Avoiding the All-Nighter

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” –Abraham Lincoln

Many people think that because I am a teacher my kids must be organized and on top of all of their assignments. Let me clear up that misconception right now…it’s not true. Believe it or not, sometimes it is harder to help your own child with school assignments when you are a teacher. I have yet to find an article or any research that supports this phenomenon but I know from other teachers that I am not the only teacher-parent who struggles with getting their child to complete homework and assignments.  I won’t bother to tell you all the things you probably already know about homework (work friendly area, schedule a study time, reduce distractions). Instead I’m going to give you some ideas on how to maintain your sanity when your child comes home with a project or research paper.

There are obviously some big differences between assignments given to elementary students and those given to high school students. Elementary school is the training ground for note taking, writing rough drafts, bibliography writing, etc. Teachers will typically use some part of class to introduce these skills and the students will be practicing what they learn in class. Much of the research required for elementary school projects will occur in school. Once a student is in middle school there is an expectation that they have acquired the basic skills required to complete research papers/projects. There will  be time in class to work on assignments but there is an expectation that some research and writing will occur outside of the school day. High school research projects put much more of the responsibility on the student. Projects in high school will differ based on grade, subject and level (general, college prep. or advanced placement). Regardless of your child’s grade level, it is helpful for parents to understand the assignments requirements and due date.

The distribution of the rubric and expectations for the assignment are dependent upon the teacher. Some teachers will send a letter home. Others might include the information in a newsletter or weekly email. In high school large assignments may be included in the syllabus for the class. As a parent I suggest you look for two things once you find out about a project: the rubric and the due date. The rubric identifies what the teacher is looking for as well as how the student will be graded. The due date allows you to help your child create a plan to complete the project on time.
Some students get so excited about the display part of the project that they want to start on that part first. My initial reaction is to say “No”. I call this the “dessert before dinner approach”. Students should not begin the work on the final display until the written content portion of the assignment is complete. This is for several reasons. The first reason is that some students run out of steam. They get so focused on the display that they don’t do a thorough job on the written portion. I have had students that have completed beautiful 3D replicas of the rainforest only to get a C or on the overall project because the paper was incomplete. Another drawback to completing the display prior to writing the paper is that they might miss the opportunity to include key information acquired during the research and writing of the project. I think it is reasonable to start thinking about ideas and gathering materials but I strongly suggest that you hold off on letting your child complete the project first.
There are also some students that love to create “project smorgasbords”. My oldest daughter is one of those students. If an assignment provides examples of three potential finished products, she wants to do all three. I usually let her do all three, but the reality is very rarely does that impact her grade. Rubrics often don’t include a place for grading extra materials. This is something you may want to consider if you are spending extra money on the project. This is also a quality vs. quantity situation. It is better to hand in one excellent project instead of three mediocre ones.
Unfortunately, there are some kids that hate the display part of the project. If your child falls in to this category have them choose what type of display they want to work on at the beginning of the project. Once the display is chosen start collecting materials as they are doing their research. One way to do this is to make sure your child is printing copies of any interesting pictures or graphs they come across as they are doing their research. I would also start gathering any other materials they might need for the project display. (For example, you can use old calendar pages or magazine pictures as a tropical backdrop for a rainforest diorama. This eliminates the need for your child to have to draw one) The idea here is to have most of the display materials ready so basically they just need to be assembled for the final project. I think of it sort of like a mise en place in cooking. If you have all of the materials together, assembly is quicker and easier.
Finally, as an extra added precaution I suggest that you keep some project materials on hand. At the beginning of the year when the school supplies are out bulk, buy yourself some glue, glue sticks, markers, construction paper, die-cut letters/stencils, colored folders or report covers. These items are readily available in August and you can get some pretty good deals on them. I would also make sure that you buy some poster boards (you can usually buy two for a 1$ at any Dollar store). If you buy the more expensive foam tri-fold boards, make sure you don’t throw them out after the project is graded. You can use them again. I pull off the pictures and papers off the board and then cover it with contact paper (again available at the Dollar Store). It may not seem cost-effective to purchase items you are not sure that you need. The good news is that most of these items have a long shelf life and odds are they will get used at some point. Once you have purchased these materials hide them from your children. This is YOUR emergency stash of project materials. I consider this purchase to be like insurance. If I have the materials on hand I won’t lose my mind if/when my child tells me at 7 PM that they need a poster board for their project that is due tomorrow.

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Owning the “I” in IEP: Empowering Students to Advocate for Themselves

When children have food allergies, we typically start educating them at a young age on what to avoid. We as parents will go out of our way to tell any adult who is coming into contact with our child that they have a food allergy. By the time most children with allergies hit kindergarten, they are quite confident in sharing their allergies with adults or anyone else who may benefit from this information. Many of us have heard of peanut free tables, classrooms and even schools. Unfortunately, when it comes to learning disabilities or other diagnosis’ that differentiate your child, we tend to teach our children to quiet down. We don’t want people to know our child is “different” and that they require the additional support of an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) As parents, we advocate for our children’s needs with school administration, but are we educating our child on what they are entitled to in the classroom? I think we should. I am not saying let’s start making bracelets that say “Ask me about my IEP” but I do believe we need to empower our children to advocate for themselves and the sooner you do that the better off your child will be.

I am sure there are a lot of parents that do teach their child to advocate for themselves. This blog is not meant to offend but to educate parents who may not realize the benefits to a child who knows what their IEP or 504 entitles them to in the classroom. The first challenge that we need to overcome is teaching our children to embrace their diagnosis. One way to do that is to help them identify with other people that might have a similar diagnosis. Tell your child that being different just means they are in good company. Here are a just a few famous people who have ADHD: Justin Timberlake, Will Smith, Michael Phelps, Jim Carrey, Terry Bradshaw, Pete Rose, Michelle Rodriguez, Solange Knowles. (This list was taken from Parenting.com http://www.parenting.com/gallery/famous-people-with-add-or-adhd ). There are also a number of famous people with OCD: David Beckham, Cameron Diaz, Donald Trump and Leonardo DiCaprio just to name a few. (This list was compiled from disabled-world.com http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/famous-ocd.shtml) There is speculation that some of the greatest minds in history manifested some signs of autism in their behaviors. Albert Einstein, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Mozart have all been identified as people who may have had autism. (autismmythbusters.com). If you do an internet search for your child’s learning disability you are sure to come across a list of capable and successful people who did not let a learning challenge interfere with their success in life.

You may be thinking “It’s the teacher’s job to make sure that my child is getting the services and accommodation they need”. That is true. However, there is still an advantage for the student who knows what accommodations they are entitled to in the classroom. This is particularly important when we are talking about middle school and high school teachers who may see more than a hundred kids in one day. Let’s face it, when you go to the doctor they have your entire health history in front of them and yet they are still asking you questions about allergies and medications. We have no problem reminding them of what medications or allergies we have. Most of us wouldn’t dream of saying “Look it up it’s in my file.” This really is not that different. Your child should know what they need to help them find success in the classroom. This is a set of tools that will help them not only in college but also in life.

Understanding an IEP will help your child in two ways. The first way is that your child will know what goals are in place for him or her in the coming school year. The second way is by educating your child on what accommodations he or she needs to be successful on a task, assignment, assessment or just the class in general. So go grab your child’s IEP and get ready to empower your child for a successful school year.

IEP Goals represent what you (the parent) and the other IEP team members think your child will be able to accomplish in his area(s) of disability-academic, developmental, and functional-in a year’s time. Annual goals must be written in measurable terms. It is amazing to me how many students are not aware of the goals that are on their IEP. Really?! Would any adult want to be measured on their success at work without first knowing what the anticipated goals were for that job? No! Review the goals on the IEP with your child before the school year! This will inform your child on what is expected of him in the class as well as what he is expected to accomplish by the end of the school year. I would check in with your child at least weekly and ask them how they are doing on their goals. This will not only reinforce the goals in your child but it will also help you identify any potential problems.

Let’s talk about accommodations. First of all this is what they DO NOT do: alter the content of assignments, give students unfair advantage, or change what a test measures. Accommodations make it possible for students with learning disabilities to show what they know without being deterred by their disability. Students who use the support of accommodations for learning are really not any different than a student who needs glasses to see well. Review the accommodations with your child and ask them what they think each of the accommodations means and how it will help them in class.

Now that you have reviewed the accommodations how will make them accessible to your child? If the IEP accommodations are already formatted in a one page document you can just copy it and put it in a sheet protector or laminate it and they can keep it with their school materials. You could ask their teacher if they have an accommodation checklist that they can share with you. If not you always have the world- wide- web. I did a quick Google search of IEP Accommodation Checklist and found a number of resources. If your child is an elementary school you may want to simplify the language and turn it into a book mark that they can use in the classroom. For an older child I would suggest making use of technology. If you have an iPhone there is an app called IEP Checklist App and if use an Android device there is an app for $.99 called IEP goals. While you are at it, download these apps to your phone too. It never hurts to have easy access to something as important as your child’s IEP.

Okay, so now that they have the accommodations I am sure you are asking yourself, “What are they supposed to do with the information? “. I would contact your child’s teacher(s) at the beginning of the year and explain what you are trying to achieve. Educating your child on their IEP is a win-win situation and I would like to believe that every teacher would be supportive of your endeavor. I would ask the teacher(s) for a list of projects and tests that are coming up in the next month. Review the list and ask your child to identify what accommodations they should be receiving for those assignments. If you have a young child this will involve a lot of parental direction. However, if you start when they are young, by the time they are in middle school or high school, they will be able to do this with little parental support.

I believe the best thing you can do for your child is empower them to advocate for their success in the classroom. Teachers’ should not feel threatened by a student who knows what they need to be successful. The reality is that beyond academia there are no IEP’s. Once your child is out of school they need to know the supports that will help them find success in life. The best way to ensure they can transfer those skills to a career is by developing them while they are in school.

What?! You want me to Read Aloud to my Fifth Grader?

Most people are aware that it is important to read aloud to your children.  Open up just about any parenting magazine and you will come across articles listing the many benefits of reading aloud to your child.  Often parents stop reading to children once a child is old enough to read on their own, believing this will be the best way to improve their child’s reading fluency and comprehension.  According to Educator and author, Jim Trelease, “A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade.”  (Complete article by Jim Trelease can be found at http://www.greatschools.org/students/7104-read-aloud-to-children.gs)   In addition to helping your child expand their vocabulary and improve their comprehension you get the added benefit of sharing your favorite books with your child. 

Several months ago I had the opportunity to share one of my favorite books with my sixth grade daughter.  We read “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton. (Spoiler Alert)   We laughed about the funny names and we cried when Johnny and Dally died.  The book gave us the opportunity to talk about social class and the different groups of kids in school.   We did more than just read a book.  We made text-to-self connections, text-to-world connections and I was able to remember how I felt and reacted when I read the book for the first time over 30 years ago. 

If you think you don’t have the time, think again.  Go to the library and get the books on CD or try a service like www.audilble.com.  You can listen to the books in your car while you are on the way to soccer practice, ballet class or dropping off the kids at summer camp.  If you belong to Goodreads.com they offer lists for children’s books.  Remember, since you are reading aloud, you can choose books one or two grades above your child.  Here is the link to Scholastic Books Top 100 Books: http://www.scholastic.com/100books/pdf/Top_100_Childrens_Books_of_All_Time.pdf

Beware the Summer Slump!

Children will lose some academic knowledge over the summer months unless you provide them with learning opportunities. 

  • Research spanning 100 years has shown that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do on the same tests at the end of the school year/beginning of summer.  All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer.
  • Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months.

Check out Reading Rockets for Adventures in Summer Learning at http://www.readingrockets.org/shows/launching/summer_reading/ This is a great place for parents to learn how to create a literacy rich summer. 

Scholastic offers great resources for parents who want to keep their children engaged in reading this summer.  They have launched their Scholastic Summer Challenge which is “Read for the World Record”.  You can sign your child up as well as great reading book lists at: http://www.scholastic.com/ups/campaigns/src-2013/parent

Great Schools offers “10 Ways to Build Math Skills this Summer” at http://www.greatschools.org/students/homework-help/103-build-math-skills.gs.  They suggest ideas such as creating secret codes and cooking with math. 

Education World is also full of great activities and includes links to other math websites and online activities.  http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/mathchat/mathchat006.shtml.  Their recommendations include using sports activities to teach math skills as well as taking a “math hike” to look for math in nature.