response - it is the responsibility of the questioner to interrupt your response and ask another question
5. Don’t respond to personal questions (personal questions are irrelevant)
6. Use your research to reference question
7. Face the audience as you respond to questions
8. Remember - your debate team member cannot answer questions for you - be prepared

Classroom audience:

*Class members are expected to attend the debates and serve as debate judges. Each class member will use the argument flowsheet method of note taking during the debate. At the end of the debate class members will write down the name of the team that did the best job of debating the issues. Describe the reasons why you were persuaded to vote for that team. Make sure your name in is on the argument flowsheet.

*Class members need to set aside their personal opinions as debate judges. Judges are expected to be fair and impartial judges. Do not ask questions or interrupt the debate participants.

*Class members need to turn in their argument flowsheet at the end of the debate to receive credit for the assignment.

Debate preparation:

*Debate team members and opponents work together to prepare a debate resolution. This is a competitive debate - do not work with your opponents after a decision on a resolution has been made. Canned debates will receive significant grade reductions.
*Do not sit during the presentation of your speeches and cross examination.
*Results of the class vote will be announced at the end of the debate by the professor.
*Fairness doctrine applies to each speech delivered - speakers must stop speaking when the time limit has been reached. Student participants may use a stopwatch during the debate.
*Students are required to turn in copies of their research at the end of the debate.
*Laptops may not be used during the debate.
*Visuals are not required for this assignment. Do not use PowerPoint - the focus of the debate is on the development of verbal images and ideas.

About the Author

Reed Markham teaches junior and senior high school students in the Early College Program at Daytona State College. Markham was a speechwriter for the United States Supreme Court.
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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

ESL Interactive Listening and Speaking Activity for Any Classroom

English: Conversational American English, Less...Image via Wikipediaby Andrew Lawton

ESL teachers are always looking to get their students to practice speaking. This next activity will get each student speaking and listening to sentences that contain the grammar and vocabulary that you are covering for that week.

To prepare, write down ten sentences that include key ESL vocabulary and grammar from whatever you are studying at the time. Make the sentences brief and understandable for your students. Make about ten copies of this sheet of paper to hand out to the students in the first seat in the row.

When students are ready, have them sit in rows of about five students. Inform the class that the first person in each row will receive the paper with the English sentences. This person is to quietly read the sentence to the person in the next seat behind him. This student who is listening is not to see the paper.

He can only use his ears to understand what is being said. He may ask his friend to repeat the words as many times as he needs. The goal is to hear the sentence, understand it and quietly repeat it to the next person in the row. This continues until the last student hears it.

Once everyone in the row has heard the sentence the last person is to stand and tell the teacher, and his group, what he heard. The original message may be lost after the sentence has been passed back a few times. As the teacher, you can decide if you want the group to start again, or if you’d like to just write on the board what the sentence was.

Another way of making this a good learning experience is to have the last student go to the board and write what he thinks the sentence is. The first student, the one who has the sheet of paper, will write the original version below that. Each row member will be able to see how close or how far off they were.

For this ESL activity you may want to put the lower level students in the same row and make the sentences shorter. If you are teaching a beginner level class you can even write out ESL vocabulary words instead of entire sentences. I would do this activity for about five or six rounds and then move on to something else.

Andrew Lawton

About the Author

I am an ESL and Spanish teacher in Austin, TX.
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ESL Oral Activity Using Adjectives to Describe People

English: ESL 101 Conversational American Engli...Image via Wikipediaby Andrew Lawton

At some point in your ESL class you will present adjectives that describe people. This is a good opportunity to get your ESL students some much needed English speaking practice. I use the following activity each semester in my classes.

After having gone over the descriptive adjectives that you are going to teach and reviewing the verb “to be”, split your class into groups of three. Each group is to come up with three famous names that everyone in class would know. These famous people can be anyone from a politician to an athlete. The person can even be dead.

For each famous person the group is to come up with five sentences that describe this person’s physical attributes. Each sentence is to contain at least two vocabulary words. The students can include where the person is from and what he is famous for, but descriptive adjectives must be used. Write a list of twenty or so adjectives on the board.

Tell the class that after about ten minutes each group will read their descriptions out loud, without revealing the identity of the famous character. The rest of the class will make guesses on who is being described. If nobody gets the answer, after the five descriptions have been read, the class can ask questions in English.

Write a list of useful questions on the board for students to see and use. You can even have the class come up with seven or eight questions that everyone agrees will be helpful in this type of exercise.

Let each group share their descriptions with the entire class and then come up with a few on your own. This will give the students an opportunity to hear the descriptions pronounced clearly. If your class is guessing the names too easily choose a more obscure name. You could even pick a student in class or another teacher in the building.

Your ESL students will enjoy listening to their classmates speaking in English. Everyone will be paying extra close attention on what is being said. Follow this activity up with a quiet worksheet activity that involves answering questions about a person’s physical characteristics.

About the Author

My name is Andrew Lawton and I am an ESL and Spanish teacher in Austin, TX. I recently designed a website for ESL students to use at:
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Helping Children Take Control of Their Learning

English: It's the three basic elements in the ...Image via Wikipediaby Dr Kari Miller

Too often children and parents experience dissatisfaction and disillusionment in the educational process. Parents can feel frustrated in their efforts to help their child succeed.

How can parents help their child be successful and find joy in learning? Parents can help their children thrive in school, and in life, by having realistic expectations of their children’s abilities and by helping them to develop independent work habits.

Leslie was helping her eight-year-old son, Ben, study for his weekly spelling test. Ben was fidgety, jumping out of his chair, running to the refrigerator for a snack. His mind was on anything and everything but learning spelling words. Leslie was losing patience. After all, she had other things to do tonight and she still needed to fix dinner. If only she could get Ben to take this seriously.

Working successfully with a child on schoolwork requires understanding of the child’s developmental abilities. Leslie could have asked herself why Ben was reluctant to work with her to memorize the spelling words. Perhaps Leslie was asking Ben to spell words out loud rather than writing them down, which is a more effective method for most students.

Perhaps Leslie was expecting Ben to sit quietly in a chair for longer than was comfortable for him. It is very common for parents to expect a child to remain quiet and still during learning activities, but research has proven that brains function better when movement is part of the learning process.

Most children need to move every fifteen minutes or so in order to concentrate. Making movement part of the activity is a great way to stimulate optimal learning and also interest and joy in learning.

If Leslie had decided to put movement into the activity and had also made an effort to capitalize upon Ben’s natural gift for wonder and fun, she could have presented the activity to Ben as a game. He would not only have been delighted to practice his spelling words, he would also have learned them more quickly and Leslie would have had a good time too.

For example, Leslie could have left pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in various places around the room and each time Ben wrote the correct spelling of a word, he would have been allowed to get a piece of the puzzle. When all of the pieces were collected, he could put the puzzle together. The time he would spend putting together the puzzle would not only be his reward for correct spelling, it would be a rest break before the next learning activity.

Leslie could encourage Ben’s efforts to work independently. Frequently, in their desire to help their child achieve, parents set the bar too high, expecting more from their child than is reasonable under the circumstances. If expectations are unrealistic, students practice failure more than they practice success. They learn to avoid schoolwork rather than to relish their accomplishments.

Leslie could have helped Ben to make a plan for how to learn the spelling words. The plan may have included writing each word five times while spelling it out loud as Ben walked around the room, mobilizing his whole brain for learning by incorporating movement into the activity.

The next step in the plan could have been a test of the words while Ben balanced on one foot (strange as it sounds, research confirms that students pay better attention when engaging in balancing activities). And the plan could also have included a five to ten minute break (maybe to put together a puzzle) after completing the test.

Developing independent work habits allows a child to feel like a successful learner. The feeling of success encourages more focus and commitment. Parents can help their child most by clearly expressing confidence in their child’s ability to succeed. Children who are encouraged to believe in success are much more likely to persist when the going gets tough. They do not become discouraged by minor set backs. They understand the control they have in their educational experience.

One aspect of independent work habits is good time management skills. Helping children develop strong time management skills improves their grades and gives them the opportunity to spend more time with their family and friends. Leslie could monitor the amount of time Ben spends on each assignment.

For example, Leslie could tell Ben that he has thirty minutes to practice spelling words, and if he gets at least 90 percent correct on the practice test, that he can use any time left from the thirty minutes for an activity of his choice.

Leslie could work more effectively with Ben by incorporating movement and fun into homework activities and by developing strategies and routines for homework management. When parents take a child’s proclivities into account in teaching independent work habits, the mood around the home is improved and parents as well as children have fun and feel the success and joy in schoolwork.

About the Author

Dr. Kari Miller is a Board Certified Educational Therapist and Director of Miller Educational Excellence in Los Angeles. She began her career almost twenty-five years ago as a special education resource teacher. She has worked with students in a vast array of capacities, including special education teacher and educational therapist.

Dr. Miller has a PhD in Educational Psychology and Mathematical Statistics, a master’s degree in Learning Disabilities, Gifted Education and Educational Diagnosis, and a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Behavior Disorders.

To contact Dr. Miller
Phone: 310-280-9813
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Five Things to Know About the Transition from Homeschool to University

English: The Regent University Student Center,...Regent University Student Centre - Image via Wikipediaby Leigh Anne Giblin

Graduating from home school to university is an exciting time - and also a little intimidating. Here's the good news: plenty of home schooled students have made the transition, and we know many times over that these students are more than up to the challenges of college.

Below are five things you should know about the transition from home school to university. Keeping these tips in mind can ease your mind and help you appreciate everything you've accomplished and all that's ahead of you.

1. Get Oriented

Chose a university with a variety of orientation events and training seminars for incoming students. From social events for freshmen to afternoon presentations on how to use the campus library system, such offerings are of value to all students, but of special value to home schooled students, who may have less experience dealing with an institution.

2. Find Your College Family

Before college, home schooled students enjoy a level of parental support and affirmation that traditional students don't often experience. So when home schoolers leave the house and head to the university, building a new support network is critical.

The sooner home schooled students make friends at college, the sooner they'll feel at ease in their new home. New students should look for a local church with a strong university fellowship, or join a campus Christian group. Or maybe they can find a good crew of friends in the dorm who enjoy eating dinner together every night. A strong feeling of fellowship makes all the difference.

But remember this: according to a study by Mary Beth Bolle, Roger D. Wessel, and Thalia M. Mulvihill published in the Journal of College Student Development, the more often home schoolers call their families during the first year, the faster they will make new friends. So neither parents nor students should worry that severing the bond is the only way that a new college student can meet new people. Rather, the feelings of love and support give way to an appealing confidence in a young college student.

3. Trust Your Skills

Home schooling teaches students how to budget their time and learn at their own pace. Also, home schooled students tend to study in more personal, individualized ways than their private and public school peers.

So when home schooled students arrive at the university, they should trust the skills they developed while learning at home. Because in college, success depends on time management, self-pacing, and study skills. Far from being less prepared for life away from mom and dad's supervision, home schoolers know how to work on their own. The skills learned in home schooling are the very skills needed as a college student.

4. Get to Know Your Professors

One of the greatest challenges for the home schooled graduate entering college is adjusting from the expectations of the parent or primary teacher to the expectations of professors.

During the first week of class, new students should visit all of their instructors during office hours. Ask professors about their expectations, what they look for on tests and in papers, how much they imagine students should study each week. Before the first assignment is due, ask to see a sample of a successful paper or project to see firsthand what they think is exemplary work.

5. Remember, It's the Same but Different

The home schooled student doesn't make a transition all that different from the public or private school student. Both adjust to life away from home. Both discover how to responsibly manage their new freedom.

Both learn to navigate the services and procedures of campus. And both must discern how to meet new expectations. When you arrive at your new school, look around at your classmates. Take peace in knowing they're experiencing the same feelings of excitement and intimidation you are.

About the Author

Leigh Anne Giblin is an Associate Marketing Manager at Regent University. To learn more about this Christian online university, please visit the Regent website.
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How to Simplify Your Home School Curriculum

An example of a homeschool setting.(caption fr...Image via Wikipediaby Marianne Vanderkolk

When you begin to home school, you are keen to go to curriculum fairs and search out the perfect home school curriculum for your family.

When you have been home schooling for a few years, you may discover that your first choices did not work out that well, and you are on the hunt again. Five or so years later, you may be bored and keen to re-think
the home school curriculum and cater for your highschool students. Ten years later, you throw out so much of what you have bought and never used and keenly look to simplify your home school curriculum.

I am not sure if you subscribe to numerous home schooling e-newsletters or ezines (perhaps you subscribe to mine!). I subscribe to a few to find out what home school curriculum is around and the see what other home schoolers may be using. At times, I like to read reviews.

However, as my email box is continually bombarded with new homeschool products and resources, I wonder if all the new products have helped our desire or vision for home schooling. Are we more focused on the task of home schooling now with the plethora of curriculum that is put before us or did those early veteran home schoolers with limited resources capture the essence of home schooling in a better way? Have we lost the vision?

Am I against home school curriculum? Absolutely not! I am very thankful to numerous publishers who have put time and thought into a product and are selling it to the home school market. Thankyou! It has made my task so much easier!

However, I am concerned that some publishers are just viewing home schooling as another market and we are steered into thinking that each child needs to have a textbook for each subject each year! Four children, eight subjects each year means literally 128 textbooks for every year of home schooling. Most of these will be pricey and consumable.

"What are you doing for Language Arts?"

"DS has a Year 3 book for Spelling, Year 4 for grammar, Year 3 book for Literature Studies, Year 3 text for writing and Year 4 Book for Reading Comprehension. Yes, I am so glad that we can cater for his individual abilities!"

Is this the only way? Are you ready to simplify your home school curriculum and not fall into the marketing traps? How can that be done?

If you have spent any time on my website, you would know that I always refer to your educational and family goals. That is the first thing that you need to do now if you want to simplify your home school curriculum.

Decide on the big picture goals

Why are you home schooling? For what purpose and to what end are you preparing and educating your children? Let these answers drive the curriculum you choose to implement in your home school.

Decide why you want to teach a certain subject

Here you should pose questions to yourself which will help you formulate why you want to teach a certain subject. This step can be quite simple.

The most obvious answer as to why we want to teach reading, is, so that our children will read widely and understand what they read. True? How do we do that?

Firstly, we set up an atmosphere that encourages reading. We read widely to them; We give them the tools so that they can read for themselves (phonics instruction when ready). We offer a range of quality reading resources - both fiction and non-fiction living books. We include reading in all subject areas and do not treat it as a separate subject, but instead, a skill to be developed in each subject.

The most obvious answer as to why we want to teach writing, is, so that our children can write appropriately for different audiences and in different situations. This includes writing notes, letters, essays, descriptive writing, fiction, non-fiction, responses, critical essays, essays of persuasion and more (more writing skills can be found listed here:

So, how would we do that? Does it mean we need a consumable textbook for each grade level? Probably not! If we want to teach our children to write, they need to write! - all types of forms of writing, across the curriculum.

Begin by teaching them correct letter formation, writing words, copying sentences, narrations, copying their own oral narrations, essay writing. I would encourage you to get a book which explains different writing forms. I like the Write Source books and have chosen a few age-appropriate teaching texts. These are non-consumable and are written directly to the child.

If you would like to work on writing skills, you could choose an excerpt of literature, discuss the grammar, spelling, sentence structure, word usage and use it as a basis for copywork, and modeling.

Spelling can flow directly from their own writing and an individual spelling list can be created from their incorrect spelling. Spelling in context is far more effective. However, if you would like a Spelling Program, choose one which spans across the ages and years.

If your goal for history teaching is that they memorize dates, you would look for a program that just focusses on memorization of facts, but if your goal is that they gain an understanding of the time period and understand it in the context of a Biblical Worldview, you would look for a curriculum that helps you to do that.

The answer you give for each subject area, will help you choose appropriate homeschool curriculum which has the same purpose in mind.

Combine Subjects and Skill Teaching

To simplify the curriculum, you need to look for ways to combine subjects. If you teach history in an integrated approach, you can teach history, geography, literature, art history, science history, music history and worldview (depending on the curriculum you choose to help you teach). As you integrate these subjects, you use and develop age-appropriate reading and writing skills. Writing can be done in the context of any subject area!

During a study on Ancient Egypt, you can read aloud an historical fiction novel such as "Mara, daughter of the Nile", create a salt map of Egypt; Read about the culture; Put the time period into the Biblical timeline; Copy the way the Ancient Egyptians decorated their tombs; Dress like an Egyptian, Hold a feast; Write a story/narration/summary/book report/essay from what was learned.

Combine ages

To simplify your home schooling life, combine ages where you can. History can be taught successfully to the whole family at once, but the writing and reading assignments which are set will be different for the different ages. I expect more from my fifteen year old, than from my ten year old.

Some families like to begin their day with their 'together' work - such as Bible, Memorization, History/Science Readings, Art, and whatever they combine, and then continue the day in independent studies. Other families like to begin independently, and then finish working on projects together.

Make memorable learning experiences and products

Textbooks may have a place as educational tools, but the consumable workbooks that some children work in year after year, will not be treasured years after. However, a book which they have created, a scrapbook, a personal diary, an art collection, a poster, a photo journal, a project, notebook or portfolio will have an important place in the lives of your children for years.

These will be kept as wonderful memories and as the pages which they have spent energy, heart and soul creating, are turned, the experiences and memories of that year of home schooling will come back too! My children love looking back at what they have created, but have not had any attachment at all to a consumable workbook, which subsequently has been tossed in the bin.

All of Life is Education

To simplify your home schooling, do not confine education to books. All of life is education even chore training, kitchen duties, house cleaning. Do not be anxious if you can not get to the books as much as you would like. Talk to your children, converse with them about all of life, as you sit down, as you get up and as you walk along the road.

Remember there are phases of learning and different ages have different things you need to focus on. When a child is ready, they can work quite independently, structure their own days and learn things quickly. How much more effective would it be if we taught our children a difficult concept when they were truly ready, rather than to our timetable or the timetable of our text?

Remember that excursions, holidays, visiting the sick, providing a meal are opportunities for training and education.

Also, one needs to be reminded that you can not do it all. Be realistic in your own expectations.

Do not compare

Above all, do not compare yourself with others. Use the home schooling resources which conform with the goals you have for your children. If it is working for you and your family, there is no need to change.

As you step out to simplify your home school curriculum, keep your own goals in mind and be driven by them, not by the hype and advertising of numerous publishers.

About the Author

Written by Marianne Vanderkolk

Marianne, home schooling mother of six, desires to see homeschooling families design their own home school by creating their own resources, or choosing resources and curriculum which suits the goals of their family. The Home Schooling Guide helps both new and veteran homeschoolers set up their own curriculum, and guides them through choices and decisions, explaining homeschooling approaches, subject areas, and ways to design your own approach.
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How to Plan Home Schooling

homeschooling afternoonImage by hbakkh via FlickrDr David Batencourt

Home schooling a child can be a long and tedious road. Many parents have no idea of the amount of work that must be placed into a child's curriculum. In fact, developing a curriculum takes time, thought and a plan.

To develop a curriculum for your child you should know about what grade level the child is capable of completing.

Does the child have any special needs or concerns that need to be addressed in the curriculum? Will the child need to complete any additional credits or need to complete Advanced Placement classes? Will foreign language be necessary? Are there credit recovery classes that have to be addressed? What learning styles does the child use? All questions that will have to be answered.

Because of the internet, parents now have several choices for curricula. I recommend that parents consider a well developed curriculum for their child instead of developing one on their own. This can be accomplished through the multiple online schools that are currently on the internet.

This allows the parent to assume the role of a coach instead of a teacher. Taking the burden off the parent for developing lesson plans, activities and testing and allowing them to focus on the child's education. The parent only needs to follow the plan from the school. This option gives the child a solid structure to learn in and gives the parent a well defined plan.

The second issue that parents usually encounter is what to do with my child. You have to realize that this is school and that there needs to be a certain amount of structure in order to succeed.

The child needs to have a well defined work space where books, pencils, pens, paper and the computer can be located. This will be school. Do not get into the habit of letting your child set on the sofa with the television going attempting to do school work.

Next, define a timeline. When will school start and end? When will lunch be? Snack time and recess time? Write it down and post it on the wall in the school area. Let you child know that this is the normal schedule that will be followed each day.

Your child also needs to know that the schedule may change if there are activities or field trips. You as a parent must remember that this is your school and that you can manipulate the learning environment to increase your child's educational experience.

An example of this would be when I take my child to the tidal pools to explore the oceanic environment and water quality. This puts science into action allowing my child to live what she is learning in science. When we return home we alter the schedule for the day and then make sure we address the areas we missed tomorrow.

Home schooling can be a long a tedious road but it is one filled with beautiful colors, sounds and textures. Just do not forget to look around.

About the Author

Dr Batencourt is the regional admissions director for Forest Trail Academy. He home schools his children through the use of the internet, travel and learning adventures.
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Monday, December 26, 2011

21 Days To Back-To-School Bliss

Cover of "Back To School (Extra-Curricula...Cover via Amazonby Susan Kruger

Tips for getting your school year off to a relaxed and productive start.

Gearing up for back-to-school can be a bit overwhelming; there is a lot to do, a lot of transitions to navigate, and often a sense of blues as the realization that summer has, once again, gone by too fast.

However, you can easily turn back-to-school anxieties into positive anticipation for a great school year with the following action plan. Plug these steps into your calendar right now and see what a different they can make!

One Week before School: Week of Preparation

Day 1 (seven days before school): Ease into a "school" bed-time schedule. Slowly transitioning into a "school" sleep schedule ensures proper rest and encourages a positive attitude towards going back to school.

Day 3: Create a place for everything, so everything will be in its place. Designate one basket for each child to store his shoes, bookbags, and jackets. Give each child a container filled with standard homework supplies that can be transported from, for example, the kitchen to the computer room. Finally, establish a place for each child to store extra papers from school - a section of your file cabinet or a designated box under his bed.

Day 4: Purchase supplies. Keep the supplies minimal and simple. Fancy folders and notebooks are bulky and hard for students to use. The best system to use is a one-inch binder with a plastic folder for each class, keeping all folders in one place.

Day 6: Set goals with your children. Help your children look forward to the new school year by having each person (including you) share at least two goals for the new school year: one academic goal and one "fun" goal.

First Week of School: Week of Routines

Day 7 (night before school): Have a "Sunday Night Meeting" every week! Each member of the family should grab their planners/calendars for a 10-15 minute "meeting." Ask your children what they have scheduled for the week (such as sports practices), share your plans for the week (children like to know what to expect, so tell them if you will have a late night at the office or will have to attend a meeting at school), arrange rides home from after-school activities, etc. Your week will be much less chaotic because everyone will be on the same page!

Day 8: Establish a routine for papers that need your attention. Purchase magnetic clips for each child and post them on the refrigerator. Have your children clip papers here that you need to fill out, sign, etc (expect to spend four hours filling out back-to-school papers this week).

Day 10: Get ready for school at night, before you go to bed. Avoid chaotic mornings and forgotten school supplies by having everyone pack up their homework, bookbags, lunch/lunch money, etc, before they go to bed. They should also set out their clothes, shoes, and jacket at night, too.

Day 11: Is everyone using their school planners? All students need to use a homework planner! Check planners every night until they are part of everyone's routine.

Day 12: Clean out bookbags once a week. Cluttered book-bags are the root cause of lost assignments and must be cleaned out regularly (the Sunday Night Meeting is another good time to do this).

Second Week of School: Week of Cooperation

Day 14: Hold your second "Sunday Night Meeting" of the school year.

Day 15: Give each child a choice about something today. The more you can give your children choices, the more cooperation you will get from them, especially when doing homework. Some choices may include giving two options for dinner or two different times to do their homework. When you give choices - and honor their choices - your children feel empowered and will be much more cooperative.

Day 18: Catch your children being good today! Improve cooperation by giving compliments to your children. Keep them specific and succinct (most children are embarrassed by mushy-gushy compliments). For example, "Thank you, Kristen, for coming home and starting your homework right away. I appreciate that." Positive praise works wonders!

Day 21: Give yourself a break! Congratulations, you have survived the first two weeks of school and you are well on your way to a happy, productive school year. Celebrate by scheduling some time for yourself. You deserve it!

(c) 2008 Susan Kruger, All rights reserved. You are free to reprint/republish this article as long as the article and byline are kept intact and all links are made live.

About the Author

Susan Kruger, M.Ed. is a Certified Teacher and the author of the book SOAR(r) Study Skills. Her exclusive Homework Rx(r) Toolkit at includes 25 Ways to Make Homework Easier ... Tonight!, Homework Scorecard, Homework Inventory for Parents and a free subscription to the Homework Rx(r) eNewsletter to help you and your child enjoy homework success.
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Homework: What To Do When Students DON'T Do It

homeworkImage by wot nxt via Flickrby Susan Kruger

There is a form on my website where I ask people to tell me their greatest concerns/challenges regarding homework. It is probably no surprise that a significant number of teachers have responded with comments like this:

"No motivation."
"Students don’t do it."

If you are like me, then you probably don’t have fond memories of homework yourself, but you likely did it.

It was not because you liked it.

It was not because you couldn’t find anything better to do (yes, we had TV as kids. Some of us even had video games, too. We are not that old).

You did it because you wanted to get a good grade. Or, you did it to avoid having to answer to your mom who would give you "That Look" and ground you until you were dead. Or, you did it because it just needed to be done.

So, the real question is, "Why don’t students seem to care about homework?" There are a variety of possible answers, but the best advice I can offer is this:

Ask them!

You, of course, can provide additional insight. Share your experiences with homework when you were younger and then explain why you value it as an adult. The more relevance children see to the "real world" the more likely they are to value homework.

Meanwhile, I would venture to guess that many of their answers will sound like these:

* "What’s the point? Why do I need to do it?"
* "It takes too much time!"
* "Homework causes fights in our family."
* "It’s just a couple of assignments…what’s the big deal?"
* "I lose my homework a lot."
* "I don’t know how to do it."

Each of these responses could inspire their own book, but we will settle for a few quick comments:


The child who asks this question is begging to understand a real-world purpose for homework. They need help understanding that homework is not just practice on the topic taught in class, but practice for developing responsibility.

Homework may not be fun, but completing it on time is good practice for the day when they are employed and have to complete a project on time. It is practice for paying bills and keeping a roof over their head.

Doing homework helps build responsibility skills in the same way that lifting weights build muscle. They literally program neuron pathways in the brain that develop responsibility. Developing "responsibility muscle" will directly impact their ability to earn more money in the future.


Homework takes too much time because students do not know strategic learning skills for doing homework more efficiently. They are also busy "multi-tasking" by doing homework while texting, watching TV, or surfing the internet which is a major time drain. Teach your children time-management and study skills to help them cut homework time or enroll them in a study skills class.


As I have said many times, homework is the greatest lever of control that a student has over their parent(s). They may not quite realize they are striving for control, but they do know that they don’t like being told what to do.


Children are often oblivious to the impact one or two "zeros" have on their overall grade. Encourage them to track their grades so they can see the math for themselves.

If your school makes grades available electronically, have them log in and see how their grade changed after that big ‘ol "0" was plopped in the homework column. In 95% of middle and high school classes, students can pass with a "C" if they simply turn in all homework and show up for tests and quizzes. It’s not rocket science ... but they think it is until they see the math for themselves.


In most cases, your children do not deliberately lose homework. Imagine if we, as adults, had several different email accounts to manage each day?!? We would be completely overwhelmed and frustrated!

The same is true for students who are trying to manage dozens of papers along with a couple dozen folders, notebooks, and textbooks that must be transported to-and-from school and individual classes each day. Students need a system to simplify and streamline all of their supplies.


Children are often afraid to ask for help. Their teacher may have offered help to the class and posted "Tutoring Lab" hours on the board, but many are afraid to step forward and admit they need help.

Or, they may simply believe that the help is for "someone else" and may not realize the potential value for themselves. As you know, there is almost always a resource for students who are willing to get extra help. Some may simply need an extra nudge.

The key to this discussion is to listen 85% of the time. Let them be honest about their feelings towards homework and acknowledge them. Brainstorm problem-solving ideas together and allow your child to have some ownership over some solutions.

On my website you can download a free Homework Rx Toolkit that includes "25 Ways to Make Homework Easier Tonight." Use that document as a starting point to identify workable solutions together. As the parent, you have to set expectations and boundaries, but you can also set the stage for cooperation.

© 2009 Susan Kruger, All rights reserved. You are free to reprint/republish this article as long as the article and byline are kept intact and all links are made live.

About the Author

Susan Kruger of SOAR(r) Study Skills is a Certified Teacher with a Master's Degree and the author of the book SOAR(r) Study Skills. Her Homework Rx(r) Toolkit at includes "25 Ways to Make Homework Easier ... Tonight!", Homework Scorecard, Homework Inventory for Parents and a free subscription to the Homework Rx(r) eNewsletter to help you and your child get started on the path to homework success.
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Will Your Child Be Prepared for Careers That Don't YET Exist?

English: A Student of the University of Britis...Image via Wikipediaby Susan Kruger

"We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet" - Karl Fisch, Educator and author of "Did You Know".

When we grew up, the employment rate was fairly stable. Our greatest concern was having to compete against a few "local" job applicants to get a "good" job.

Our children, however, will face new challenges. For one, they will no longer be competing with people in their hometowns for jobs; they will be competing with people all over the globe! Secondly, companies are down-sizing. For better or worse, technology is allowing companies to do more with less.

In order to give our children a competitive advantage in this Information Age and global economy, we must teach them how to learn STRATEGICALLY: to organize themselves, process new information efficiently, make critical decisions about that information and access it at a later time.

These types of learning skills are called "soft skills." They include learning, organization, and communication strategies. Most schools do not teach these skills because the national and state standards that drive their funding are focused almost entirely on content. Very little focus falls on learning or processing skills.

One study done by the Stanford Research Institute and Carnegie Melon Foundation found that 75 PERCENT OF LONG-TERM CAREER SUCCESS DEPENDS ON SOFT SKILLS AND ONLY 25 PERCENT ON TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE!

Another survey asked hundreds of employers in growing industries what skills they needed from their employees now, and in the future. Of the top 57 skills they listed, only FOUR were related to technology. 95% of the skills they need include things like: the ability to think critically, know how to use various learning strategies and manage time efficiently.

It seems unthinkable that our education system would ignore the top 95% of skills that students need for career success! But, that is exactly what is happening. They have the heavy burden of making sure students pass standardized tests. Ironically, they don’t have time to provide instruction that is relevant to your child’s future.

In the world of education, "soft skills" are called "study skills." Study skills let students use STRATEGIES in school. Students use strategies for sports and video games...why don’t they know how to use strategies in school?

Study skills are the skills:

* Required to be an independent learner.
* That build confidence.
* That develop efficiency.
* That allow students to be proactive, make good decisions, and think critically.
* That improve performance to prepare students for high-stakes tests and the globally competitive job market of the future.


Ohio State University published a study in 2009 confirming the dramatic impact study skills can have on school performance. The study found that students who took a study skills class earned a higher grade-point average. More significantly, they found that study skills had a major impact on graduation rates!

* 45% = the increased likelihood that students who had "struggled" in high school would graduate from college.

* 600% = the increased likelihood that students who had "average" grades in high school would graduate from college!

If study skills are this powerful for college students, imagine the impact they could have on upper elementary, middle, and high school students? Imagine the confidence students would have much earlier in life?

Study skills give students a competitive advantage for the future, help them earn better grades (in less time), and develop confidence! The only way to ensure your child has every advantage to compete in our global economy is to provide access to these life-long skills.

© 2011 Susan Kruger, All rights reserved. You are free to reprint/republish this article as long as the article and byline are kept intact and all links are made live.

About the Author

Download a free Homework Rx Toolkit featuring simple study skills at that will make a difference for your child immediately! Simply visit and click on "Parents." Susan Kruger, M.Ed. is a former struggling student and the author of SOAR Study Skills, the best-selling study skills book on Amazon. Her program is in hundreds of schools nationwide!
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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Is Your Kid Disorganized? What Can You Do?

English: A child not paying attention in class.Image via Wikipediaby Lynne Castino

Children with disabilities like ADD, ADHD, Mood Disorders, and Autism have lots of difficulty with organization. This is because these disorders affect the Executive Functioning part of the brain.

It’s very frustrating for parents and teachers to try to help these kids learn organizational skills. It’s just as frustrating for kids to always feel like they’re not prepared and not ready for what they need to do. But there are things that can be done. Children with these types of disabilities can learn strategies and techniques for independent organization.

Think about the last time you were in the grocery store and you realize you left the list of groceries on the kitchen table. You feel unprepared as you go through the store trying to remember what was on the list, hoping you don’t forget something you really need and pretty much just trying to get it done, but knowing you’re not doing a really good job.

You feel stressed and anxious because you’re wandering up and down the aisles randomly choosing things from the shelves. Going back down aisles numerous times because something in another aisle reminds you of something you’ve forgotten. It takes you twice as long and you spend too much. Then you get home and look at the list and learn that you did indeed forget things and will have to go back.

This is how our kids feel every day. They get to school and they’ve forgotten their homework, or their book. They can’t find their assignment book. They know they were supposed to have something for their math notebook signed by mom, but can’t remember what.

They start to get stressed knowing they’re going to get in trouble or even worse that they will get to class and not be able to participate because they don’t have their book. Their brain is thinking that they don’t want to tell the teacher they forgot it again and that causes them to miss out on what the teacher is saying to the class and now they don’t even know what is going on. It’s a vicious cycle. How can we help?

We can help by helping our kids to have good habits at home. After school, unpack the backpack and look at everything that needs to be done. Review the assignment book. Assignments should be in folders or binders, preferably colored for each subject.

My son used an accordion file with different colored tabs for each subject. Then he only had to keep track of one item that went everywhere with him. He would put all papers in it in the proper section. Find what works for your child and stick with it. Help your child make a plan for the evening based on what needs to be done.

When finished have him put everything back in the appropriate folder, etc., and then back into the backpack. Place the backpack in the same spot all the time. I recommend a hook right near the door. Do this at night before bed, so everything is away and you’re not scrambling in the morning.

If your child is involved in any activities, have a bag for every activity to keep all of the needed supplies together. I suggest a soccer bag for soccer stuff, a baseball bag for baseball stuff, etc. You don’t want to get to the big game and not have cleats (this has happened to me. Two hours away from home and we are hunting for a sports store to buy a pair).

Plus you don’t want to hound your child throughout the day to make sure they have everything. As I like to remind parents, we won’t be there forever to remind them, let’s help them be independent. We can’t follow them to college, I’ve tried but for some reason my kids object.

I used to have to remind my son every morning about 30 times to brush his teeth, comb his hair, get his shoes, and get his homework. I’d send him upstairs to do 3 things and it never failed, he would come down only having done 1 or 2. So, to help him be more independent, I purchased a write on wipe off board and placed it on his bedroom door.

He wrote on it the things he needed to do in the mornings. He wrote, ‘Brush Teeth, Comb Hair, Get Shoes, Get Gym Bag, and Feed Fish’. He would then check them off as he had done them. Erasing the checkmarks at night. I never had to remind him of what he had to do again. He is independent. Our mornings are much nicer and there is much less stress for him when he gets to school.

He can even add things that don’t relate to school that he wants to do, like call his friend to go to a movie or rent a video game. Of course, he still occasionally forgets something, (the disability never goes away), but it only happens once in a great while and let’s face it we all forget things sometimes.

Not all things work for every child, but keep trying things and you’ll figure out what works for your child. Give each thing you try at least two weeks before giving up and trying something new, don’t forget, we’re trying to help our child learn a routine which takes time. I now put my list in my bag as soon as I’ve finished writing it. I rarely forget it on the table. And my grocery shopping is much less stressful. Good luck.

About the Author

Lynne Castino has been advocating for children for over 15 years. She is a public speaker, trainer, author, and advocate working with families throughout the Southcoast of Massachusetts. Visit her website at or email her at
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Love Of Reading: Tips On How To Cultivate It In Children

ORGUNE, PAKTIKA - OCTOBER 13:  Students at Bal...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeby Ron Seagal

How many times have you encountered students who “hated” to read - who apparently had to be forced to read by any of various means of coercion or threat?

Have you ever noticed instances where one of those very children had once (at an earlier age) eagerly engaged reading material, driven by a native passion to discover and grow? What are some of the key factors that promote or inhibit a love of reading?

Work at each student’s ability level and incrementally build it up from there

For some, the response to the demand that students know more is to put increasingly sophisticated material earlier and earlier into the school curriculum.

They reason that if a student has trouble when algebra is introduced (as an example) in the 7th grade, then the solution is to introduce algebra starting in the 2nd grade - and to let it somehow “seep in through the pores of the skin” as the student moves forward. In reality, higher levels of mathematics are understood to the degree that every one of the steps below them have been thoroughly mastered.

It may seem rewarding to say that a young student read a sophisticated work of literature, but if the student hated the whole process and didn’t understand any of it (as it was over their head), then there truly is no victory worth celebrating.

You have to give children books at a level that they can read with success. This doesn’t mean coddling children into reading only simple books. The point is certainly to move them up into higher levels, but to do so by moving them along at an incremental progression that promotes genuine progress.

If you were a weight trainer, would you continually insist that a student lift 200 pounds of weight when he couldn’t even lift 100 pounds? Then, when the student continued to fail and suffer and experience heavy strain at the level of 200 pounds, would you respond by giving them special strategy sessions or coping sessions or…? Clearly, it would be much more effective to move the student to a lower level of weight and to vigorously train them upwards from there.

By forcing students to read books above their level, you lock them into a losing situation and promote distaste for reading.

Work with a student’s natural interests

I have often resolved student resistance to reading by working with the child’s natural interests. I don’t ask a resistant reader, “What are you interested in reading?” The answer will likely be “nothing.” Instead, through routine conversation and interaction, I find out the child’s interests. I then find books at an appropriate level on those specific topics.

I don’t make it an academic exercise. I don’t even necessarily announce that we’re going to read. I simply start sharing some “cool” information about bugs or skateboards or karate or rocket ships (or whatever interests the student) that happens to be in a particular book.

I don’t portray reading as a dull exercise; reading is the medium for some very interesting communication. Particularly in the beginning, I may have to do more of the reading (while the student follows along). As the student gets more engaged, they begin to read more.

All the while, I participate in animated conversation with the student about the content of what we’re reading. My interest is real. The scene looks less like a teacher teaching a student how to read than it looks like two people excitedly talking about a great movie they’ve seen. All the while, the student’s ability and desire to read are improving.

Shouldn’t the student be reading only the finest literature? One certainly wants a student to read fine literature, but let’s first put the emphasis on creating interest and ability in the area of reading. Then, with an increasing amount of capital of interest and willingness, it becomes much easier to progressively stretch the student into different genres and types of reading material.

Think of these two choices: (1) You do battle with a student by trying to force them to read three particular classic books, with heavy resistance, very slow progress, and a crushed interest in reading; (2) By aligning with a student’s interests, you ignite an interest in reading such that they avidly read scores of books (and some of them are classics).

Start by making a reader rather than immediately trying to make a literary critic

Here’s an analogy. Suppose a teacher/mentor is trying to get you interested and skilled in carpentry, which is a relatively new area of endeavor for you. The teacher begins by taking you through the process of constructing a simple box.

Suppose you work for 10 minutes cutting the sides of the box and then the teacher stops for a discussion on types of saws: hand saw, rip saw, hacksaw, circular saw, table saw, radial arm saw, miter saw, rotary saw, concrete saw, and so on. You start to hammer sides together and a few minutes into that the teacher has you do an analysis of types of hammers and their uses: claw hammer, ball pein, cross pein, club hammer, sledge hammer, mallet, and so on.

Suppose your work continues to get frequently interrupted with exercises such as a dissection of types of boxes and their uses, types of sandpaper, famous carpenters, and on down the list. Would this process most likely result in you developing a keen sense of discernment, judgment, creativity, and skill in the art of carpentry or might it more likely tend to blunt your interest in the subject?

What happens if we heavily push students into literary analysis and critique before they have (a) mastered reading with high fluency; (b) mastered reading with high comprehension; (c) read many works from many different authors in a variety of different styles; and (d) developed their natural passion for reading?

Before these points have been achieved, to what degree should students be made to dissect written work: protagonist, antagonist, plot, setting, theme, simile, metaphor, allusion, alliteration, hyperbole, personification, foreshadowing, genre…? How much of this will be acquired naturally by students if they are allowed to develop into skilled and experienced readers?

Writing is an art form. Reading involves an experience of this form of art. It involves communication. When a person attends a concert, do they typically analyze each bar of music as it passes along?

A person with a high level of knowledge, skill and experience in a field will tend to have good judgment and analytical thinking in that field. That’s desirable. However, these desirable abilities aren’t necessarily nurtured by trying to make a literary critic before one has made an excellent reader who enjoys reading. One doesn’t cultivate a love of reading by making reading into a testing process.

On the other hand, when we focus on the students by using literature at their level of ability that aligns with their interests - and when we make skilled readers who read by choice - such students (as it turns out) tend to do well on the language arts portions of standardized tests.

Encourage and cultivate reading for understanding

Think of a time when you were completely absorbed by some material that you were reading. With that material, were you merely skimming and using rote memorization without really grasping it - or was genuine understanding taking place?

In some cases, actual reading has been supplanted with shallow substitutes. Reading has at times become getting “vague impressions” or “guessing” or skimming through and trying to isolate a few bullet points. Such activities can often serve to help a student to pass an immediate test - only to lose the information a few weeks (or even a day) later.

Undigested information goes in and is subsequently spit out; goes in, gets spit out; goes in, gets spit out … the majority of it ultimately washed away. When students “read” in this fashion throughout their many years of schooling, they can be given a false sense of security. After all, they are passing the tests.

They appear to be winning in the system. One day, however, they will have to walk into the “real” world. In the “real” world, genuine understanding is required in order to be highly effective.

In working with students, promote reading with understanding. Promote reading where a real connection and real communication are taking place. Further, promote taking the understandings gained from written material and applying them to produce desired results.

Set an example

Setting an example means openly enjoying reading yourself. Reading should not be conveyed to children as a sort of punishment that one must endure; it should be naturally conveyed as an enjoyable and desirable communication medium that opens up a world of knowledge, imagination, and entertainment.

One adult who sets an outstanding example of cultivating a love of reading (by employing strategies that work, even if they may not always be considered “traditional”) is nationally acclaimed sixth-grade language arts teacher Donalyn Miller.

Year after year she has consistently made students into avid readers, with her students typically reading upwards of 40 books in a school year. It seems that her classroom has been transformed into a cozy and inviting library, where students are able to exert some choice in the books they select - and where reading is given top priority (not book reports and worksheets) [to find out more about Donalyn Miller and her strategies, go to].

About the Author

Ron Seagal is president of True Education Solutions tutoring service.
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Young Kids and Back to School Anxiety: How to Shrink it Down to Size

Physical bullying at school, as depicted in th...Image via Wikipediaby Dr. Joan Simeo Munson

As the start of the school year approaches, have you seen your first grader go into meltdown mode at the mention of school, or watched your soon-to-be kindergartner regress back to baby talking and thumb sucking? Rest assured that you’re not alone.

Each fall, millions of parents deal with their children’s beginning-of-the-year anxiety. For younger children starting school - whether it’s pre-school, kindergarten, or a transition into the first or second grade - having a grown-up lean down and say, “How exciting, you’re starting school soon,” can be similar to telling an adult they’re going to be scaling Mt. Everest next week!

And the fears children have about school can be very real: they may be apprehensive about separating from their parents, riding the school bus, or meeting a new teacher. The emotions your child experiences before the start of school can also lead to a general sense of anxiety - a feeling most children won’t be able to articulate.

It’s important to remember that when placed in any new situation, all children (and parents, too) are going to need to take time to adjust. Realize that your child will require a period of time to figure out their comfort zone and what’s required for them to fit in to their new environment.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take as a parent to make the prospect less daunting – the key is to prepare your child both emotionally and physically so that they can have the best start possible this school year.

Take away as Many “Unknowns” as Possible

One way you can help ease your child’s anxiety is to show them what their school year will look like. Anxiety often feeds on fear of the unknown, so try a common sense approach to take away as many of these from the equation as possible. A few weeks before school starts, consider doing the following:

Talk to your child about what they’re going to be doing in the upcoming school year. If your child is starting school for the first time, see if there’s a kindergarten orientation or a way to meet their teacher before school begins.

Whether they’re starting a new elementary school or going back to the same one, go explore it with your child. Review where their class will be, visit the cafeteria, the library or the art room. Take them to the playground (with a friend who’ll be going to their school, if possible) to help them get adjusted and feel comfortable at the school.

Give your child a “preview” of the new faces and places they’ll be seeing. This can help to “right size” the school in your child’s mind and take the fear and mystery out of it.

Many schools post their school itineraries online so parents can review what their children will be learning, what activities they’ll engage in, and what fun things they may do during the year. Use this information to get your child excited about school.

Talk about your own school days, the fun activities you loved, and what made your school experience special. Kids love to hear stories from their parents’ childhood because it helps normalize any difficult feelings they are experiencing (as an added benefit, I’ve found that these talks with my own children have become a springboard for them to ask questions about their own hopes and fears concerning school).

“But Who Will I Play with at Recess?”

Many kids, even those aged 7 and younger, initially experience anxiety over how they will handle social situations in the new school year. They may worry that they won’t have anyone to eat lunch with or play with at recess, or they might be afraid - and rightfully so - of last year’s class bully. Try the following tips to help your child feel comfortable in social settings at school:

If your child hasn’t seen school friends over the summer, it isn’t too late to invite them over to help your child get re-acquainted with them and excited for school. Visits to the park, pool, or movies with old friends - and new ones, too - can make your child feel more comfortable when they encounter their peers at school.

Try doing some role plays with your child to help ease their fears. For example, if you discover that your child is afraid of riding the school bus, set up an area in the house and do a “pretend” ride to school. Take turns being the bus driver, your child, or his or her classmates. Come up with ideas together to make riding the bus a less scary prospect.

If your child was in school last year, talk to them about any social situations that caused them stress. Reviewing strategies on how to handle bullies or other negative social situations can relieve the tension your child may have prior to school beginning. Remind them of their options when another child is bullying them.

For example, they can walk away from the situation, inform the teacher, or yell loudly, “Stop it, I don’t like that!” (and as a parent, don’t forget to talk with your child’s teacher about any classroom policies they might have regarding bullying).

If your child bullied others or acted out in the classroom, set up some guidelines for what you expect of him or her socially this year, along with consequences of what will happen if he does not comply. Equally important, create a list of possible rewards for improved behavior. Remind your child that this is a new year and express your confidence that he or she will behave better now that they’re a year older.

If Your Child’s Anxiety Persists

It’s not uncommon to do all the right things and still have a young child who will have a bad case of the nerves - or even more extreme anxiety - before they begin the school year. Many kids will report physical symptoms such as a stomach or head ache. Others will regress to earlier behaviors, including thumb sucking or wetting the bed, while other kids may act out aggressively, fighting a lot with siblings, or talking back to their parents.

Keep in mind that the age of your child offers no reassurance that they will experience less anxiety. Whether you have a tender-hearted preschooler beginning school for the first time, or an outgoing child entering first grade, each may experience nervousness and stress at the beginning of school. Here are some ways you can talk to your child to help reduce their fears:

Know that a child starting pre-school for the first time may experience more anxiety than an older child. In simple terms, tell them that everyone will be new - and is feeling the same way they are!

Promise your little one a special surprise after their first day. This can include a small toy, a new book, or special time with a parent. To normalize your child’s feelings, remind them that everyone, including other students and even their teacher, feels a little nervous on their first day - or even throughout their first week - of school. If you can, talk about your own experiences of being scared about school and what your fears were when you were young.

Allow your kids to talk about their fears and give them reassurance that this is normal. With some kids, you may have to probe a little: Are they afraid they won’t get a nice teacher? Are they nervous about not having any friends? Does the school work scare them? Whatever it is, continue to emphasize that all children have these fears and they are not alone.

Try coaching your child in problem solving. For instance, if they’re afraid to ask the teacher questions, do role plays together on how to speak up in class. For shy children, you can also practice the art of social skills together: role play introducing yourself to peers, sharing, and using words (instead of hitting, grabbing or pinching) when you interact with others.

If your child is scared of school work, talk about ways you will help them when they get home. Let them know how they can work on areas that they struggle with (like reading out loud or spelling) and ask, “What would be helpful for you when it comes to spelling?”

If the first couple of months of school pass and your child still exhibits signs of difficulty adjusting, begin by talking with his or her teacher to see if there are things you can do together to ease their anxiety. If it still persists, talk to your pediatrician about what your options are.

I also advise parents to make the first week of school a special event for your family. If both parents work outside the home, consider adjusting your work schedule for that first week (if at all possible) to make your child’s transition smoother.

Research shows that the first week of school is really tough for kids, no matter the age. Younger kids going through a lot of new and challenging experiences need to feel secure at the beginning of the school year to help them adjust appropriately for the rest of the year. It would be a good idea for a parent or trusted caregiver to be home after school during the first week to talk with your child, but this may not always be possible.If not, set aside a time in the evenings to discuss how your child’s day went and to listen to any concerns.

Other ways to celebrate the first week include having family meals together, making your kids’ favorite foods for dinner, packing special notes in their lunch, or going out together as a family for ice cream after dinner.

Going to school offers a wide range of emotions for parents as well as children. Whether it’s dread or excitement, fear or euphoria, all of these feelings can be bottled up inside our kids. Remember that any one symptom of distress does not cement a child’s fate or mean that their school year will be a failure.

All kids, at some point in their academic career, will struggle, so try hard not to view their setbacks or anxiety as a permanent threat to their school career. Every year that your child goes through school will be filled with highs and lows, good moments and devastating ones. However, through encouragement, support and keeping your finger on the pulse of you child’s emotions, you are laying the groundwork for their future success in school.

Young Kids and Back to School Anxiety: How to Shrink it Down to Size is reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents.

About the Author


Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in the Boulder area with her husband and three energetic children, ages 14, 11, and 9.
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