Posted by: Sara Carbone on: April 13, 2012
A sample from one of my tutoring sessions with a 4th grader:
Me: You seem kind of bored by what we’re doing. Am I reading things right?
Me: Hmm. Long division can be kind of dull sometimes. And tricky.
Him: It’s stupid.
Me: I’ll bet you wish we were doing something else right now.
Me: Like maybe playing catch outside in that nice sunny backyard you guys have. Or sitting in a pool drinking lemonade.
Him: Yeah. Or watching a baseball game.
Me: Or in a pool, drinking lemonade while playing catch with Derek Jeter.
Him: (laughs) Yeah! With A-Rod and Derek Jeter at Yankee Stadium.
Me: During the World Series.
Him: Yeah! Cool!
Me: Very cool! (pause) Now, would you be willing to give this long division another try? We only have 20 more minutes to go. Then you’re a free man.
Him: (thinks for a minute) OK, I’ll try it again.
A little fantasizing together – plus a dash of humor – can go a long way. When you acknowledge homework can be a bummer and give voice to what he’d rather be doing it tends to help him relax and reengage.
In How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish call this granting your child in fantasy what you can’t give him in reality (in this case, dumping long division to play ball instead). They say a key part of this is to “really let yourself go, to be ‘far out’ fantastic” so that he knows you’re taking his longing into account.
Posted by: Sara Carbone on: April 10, 2012
Ever wish your kid actually cared about what she was studying? Not the grade, but the actual topic?
In the book Unconditional Parenting – Moving From Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason education expert Alfie Kohn writes:
In place of excessive focus on school achievement, we should take a lively interest in what the child is learning. “So what’s your opinion about how dinosaurs became extinct?” is a question that supports intellectual growth. “How come only a B-minus on that paper?” is not. If a child has written an essay, it makes sense to focus not on whether it’s good enough but on its content (and on the process of crafting it). A parent might ask: “How did you come to choose what to write about? What did you learn from the research? Why did you save the important point for the end?”
A parent can, understandably, get pretty wrapped up in worrying about grades and handing in homework. Often what she’s actually learning gets overlooked. But helping her take an interest in what she’s cramming into her head can change how she relates to school, homework and learning in general.
We’re born wanting to learn information, hungry for it. As proof, observe a toddler ferociously making his way through a bunch of toys and books. Unfortunately, as the years go by this hunger tends to get buried under dry teaching methods, stress about grades, and fixation on college prospects. Help her feel that hunger again!
Ask questions about what she’s learning. Her opinion, her observations. Find out what she’s (even vaguely) curious about in her classes and talk about it. When you go to sign a test, talk about what she thinks about medieval ideas about women or why people fight over religion. During fractions, look at how she thinks she can use them in real life. And feel free to get silly. Discuss whether she’d befriend that snarky dude in “The Importance of Being Ernest” or if she’d want to live 65 million years ago just to see if dinosaurs really had feathers. Connect it, make it relevant, bring it to life. She might see the long hours she spends on the stuff with different eyes.
And share what you love. I do this with students. I’ll get goofily excited about some Shakespeare passage or gesticulate wildly over the beauty of Mendel’s pea pods. Or talk about why reading about how clouds form makes me look at rainy days differently. Sometimes they can’t help but catch a bit of that enthusiasm. They might give the textbook paragraph about the American Revolution a second glance. Maybe really get that it’s a story about real people who fought and died for something they believed in.
Kohn writes, “do everything possible to help her fall in love with what she’s doing, [pay] less attention to how successful she was (or is likely to be) and show more interest in the task…encourage more, judge less, and love always.”
Posted by: Sara Carbone on: April 5, 2012
Blogs by homeschooling parents have quite a bit to offer when it comes to helping your child with school:
A taste of the kinds of sites out there:
Notes From a Homeschooled Mom
This homeschooler with high school age kids tells us, “homeschooling can be used to prevent struggling high school students from being dropouts.” She writes reviews of educational websites and creates lists of best educational websites for high school age kids. The blog has a section that focuses on free subject sites on topics like SAT/ACT, phonics, trigonometry, languages, black history and how to find video tutorials on literature and math.
Through her site I found such incredible resources like the thousands of free video tutorials at Khan Academy, Byki language learning software site and the fantastic multi-media site for grades 3 and up BrainPOP.
Living Montessori Now
Montessori method of teaching is one that seeks to use ”carefully prepared conditions” to create a love of learning and foster independence. You can use its unique approach to offer a momentary departure from traditional ways of learning if your child is struggling with school. Living Montessori Now is written by a former Montessori teacher and homeschooler of two (now) grown children. The site is jam packed with teaching ideas, materials and printables, ways to integrate Montessori methods at home and connections to other parents.
This blog has several blog carnivals. They lead to hundreds of resources and links for fun and interesting activities that encourage creativity, independence and critical thinking. Homeschool Bytes also has educational product reviews, online resources for learning and posts about subjects like how to make a vacation into a science or art class.
This blog has a whole slew of resources and printables you can use to help your elementary age student excel in school – including geography, reading and math.
Note: Photo by hortongrou
Posted by: Sara Carbone on: March 30, 2012
I can’t say enough good things about the Princeton Review SAT study guide Cracking the SAT.
I’ve used it for over 10 years to prep students for the SAT. It’s both accurate – their questions match the real SAT’s closely – and clearly organized so that a student can easily step her way through it. And because it’s funny and frank with the reader about certain SAT truths, it’s readable, which is key for a kid trying to get through some potentially dull material.
Below are some suggestions about how to use the book to prep for the SAT. The timing of things will vary from student to student. Some need more weeks of practice, some need less, depending on their score goals and school workload. Students with learning difficulties and/or extra time will need to adjust their approaches as well.
I would also recommend buying The Official SAT Study Guide. It’s the prep book put out by The College Board, the people who administer the SAT. She can use the 10 SATs in it for additional practice sections (she’ll need them). If she’s taking the test for the first time in the spring of her 11th grade, she should begin prep at least 6-8 weeks before the test date. She can study with or without your help, depending on her level of skill and diligence.
Basics and Vocab: She should read the first sections explaining the basics about the test. These include info about the test layout, guessing penalty and strategies when aiming for a particular score. They also lay out The Princeton Review’s philosophy about the test – particularly the idea that ETS (the company that write the test) designs some answers to questions to trip up the typical student. This is a very helpful idea that the book revisits throughout.
I would then suggest she go the vocab section called The Hit Parade – 250 words the Princeton Review has determined show up on the SAT most frequently. She can cross out all the ones she knows and begin studying the remaining words, a little at a time. She may not get every word in her head. The goal is to get as many as possible.
She should then jump to the test section she feels is the roughest for her. Her PSAT score breakdown can help determine this (or she can take a practice test). A side note: I don’t speak about the math section of the SAT book here, as I don’t tutor SAT math. If it helps, I have heard the math section of the book is comprehensive and helpful.
Grammar: When she begins the grammar sections (of what ETS calls the Writing portion of the SAT) of the book, I would suggest she takes her time. She should move carefully through the grammar review and strategies for answering questions. The book lays out all the needed grammar in short, clear chunks. It helps if she underlines and folds pages on anything she needs to remind herself about (i.e. most students struggle with subjective vs. objective pronouns). She should take all the drills and score them to see what is tripping her up. If she wants extra practice (recommended!) she can review her school grammar lessons and try drills at Internet sites like the Guide To Grammar and Writing.
Then she can begin taking the grammar sections in the 4 practice tests at the end of the book – and the 4 available on the DVD. First several ones un-timed, scoring them when she is done and reading the answer explanations if she doesn’t know why she got them wrong. Then, at least a few weeks before the SAT date, she should do grammar sections timed on the bubble sheets provided. The pacing charts in the beginning of the book will help guide her around how many to guess on and leave blank.
Essay: She should read through the essay section in the book and do all the exercises. After that I would recommend that she do at least one essay a week, for a few weeks un-timed and then timed, following the book’s suggestions about pacing. If you are not the one looking over her essays for feedback, I would recommend that she bring them in to a willing English teacher at school. The College Board book also has some good advise about essays and some strong essay samples to read through.
Things I tell my students about the essay:
Posted by: Sara Carbone on: March 23, 2012
The following is a list of 5 top rated books about parenting and education on Amazon.com. I chose books that had consistently positive ratings from readers (many of them parents) for practicality, strong research and readability.
Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child – The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman
This book is all about helping your child interact with and make sense of his emotions. This can help him be more self-confident at home, in school and in social relationships. The book first discusses ways in which you can assess your style of parenting and your own ability to understand your emotional life. Then, according to the back of the book, it describes a five-step “emotion coaching” process that teaches you how to:
How To Talk So Kids Can Learn by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Faber and Mazlish employ real life dialogues, strategies for communication and cartoons to show you how to help your kid troubleshoot school related issues. The emphasis is on inspiring him to be “self-directed, self-disciplined, and responsive to the wonders of learning.” (back of the book) This book is one of my favorites; I’ve referred to it regularly over the years.
One Amazon.com reviewer, Tracy L. Fortun, is a Montessori teacher and parent who teaches workshops to parents and teachers based on the Faber/Mazlish books. She writes: “Anyone who works with children should use this book as a reference and re-read it every year or two. Not simply because these methods are effective – which they absolutely are, when practiced faithfully – but because Faber and Mazlish promote a style of teaching/parenting that helps a child develop a positive self-image, strong skills of communication, empathy for others, and self-control.”
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne
Payne asserts that too many of today’s children struggle with anxiety and behavioral problems and have trouble in school and with peers. The cause: an overly fast paced and cluttered (literally and figuratively) lifestyle. He discusses how parents can “reclaim for their children the space and freedom that all kids need for their attention to deepen and their individuality to flourish.” According to the book description, it offers strategies on how to:
Posted by: Sara Carbone on: March 19, 2012
Very true when it comes to helping the kid who avoids and procrastinates. A kid avoids homework for many reasons – it’s hard, boring, overwhelming or just plain inconvenient. Lecturing and nagging doesn’t tend to work. So try some action instead.
Sit down and do the work together. Pull out a science textbook and read it together. Do some math problems. Plan out how to answer that essay assignment and begin the writing. Then, ideally, sit back as he keeps going. Don’t judge him or try to advise him on something he doesn’t want help on. Be an eye and an ear for when he has a question or needs encouragement.
Sometimes he just needs help starting. Ever avoid an annoying project at work? Put off an arduous house task? Well, peeling himself off the couch or logging out of Facebook can feel titanic. Keep this in mind on the days when your frustration and worry threaten to get the better of you.
He might just need a body in the room. A kid who struggles with issues around focus or sustaining his energy tends to do better when there’s another person nearby. Maybe read a book or work on the computer. That way he doesn’t feel on the spot, just quietly supported. And when he gets off track a gentle “How’s it going?” or “Do you feel stuck?” can help bring him back. For some kids it’s a soft touch on the shoulder or the suggestion to get up for a drink of water and a stretch. Then (this is key!) you can help him get back to work without getting waylaid.
Some kids need you to check in at the door periodically. Without judgement or provocative comments (“You’re never going to finish the paper at this rate!”). Just a neutral check-in.
When you can’t be there in person, set up to call, Skype or even text at a certain time. You can stay on the phone while he cracks open the book. Or he can read you the first paragraph.
If you can set it up so that you both define the kind of support he feels would work, even better. But if he refuses help altogether, don’t force it. Try bringing the idea up another night.
Ideally, with time he’ll begin to see homework as something less tortuous. The build up in his head that leads him to procrastinate may feel less insurmountable. And don’t worry about becoming a crutch. Just get past the procrastination first. Then you can (together!) look at how he can be more independent.
Now it could be that your relationship is so contentious or full of stress that it isn’t possible for you to be the one to help. When you’re both relaxed and able to listen, try to talk about having someone else in the family provide the support (one my students has set it up so his older sister does her homework in the room while he works).
Doing it like Elvis doesn’t work for everyone. But it can be a nice tool to have tucked in your toolbox.
Posted by: Sara Carbone on: March 16, 2012
These presentations are blowing my mind.
My husband recently introduced me to the fascinating world of TED. TED – Ideas Worth Spreading (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a nonprofit that holds conferences gathering luminaries from all over the world. At these conferences individuals give talks and performances about ideas close to their hearts – ideas ethical, spiritual, financial, technological, creative, political, you name it. Some presenters are famous (Bono, Bill Gates, Al Gore), others are just regular – but certainly not ordinary – folk. TED has posted about 40 years worth of these amazing talks online for public viewing.
I’ve been profoundly moved, inspired, and provoked by what I hear. And I’m laughing too, since many of these people are downright entertaining. When I watch (or listen to) the education themed talks I find myself examining how I think about learning, creativity and education in general. Some favorite TED talks on education:
What adults can learn from kids - Something of a child prodigy, Adora Svitak urges people the world over to embrace the way kids think: boldly, creatively and with endless hope. This astonishingly articulate girl advocates for an education system that honors kids’ dreams because the adults are as willing to learn from children as they are to teach them.
Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity – LOVE this guy. Brilliant, poignant, hysterical. Key quotes: “I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.” and “You don’t think of Shakespeare being a child, do you? Shakespeare being seven? He was seven at some point. He was in somebody’s English class, wasn’t he? How annoying would that be?”
Sugata Mitra shows how kids teach themselves – This professor of educational technology demonstrates the power of “minimally invasive education.” He discusses the Hole in the Wall project, in which impoverished children teach themselves and each other how to use computers entirely without teacher input. Mitra’s ideas about the power of curiosity and peer-shared knowledge offer wonderful challenges to formal education as we know it. Key quote: “Education is a self-organizing system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon.”
Learning from a barefoot movement – The founder of a school that teaches rural women and men in Rajasthan, India talks about how many of the members – which include about 7,000 children – learn to become solar engineers, artisans and doctors in their own villages. The wonderfully charismatic Bunker Roy tells us, “[The Barefoot College] is the only college where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher.”
Lead like the great conductors – A former conductor and current business visionary, Itay Talgam reveals how the experience of making music can be a model for human creativity in both the classroom and the boardroom. In this hilarious and ultimately moving talk, Talgam shows how conducting and playing concert music reveals much about organizational behavior and leadership styles. The Leonard Bernstein footage was riveting.
So for 15-20 minutes that might spark some wonderful, revelatory and even crazy inspiration about your child’s education, try a TED Talk.
Note – You can see the education themed TEDs grouped or download the podcast series at TEDTalks Education
Posted by: Sara Carbone on: March 13, 2012
1. Grab everything for that class and lay it out on a table – vocab notecards (hopefully he’s saved them from over the year), textbook/texts, workbooks, handouts, support books (i.e. Barron’s Regents Practice Books), class notes, quizzes/tests, midterm/final review packet provided by the teacher.
2. Sort all the handouts, cards and class notes and keep the ones he feels will be needed to study from. Toss or file the others. Group them by event, concept, unit or in date order – whatever makes sense.
3. Go through the texts, textbooks, support books and ID what he needs to review. Watch for things like annotations in English class texts, textbook review questions, indexes and vocab/grammar lists at the back. Assess how much info there is – in pages, by concept, etc.
4. Create a list of study strategies for that subject, being as specific as you can. Sample:
Study Plan for History Final
-7 units to learn one at a time – dad to quiz me after each unit
-memorize vocab cards I don’t know (make up cards for missing Units 6 and 10)
-use review sheet checklist and stress the highlighted tougher parts
-rewrite class notes
-reread textbook sections and handouts, mentally answer “analyze” chptr review questions
-note sections/ideas that are confusing to go over w/teacher
-highlight info that won’t stick in my head to review multiple times
-correct/review quizzes, tests, DBQs (note his comments)
-see teacher 2x to go over questions/extra help
-create 3 sample essay questions I think he’ll ask, plan my answers
5. Put time estimates in for each study strategy item on the list. Then put time blocks to and do’s into his planner. He’ll probably underestimate, so help him tack on extra time to avoid cramming.
6. Track how he does each week or daily – depending on the level of support needed. If he strays from the plan – pretty much a sure thing – just adjust the plan when needed.
Posted by: Sara Carbone on: March 10, 2012
Anna and Rebecca are stuck in a typical pattern: Parent tries to advise teen about school, teen seems to refuse help. Argument ensues. Parent is left worried, teen is still struggling with school and they’re both frustrated. Wait a day, a week. Repeat.
In these scenarios, some parents fall into communication traps. Traps that alienate and confuse their children, despite the best of intentions. In the classic book on communicating with kids How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish discuss tactics people use that just don’t work. Some traps parents (and Anna) fall into:
Prophesizing about her future - “Your work habits are going to stop you from being able to hold down a job.”
Comparing her - “Andrew applies himself, so can you!”
Denying her feelings - “Of course he doesn’t hate you!”
Defending the other person - “He must feel that you’ve been doing something in class to warrant this grade.”
Making her wrong - “Just think about your own responsibility for once.”
Saying these kinds of things to your kid usually means that she will not be able to hear what you’re saying. She doesn’t feel heard and understood. As a result, she remains angry, defensive and in despair about what she’s struggling with.
To help understand this reaction, Faber and Mazlish suggest putting yourself in your child’s shoes. Imagine what you’d feel if someone responded to an upset you had about work in these ways (i.e. “I can understand that your boss screamed at you in the meeting, he’s probably under a lot of pressure”). When you are upset or hurting, these kinds of reactions make you feel worse. And probably furious because it’s like the person is telling you that you really have no reason to feel what you’re feeling.
Faber and Mazlish also point out that the overarching reaction for someone who feels unheard and thwarted is, “Oh forget it. What’s the point of going on.” Remind you of that teen favorite “Whatever, I don’t care?”
When I tutor I work to make sure my student knows he’s heard, understood and acknowledged. This doesn’t mean that I have to agree with him. It just means I’m acknowledging how he feels. This allows room for us to talk more about what’s bothering him, perhaps lessen his upset and problem solve. For our fictitious Rebecca, if she sees that Anna understands how upsetting things are in her teacher’s class, she might begin to talk about how she can pull up her grade. And open the door for communication where both will listen.
Questions for readers: Are there any other communication traps you find yourself falling into? Or any really successful chats you want to share?
Posted by: Sara Carbone on: March 6, 2012
There are certain words and phrases that come with baggage. Our culture uses them over and over again in ways that mean they’re loaded with negative connotations. I tend to avoid them when working with children.
This may seem like silly semantics, but I like using language that aims to keep academic work clear of judgment and anxiety. Linguist Deborah Tannen writes that even a small comment, while “annoying coming from anyone, [is] especially hurtful when it comes from the person whose opinion counts most—your mother.” She observes that this can lead kids to begin to question their own abilities and worth.
Language to try to avoid:
Hard - Tends to bring up comparisons with other kids who find things easier. And the way we use the word these days often refers to something that will always be that way. It conjures images of something beyond him, something that points to his not being capable. I try “tricky” or “a tougher one” or even “hairy.”
Potential - She hears this word all the time. It’s dragged out by everyone from her homeroom teacher and soccer coach to her best friend’s dad. Trust me, she’s pretty numb to the word by now, so it doesn’t really work much as a motivator. Potential brings all sorts of connotations around pressure, fear of dissapointing people (like you) and the notion that she is thoughtlessly squandering something. Former student Robbie adds, “Saying that I’m not living up to my potential, what is that? How do you judge what my potential is? It’s vague and just leaves me feeling like I’m not good enough. There is no way to judge it, so just throwing out a phrase like that drives me crazy.”
Bad Grade – This has a weighty negativity to it – think of the belittling phrases “bad boy” and “bad girl.” And grades are a source of stress for kids that can feel awfully arbitrary. So I try to take the sting out of them by opting for something like “lower grade than what you wanted” or “not what you were aiming for.” When looking at a report card I’ll ask, “Anything surprise you?” or “How do you feel about the science grade?” Helps get the conversation started in a way that doesn’t assume anything about how she feels. Once you get a read on things for her, it’s easier to ask questions and discuss how she can adjust her approach.
Weakness – The word is ammo for schoolyard bullies and tyrants the world over. To be weak in our culture means someone who can’t do for himself, someone who has failed in a fundamental way. Your kid knows this. Opt for “something that is not as easy” or “more challenging skill.”
Lazy – Avoid this. Even if she really is. Especially if she really is. Negative labels, even used in passing, hurt and stay with a kid – particularly sensitive teens. Robbie reports, “When a teacher or my parents called me lazy, it really pissed me off. If I hear that I’m lazy, then I think ‘Fine, I’m just lazy, I don’t care.’” Don’t give them self-fulfilling fodder.
Avoiding these phrases can make it easier to meet, as education expert Alfie Kohn says, the “one basic need all children have…to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short.”
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