Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reflecting on "What I do"


I read a post called "A Living vs. A life" by Allison Rivers and it got me to reflect.
Yesterday, in a class I'm taking, I was asked "what do you do?" and I replied:

"I teach Kindergarten in a public school, and I coordinate professional development at a private non-profit preschool, and I work with a non-profit that helps at-risk-youth through expressive arts, and I write, I act with a community theater group, and I care for a husband and 20 year old son (and any number of other people who adopt us from time to time) and two dogs. And I am the lead singer for a rock & blues band, and I also sing in an acoustic duet group, and I do the student thing too. I wear a lot of hats"

Absolutely fascinating that the only thing I identified with in the "I am a __" was not what I make my living doing, and not what I aspire to make my living doing. Singing is something I think of differently. And, as a matter of fact, I refuse to take my cut when the band gets paid to play out - I contribute my share back to the group for maintaining equipment. And yet I list singing as if it were my identity.

Don't get me wrong, I love to teach. I love to write. I love all the things I do - or I simply wouldn't do them. I'm just that self-indulgent. But singing is different. I don't really control it, I just let it out. Teaching children I do because I love to, but I do it with forethought and deliberateness. Singing - not so much. I open my mouth and let emotion run past my vocal chords.

So, consider this chart I recently modified from the work of +Aristotle Bancale. The original conversation had to do with how to choose a career path, but three circles didn't leave room for how some choices would feel compared to others, so this became about finding your purpose and making a living at it.


I have no doubt that teaching Kindergarten is my bliss.  I think that all my work in expressive arts, from writing to drumming to acting to working with kids on any of these, is where I find fulfillment or contentment.

It seems that I identify - "I am"- with my passion. And though it could move to that area of satisfaction if I were to accept pay for it, I resist that so that I may keep it a passion. I think that somewhere, deep down, I fear that it would move from satisfaction to comfort and it would no longer be what I love. 

 If I allow "what the world will pay for" to enter the equation, I will be reduced to singing what will sell, in a way that it will sell, and I would lose what I love most about singing... that it has nothing to do with my mind or my thoughts - just with the feelings in my gut and the gift (as Pavoritti described it) of a golden throat.

I didn't realize any of that till I heard myself describe what I do. Fascinating.

What do you do?



Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Virtual Tour of My Kindergarten Classroom

Ms. Dorothy,
My child has been assigned to your class, but we were not able to make it to the Back to School Night.  Is there some way I can show my son what his Kindergarten classroom looks like so he has an idea of what to expect?
Nervous Dad

What perfect timing! Here is a slideshow I just created from photos of my room.  Hope you enjoy it! I'm looking forward to meeting you both next week!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How do I help my 2 year old adjust to school?

Ms. Dorothy,
I am a working lady. My daughter is 2years and 4 months old, she is able to speak fluently in her mother tongue, and understands English as well. In my absence she is taken care by my Mother in law.
She got admitted to pre-kindergarten or nursery on 13th June. She goes to school in school van, her school timings are 8.30 am to 11.30 am, 5days a week. It’s been more than 2 weeks, but still cries a lot and reluctant to go school everyday. She wakes up in the morning and starts telling/crying “don’t want to go school” till she sits in school van.
I try to make her understand that school is a lovely place by telling many stories every night before getting sleep, but the next day morning it’s the same.
Even on off days i.e. Saturdays and Sundays, even after we tell her that. Saturdays and Sundays are holidays, making her ready as part of daily routine or plan to take out somewhere, she thinks that we might send her school, she is fearful and whole day very often she tells I don’t want to go school.
I spoke to her teacher; she says she is okay at school. She blames me that I am over anxious and over protective, that’s why my child is behaving so. But I don’t really admit.
Each day is getting a challenge for me. Please help me out to make my child comfortable to school.
-Concerned Mother


There are many reasons why children express fear about going to school.

The biggest worry is always that there is something happening at school which frightens her. An insensitive or neglectful teacher, a bully, even someone trying to do her harm. I can tell you that while this is every mother's greatest fear, it is very rarely the cause of a child's distress.

Chances are that the teacher is not blaming you as much as she is trying to reassure you of this fact.

Your daughter is probably safe and just fine in school as the teacher told you, but her fear and distress are also very real and should not be ignored.

By the age of 2, children are usually trying to figure out how to get what they want. Sometimes children your daughter's age become demanding, or throw tantrums, or tell people "no!" as they try to discover how to get their needs met. Your daughter may be expressing fear and trying to gain control of an uncomfortable situation.

While your daughter understands English, she may not be comfortable to express herself to people who do not speak her mother tongue. This could mean that the three hours she is in school feel very isolating to her. If she is not hearing the language that is most comfortable to her ears, those three hours can seem very long and distant.

She has also had the undivided attention of an adult up until now, and suddenly to have to share the only adult with other children in a class can be very hard for some children.

She may be experimenting with making you feel guilty, and trying to see if she can have her will. Or playing out behaviors she thinks are expected. Believe it or not, sometimes children think that they are expressing how much they love you when they cry about going to school, and that you might be disappointed if you thought they didn't miss you.

Sometimes children become distressed because they don't like letting a younger sibling have a parent's attention while they are not around.

There are some things you can do to help her with her worry about going to school.
What you are already doing - telling her stories to comfort her - is excellent, and you will need to be consistent and keep telling her about what a lovely place school is, and not let her see your concern.

Instead of talking about Saturdays and Sundays as holidays from school, try and talk about what sad days they are because she does not GET to go to school. If you are reassuring her in a way that makes her think school is something she has to tolerate, she may continue to resist it.
Stay positive and happy and excited when you talk about school.

When you see her at the end of the day, be excited to hear about the wonderful things she did.

Focus on how happy you are to hear about school and not on her distress.

You can also help her to choose something of yours (a necklace or bracelet that she can wear perhaps, or a photo of her loved ones) to bring with her to school. Something to hold onto when she misses you.

There is a book called "the Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn that can be helpful if your daughter is having trouble separating.

Find another family in the school to befriend and schedule play dates with.

Ask the teacher if you can donate a favorite toy of your child's to the classroom for her to look forward to playing with. 


Give her crayons and let her express her worries on paper.

One final thought - while it seems like it's been forever, two weeks is not impossibly long, and she may yet make this adjustment on her own, don't give up!

I wish you both the best of luck.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ralph Waldo Emerson


"Success:To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!"~Ralph Waldo Emerson


Today I completed the 'Trust 30' challenge. 


Some things I learned - 


I read  Self Reliance when I was very young.  It benefited me in ways I didn't recognize till now.  


I don't let fear stop me from doing much.


I am ready for the great things I am going to make happen.


See the prompts and my responses on the On Self Reliance page.  Your comments are welcome!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How can I support my kids learning to type?

Ms. Dorothy,
My daughter's 4th grade teacher is teaching cursive this year, but she is the only teacher in the school who still does.Writing just isn't something I do very often any more, and I know my kids are going to need to do less and less of it. Just holding a pen or pencil is impossibly hard for my 1st grade son. When and how do I help my kids learn to type?
- A Mom

I've written about typing here, but I just came across a couple of sites that you might find interesting. One is a free online resource for  learning to type called Typing Web and another is called Fun to Type and is full of games for different levels of typing practice.


You are absolutely right about handwriting being a fading art. I heard a teacher, recently, wondering how much longer we will even hand sign checks.  


The brain wants to learn through the movement of muscles, so forming those letters by hand is still really important for your young son's development. If you are interested, I've posted some ideas for helping to develop and strengthen the hand for writing here and here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How do I stop the bathroom demands in class?

Ms. Dorothy,
What is the best routine for bathroom breaks in Kindergarten?  My room doesn't have a bathroom, the kids go down the hall, they just have to ask. But I find I am getting more and more requests to use the bathroom and it seems like it might be Spring fever rather than need.  I don't want to say "no" though, cause, well, they are in Kindergarten, and accidents happen!  Can you help?
- First Year Teacher

The best routines are those you establish early in the year and used consistently. 


In my classroom, I like to treat all of the daily business the same way it would be treated in an office. We talk about the places that adults work, and how they do things there. Would the boss have everyone line up by gender and use the bathroom at the same time? Would the grown-ups in an office go ask the boss when they wanted to use the bathroom? 


Generally, my students conclude that the bathroom is the kind of business that should not be announced, and that it should be up to the person who needs it to decide when. 


For safety, we need to know where everyone is, so students place their name card in the "boys room" or "girls room" pocket, and take the pass when they need to leave the room.  


If the pass is missing, we wait, or let the teacher know that we absolutely cannot. 


We also talk about how a grown-up in an office wouldn't get up and leave the room during an important meeting. They would know to go before the meeting, or wait until after. 


We establish that the reason we come to school is to learn, and the "important meetings" in our classroom would be any time the teacher is instructing the whole group. The times when we are supposed to be practicing or working independently are better for exiting the room to use the bathroom.


Once that is the norm in your classroom, your job becomes to watch and listen and pay attention to those times when there is greater demand.


Invariably, something you are doing is not engaging them if they are "taking walks" while you are teaching, interrupting to request the bathroom, or waiting 3 deep to use the pass. 


It happens. It just means it is time to change up what you are having them do because it simply isn't engaging.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How do I get this child to focus on his work?

Ms. Dorothy,
I have a student who is fully capable of doing the work I assign, but he just doesn't focus and get it done. He can do it, he is just lazy. He has had Special Ed help in the past, but has kind of aged out of that.  What can I do to get him working at his potential?!
- 6th grade Teacher

It seems to me that it is very rare that a learning disability goes away because of age, and I don't believe that "laziness" is a qualifying condition, so it is probably not the underlying cause of his academic struggles. 


A lack of focus can result from a wide variety of organic issues. 


Perhaps a closer look at what his IEP says, or what his previous teaching team has to say will help you to see what is going on with this student.


Either way, matching teaching style with processing and learning style, and making the most of interests is the best way to support an unmotivated learner. 


I don't believe we can expect students to change their attention and focus if we aren't willing to understand and meet them where they are. 


We need to adjust the teaching to suit the needs of our students, not the other way around.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How do I get my child to write legibly?

Ms. Dorothy,
I have been working with _______ on his writing. I even offered to pay him to practice. He is simply not interested in practicing writing neatly. Suggestions?
- Poppa

Writing legibly is about writing so that someone else can read what you have written. It is a courtesy that is focused on the reader, and it is a dying art.


It is easy to say that we "should" and "we always did," but the truth is that there are fewer and fewer  places in our lives where writing for an audience is required.


It is important to give some serious consideration to when, where, and how often we actually write these days, and how often it is likely that writing will be needed in the future. 


If you can name some practical places where it is necessary to write by hand, show those to him so that he can see how you use your neat writing. Just bear in mind that an electronic signature, and the ability to use a virtual keyboard are more likely to be necessities in his later years.


Help him find a pen-pal to exchange letters with in the mail.  Have him write to a favorite author or artist. Just try not to let him get email or text addresses.


Keep painting with him and developing the strength and grace in his arm and hand muscles. And try sending his bribes through the postal service in exchange for handwritten thank you notes!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

What consequences work for incomplete homework?

Ms Dorothy,
I've had it with kids not doing their homework.  I've tried everything.  I've called parents, I've taken away recess, and I've even threatened to take away the class trip. I'm really fed up and frustrated. What kinds of disincentives work for other teachers?
- 5th grade teacher

I have answered a question very similar to this before


I say, if you are expending this much energy thinking up ways to punish students or parents (and let's not kid ourselves, a "deterrent" like missing the class trip is a punishment) it is time to reconsider the value of homework.


If the homework is meaningful, individualized, necessary, and engaging to a student he will do it and turn it in. 


If it is an assignment that is related to your teaching, the big test, grade-level standards, and "good practice for them" chances are that some percentage of your kids won't do it, or won't turn it in.


Less policing, more teaching.

Give up homework, or give up doubting they've done the practice they need,  and re-focus your energy on maximizing the gains from in-class time.  


Less proving, more learning.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How do I get my kid to go to sleep?

Ms.Dorothy,
Obviously you don't just answer education questions, so here is a parenting one for you.  How do I get my kid to go to sleep at night? He just can't seem to settle. I've tried a bath, warm milk, reading to him, leaving lights on, lights off, doors open, doors shut...and hours later he is still wide awake. It is getting harder and harder to wake him for school in the mornings. Do you have any suggestions?
- Dad of an 8 year old

It sounds like you are on the right path. Keep experimenting. There isn't one right answer for every child, and the best way to find what works for your son, is to keep trying to find what works for your son.


Some variables you might try controlling for are sounds, sights, textures and thoughts.  


In addition to lights on or off, you might want to spend some time in the space he sleeps and look for things that might be problematic. Sometimes room-darkening shades can be helpful.


Consider what can be heard from your son's room at his bed-time. Sounds from other rooms, or from the outdoors can be distracting.  Try using a fan, radio or fish tank filter to create white noise in his room, or earplugs to block all sound.


Many children have an extremely sensitive sense of touch. Sleep wear, bed linens, and "friends"  can all be innocent causes of distraction. Breezes, temperatures and moisture in the room can all be factors too. Try using a humidifier, it may even double as white noise.


It may be that your son's active mind is what prevents him from sleeping. White noise is often helpful for this, but monitoring what he is reading, reading to him from soothing books, or even giving him a challenging question to ponder as he goes off can help with this.


Sometimes a change in room arrangement can help too. A mattress on the floor is helpful to get kids to settle in to sleep, and reorienting the bed can be the answer too.


Experiment with as much as you can to find what helps him, but remember that his natural body rhythms will be changing in the next few years, and his body clock may not align with the demands of his school schedule. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

How do I get my child over her fear of the school bus?

Ms. Dorothy,
My daughter is terrified of riding the school bus home at the end of the day. She says she is afraid she will fall asleep and miss her stop. She also says the big kids on the bus scare her because they are really rowdy and out of control. I know she is only in Kindergarten, but I can't see this getting better any time soon, and I can't see driving to get her forever!  Help?
- Mom's Taxi

If your daughter is truly frightened of riding the bus, maybe picking her up is your best option for a while. The stress of worrying about it will impact her learning, and until you can address all of her concerns, the best thing is probably to help her relax about the trip home.


Finding an older student who lives in your area that can be in charge of her might be helpful when you think she is ready to give the bus a try.


Offer to hire this student as a babysitter to escort your child home. Have the older student meet your daughter after class and walk with her to the bus, ride with her, and walk her home from the bus stop. This could go a long way toward relieving your child of her fear of the big kids.


Talk to the bus driver and explain your daughter's concerns. Sometimes a seat up front behind the driver is reassuring to younger students. The bus driver may simply not be aware of the situation.


Ask the principal to meet with 5th and 6th graders who ride the buses and remind them of how overwhelming it can be to a young child who has never been allowed to ride without a car seat before, to suddenly be unbuckled in a bus with children she doesn't know.


Perhaps a little awareness training will help all the students in the school.


Meanwhile, keep driving, and keep talking about how much you like those older students and how much fun it might be when she is bigger and ready to ride with them. 


Changing her mind about the things she needs to be afraid of may be all it takes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How do I help English Language Learners in Writer's Workshop?

Ms. Dorothy,
I am looking for help with my writer's workshop. I am a first year kindergarten teacher, and my class is mostly ELL students.  Do you have any suggestions for making my teaching more understandable to these students?
- K Teacher

Writer's workshop, especially the way Lucy Calkins' Units of Study  instructs, is very supportive for all learners. She provides examples and modifications for use with English Language Learners directly.


Some things that you find helpful in other curricular areas will also help with Writing. Repetition, movement, illustrations, music and modeling are supportive of all young learners, and especially those with limited English.


  • Demonstrate what you expect to see.  

  • Repeat important phrases and have the class recite along with you.

  • Add actions to go with specific words and act it out with the class.

  • Draw or find pictures to go along with words to build associations.

  • Have physical objects that go with different concepts to help build connections between the words and the ideas.  

  • Make up sing-songs to repeat often that help tie the learning together

Remember, it is kindergarten, and it should be fun! Don't be afraid to get silly with them!


There are also websites like Starfall that provide auditory and visual supports at a kindergarten level for pre-readers and pre-writers. 


Some of the best practices for teaching English Language Learners in Kindergarten, are also helpful for young native English speakers.  Especially when it comes to learning to write!  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How do I plan for a visually impaired student?

Ms. Dorothy,
What do I need to know about working with a visually impaired student? This guy starts in my class next week and I'm a little nervous that I won't know what to do to support him.  I'm sure he has an IEP, but I was hoping you'd have some suggestions of places to start.
- 1st grade teacher

Well, there are some modifications you can make right off the bat, but you will need to know exactly what his visual challenges are, and what recommendations are on his IEP. 


Preferential seating is something you can expect is on his plan. 


Make sure that he is seated close to where you are writing or presenting, and that there are students near him that you expect to follow directions exactly. This is often the first, best option for students with hearing or vision impairments so that they may see and hear your instructions, and then have other students to observe and mimic.


Another consideration might be the size of the text he is expected to work with. Books, worksheets, directions etc. can all be enlarged to make them easier to see and read.


He is a first grader, so you don't need to be nervous. When it comes to this age group, you know what you are doing.  Just get this guy's Educational Plan in your hands as quickly as possible to be sure you are meeting his specific needs.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How do I prevent unsolicited advice about my picky eater?

Ms. Dorothy,
My child is a very picky eater.  My problem is not so much about getting her to eat, it's about all the advice I get from everyone.  We can't be anywhere - relatives homes, restaurants, malls, parks - that someone isn't telling me how to make her eat!  Right now, it is work for me to make sure she gets enough nutrition, but I don't mind doing the extra work.  It is no one else's business, but it makes me doubt myself over and over when I get all these "helpful" bits of advice.  What do I do?!
- A Mom

As long as  your child is getting the nutrition she needs, ignore them all.


I know, easier said than done, but letting all those people get to you will only make issues about food more stressful for you.  Your stress will do more harm to your daughter than any lack of green veggies ever could.  


Believe in yourself. You know what you are doing.  Keeping your child healthy is your job, and you are doing just fine. 


When others offer you suggestions, just say "thanks, but we are doing fine" and mean it. 


If you act doubtful, and really listen to their ideas as if you are looking for a magic solution, you will just get more advice.


Tune them out and go on with your business.  They will see that you don't want their help - they may not agree with you, but they will get the message. 


Monday, February 14, 2011

How do I stop a child using foul language?

Ms. Dorothy,
My 2 year old nephew has gained a lot of language and some curse words. His newest word is the F bomb. How do we get him to not use those words? Telling him it is not ok to say that word just makes him say it more.
-Toddler Sitter

Words that offend people are often the ones we don't want to hear our children using.  


Unfortunately, a two year old only knows the words he has heard, so the problem really doesn't belong to him.


Your sons and his parents are all old enough to know and be cautious about the use of such words, though it seems they are comfortable to use that word in front of the 2 year old.  Addressing the issue of role models seems to be your best bet right now.


The two year old is having fun saying a word that gets a reaction out of people. He has no idea what that word is about or for. 


It is time that the rest of the family learn to curb their language.


Start a fine jar, and make everyone in the household drop a quarter in the jar each time they use a word you would rather the little one not learn. Use the money to buy a vocabulary builder game and help everyone practice for college entrance exams.


But don't expect the little guy to refrain from using the words he hears, you just got him talking, and he is doing exactly what he should!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How do I get a sleeping child to get up to use the toilet?

Ms. Dorothy,
How do you get a 3 year old to get up at night and go pee in the toilet? 
- Tired Dad

Your best bet may be to have him drink a full glass of water before he goes to sleep, and talk about how his body will process it, and make him feel pressure that will wake him up.  


Often children sleep through the need to use the toilet because their bladder never gets full enough for them to feel the urgency to wake from a sound sleep. Cutting off liquids after a certain hour only makes this worse because the body continues to produce urine, just smaller amounts.


Rather than waking up to carry him to the bathroom in the hopes of building a habit, and rather than just giving up and putting him in pull-ups, maybe helping him to understand what is happening in his body is a better route.


The book Dry All Night is a great resource picture book for this discussion, and really helps to train a child to attend to what his body is doing. It is written for parents and slightly older children because bed-wetting isn't considered unusual for a 3 year old who is just learning and still needs lots of uninterrupted sleep.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

When is it okay to intervene on behalf of a child?

Ms Dorothy
The other day I was in the doctor's office when an older couple came in with an almost 2 year old. They were obviously grand- or even great-grandparents of this little girl. She was very active (of course) and friendly and wanted to walk around and talk to people. She wanted to come over and talk to me. grandparents said no, and threatened her with a spanking. ____ just couldn't sit still. Grandpa smacked her hands, saying 'no', telling her to sit. I couldn't help get involved a bit, and suggested maybe looking at a book. That helped for a bit. Until the book was over and ____ wanted to come visit with me. Grandpa smacked her again. Grandma said,'shame on you' and things just got worse. I couldn't stand it, but did not know what to do! Is there anything to be done when one witnesses such a glaring ignorance of normal, acceptable developmental behavior and horrific parenting? People are so staunch in their defense of their parenting styles...
-A Child Advocate


Consider that a positive pre-supposition can make finding a solution easier because it diffuses your own emotions about the situation.  


A lack of understanding about normal developmental behavior is really at the heart here. These grandparents are acting out of loving concern for the child, and not with an intent to harm her. Coming from that perspective can really help re-frame the situation in a way that opens opportunities to help. 


Starting a conversation with them, and sharing your background as a teacher might ease their concern about the child talking with strangers, or give them a chance to share their concern about her spreading germs to you (this was in a doctor's office after all.)


Whenever a situation concerns you, whether ignorant or malicious, the best approach is often to diffuse the attention on the child by engaging the adults in a conversation. 


Sharing your own, very similar, experiences is often the best way to make an ally of someone who's behavior or mind you want to change: even if you have to make it up.


Tell them about how you were really firm with your own child till you learned that this behavior was normal, and how hard it was to realize that they just can't be still at this age. Compare notes on when your own daughter would talk to strangers everywhere, and how  you had to learn to keep a close watch on her till she was old enough to understand the danger.  


If they see you empathizing with their circumstances, they are more likely to be open to your input.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How do I keep up with teaching all this new technology?

Ms. Dorothy,
How am I supposed to keep up with all the changing technology and expectations for integrating it in school? There is just so much, and every week it seems like there is something new I'm supposed to learn to do and share with my kids. I'm still not convinced they should be on the internet at all in elementary school.  You aren't a kid, and yet you seem comfortable with all these changes. Can you help me think about it differently?
- A Teacher

It is so hard for great teachers to do things half-way. Your impulse is to be an expert at it before you bring it to your students, so that you can help and support them, and that perfectionism can get in the way of taking on something new.


The fact is that you can learn alongside your students. They may even be able to help you! You don't have to be a master, just willing to give it a try.


Don't worry, you won't break the internet if you do it wrong. 


Consider this; your students are going to need these tools to be successful in the future, and delaying their exposure won't make them safer. 


Teaching children to be aware of how public and permanent the internet is will make them more savvy users in the future. And the fact is, that all these technologies are going to change and develop in the years ahead, and your students will need to develop the habits of learning, changing and adapting to new things in order to continue to be successful. 


Don't worry about keeping up with all of it, just jump in and begin exploring.  If you wait till you master it, you'll never teach it, because "it" is a moving target!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How do I help my Kindee pass the spelling test?

Ms. Dorothy,
My son is in Kindergarten and has started taking spelling tests.  I'm dumbfounded.  Is that normal now? And either way, do you have any suggestions for helping him memorize the spelling lists so he can pass the tests, it's kind of a big deal in his class.
- A Mom

Spelling lists and spelling tests are becoming much more acceptable practice in kindergarten.  


The fact that memorizing the spelling of words in lists for a test has very little transfer to writing in context at this young age doesn't seem to matter.  


Lists generated from the actual writing of Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students can be helpful for learning to spell because they are words the child is approximating and needs help to straighten out.  


Lists generated or dictated by computer, curriculum, or published books of lists, are much less likely to support and transfer to a student's writing. And taking tests on these lists of words, regardless of how they are derived, will not support or increase accurate spelling in daily writing. Careful and explicit individual instruction on them in context will.


The trick to scoring well on a spelling test, is to drill the letter-by-letter spelling of the words orally and in writing, approximating the administration of the test as closely as possible, and giving a final practice as close to test time as possible.


The tricks to learning to spell words are to; find them in books, practice using them in written sentences - including writing with magnetic or other movable letters, discuss how the word is spelled and why it is or isn't spelled as it sounds, picture it before trying to write it, and look at it after writing to see if it looks like it does in books.


The one biggest support to learning to spell is reading. The more your child reads, the more words he recognizes in books, the more likely he will be able to spot his own errors and correct them.


To pass the test, make sure you drill him on the way to school on spelling test day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How do I deal with an 8-going-on-15 year old?

Ms. Dorothy,
We are having a big issue with ______ right now.  She is 8, and back-talking, and not doing what she needs to do around the house to help out. Everything has become such a huge battle that ends in yelling and tears.  She acts like she doesn't care at all anymore. I can't take it any longer. There is tension with her right now and I don't want it to continue. I am also a little worried about how she is going to act when she is a teenager! Any suggestions about how I can empower her with responsibility and save my sanity?
- Mother of a Daughter

These may be the first hints of what is to come. How you move forward and handle this now is certainly going to shape your relationship with her through those teen years, so it is important to stop and think and make some careful choices.


Your daughter is deciding some things about who she is, and about power right now, and is watching for your reactions.


Here are the two most important rules; they were true when she was a newborn, and they are still true now, but the stakes have changed. 

1. ) Pick your battles (not everything is worth it! It just isn't, and bigger battles may lie ahead!) 

2.) If you decide to get into a battle - do not lose. (and sometimes that means giving up before the fight - see rule #1) 

One way to approach this would be to sit down and re-negotiate what her responsibilities are, and when and how she gets holidays from them, and what it means to not hold up her end.


Write up a contract, and then don't get angry when she breaks it. Be kind and loving and gentle and understanding and just point out that these were rules she agreed to. 


Make sure she gets to have some say in making the new agreements. It can't be all about you setting the rules and her having to live by them. There has to be some space for you to give up something you want or it isn't a compromise, and she won't feel like she got anything out of the deal. 

The bottom line is that she has no choice and no power and no control - except over her emotional outbursts. Give her something else to have power over and then follow through.


The control you give up by raising the conversation to that level will be worth it in trade for what you will get over the long term.  

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How do I stop tattling in my classroom?

Ms. Dorothy,
What do I do with tattle-tales in my classroom?  It's just never-ending and exhausting.  
- Teacher

It is important to establish with your class that there are some things that they should tell about. Without that, turning away "tattlers" could be a real risk. 


Students should know that anytime they feel that terrible pit in their stomach, it means the fear is real and they should alert an adult.


They should also know that most of the time, they have the power to resolve the situation themselves. 


Take the time to build a routine and some procedures for students to peacefully resolve conflicts. Using a regular place and a ritual that takes some of the heat out of situations is helpful. Practice language patterns like "I messages" that supply your students with the tools to talk about what is upsetting them.  Brainstorm solutions with your students, and act out scenarios so they can see a model of what it looks like to work through a problem.


Sometimes it helps to turn the whole situation on it's ear and invite the tattler to consider the offender's feelings. Wondering, with a child, how many bad feelings someone must have to think that taking someone else's good feelings will help, can be a powerful perspective changer.

Monday, February 7, 2011

How do I help my middle child feel loved?

Ms. Dorothy,
How do I show my son (3) that despite the fact he now has an older and younger sister (I just had a baby 8 wks ago, he was the baby before this, older child is almost 5), I still love him the same, and the reason I spend less one on one time with him is not because I love him less? I have not changed much of his life other then the obvious things. Any further advice?
- Busy Mom

Sounds like it is time to make a point of planning "dates" with each of your family.  

You already have some scheduled family time every night, but picking out one night a month for each of  you to get some one-on-one time could really help.

You know that an occasional Mom/Dad date night is essential for your marriage to stay healthy. 
What about taking one family hour a month for Mom/oldest to do something just for them? Once a month it is Mom/middle, and once it's mom/baby. Once a month Dad/oldest get a date time, Dad/middle, and Dad/baby.

Mapping out the calendar so that everyone knows when their time is coming gives everyone plenty of warning and time to choose how to spend the date. Picking and re-picking what to do with that time adds excitement, and the planning itself seems like personal time because the focus is on what you'll do together alone.  


You don't even have to go anywhere. Just close a door and put up a "private" sign up and give your full attention and focus to the one you are with.


Eventually, you may want to add "girls night" and "guys night" to the mix.

All of this will make the "family time" even richer because you will have experiences away from each other to share.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How do I stop my child from stealing and lying?

Ms. Dorothy, 
How do I get my 4 almost 5 year old to stop lying and stealing? She has seperaration anxiety because of issues with her biological mother (I'm her stepmother but her full time caregiver as well, have been for 2 years) and that in itself has challenges with tantrums and such, but the stealing and lying has carried into school and visits with other relatives. Can you help?
- Mom and Stepmom

The first thing you'll want to do is to make sure you aren't taking her offences personally.  These behaviors are attention seeking, and are not about you, but about her pain.


It may seem as if this is about what she is taking, but it is really about what she is needing.  


She is trying to fill an emotional hole with physical things. If you can address this now, you may save her many years of struggle later.  


Try reading the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today with her and talk about how her actions impact others around her and also come back to change how she feels about herself.


While you work on the real underlying issues, talk to family and friends and school about how what she is doing is not malicious, but is misguided. Explain that anything she takes she will return, and that you are working with her on changing those behaviors.


If it isn't about punishment for her, you can devise a way to talk about what she has taken that she needs to return, each day. Together you can come up with ways for her to make it up to the people she has hurt.


When you focus on what she can do to feel content, rather than on the superficial actions she is taking, she will need these behaviors less.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What do I do when my child throws a fit?

Ms. Dorothy
I have a 4 year old who has recently become very easily agitated over little things and screams like he is on fire if you try to hold him or calm him down. When he becomes agitated he is inconsolable and has become violent, he throws, hits, scratches and bites. This is not just towards me but his older and younger brothers. I have tried removing him from the situation without giving in, especially if it is over something little like his brothers playing with a toy he wants that was in another room or over food to eat for dinner. I am at a loss for what to do please help!
-Concerned Mother


Angry and frustrated children often feel they have no control. He wants what we all want; to feel that he belongs, and right now he is finding his place through these fits.


He is less interested in the thing he says he wants than he is in your reaction, and if the problem is escalating to actually hurting his siblings, he needs something done right now.


Instead of saying "No," try giving him some choices. You set the limits, so you have the real control in the situation, but he will see that he has some power to make decisions if you let him have choices.  


Offer this cereal or that for breakfast, or a choice between hot and cold cereal.  He has the power to choose, and to choose which fruit goes on his cereal. These are real decisions and involve him in the meal making, and give him a true sense of belonging.


If you ask "what do you want" he will not understand why cake is not a valid choice and will have a fit when you say "No."  


Try being clear about times for things. Rather than saying "No. We are going to eat lunch before we go to the park"  to his request, try "Yes. We will go to the park. And now it is time to eat lunch." The change from focusing on what he can't do right now to what he can do, and when, may help to sort out some of his frustration.


It is important to hold your own temper and give him the attention he craves when the situation is not out of hand. Try to anticipate when he is likely to have a fit and set up an opportunity for different choices before things are out of hand.


There are some great ideas about how to make these changes and keep your cool in the book Positive Discipline.  Check out the website too for some immediate pointers.


Friday, February 4, 2011

How do I get my child to want to read?

Ms. Dorothy,
My daughter's teacher wants her to do more reading at home because she is below grade level in reading.  I've tried taking her to the library to find books at her level, but I can't seem to make her read them.  What else can I do?
- 3rd grade Mom

The library is a great start! 


Third grade is a pivotal time when reading focus changes from learning to read, to reading to learn. Right now is when making up lost ground can make the biggest difference in school success.


See if  you can find books about things she is interested in. Even if they are at a more challenging reading level than she can handle alone.


Try reading with her: it is amazing what a huge difference a little time spent with a book and someone you love can make in a child's attitude toward reading.  


You can read aloud to her and talk about books that are above her reading level, and you can support her reading a book by reading alongside her and helping her when she comes to sticky parts.  


When she finds something that interests her and is at her level, ask her to read aloud to you and talk about it with her.  Then try having her read on her own and come back and tell you about it.  


I've posted some other suggestions about making sure your children see you reading so they have a good role model at home, and there is some research that suggests having lots of books in the home makes a difference. 


Building toward independence by building up a desire to share reading is time well spent right now.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How do I establish procedures for my class?

Ms. Dorothy,
I am almost finished with my teaching practicum, and though I won't be starting my own class till the Fall, I've been thinking about all the little routines of the classroom.  How do you go about teaching all those daily things about bathrooms and snacks and pencil sharpeners at the beginning of the year? I'm nervous I won't be ready.
- Student Teacher

There was a great post recently on Edutopia about this with some decent suggestions.


Something to keep in mind is that if you start out by teaching some simple procedures for these routine situations, they won't become a problem for  you later.


There is a wonderful book called The First Six Weeks of School for the beginning of the year that many brand new teachers have found extremely helpful - it's also useful for teachers who need to re-group and establish procedures that weren't there before.


Keep in mind that it isn't just about having rules and regulations in place, it's about establishing rapport and making sure that needs are met in the classroom.  Students shouldn't feel the need to "escape" your class if you are focused and prepared and the learning is engaging.  


If you begin from the assumption that what you are doing, what you are having them do, is engaging and interesting and worthwhile work, then you can also assume that a request for the bathroom comes from genuine need. 


When in doubt, consider an office situation. Would you have regulations in place about the use of the bathroom or watercooler in your office?  What might they look like? Would you have a set time when all the female workers could use the rest room?  Would the entire office staff wait outside the bathrooms and go one at a time because it was "bathroom break time?" Would you limit the number of times each staff member could use the bathroom in a day? Would you time their trips to the bathroom?


If the bathroom or fountain is a place to meet an actual need, it should be used when it is needed.  
Try keeping a pass by the door that students can take as they exit, so you will know when someone is out.  

If you are concerned about interruptions during teaching, consider again the office. Would someone be comfortable to get up in the middle of a presentation and exit to use the bathroom?  Would they raise their hand and give a signal to do so? Would you expect them to have gone before or after the presentation?  


Consider presenting these questions to your students when establishing routines of respect for your room. Chances are that students will understand the need to remain in the room during a lesson and to discretely exit when necessary during an independent work time. 


If you find that students are racing to grab the pass when it is returned, stop what you are doing and re-group.  They are simply not engaged in whatever you have them doing and you need to do something differently.



You've already figured out that if you spend the time up front on creating how things are done in your room, you will have more peace long term.  You're going to be fine!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Where can I find Reader's Theater Scripts?

Ms. Dorothy,
I would like to do some Reader's Theater with my class.  They are a pretty dramatic bunch, but are struggling with reading fluency.  Where can I find some good scripts?
- Third Grade Teacher

The IRA (International Reading Association) & National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)'s  site Read, Write, Think is a great resource for information about Reader's Theater. They have a link for a website with free printable scripts as well.


Literacy Connections
has more resources on the subject, and links to a lot of script sites.


You can also write your own scripts from familiar folk tales and stories, or make it a project for the students to write their own. Have Fun with it!




Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How can I help with writing composition homework?

Ms. Dorothy,
Those sites for math help were great! Now what can you suggest for English Composition?  You know ______ has always struggled with writing.  What can I do to help?
- Middle School Mom

I just read a couple of things today with some suggestions for you. 


You'll find a list of tips here for better writing, as well as links to some other resources.  


This post has some wonderful thoughts about journaling, and there is a list of prompts to practice with here.


Let me know more specifics about what you are working on, and I'll see what else I can offer.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Where can I find help for math homework?

Ms. Dorothy,
My son is having a hard time understanding area and perimeter, and my own math isn't strong enough to help him with it.  I bet this is only going to get worse as the math gets harder in school. Can you tell me some good resources I can use to help us both understand his math homework?
- Middle School Mom

There are some great resources online for learning math, and many are broken down by grade-level to help you further.  


This site has lessons and practice for learning Area and Perimeter, and the links are to other websites with great resources. I like this site because the reference some of the best math tools out there, and they pull them together for you based on your specific question. 

http://math-and-reading-help-for-kids.org/math_games_for_area_and_perimeter.html

This site is my very favorite, and I've used it with all three of your boys over the years. It is packed with virtual manipulatives so that students can use "hands on" tools to learn and practice concepts rather than just learning formulas. They use a matrix of math content and grade levels to help you find the menu of activities that will help you practice the skills you need. 
http://nlvm.usu.edu/en/nav/vlibrary.html

This site is from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and has the most cutting edge thinking about how best to teach the math you need. Every activity is aligned with standards and best practice for teaching and learning math and is also broken down by grade level.  
http://illuminations.nctm.org/Activities.aspx?grade=3&srchstr=area

Be sure to look past the specific topic to the rest of these sites because there are resources here for every age and on every math standard or concept you could want. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How can I help a child make a fresh start?

Ms. Dorothy, 
Here is a kid in fifth grade. He has always seemed to get in some trouble. Mostly impulse control, social ineptness, but big enough for other teachers to remember. Now he has the self image of a kiddo who is problematic + he's really disorganized. How do I get him ready to start middle school so he can have a fresh start?
- An Aunt

What a great positive approach.  In life, we are given a few opportunities to start fresh and re-invent ourselves, and transitioning between schools is certainly one!


Knowing that impulse control and disorganization are a part of many people's lives, but are not who they are, is a key to moving past the worry. 


Have him look over a list of symptoms for ADD or ADHD and see what things he has in common and what things he doesn't.  The sense of control that is possible when you know you are "normal" and can choose what you manifest is very powerful.


At the same time, there are many diet changes, organization systems, and focus techniques that are used to support children who struggle with these symptoms, and he may find those helpful too.


You may find the book Right Brained Children in a Left Brained World has some interesting ideas for supporting him.


Whatever you decide to try, a great move for him would be to approach his middle school teachers and explain that he is aware of his issues and that he is making efforts to grow and improve himself. Asking for the teacher's support and understanding will demonstrate maturity and self-efficacy and may win him the favor of those he has to work with for the next few  years.


Remember too, that sharing your own experiences with becoming organized, or thinking before acting, will help him to see that he is not alone and that many successful adults fought these same battles in school.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

When are children proficient at typing?

Ms. Dorothy,
 _____, who is 12, has Aspergers. He is very high functioning, but not surprisingly, fine motor skills are not his forte. At what age are kids proficient at typing? How would you define proficient? Is it the sort of skill that like writing, will just improve over time as you are challenged to work at it more and more?
- A Mom

Typing has become necessary for students in Middle and High School as teachers ask for assignments turned in via email, or in manuscript formats.  Accordingly, keyboarding is taught younger than it once was.  


Some programs exist, like Type to Learn, that make learning keyboarding into a game rather than a rote drill, and can help with gaining mastery. Though even a two finger typist can become efficient with enough practice.


Because the motor movement of shaping the letters supports brain development, handwriting helps to learn spelling and helps to write at the rate that you think. 
If, however, you struggle with controlling a pen and your writing slows you down, learning keyboarding may be more helpful. 

There are some great articles on the Science Daily site about the importance of learning to both write and type.


The key to proficiency, for writing or typing, is the ability to communicate fluently. 
The skill that you have practiced enough to make words come automatically, will be the method that gets ideas from head to paper most efficiently. 

We are all slowed down in the learning stages by thinking through the spelling of words.  If your writing is additionally slowed down by the formation of letters and the discomfort of holding a writing implement, communication is inhibited.

For someone who struggles with communication already, removing as many roadblocks as possible has to be our highest priority.


The future of writing may live in touch screens, visual formats, and two thumb texting. Students who struggle with communication in general may be the pioneers in bringing new technologies to the classroom, and help to revolutionize our thinking about how we share ideas.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why can't I use Time Out any more?

Ms. Dorothy,
I've heard some stuff lately about not using "time out" with kids. I was told that I should use a "thinking chair" or an "observation chair" but not a "time out chair."  Is this just the latest in PC terms, or is there really something different about these? 
- Home Child Care Provider

Generally, when a term becomes taboo in education, it means that the thinking has changed. It isn't just a new term, it is a new approach, and the name change is designed to make you think differently about it.


"Time out" is thought of as a way to punish or reprimand a child for wrong-doing.


"Observation" or "Thinking" or "Cool Down" or "Quiet Space" or "Peace Table" are all ways to shift the thinking from correction to learning.


When you remove a child from the group to observe what others are doing, to think about choices, to cool down, or to find a peaceful or quiet moment to re-group and become ready to return, it shouldn't be about punishment. 


Adding a "time out" consequence to a "quiet think time" when the child is calm, is a great way to satisfy the adult's need to humble and punish a child, but isn't at all about learning. 


Learning happens when the adult takes the time to talk with the child who is ready to calmly rejoin the group.  That conversation should be the point of removing a child.


If the adult is not able to talk calmly about; how the child could have handled the situation differently, and what s/he will do next time, then it is the adult who needs a "time out."


Let's move our thinking from making children comply and conform and defer to the adults, to helping children to understand how their actions and reactions impact others, and how they have the power to make different choices.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How do I show a tween he doesn't know it all?

Ms. Dorothy,
My boy is in 5th grade, and he is convinced that he knows everything. How do I show this hard-headed young man that every day is a new learning experience and an opportunity?
-"Gifted" Mom

It seems that his Gifted and Talented label has gone to his hard head.  


Perhaps you could show him the difference between learning things quickly and easily, and already knowing.  


Pick something that he has never done before, like flying a biplane, and ask him to teach you how. When he can't, ask if he will research it with you. Look up information about the plane, and let him read up about it till he can explain how it works. Then point out how this was new material that he learned.


Then ask him to teach you how to tie a shoe. 


The two are completely different experiences.


Already knowing is what you do once you have learned. But to learn, you have to first admit that you don't already know, and then go get the information.  


"Giftedness" is about the disposition to learn. Without that, he is just knowledgeable.