Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How can I find out about Rubber Rooms?

Ms. Dorothy,
I am writing my thesis on the psychological impacts of reassignment centers on teachers and administrators who are sent to them. I am at a standstill with my research because this topic is so hush-hush. I haven't found any empirical data on the topic. I also am having trouble finding teachers and administrators to speak to. I know that a lot of people do not want to admit that they did something or were accused of doing something to wind up in the reassignment centers. Do you have any knowledge of what happens in other states when a teacher is accused of misconduct or incompetence?
- Educator & Student

What an interesting angle on New York's reassignment centers. The Psychological impact of spending time in a barren room ticking off time while waiting a court date must be dramatic. I will be curious to read your thesis paper when all is said and done.

To the best of my knowledge (which is very limited on this topic), centers like these have only been used in New York City. By agreement with the union, these centers were all closed in June and are no longer in use.

Now, like most other districts in the US, teachers who are accused of minor offenses are given non-teaching administrative duties. Those accused of more serious offenses are sent home with pay. As a part of the deal, probes and hearings have to be completed within two months.

I'm not aware of any places outside of New York that have experimented with reassignment centers. Perhaps it will be easier for you to find information now that the centers are closed.

Please let me know how everything turns out with your thesis!

Monday, November 29, 2010

How do I plan for teaching a LONG unit of study?

Ms. Dorothy,
I have to start teaching the Civil War soon and I don't know what to do. I'm just not sure how to begin. When I taught it before I had only two days, now I have a whole month. Any inspiration for me?
- High School Teacher

How exciting to have a long chunk of time to work with! Even in 90 minute sessions, having an extended period to focus on one topic really provides opportunities to let the students take on the content.

Do a little research and collect material for the students to work with. Articles, pictures and first hand accounts will make it come to life. Check out what the Library of Congress has to offer, their teacher section has some amazing primary source materials!

Then give that research to the class and let them work in collaborative groups to understand and share it with the rest of the class.

Find an expert or an enactor in your area to come in and talk to the class, or set up a skype session with one that isn't in your area. Giving students someone to interview can really help keep the subject from getting dry.

Pose a question for the class to debate and have them take sides and argue their case. Bring in an audience, or video tape the debate to send to experts and let someone other than you score them for their content knowledge.

The more work the students are doing and the less you are directly teaching them the content, the better they will absorb the material, and the more meaningful it will be.

Most of all, have fun with it, and the students will too!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How do I get a tired kid to do homework?

Ms. Dorothy -
_____ is soooo tired after school that she has a super hard time with her homework. She cries and cries and just lays her head down on the table saying she is just tooo tired and can’t do it. School uses every ounce of energy that poor child has and by the time I pick her up, all she wants to do is eat dinner and go to bed. We end up spending an hour on a simple worksheet just because she is too exhausted to concentrate. How do I help her?
- Mom of a 1st grader

It must be so hard for you to see your child so distressed, and want to comfort her and give her rest, while still encouraging her to value education and get homework done!

There must be a great amount of stress in her day to exhaust her that way. Especially if it is happening every day.

I think that it is more important to address the stress than it is to complete the homework, and that if she needs a nap after school, she should get one, and this is why:

When you are in a stressful situation, your body releases chemicals that flood the brain, and too much of these chemicals can damage, and even kill off brain cells. The area of the brain most impacted by this imbalance is the same area that is responsible for memory.
This means that your daughter may be impairing her ability to learn in school by being stressed on a regular basis. Crying it out and sleeping at the end of the day may be the best way for her to release that stress and help her brain and body get back to a more balanced state.

There are so many aspects of a school day that can cause stress. Your daughter may need help to understand how to address each different situation and let it go rather than letting them accumulate all day.

There may also be something specific that is too much of a challenge for her, and that is what is causing this extreme stress reaction.

So, the homework that matters now is really yours. Find out what the unduly difficult parts of her day are, and help her cope with them so that she can function with less stress.

When she comes home and wants to play instead of cry and sleep, you'll know she is ready for homework!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How do I get my child's teacher to do what she is supposed to?

Ms. Dorothy -
______'s teacher is required to use a microphone to compensate for _____'s hearing loss. Either the teacher won’t use it because she doesn't feel like it, she uses it but without the volume even on, or she claims for weeks that it is broken. Then she scolds ______ for not listening when ______ can't even HEAR her. How do I get this teacher to comply with my child's IEP and not make life hell for him?
- Mom of a Hearing Impaired Student

I am so sorry that your son is going through such a rough year in school! He is lucky to have you on his team because this can be corrected.

First of all, when you attend a Special Education staffing meeting, they are required to provide you with your parental legal rights. Refer to this often, and never be afraid to use your rights to support your son!
You are his best advocate and the first line of defense against a system not designed for the exceptions among us.

Have your son approach the teacher to tell her that he can't hear her. They could set up a signal between them so that he doesn't have to disrupt the class. This way he can indicate that he is not able to hear what she is saying well enough to understand her any time it happens.

If this is hard for him, make an appointment to meet with her and be there to help him talk about his struggle. Make a plan for him to keep a journal of every time he needs more volume and track that he signaled for it and if he got it.

If you don't see progress in this area quickly enough, if the microphone is not repaired, or if the teacher is not comfortable with the volume level he needs, request another meeting and ask for a representative from the Special Ed team to be present. Use the journal to document that you made an effort to correct the situation, but that he is still having trouble. Let the Special Ed team intervene on his behalf to ensure that his needs are being met.

Fight for his rights when you suspect they are not being addressed.

Friday, November 26, 2010

How can I center myself and my class?

Ms. Dorothy-
I go back to teaching tomorrow, and my first class of the day is kindergarten. Do you have any suggestions for a mantra or centering phrase I can do to calm myself and my kids?
- Music Teacher

How exciting to be starting fresh in a new school! They are going to love you, so just relax!

One technique that is always helpful for calming the emotional center of the brain is deep breathing. It is also really helpful for singing!

Teach the children to breathe in through their noses and feel the breath fill up their bellies, and then exhale through their mouths slowly. Three deep breaths will really calm you, body and mind.

Have them imagine that they are smelling a sweet flower, and then blowing on a pinwheel or a lit candle.

Repeating "Smell the rose. Blow out the candle" three times while they (and you) breathe is a great way to center and be ready for what is ahead.

It is helpful for clearing your head if you are upset too, so it's a nice addition for the kids to learn when they have to resolve a problem.

Best of luck tomorrow! Have fun!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

How can I teach my child to be empathetic?

Ms. Dorothy -
I have caught my kindergartner being exclusive on the playground at school. If she doesn’t feel like playing with someone, she’ll just turn her back on them and ignore them, or she’ll flat out run away from them. She has always been well-liked, so she doesn’t understand the hurt she is causing by not including others in her games. How can I teach her to be more empathetic?
- Worried Mom

It is so hard to see our children learning about their social worlds! You are on the right track to want to teach her more empathy rather than just wanting to tell her to "be nice."

Take some time to model your thinking aloud. Name the thoughts that come up, and the feelings attached to them - not to tell her, but just to make the way you experience situations really transparent to her.

That may feel strange and awkward at first, but your daughter will begin to emulate the behavior pretty quickly, and you will have a window into what is going on in her head, too. Then you can talk about those difficult situations where empathy might help.

Children reflect what they see, so the best thing you can do for her is to make sure she sees you being empathetic. Point out when you notice others doing the same.
Helping her to identify actions and reactions will make a difference in the way she appreciates what is happening inside of others.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where do I find Timed Tests for Math Facts?

Ms. Dorothy -
I was wondering if you can tell me where to find math timed tests. _______ is having trouble with her facts and I thought I might try giving her the tests at home. Do you know where I can find them?
- Mom & former teacher

Here is a worksheet you can print

There are others she can play on line and interact with - kind of a worksheet on line:
www.oswego.org/ocsdweb/games/Mathmagician/cathymath.html and http://www.mathsisfun.com/timestable.html.

This site does some of the printables and some games for playing on line: http://www.tlsbooks.com/timedmathdrillworksheets.htm

It is important for her to know math facts and to be fluid with them; and it's important that she understand the concepts behind those facts.

Be sure to play some games with her about putting together groups. It will help her to have some background about what multiplication is that she can hang those facts on.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What should I do about thefts at my child's school?

Ms. Dorothy,
We have had a problem with thefts at my daughters school-- from backpacks, to coats, to snacks out of her lunchbox. I have written her name on EVERYTHING she takes to school, but this still isn’t working. I know I’m not the only parent at the school who has had problems with this issue. What can I do to make sure my kid’s stuff stops getting stolen!?
- Concerned Mom

It's always good practice to put your child's name on things. Very often children will mistake one lunch box for another, and a name helps to get things back to the original owner.
If this is a problem that is occurring throughout the school, be sure to bring it to the attention of the administration so that it might be addressed school-wide.

When it comes to your daughter, think of this as an opportunity to establish and affirm your values about property. Talk about how full and rich her life is, and how she will never want for anything that matters.
Help her to understand that people who fear the loss of things sometimes give themselves the right to take from others. How lucky you are to know your child will never be the one feeling so neglected that she steals to fill her needs.

Pack her an extra snack to give away. Bring the jackets she has outgrown to school. When she gets a new backpack for the new school year, donate the old one.

Your participation as a volunteer and PTO member will give you a great avenue to brainstorm ways to address the problem with the school community.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How can I prepare my child for starting school?

Ms. Dorothy,
My daughter will not be able to enter kindergarten this year because of cut-off dates, and I can’t afford a preschool program to keep her learning until she can start school next year. What suggestions do you have for teaching her at home? She can count to at least 20, and knows all the letters and sounds, she is really ready to read & I just need to know what to do to keep her moving forward. Can you help?
- Mom of a 4 year old

She is so well prepared already for kindergarten! I commend you for wanting to continue working with her. There is no harm in having her ahead before she starts school.

One of the best things you could do for her would be to take her out and give her some cultural experiences. Going to an Art or Science museum would be so enriching, and many provide free days or sponsor cultural events in the community.

One of the best ways to get her to move into reading is by getting her started writing. Have her draw pictures and tell you the story . You can “publish” the stories as little books, and practice reading them with her.

Most of all, have fun! The concepts she learns through playing will be the foundations of all her later learning .

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How can I help my child fit in at school?

Ms. Dorothy ,
My 8 year-old daughter is having a hard time fitting in at school. Her class is full of cliques and she just hasn’t found her niche yet. There are many days that she ends up sitting by herself at recess. I have encouraged her to smile, to be kind, and if nothing else works, be content playing on the monkey bars by herself. Nothing is working! What can I do to help her “fit in??”
-Worried Mom

Your positive attitude and faith that she will eventually find her niche and fit in is her strength! Keep believing in her and encouraging her to be good with being on her own!

The thing about cliques is that they are typically made up of children who have something in common. It may be something very superficial, but there is something about themselves that they recognize in one another. Insecurity is what makes cliques exclude anyone who they don't see that trait in. The best approach is often through that insecurity.

One way she may be able to approach other children is by having that knowledge. Ask her to look for what the unifying thing is about a group, what it is that they think they all have in common.

It is important to remember that we make friends one relationship at a time. Breaking into a clique is about making one friend. Once she figures out what she has in common with one person, the problem will fade.

How powerful it will be when, in time, she reaches out to include the little girl she sees sitting alone on the playground.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How can I assess student learning?

Ms. Dorothy-
I have three students that I work with. They are home-schooled and are in 7th and 8th grade. They are taking the work seriously, and do a great job meeting all the criteria of the assignments. I'm just not sure that the information we cover is really being learned, or if they have just gotten really good at taking tests. Is there a difference? I need some way to grade them for what we do that is fair, and I want to be sure I'm measuring what I think I'm measuring. What do you think?
- Middle School Teacher

Finding out how much of what you've taught is really owned by the students is so different from counting how many questions were answered correctly on a test!

I think that completing an assignment well has to be about more than having accurate spelling and grammar, or even a well structured argument. To me, producing something for a teacher is about pleasing one person, and usually the person who has already directed you in how they wish to be pleased.

Justification is a powerful critical thinking skill that changes assignments from something you have to do to something you have to stand behind. I don't think it is possible to present your knowledge of a topic to an expert on that topic unless you have truly gained some mastery of the content.

If a student writes a paper about the plight of the black-footed ferret I would expect that student to present this paper to people who are interested in black-footed ferrets, and be convincing to someone to whom ferrets matter.

When it is done right, the authentic audience evaluates your success or failure in achieving your curricular goals.

Friday, November 19, 2010

How do I get my class to behave?

Ms. Dorothy -
My class is very talkative and uncooperative. Every time I turn around, they are chatting again. I have set up so many different reward scenarios where they earn something for doing something consistently, but they don't want anything badly enough to actually stick with it. What do I do? They like having lunch with me, and they like having extra recess time, but they won't behave enough to earn it. It just seems to be getting worse, and we are losing so much learning time! What can I do to change their behaviors?
-Discouraged 3rd grade Teacher

Your impulse to reward them for positive behavior is a great one, because setting up punishments will only exaggerate the student-vs-teacher feeling that an uncooperative class has.

It sounds like they like you, but perhaps they don't see you as an ally yet. I'm also wondering if there is some important issue or underground dynamic in this group that requires a lot of discussion that you might be missing.

What if you were to give them something they are interested in before they give you the behaviors you want?

Invite the class to have lunch with you. Make it fun and call it a classroom restaurant day. Free them from the cafeteria, sit and chat and socialize with them. See if you can catch on to what it is they are spending so much time talking about. Join the discussion and offer time in class to talk further as a group about what is consuming their attention.

Learning to communicate clearly, to listen to one another, to agree or disagree respectfully, to contribute to a discussion, to weigh opinions and seek compromise are all important skills to learn in 3rd grade. Does it matter if you provide the content for a Socratic seminar or if they do?

This is valuable learning, so don't think of it as "lost" teaching time. Teach the skills of discussion around their issues and provide them a means for bringing topics to the group.

Try using a notebook with some rules about no individual names or put downs. Let them go and write topics for later discussion in the notebook.

Once you establish those positive structures, you can negotiate with them for more time on other content. "If we can focus and finish this math now, we will have more time to set up the room for a restaurant lunch, or for a class issues forum."

Sometimes getting the reward first and expecting the behaviors to follow works to establish in their minds that you want them to have the reward, and it removes the feeling that it is an empty promise.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How do I help my child stay out of trouble?

Ms. Dorothy -
My son is having a hard time in school. He doesn't stay on task well, and is constantly being re-directed by the teacher. She is trying to stay positive, but he comes home every day and tells us his day was bad. He can't get through a day with his behavior card still on green. We have been trying to ask him about why he got in trouble so we can help him problem solve what else he could have done. What else should we be doing to help him?
- Dad of a 1st grader

Your son has a teacher and parents who all want to support him in such positive ways. Keep up the problem solving conversations!

One thing you might want to start doing with him at home is really turning his focus toward what is working. It can be really hard to fight the parent impulse to ask "How was today? Did you get in trouble?" Instead, try and ask every day, "What were you most proud of today?" and hold out for specifics. It will push for a focus on what is working.

Over time, he will get better at answering, and you will have turned his attention to the positive aspects of his day.That doesn't mean he won't ever get in trouble, or that his card will always be green, but it will help him to see that you value the best parts of his day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How do I get children to do their work?

Ms. Dorothy - 
My children are supposed to have their planner signed every night as their homework. If they dont have it signed they have to stand on the line for recess. It drives me crazy because we are punishing them when in reality it is their parents who we want to be responsible. besides taking away recess what other ideas do you have for if a child is missing homework or not finishing work in class?
- First Year Teacher

If a child doesn’t finish work during the time allotted in class, I have them use their lunch recess to do it.  Typically it is because they are playing in the classroom, and I tell them that they’ve chosen to take recess during work time, so they’ll have to use recess time to do work.  

 It usually only takes one time of sitting alone doing work while everyone else is playing to decide to use time differently during class.

I am not a big fan of universal homework.  Generally, kids don’t all need to practice the same things the same amount of time.  If the homework is individualized, students are more willing to do it.  You have to explain what they are being asked to do and why.  They are usually better able to do the work, and want to bring it back and show you what they've done after that little bit of one-on-one attention.

As far as taking away recess for not doing homework – I can’t imagine it works.  The consequence is too far removed from the offence and unrelated.    

I’d first check my intentions about the purpose of the homework.  I'd ask myself, is it specific and essential, meaningful and manageable? 

If so, I would offer to stay after school with the ones that are having the hardest time getting it done, or getting support at home, and help them to do it!  Then it’s done.

If I can’t do the after school time, I'd try doing a homework club during lunch recess. If the goal is for them to learn something, then doing the unfinished work during recess serves that end. 

There is a difference between teaching and punishing.

When your objective is to punish a child, you are satisfying your need.  When your objective is to satisfy the need of a child, there is a good chance they will learn.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How can I help my child feel successful despite her differences?

Ms. Dorothy -
My daughter has some physical disabilities that have affected her learning. She’s a bright girl, but it just takes her a little while longer than her peers to catch on to things. Now that she’s getting older, she’s realizing that it takes her longer to take tests and that her grades are not as high as her classmates. How can I let her know that her best is good enough, even though her grades show differently? And on the other hand, I don’t want her to think grades don’t matter, because they do!
- Mom of Special Ed student

First of all, yes, she is amazing just as she is. And yes, it's important that she knows her momma loves her and sees her as perfect.

It is important that you be an advocate for her as well. Having special needs gives you some legal footing for making sure your daughter gets what she needs to be successful in school.  Take advantage of the leverage you have, and make sure she feels as accomplished as her peers do in the eyes of the school.

Something that might help her grow to value her own hard work would be a report card about how she is doing in class.  Not just the academics, but more specifically, an effort grade attached to every subject area or assignment. 

Working with a second set of grades might help her to see herself differently.  With a 1 to 4 effort rubric, she might find more satisfaction with what she accomplishes.  If a 1 means she gave minimal effort, a 2 means there was some effort, a 3 means a grade-level appropriate amount of effort (proficiency benchmark) and a 4 means above average, advanced or exemplary effort, it would be easy for the teacher to grade her for how hard she works.

She has as much right to be proud of her work as an A student who coasts, and getting that kind of a grade from her teacher will mean more to her than hearing it at home because it's "official."  When she gets her report card she can see that, while she may have gotten a C in Math, she got a 4 for effort - which puts her above other students in her grade. 

It is a tactic to help level the playing field, and by asking her support team to write it into her Individual Education Plan, you shouldn't have to negotiate for getting that kind of help from the school year after year.

Keep talking to her about how every person brings gifts to the world, and not all of them are recognized in the same ways.  Getting A's in school might be Mom's thing right now, but certainly Uncles shine in other ways, and so do big sisters.  

Monday, November 15, 2010

How do you know if a child needs a Gifted program?

Ms Dorothy-
My niece just started kindergarten. She took some test and qualified for a GT program. Do you know the test-does it mean anything-should she be enrolled? These are the questions my brother is asking me, but I'd rather have your answers.
- A Fellow Teacher
I'm flattered that you are passing your brother's questions on to me! He must be excited and nervous about what label like 'gifted and talented' will mean for his daughter.
Some of the standardized tests given for entrance to gifted programs are IQ tests. They usually measure verbal skills, problem solving, and quantitative skills. In other words, the test asks, "Does this child have an advanced vocabulary, the ability to visually manipulate shapes in space, and understand simple changes in groups of objects?"
Often the richness of experiences provided by parents and quality pre-school programs prior to kindergarten will translate into high scores on IQ tests like this.
Every school district handles things a little differently, but in Colorado there was a bill passed two years ago which changed the language around gifted services. A child who is determined to be 'gifted' must be provided with services from the school. In other words, like a special education student who has a formal, legal Individualized Education Plan, a gifted child must have some kind of Learning Plan in place to assure that her needs will be met.
This also means that the child will be expected to perform at advanced levels on other tests throughout her school career.
I don't know what kinds of support is available at your niece's school, or what enrollment in a program for gifted students might look like for her.
I do know that the playing field becomes more level when children transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" somewhere around 3rd grade. At that point the results on standardized tests are less about what a child has been exposed to, and more about what she does with new information as she learns it.
Certainly there are children who are highly gifted right from the cradle, and your niece may be one of these. But I wonder if your brother would have this many questions and concerns if he had been living with a genius for the past 5 years. Perhaps he is just a great parent and the kindergarten teacher is recognizing and appreciating one of her top students.
I recommend that he ask a lot more questions, and if it seems that results of one test, given on one day, are being used to place your niece, that he may want to wait and see if she continues to shine when the work gets more challenging. The last thing I would ever recommend is giving a child a label too soon that she is pressured to live up to.
There was a brilliant student in my preschool class once, and when I was concerned about the family not sending her to a private kindergarten where she would be challenged, her equally brilliant father told me that if she was truly a genius, it wouldn't matter if she sat on her brain for a year; it wouldn't go away just because it didn't get a label.
Words that have stuck with me. She is currently an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. It's OK to wait.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How do I meet the needs of 5, 6 and 7 year olds?

Ms. Dorothy -
I am running a music enrichment program with Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students. I'm experienced in doing this with older students, like middle or high school, and these high energy young ones are uncharted territory for me! Couple of questions for you.. How do I teach and engage to that level? Or what are some key principles to keep in mind for this age? How best do I look at this class and how to hold the space appropriately to allow their knowledge and beats to flourish? How do I keep it fun and engaging for all the ages? Help?!
- Music teacher

High School to Kindergarten is a big leap. No wonder you are feeling unsure of yourself! Those little guys need as many opportunities for expression as they can get, so I know this is going to be a great experience for all of you.

First of all, relax, and don't sell yourself short. You know what you are doing when it comes to the material, and students are students, no matter how tall they are.

Essentially you can't teach a room, or an age, or a grade; all you can teach is the person in front of you. Get to know these students for who they are. They will show you what is important to them within the first few minutes.

I like to think of it as putting the students first and letting the content be a tool. Instead of teaching Music to young children, try teaching young children the whys and hows of Music. There is a difference. It works for any content you want to teach, and any students.

Be prepared to move with them, to be excited with them, to get loud with them, and to enjoy them. They will need some order and routine to help them understand the structure of their time with you, and they will need variety and novelty to stay engaged.

The best thing you can bring them is a challenge, so don't be afraid of using the same language and content you would teach older students. Just break it down with them to things that are familiar and let them share how they connect to it.

Basic principles to keep in mind when working with children: Smile often. Sing instructions. Establish routines. Be genuine. Follow their lead. Respect their individuality. Enjoy their creativity. Inspire them with possibilities. Encourage them with laughter. Believe in them.

And Have fun!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How can I get a wiggly kid to sit still?

Ms. Dorothy -
I have a little guy who won't sit still! He is always tipping his chair, and even falls out of his chair sometimes! He doesn't seem to mind, but it makes me crazy because it disrupts everyone around him! Is there a trick to getting wiggly kids to settle down and stay still?
-1st grade teacher

I'm so glad you didn't try and diagnose and drug this child, or ask me to! Lots of kids are wiggly by nature, and it is really hard for them to stay still.

I think you hit upon the only real reason we would expect them to be still - so they don't disrupt others. The truth is that those wiggly children often can't concentrate when they are still, so it certainly isn't for the sake of their own learning that we'd make them stop moving.

When you consider that many of us fidget, doodle, jiggle a foot, or tap a pencil when we are trying to concentrate, you can see that refraining from movement doesn't need to be the goal. What we need to do is provide children with strategies for moving that help them to focus while letting others focus at the same time.

I recommend a one legged stool. Often you can ask your school Occupational Therapist or Physical Therapist to locate one for your student. I've even had parents build them for my classroom in the past. A one-legged stool requires two feet on the floor (so make sure it is the right height for your wiggly guy) to keep it in balance. The act of holding the chair upright focuses the child's energy in a way that frees up their mind to concentrate on the task in front of them. Other children like to try the chair, but it is only those who really need to wiggle that find the chair comfortable for working.

I know some people who like to use a fitness ball chair and say it works the same way, but I'm kind of attached to my one-legged stool.

You can also get strips of rubbery material to tie around the feet of the child's chair. This will give him a place to put his feet, to bounce his feet, even to kick at while he is sitting.

I would still want to be sure that this guy is getting enough time to be active in his day. When it's time to work in one place for a little while, give him some tools to help him focus his mental and physical energy in the way that best suits his learning. And remember, too much time sitting in one place will make anyone wiggly!

Friday, November 12, 2010

How do I deal with my daughter's 2nd grade drama?

Ms. Dorothy-
_____ is in the middle of a "bff" triangle and today one of the little girls made a fist and told her, "Shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you!" I am HORRIFIED. And I can't help but wonder where on earth a 7-year old little girl heard that in the first place.
I emailed the teacher and she said she'd take care of it right away. Seriously though, where does a kid learn that stuff?! And what do I say to my daughter about all this?! 
- Mom of a 2nd grader 

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about this, and I'm really glad you let the teacher know. You would be amazed at how much escalation can be avoided by having the teacher step in right away!

None of us wants to believe that we have exposed our young children to harsh language or expressions, but even cartoons are filled with horrifying ways of dealing with problems. It is not at all uncommon for children to resort to trying out techniques they've heard or seen when confronted with a challenging and novel social situation.

It is evident that your daughter's friend was frustrated, and that she wanted to resolve the problem with words, but knew that physical solutions were an option. I'm sure that you, and your husband, felt exactly the same way when you heard about this! We all know there is a hierarchy of conflict resolution techniques, and it often takes facing a challenge to discover our true character.

How awful the parents of that other girl must feel to realize that when confronted with such a test, their daughter evidenced the basest of reactions. How fortunate your daughter is that her parents chose to seek additional information and help from the teacher rather than just acting rashly when they were faced with a test of their own problem solving skills.

When toddlers bite, it is seldom because they come from bad homes, are underfed, or have been taught that this is a good way to get what they want. It is usually because they are trying to express something they don't have the tools to express and their frustration is all in their mouths, so they demonstrate their frustration with their mouths.

When young children struggle with defining their friendships, there is often a lot of drama, and sometimes horrifying things are said, or done. What a great opportunity this is for your daughter to learn about the ways the adults in her life see her, value her, and handle real problems.

Remember that if you want your children to be resilient, you must both give them the tools to handle the unexpected, and trust them to use the tools independently. What you model is important, and so is your belief in their abilities.

Talk to her about her feelings rather than yours. Invite her to identify what it felt like to be spoken to that way, and if she thinks she has ever been as frustrated as the other girl was. Ask her if she can think of other ways that girl could have handled her anger. Wonder with her what could take someone to such a hard place and help her to feel something other than hurt and anger toward that other child.

Encourage her for finding a positive way to get support with an overwhelming situation. Recognize that she was not just seeking your help, but your reactions to help her define how she should feel. The less you let this overwhelm you, the more she learns about her ability to handle a problem, and the more strategies she will have when it comes up again.

And, make no mistake, it will come up again. You are an adult, and you just faced a huge challenge! This is a part of life, and knowing that we have tools, and believing that we know how to use them is the key to facing challenges well.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How can I help my child strengthen her hands for writing?

Ms. Dorothy -
My daughter is in pre-school and she can't hold a crayon very well. I'm concerned about her being ready for Kindergarten in the Fall. What can I do at home to get her ready for writing?
- Mom of a 4 year old 

Kindergarten teachers everywhere wish more parents like you were working with their future students! 

One thing I always recommend is using tiny little pieces of chalk or crayon because it forces the use of the muscles in the fingers & helps them develop. Tweezers, tiny beads, even eye droppers will require using the same muscles, but without making it a chore for a little one.

Try giving her the challenge of picking beads out of a bowl of uncooked rice using tweezers, or of squeezing drops of colored water onto a coffee filter with an eye dropper.

My students love picking corn kernels off dried cobs with tweezers. They also like using a push pin to poke holes in construction paper. Trace puzzle shapes on construction paper and, instead of cutting with scissors, try to perforate the paper with enough pin holes to remove the shape.

The side benefit is that these tasks take tremendous concentration and help to develop focus as well as the small muscles needed for writing.

Most of all, don't worry too much about the actual writing. Time is the most important factor for developing the muscles in the hand, and she'll be ready before you know it!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How do I help a student who won't do ANYTHING?!

Ms. Dorothy -
I have a little boy who does NOTHING. Like literally does nothing all day long. UNTIL everyone leaves for specials, then he gets everything done in like 7 minutes! So he is very capable of doing the work; he just doesn't. So how do you motivate him? We attempted to bribe him with a toy car (loves cars) and maybe it worked a little, but he still got close to nothing finished! Help!
- Student Teacher

How frustrating that he doesn’t want to engage in the learning! 

Is he possibly gifted? Sometimes a lack of motivation despite the ability to do the work is just a symptom that the student is bored.

I know it's really hard to leap out of the mold completely, but rather than fighting a losing battle with him, could he possibly have a different assignment from the others? Maybe if he had to read and write about a particular car (or something else that interests him), and present his learning to the class, it might engage him. It might even give him a chance to shine.

Of course the danger is that someone else will want to do an independent project...and then more of them... but then again, I don't see that as a problem. :)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How can I help my child learn sight words?

Ms. Dorothy -
______ is starting to bring home sight words. What do I do? We picked three from the group of 10 (I, Like, The) and worked them into story-time. We made sentences and looked for them in the story. How are we doing?
-Dad of a Kindergartener

I think it's wonderful that you trusted yourself enough to just do it and get a second opinion afterward! Keep up the great work! You are right on the mark!

We have 25 sight words that Kinders are supposed to read by the end of the year. The first 10 are for the first semester.

Choosing three, and choosing ones that are visually very different (number of letters, beginning sounds, word shapes) are great ways to find a basis for comparison!

Looking for the words in books is exactly what I have the kids do in the classroom. When you are reading and you come to the word, stop and have him read it for you. That's great stuff! I have a safari hat and a fly swatter in my classroom, and I have the kids go on a word safari and search for the sight words. (It's fun for them to try to sneak up on the sentence strips to swat a word.)

Some parents and teachers make flash cards and practice drilling the words too. That won't guarantee transfer to actual books; and I think that it is recognizing the words in context that matters most for learning to read, not just learning discrete words.

Your instincts are perfect. You are a natural, and he is going to do wonderfully with your support at home!