Friday, December 31, 2010

How do I find books at the right level for my kids?

Ms. Dorothy,
What are some good books for 3-6 year old children? And what are some resources for finding good book lists for children at different ages?
-Parents of 2 Preschoolers

There are the classic children's book authors, like Eric Carle, Patricia PolaccoTomie DePaola  and Jan Brett that you may already be familiar with.

There are also some great authors currently writing books for preschoolers with wonderful characters the kids will fall in love with. Each of them also has books that extend up a few years so your children can grow with their favorites.

Look for books by Todd Parr, Mo Willems, Doreen Cronin and Anna Dewdney.
But don't overlook the phonetic and sight word series available in the Scholastic book orders your children bring home from preschool, or the online programs available at sites like Starfall.

When it comes to finding lists of recommended reading by grade level, there is no better resource than your local library! Check out some great reads!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

How do I help my tween-aged rebel?

Ms. Dorothy,
My son is 12, and whenever he doesn't like the way a teacher talks to him, or delivers an assignment, he gets stubborn and rebellious and refuses to do what he is asked. How do I convince him that he is only punishing himself and not the teacher?
- Mom of a tween-ager

It is amazing how much a twelve year old is like a 2 year old. They want to be independent ("Me do!") and try out all that their newly developing bodies can do; but they really don't have the experience or mastery to climb as far as they think they can, without support.

Just like when he was 2, you want to encourage him to explore and assert his independence, but you want to be within reach in case he has bitten off more than he can chew. And you want to comfort him and convince him to try again when he falls.

These in-between years are all about experimenting with power and experiencing consequences. The skinned knees are different when reflected in grades, but they are just as important to the learning.

Those who teach this age group know what they are up against. Talk to his teacher.
Then brace yourself for that gut-wrenching feeling when you see that chair tipping over just like you knew it would. Then, like you did when he was little, say, "Wow, that hurt, huh? But you're ok. Let's try that again. You want my help this time?"

Often parenting is about finding the right balance between offering support and allowing consequences.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How can I get this child to stop whining?

Ms. Dorothy,
_______ can speak in broken sentences, but often when he wants something he whines and does not use his words. His mom and dad and I don't all agree on how to handle the whining. He often winds up in a full tantrum to get what he wants. What steps can we take to strengthen his verbalization and curb the whining?
- Day Care Provider

The first step you will need to take, is to sit down with the parents and get some agreement about what you are going to do to help him grow.
Consistency is essential if you are trying to encourage one behavior and discourage another.

This child needs to know that his needs will be met. If he believes that the world is a safe and consistent place, he is more likely to relax and trust that a problem isn't forever, and that there is something he can do to get his problems solved.

The adults in his life also need to understand that he will speak to communicate one day, but not necessarily on their time-tables. And that is okay.

Talk to him more. Talk about what you are doing as you go about your day. Remain calm and clear in your conversations with him so that he sees a good example.

If the adults relax and work together, the reduction in stress alone may translate into more talking and less whining.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How do I decide if I want to be a teacher?

Ms Dorothy,
I am a junior in college and thinking of switching my major to education. I love the thought of teaching, but I'm nervous that once I set foot in an actual classroom, the experience will be very different from my ideas and expectations. How can I find out if teaching really is for me, and if it is, how do I figure out which grade I'm best suited for?
- College Student

Deciding to major in Education and becoming a classroom teacher do not have to be one in the same. You can major in Education and teach on-line, or tutor in more one-on-one settings; or use your degree in Education to do consulting or coaching outside the classroom.

At the same time, there are also many ways that you can teach without having to change your major. There are alternative licensing programs that can get you state certification to be a classroom teacher. There are private schools and church schools and preschools that do not require teachers to be state certified in order to teach. There are also some training centers and teacher in residency programs where you work as an assistant teacher and earn credentials.

You can probably take an elective in Education to see if the major would be of interest to you. If you can take one that has requirements for fieldwork or observations, it would give you a chance to visit schools and see if you feel at home in the classroom.The more opportunities you can grab to visit classrooms in different districts and at different grade levels, the better you will know what is the right fit for you.

Interview teachers with differing amounts of experience, in different communities, and at different kinds of schools, as if it were an assignment for a class. Ask why they are teachers, what they love and hate about the job, what they would advise a new teacher to be aware of, what they think makes them one of the good teachers.

Go volunteer at a local school-- nothing will give you a better sense of what teachers really do than spending a few days helping one!

Monday, December 27, 2010

How do I support beginning reading?

Ms. Dorothy,
My daughter is beginning to read phonetically. Her pre-school has her practicing blending letter sounds to "sound out words" but she doesn't know any sight words yet. Should I be using flash cards at home to help her learn some sight words? Is there a better way to teach her to read without being completely dependent on sounding it out? Or should I just leave it alone for now and let her learn in Kindergarten?
- Mom of a 4 year old.

If your daughter is beginning to read and enjoying it, there is no reason not to support her.

Find out from her preschool teacher what next steps they are planning to follow to help her grow as a reader, and (unless you completely disagree with their approach) align what you are doing at home to what she is learning in school.

More than likely she will begin to encounter simple sight words in the books she is already "sounding out" which will be a natural opening. Then you can practice finding those same sight words in other places - magazines you are reading, recipes while you are cooking together, bedtime stories you are reading to her.

Sometimes, when you are reading beginner books with her, you will need to supply the words she doesn't know, but encouraging her to check the pictures, or what seems to make sense to decide what the next word might be are great ways to build vocabulary. Then her reading will be more than sounding out words and sight words because she will begin to recognize words in context.

As long as you are giving her an enjoyable experience that involves time with you and books, she will learn to love reading. Then
all those different approaches to figuring out what a book says will become more natural to her.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

How do I decide where to send my kids to school?

Ms. Dorothy,
I'm wondering what your opinion is on some of the educational alternatives I'm considering for my kids. They are still in preschool now, and I don't want to pay for private schools, but I'm not convinced that regular public schools are the right answer any more. I've been looking at a Montessori charter school, an Expeditionary Learning magnet school, and a Core Knowledge charter school in my area. I know you are familiar with all of them, and I want to know your thoughts about the pros and cons of each.
- Dad weighing Schools of Choice.

Well, I am an AMS certified Montessorian, and an Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound instructor. I have taught in a charter school, a magnet school, a private school, a "regular" public school, and a pilot school. I've even done the home school route. I have never taught in a Core Knowledge school, though some of my friends do.
I've tried a lot of these models, both as a teacher and as a parent, and I have my biases.

The most important thing for you to consider is your children.

Knowing who your students are as learners and as individuals is essential in making this decision. Being prepared to try something else as your children grow and change is also important; as is considering the possibility that what works for one might not work for the other.

Yes, there is a lot of data out there about how children in each of these settings fare on tests of knowledge or skill. There are also some long term studies done on how these different models prepare children for the rest of their academic careers.

None of that matters if your son or daughter doesn't "fit" the model you are considering, or if the philosophy of education is not aligned with what you believe about teaching and learning.

Go do some research, and know all you can about what you are weighing. Go and visit these schools of choice. Talk to the teachers if you can. Ask hard questions about your specific children's needs and issues as learners. Find someone who feels the way you do about educating your children.

Then trust your gut, and leap with conviction, and do whatever you can to support your children in the model you've chosen.

Because when it comes to education, nothing done half-heartedly works.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How do I get my class to be QUIET?!

Ms Dorothy,
My class is so noisy! They are generally on task, but they get so loud. I know I'm not supposed to raise my voice at them, but I end up yelling all the time just to get their attention. They are excited, it's not that I'm not doing good stuff, they are enthusiastic, but very loud about it! What do I do to get them to stay excited and working, but to do it quietly?!
- Pre-school teacher

Have you tried whispering? Sometimes the best way to get those little guys to pay attention is to bring your volume way down. If you get secretive and conspiratorial, they just might quiet down and lean in to hear what's up.

I've also had some luck playing "don't wake the baby" with preschool and kindergarten classes. Just get them to agree to pretend that there is a baby sleeping in the classroom. Then, rather than a lot of yelling or shushing, you can start a whisper campaign by telling one child "don't wake the baby - pass it on." They love to play, and it gets them quiet!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How can I help my child with spelling?

Ms. Dorothy,
My fourth grader is not such a great speller. I try to help him practice his spelling, but at times he seems to not retain the memory of the word's correct spelling. Can you give me some ways to help him?
- Homework Mom

Spelling is a visual activity. You have to be able to see that a word is spelled wrong, and you have to be able to see the correct spelling. That is why when you ask someone, "How do you spell _____," they often have to write it down to know that it is correct.

The one best way to become a good speller is by reading. The more books you read, the larger the bank of correctly spelled words you will recognize, and the less likely you are to spell inaccurately.
If your child is mostly reading his own writing, he is reinforcing a visual image of his own misspellings over and over again.

You can continue to practice spelling words with him, but if he is reciting these and not picturing the word or seeing the word written, he is less likely to retain it, recognize when he has written it wrong, or be able to correct his own errors.

Increase the amount and variety of his reading materials, and his spelling will begin to improve.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How do I help my children get ready for college?

Ms Dorothy,
What are some good resources for getting your kid financially ready for college, if you know you won‘t be able to afford tuition, like scholarships, financial aid, work-study programs? My parents never went to college so they had no IDEA how to help prepare us kids. My brother and sister ended up dropping out and I’m just now finishing after starting 13 years ago! I want my kids to go, and I want to know NOW what to do to help.
- Mom of three

This is a great time to start thinking about college and what you will need to know. Start educating yourself now, and you will be ready to help your children when the time comes.

One thing you need to know is that the landscape keeps changing when it comes to federal grants and loans, and even when it comes to what colleges are expecting. There are some great resources out there that can help you stay abreast of changes. Look at this Education Weekly blog for some current info about the issues that impact getting access to colleges.

Keeping your children focused on that goal is important, and it isn't too early to start. The more they are engaged in the things they are passionate about, even as they change over the years, the more interesting they will be to the colleges and scholarships they apply for.

Because you are in college yourself, your children are getting to see how you value education, and are learning about what it takes to be a college student first hand.

Letting them know that you expect them to be in school through college may be the biggest difference between how you raise your children and how your parents raised you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

How do I find good educational games?

Ms Dorothy,
I have grandbabies coming into town for the holidays. I want to have some things for them to play with while they are here, but I want to make sure they are educational toys. Can you recommend somewhere that I can get things for them that will be good for their brains?
- Grandmother of Many

It is important to know that all play is educational. Children need to have open-ended toys that they can use to develop their creativity and imagination, so any kind of construction or pretending toys are good for their brains.

If you are shopping on the cheap, thrift shops are a great place to look for things you can have around that might get your grand children inspired to play. Re-using toys that other children have outgrown is a great way to shop green too!

On the other hand, if you are looking for new toys and games, go local and find small, locally owned businesses to buy from.

There are shops like Beyond the Blackboard that specialize in finding books and toys and games and teacher supplies for every age group that are educational and fun. Stores like this are ideal for finding the exact right gift for each child on your list.

Remember too, that-- depending on the ages of your guests-- the wrapping paper, boxes and ribbons will be the things they enjoy the most and learn the most from playing with!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How do I get my children to share?

Ms. Dorothy,
What is your take on "sharing" both between sibling and in the classroom? I know that in the Montessori preschool a child has their work, and they can choose whether or not another is allowed to join them. Do you feel it is essential to teach your children to share when they have received a gift?
- New Teacher & Getting Married Soon

Keeping children from grabbing and fighting over things in a classroom is much easier when there are ground-rules like in the Montessori classroom. If it is well established that every child has the right to play with the materials they have chosen until they are through, there is no room for disagreement.

If you want your children to learn to share, the most important thing you can do is make sure they see you model it.
Telling children to share, and actively demonstrating what it is to be generous and thoughtful are very different. One results in internalized learning, the other doesn't.

When you receive a gift, invite them to help you open it, invite them to try it out. Don't worry about how long they have it or what they do with it. Thank them for giving it back to you when they do.

Remember that the less they have, the harder it is for them to trust their things in the hands of others. And the more they have seen at home that contradicts what you show them, the harder your task will be.

When you see them emulate your behavior, acknowledge their generosity and praise them for sharing, every time. For some, it will stick and grow.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How do I deal with 3rd grade tantrums?

Ms. Dorothy,
I have a student in my 3rd grade class who throws tantrums. He gets violent and throws things and screams very much like a toddler. What can I do to make him stop?
-Frustrated Teacher

I wonder what kinds of things trigger these tantrums, the frequency, duration and situations surrounding them that might be a clue to what is going on  with him.

The truth is that this behavior is successful for him.  There is something that he wants, and he gets that need satisfied by the fits.  

It really has nothing to do with the immediate situation, it has to do with the attention he needs and the feelings he is experiencing and trying to express.

The tantrum will need to run it's course before he will be able to discuss it. 
Try taking the rest of the class out of the room the next time he "goes off." Then when he is through, perhaps he will be open to talking about it and learning some tools for better problem solving.

Friday, December 17, 2010

How do I know if my child writes normally?

Ms. Dorothy,
When my son writes, he changes the pencil back and forth between hands.  Some days he says it is easier to write left-handed, and other days with the right.  Is this an issue I should be worried about, or do some people just have an easier time this way?
- Mom of a 4th grader

If your son is comfortable, it really doesn't matter which hand he uses, or if he switches every day.

If he is changing hands because he can't get comfortable, you might want to talk to his teacher about letting him us a computer to do his writing.

Fourth grade is late to still be choosing a hand, and if his writing slows him down, it is worth the time and energy to help him learn keyboarding so that he doesn't end up behind in what he wants to accomplish as a writer.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How can I get more parents to volunteer?

Ms. Dorothy,
My kindergartener has had several parties since school started. The classroom mom sends out an email each time asking parents to either contribute snacks, crafts, games or a small monetary donation. Every single time it's the same 4 moms that help. One mom even ended up spending $100 (TRUE STORY!) to make sure that there were enough games and activities for whole class. It seems so unfair that out of 30 students, 4 moms are shouldering all of the responsibility. How can we encourage more parents to step-up?
- Exhausted Momma

It is generally true that 10% of the people do 90% of the work, so this isn't unusual. Because you are parents of kindergarten children, you may just be seeing this for the first time. It won't be the last time you find yourself shouldering more than your fair share. You are one of the 10%. Thank you for that, and for all you do.

The problem here is not that the other parents won't step up, the problem is that the teacher is misusing the support that is available.
Rather than throwing parties and having parents providing games and crafts and food, the teacher should be using these willing volunteers to read with students, organize parent education nights, and share their talents, passions and careers with the children.

Perhaps the solution is to get those 4 parents together and have them suggest an alternative to the next party.
What a powerful learning tool it would it be to have these parents find and plan a service project for the class. They could teach their children the value of volunteering, and maybe change that 10% statistic in the future.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How can I make a change in public education right now?

Ms. Dorothy,
What can I do right now to change what is wrong with education for my students? I'm a relatively new teacher and I just want to feel like I'm doing something to make it better. Everyone complains, but no one will tell me what specifically I can do tomorrow that will matter. I know there are a million things that need to change, and I can't fix all of that, but there must be something I can do that would make it better. Right?
- 1st year Teacher

What a great way to look at making lesson plans for tomorrow! Of course there are things we can all do to make education work for students, and maybe your idea of one thing, right now, is the best way to go about it.

If I were to name one thing that you can do to improve education, I would say that you should have a passion outside of school. There should be something in your life that is exciting and inspiring to you, something that you enjoy doing, something that you look forward to spending time on, that isn't school.

That may seem really hard right now, you are just starting teaching, and it probably consumes far too much of your personal time- and that is reason enough to start working on your passion now. Not because you need something else to do, but because you need to bring something that isn't in a text book or curriculum map to your students.

Learn to play an instrument. Join a rock band. Audition for a community theater play. Crochet blankets for a shelter. Volunteer to sit on the board of a non-profit organization. Open a community garden. Start a blog reviewing movies or books. Photograph light poles or road signs. Take an art class. Study martial arts. Dance, mime, juggle, tell jokes, do yoga, learn to speak Klingon, or Elvish....

Your passion for something will open a world to them and invite the possibility that they too can explore. It will fuel your writing to have something in your life that excites you, and they will see that. It will fill you with drive and heal you when things are tough in school, and they will see how you are invigorated and refreshed by what you do. It will give you a different frame of reference and a new bank of metaphors, and they will see how what you teach applies outside of school.

It will make you a better teacher, and it will inspire other teachers, and that will make the whole system grow.

'm certain that there will be many, many ways that you will make a difference in the lives of the students you teach. Remembering to work on the relationship you have with each individual child will always matter more than any other preparation you do.

When they know that you are there for them, and not just for the content you teach, all the rest becomes easier. And when they know that you care enough about yourself to feed your own passions, they will value your relationship that much more.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How can I stop this color card behavior management?

Ms. Dorothy,
We have had it with the red, yellow, green, purple behavior chart that this kindergarten teacher uses. Tomorrow is the last day prior to break and we are trying to figure a way to support _____, and support the teacher. Do you have any suggestions of ways a kindergarten teacher that is used to summative color behavioral grading can adapt or try something different?
-Concerned Dad

Nobody's day should be about their behavior.
It would be far better if the focus were on the effort given toward learning, or the quality of work produced; and to offer the teacher some other ways to manage the classroom.

What if you were to suggest
that the teacher start handing out tickets? If she catches a child demonstrating a behavior she wants to see more of, she hands them a "ticket." (Anything can work- I've seen them printed up with school behavior goals on them, but I've also seen just sticky notes used.) The children get to collect the tickets count them up, and work toward a goal.

When this is done well, the class can work to make sure that everyone goes home with at least one ticket at the end of the day - that could get the students noticing each others' positive behaviors, and then they can earn a ticket for being a good citizen and pointing out what someone else has accomplished.

Eventually it becomes self-sustaining where the children award one another tickets and count them up at the end of the day - till it starts to lose their interest and is forgotten. At this point, hopefully, the behaviors the teacher is hoping to encourage have become a part of how the students monitor themselves.

Ultimately, the goal should be intrinsic motivation and flow, not extrinsic rewards and fear of consequences for the best learning environment.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How do I get my boys to READ?

Ms. Dorothy,
When it is time to read, how do I get my boys to sit and read for the amount of time appropriate for their grade? I have sons from grade school to high school, and they all seem to have a hard time focusing on reading. I find they wiggle and make excuses to not sit and read.
- Homeworking Mom

The first most important thing about getting kids to read is helping them to find something that interests them.
Remember that reading doesn't have to be about a novel either. Recipes are for reading, manuals, magazines, newspapers and even blogs can be great reading material.

One thing that a lot of busy parents overlook is the fact that children learn to value what they see their parents value.
Telling them about how important reading is to you isn't quite enough. They need to see the adults in their life read, and your boys need to see that the men in their life make time to read.

So often we save reading as a treat to enjoy when the business of the day is done, and the kids are off to bed. Making reading a treat to share with your sons in the middle of a weekend day can go a long way toward inspiring them to read. Everyone grab their own reading materials, find yourselves in the same room and read, read, read.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How do you keep holidays from hurting?

Ms. Dorothy,
When I was little, this time of year SUCKED. Our parents were very fundamental Christians, so they never let us celebrate Halloween, Christmas, or Easter because of their pagan origins. Coming to school and seeing all the kids with their Halloween candy always made me feel so left out. Also, hearing them talk about Santa and the presents they got and the celebrations with their families totally sucked. I remember being like 10 and sitting on the fireplace hearth saying to myself “Santa, I believe in you!!” because all the movies said if you believe, he’ll come, but he never came.
So anyhow, during any kind of holiday I always felt not only extremely excluded, but I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Any time anyone asked “What are you going to be for Halloween?” or “What did you get for Christmas?” left both me and the other person feeling extremely awkward and uncomfortable. Is there a way that schools can make this less difficult for kids like me?
- Child Advocate

What a challenge this must have been! And how hard the memories, even so many years later.
If people were more aware and conscious of the impact their words have, perhaps we would remember to consider the perspective of another before we speak.

I have no answer for this one, except to say that I will be far more aware of every child in my classroom and I will endeavor to teach them to tread with caution and without assumption so that everyone feels included.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How can I get my son to write more?

Ms Dorothy,
My son _________ has to write personal narratives every day in school, but he has a hard time coming up with topics to write about. I want to help stimulate his creativity and help him develop his skills as a writer. Where do you get good ideas for just getting him started?
- Mom of a 3rd grader

Writing about yourself, and your real life is important in elementary school because it helps children to develop the ability to write about things they really know well. They can add details from their own experience to stories about themselves.

I'm not convinced that turning this into writing a personal narrative every day is necessarily the best way to support developing writers.

If your son needs to write every day about his own life, perhaps having a collection of items that will remind and inspire him will help. Check my post about show and tell for a way to make that possible in the classroom.

Story writing that is more imaginative can be a lot of fun for 3rd graders too.

Keep a collection of words, pictures, or objects that represent things from stories he loves. Put them into different categories for characters, problems, settings, and events and let him mix and match to come up with the ideas for a new story.

The most important thing to remember is that the best writers are those who read a lot. So if you want your son to become a great writer, make sure he is reading whenever possible!

Friday, December 10, 2010

How do I explain Middle School homework?

Ms. Dorothy -
Although my child is a very intelligent individual, he commonly comes home confused. My son tells me that he will ask a question and the teacher answers the question very vaguely or only gives one explanation or example. How do I help him understand how to complete his homework?
- Middle School Mom

Your son is very smart indeed to know that what he needs in order to understand an assignment is additional explanations and examples. Knowing himself as a learner will be so helpful to him throughout his education!

One of the hardest things about transitioning from an elementary school into a middle or high school is getting used to having multiple teachers to work with. It can be hard for those teachers to get to know all their students as readily as elementary teachers do.

It may be challenging for this teacher to know exactly what it is he needs, or to understand what he is asking for in the middle of class. Perhaps scheduling a quick meeting with her is his best course of action. If he can explain his needs to her at a separate time, he may be able to get the kind of answer that will help him in the future.

In the meantime, have him give me a call, and we'll figure this assignment out together.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How do I deal with toddler tantrums?

Ms. Dorothy -
_________ is almost 2 years old now. When we play and it is time to clean up, he gets mad and starts trying to hit people and throws things and screams. What can we do?
- Aunt, Babysitter, Student

He is so lucky to have you playing with him and engaging him in games and activities! Everything you learn while you study early childhood development will help you enrich his life even more.

One of the hardest things for a toddler to deal with is the fact that his mind is much more sophisticated than his ability to communicate.
When a child doesn't have the words to express how he is feeling and what he wants, it is not unusual that he will throw a tantrum.

Something that might help is to make sure there are lots of cues about coming transitions. Have a signal to tell him that clean up time is coming, and make sure he understands that when ____ happens, it will be time to clean up. Negotiate it with him well in advance, and then be very, very consistent about following through.

With time and experience he will come to rely on that consistency, and may even use your signal to let you know when he wants to be done with an activity.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How do I stop a teacher from yelling?

Ms. Dorothy -
I run an afterschool program and have an assistant who will be doing her student teaching in January. She has several years of experience in working with kids, but not with me.
The problem is that she yells at kids and 'gets in their face'. When I talk to her about it, she seems to understand, but continues to do it when the kids are not listening and when she thinks I'm not around. I have shared my philosophy about mutual respect supported by firm boundaries, but she doesn't seem to be listening.
Any great Ms. Dorothy insight?
- After School Teacher

One of the hardest things to learn, without living to a ripe old age, is how fragile life is.

There are two great sayings that get passed around. I don't agree with either, and I've modified both.

First is the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." This one presupposes that how I feel, and what I want, is right for everyone. It neglects the cultural and personal preferences of "other" and it allows us to keep "self" at the center of all interactions

So, my Platinum Rule is "Do unto others as they would have done unto them." Check in first. Ask if a hug is welcome before hugging.

Ask the students to help devise a way to get their attention and remind them to tune in when they are not listening.

The second is "Live every day as if it is your last." This one invites you to give freely without concern about holding back something for later. And yet, it is still centered on the self.

Being a teacher isn't about the self. It's about the other.

So, I prefer "Live every day as if you will live forever, and no one else will." Be more kind than you think is called for. Give away more than you think you can. Be gentle and remember, there are no guarantees that this won't be the LAST thing they hear.

If we stop and take the perspective of the child to heart, we will "first do no harm." (That's one I wouldn't modify.)

Help her to see her interactions with the children differently & perhaps her approach will change.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How can I teach my child to read in two languages?

Ms. Dorothy -
The greatest challenge I have revolves around raising and educating kids in a bilingual (French/English) setting. The biggest questions are: How do I go about teaching them how to read? One language at a time? If so, when can I introduce the second language? If I can teach my children to read in both languages at the same time, how do I go about it? What do I need to watch out for? How do I do it??
- Homeschool Teacher

Children usually learn one language as the household's primary language, and another as a secondary language. Some families, on the other hand, raise their children completely bilingually with no distinction between a primary and secondary language.

Learning to read should follow suit with the way your children are learning to speak.

If your children have one primary language, and they are learning a second, they should learn to read the primary language first. If they are truly bilingual, you can pick a preference for one to teach first, or follow suit with the local school districts' primary language as the one to teach first.

Once your children have control of a reading vocabulary of some simple common words in a first language, and can recognize the groups of letters that comprise various sounds in words, they will be able to read along with you in beginner books in that language.

Even if they can't read words accurately on their own yet, they will have enough of an understanding of how print works and how stories work to begin decoding and making meaning from text.
At that point, introducing the second language in writing will be less confusing because they will have something to compare it with.

Certainly, do not refrain from reading to them in both languages, always! They should see and know that there are books in your home, and books available to them in either language.
The decision about exactly when to introduce reading in the second language, or how much overlap there can be, may be answered by your child's interest in books he knows are in French or English.
Don't be afraid to follow your children's lead!

If you are comfortably literate in both languages, there is no reason to believe they will not learn to read and write as easily as they learned to speak both languages.

Monday, December 6, 2010

How do I stop a blurter?

Ms. Dorothy -
I have a student in my class who is always calling out and trying to get the rest of the class to copy him. The class ends up mimicking him and he is always giving wrong answers or smart answers to get them to laugh. How do I get him to stop blurting out wrong answers and obnoxious comments for the class to copy? He is so disruptive to the students who are behaving!
- Primary Teacher

It sounds like this student has some real leadership needs. Possibly even some skills as a leader!
What about re-focusing him to lead the class in a productive way? Is there something that he is particularly passionate about? Can you have him be in charge of leading a class activity that would be of interest to him? Maybe leading a song, a math discussion, a game, or being your assistant for something important will satisfy his need to be in charge.

Giving him the chance to be "the teacher" for some routine during the day might be the best way to diffuse his need to call out at other times.
If you empower him to lead at something that matters to him and is positive for the class, perhaps he will need less attention in other ways.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How do I model writing in Kindergarten?

Ms. Dorothy -
I am supposed to write in front of my students every day and model what I expect to see them trying to do. However, in Kindergarten most of my students are just learning the sounds that letters make, and usually write the first letter in each word. Do you think I should be writing with beginning letters, or writing complete words? I'm not comfortable spelling words wrong just for them to see how to sound them out, but I'm not sure if that is what I am supposed to do. What do you do?
- Kindergarten Teacher

This really is an important question when it comes to kindergarten students.
They do need to see a demonstration of what they are capable of. They also need to see accurate writing so they can begin to recognize words and correct spelling.

Generally, what I do is write the way I expect to see them writing. "I w to go to the s w my f " and then I go back and fill in the missing letters. "I want to go to the store with my family." This way, what remains on my chart is something that they can read back and build their reading vocabulary.

Sometimes I have a student or two in the class who can read and write at a much more advanced level than the others. These children can get very distressed when I demonstrate inaccurate writing, but they are great at helping me fill in the missing letters.

The important thing to remember is that everyone knows you are the best writer, the best reader, and the best speller in the room. You should be, you've had more practice than anyone else!
As long as you don't try to pretend that you don't know how the words are spelled, you can always demonstrate credibly what they should do.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How do I know if my child needs special help?

Ms. Dorothy -
I have a child that struggles from day to day with literacy. Some days he writes great big letters and fidgets, moving the book close and then far away from his face. Then other days he writes between the lines nearly perfectly and reads with ease. On the days he struggles, he retains nothing and always feels down about it. Have you any advice or insight as to what the problem may be? Does he need special help? What solutions would you suggest?
- Mom of a 3rd grader

What a challenge it must be for him to face days like that! Feeling down seems like a very appropriate response to that kind of struggle.

I wonder if there is anything else consistent about the days he cannot focus. Sometimes changes in routines can have an impact on the ability to concentrate. Being aware of his sleeping, eating and other daily routines might give you some insight into his difficulty retaining what he is supposed to be learning in school.

Any kind of dramatic change in his life, or reasons he may be depressed should be considered as well. Be sure to check with his teachers and have him monitored in case something is happening at school that is leading to his struggles.

Those concerns aside, it might be a good idea just to have his eyes checked. It is rare that a child makes it all the way to 3rd grade without a vision screening catching something, but it happens. I would recommend taking him to an eye doctor for a full eye exam.

It would be a shame to have him waste any more learning time in discouragement if what he needs is a pair of glasses!

Friday, December 3, 2010

How can I organize peer critique in 1st grade?

Ms. Dorothy -
I have been having students share their writing at the end of author's workshop. The other children all want to comment, but they don't say much more than "I liked it." I have been trying to get them to be more specific and say what they liked about it. Any thoughts?
- Student Teacher

Do you keep a sign up sheet for students who want to share? Many students do better with teacher feedback and questions than with peer input, so making it optional is supportive of either preference.

After children read their writing, or share their research, you can have them ask the class if there are any questions or comments. You can limit the time spent on each student's work by asking them to call on a specific number of people to comment.

One thing that will enrich the dialogue is to have the kids say "I noticed" instead of "I like." It helps to keep the conversation focused on something specific and removes the judgment from the feedback.

Using "I wonder..." as a sentence starter can really change the direction of the peer critique as well.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How serious is stranger danger in school?

Ms. Dorothy,
Our daughter _______ came home one day saying one of the “old men” that worked at her school told her he loved her and hugged her. It made her EXTREMELY uncomfortable. I'm sure it wasn't anything to be worried about, but I don't want to ignore it either. I'm not sure how I should handle it. What would you suggest?
- Mom of a 1st Grader

You are probably right that there isn't anything to worry about, but you are also right to take it seriously.

Sometimes we can over-sensitize our children when we teach them to be aware of strangers, and they end up afraid of everyone they don't know. While this can keep them out of trouble, it can also leave them feeling fearful of situations that are actually harmless.

It is important to let your daughter know that you will take what she says seriously, but it is also important to try and assess the real significance of the situation.

Going to the school with her, and introducing yourself to the "old man" that gave her a hug is the best place to start. You can explain to him that she is very shy and sensitive and prefers not to be approached when she is without you.
This will let her know that you will protect her and take her seriously, and it may diffuse some of the stranger fear she is feeling about him.

Background checks are required of all school employees, so the benefit of the doubt isn't out of order. Even so, if it feels at all wrong to you, go straight to the administrator and report the situation.

Most of all, make sure that she knows who she can go to in the school if she ever feels that her safety is in question.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How do I get Show and Tell back in my day?

Ms. Dorothy,
My school frowns on having "show and tell" time with children in 1st and 2nd grade, but the kids really like it. Do you have any suggestions for incorporating show and tell in an academic way in my class?
- 2nd grade teacher

You are right about how much children love to share their treasures! I think finding a way to let them personalize their learning can really support engagement in school.

Coming up with ideas for writing is always a challenge at some point in the school year. Having children bring in treasures for inspiration can really help get past this hurdle.

Try having your students bring in a collection of items that have some meaning to them. Little trinkets, photos, even pictures from magazines can be story starter ideas. Then children can share the important personal stuff in their writing.

Show and Tell can be fun and educational at the same time!