Sunday, October 18, 2015

Getting Ready for Middle School

Most kids don't want to begin thinking about school starting until, well, maybe the second or third day of school!

(On the other hand, we've been barraged by "back-to-school" ads since just after Fourth of July!) At some point, BEFORE the first day of school, students ought to start getting in the frame of mind to begin a new school year.

For some students, the beginning of the school year is teachers, new friends, new activities.
For many others, it's just a new chance to fail...again.
This week's learning tip is all about finding a way to get through the first few days without making an embarrassing blunder that can easily be avoided. Hope these tips from Stowell Learning Center help you.

Don't Get Lost

"I'm in the land of giants. How do I get out of here?" seven-year-old David thought to himself.

After finishing lunch, he and his two friends had taken a wrong turn out of the cafeteria. Instead of finding themselves headed back to their second grade classroom, they had mistakenly entered...The Junior High part of the building.
Those sixth-seventh-eighth graders were HUGE! And they ALL seemed to know exactly where they were and where they were going. It was really scary.

All of this anxiety could have been avoided if he had just been given a tour of the school before the first day. It's such a simple thing.
Before the first day of school, go to the building. Take a look at it. Where are the entrances? Where is the playground? What can you figure out just by looking at the outside?
Is there a map you can download or get from the school?

If you can get inside, do some exploring:
  • Where is the lunchroom?
  • Where is the PE area?
  • Where is my classroom?
  • Will I have to change classes? If so, where are the other rooms?
  • Where is the office? (Hint...It's almost always near the flagpole).
  • Where are the bathrooms?
  • Where is the library?
  • Are there multiple ways to get to all of these rooms?
  • In what order might I need to go from room to room?
  • Take a few pictures so you can remember what it looks like
Getting lost can happen to anyone, but it is more apt to happen to students who struggle. Start the year by removing this anxiety. It's such a simple thing thing to fix beforehand, but getting lost during school can ruin a whole day.

Make sure the first few days are fun and not an exercise in frustration.
What Could Possibly Happen? Let's Make a Plan!

is a list of typical concerns of students. Very few of these things seem really important to the operation of the "cosmos," but they can be very real to students.

WARNING - You need to be VERY careful! You don't want to create anxiety where there isn't any. DON'T DON'T DON'T show this list to your student! This list is for your reference.

Step 1 - At an appropriate time (when your child is in the mood) sit down together and just ask what they're feeling about the new school year. What are they excited about? Do they have any concerns? What are they hoping for? They may not be thinking about it at all. They may be thinking about things none of us have considered.

Just remember, no matter how trivial it might sound to you, it is REAL to them!

Step 2 - Make a list of the BEST things that could happen in the upcoming year. What would the "best year ever" look and feel like?

Step 3 - Now, make a plan just in case everything doesn't work out exactly as we all hope. If any of the concerns actually occurs, what will you do? How will you handle it? What would it feel like? How can it be made OK?

Essential - Find out what your child has been thinking about as the first day of school gets closer. Make a plan. And DON'T create worries if they aren't there already.

Here's a list of concerns students sometimes have about the new school year. What if:
  • You get the "bad" or "mean" teacher?
  • You're in a different room than your best friends?
  • You're in a room with people you really don't like?
  • You get the "hard" teacher?
  • You get the "easy" teacher??
  • You have to sit in the front?
  • You have to sit in the back?
  • Lunch is early?
  • Lunch is late?
  • There is a smell in the room you don't like?
  • You can't understand the teacher? (accent, mumbles, talks softly)
  • The teachers talks too loudly or harshly?
  • There is waayyyy too much homework?
  • There isn't any homework?
  • The teacher just doesn't seem to like you or notice you?
  • You're the teacher's "pet?"
  • Your new backpack, notebook, etc, is too big / too small?
  • What if other kids make fun of your clothes / backpack / shoes / pencil / lunch?
  • What if you get yelled at the very first day?
  • What if you feel "lost" on your very first assignment?
  • What if you can't find your way around the building?
Create a Routine From The Start
Humans are creatures of habit.  If we create good habits and routines around homework, there will be much less argument and negotiation. 

Designate a set time when
homework will be done

This will solve a multitude of problems. If your child knows that every day from 3:45 - 4:45 is homework time, it will become an everyday routine. If it's "what we always do," pretty soon, no one expects anything different.

Ideally, you want to have homework time to be the same time every day. Determine the time with your student. Does she need a snack or a little down time before she starts? How much time will that take?

Look at your student's needs, the typical amount of time homework takes, and your family activities. Then if at all possible, designate the same time everyday for homework.

If this is not possible due to parents' work schedules, or other activities, create a weekly schedule where the homework time may vary from day-to-day, but there is a designated time each day of the week.
Stick to your designated
homework schedule.
Don't let anything else take priority.

Do not schedule appointments or take
phone calls during this time.

Nothing gets priority
over homework during
the set homework time!
Children are often guilty of saying, "I don't have any homework today." (This may or may not be true!) Sometimes, students forget their materials, forget to write down their assignments, "conveniently" forget details, or just find it easier to say they don't have  homework.
Whether your son or daughter has
homework or not,
the designated homework
time is for homework.
If she actually has no homework from school, homework time should be spent studying for spelling tests or other upcoming tests, working on long-term assignments and book reports, doing free-reading, or writing in a journal. This preserves the homework time routine and helps remove the temptation of saying there's no homework when in fact there is.

You'll find that the routine of a schedule really creates much more order and calmness when it's time to do homework.

BUT, the time to set all of this up is right now, BEFORE you get too far into the school year. 

Set the Stage for Success
WHERE will your student do his homework?

There can be many places in the house that work for doing homework.  Making the decision NOW as to where the homework place is will help when school starts.  Take some time to evaluate different locations in your home.

Specifically, you are looking for a place that is:
  • Comfortable for reading and writing
  • Well-lit
  • Quiet
  • Free from distractions
  • Clear of clutter
  • Stocked with all of the materials needed
Having a clear work space with all necessary materials at hand, such as pencils, ruler, and lined paper reduces the need to get up and waste time or get distracted looking for materials.

Work together with your child.  The more your child is involved in the process, the more he "owns" it.  Stocking his own desk with his homework materials can be fun and motivating.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Struggling With Spelling Words?

Spelling Words are very important in elementary school. My son and I practice in the car all the time, reviewing how to spell the words and use it in a sentence. But what about students who have a hard time visualizing in their head? I like this strategy from Stowell Learning Center.

Is helping your child study for spelling tests one of your most UN-Favorite tasks each week? Wouldn't it be great if we were all born with a built-in spell checking system?

Fortunately, we're born with some natural skills that help with spelling. One of the key ones is called Visual Memory.

For some, however, that skill doesn't fully develop in the memory system, and so a little help is needed to be able to 'see it.'

The exercise below will help anyone improve with  memorizing spelling words, and it will also begin to aid in developing a better visual memory.

Try it out for a few weeks and let me know how it goes.

Here's to making this the best school year ever,
Homework Tip
Homework Problem: 
Struggles With Spelling Words  
Sometimes students struggle to spell words. Other times it seems as if they can spell them at home but then somehow "lose" the spelling when it comes time to take the test.

When a student has weak visual memory, remembering math facts, the exact spelling of words, what homework was assigned, or even what was just read, can lead to daily frustrations and poor grades.

Being able to spell properly affects reading and writing, so here is one method to begin training the visual memory system to see and remember what words look like.

Homework Solution: 
Learning to SEE The Words
DON'T worry about how many steps there are to this technique. It's actually not as overwhelming as it first looks!

For this activity, you'll need:
Lined paper, pencils, a black or dark blue dry-erase marker, and either a hand-held white board or a piece of plain white paper in a page protector.

1. Begin by folding a sheet of the lined paper in half lengthwise. This will create four separate panels, two on the back and two on the front. Now you have room to write your words four separate times, but don't write them yet.

2. You (the parent) write their first spelling word on the white board or on the sheet protector using the dry erase marker.

3. Show your child the word you've written and talk about it using questions, such as:
a.  How many letters does it have?
b.  What sounds are in the word?
c.  What sound does it start with?
d.  What sound does it end with?
e.  What letters make those sounds?
f.   How many vowels do you see?
g.  Are there any capital letters?
h.  Can you "sound spell" the word?
     (Use the letter sounds instead
     of names to
spell the word.)

4. Have them spell the word out loud while looking at it.

5. Ask them to close their eyes, 'see' the word in their mind and spell it out loud from what they 'see.'

6. Have them open their eyes and write their spelling word on the first panel of their paper, without looking at the word.

7. Ask them if it sounds right and if it looks right.

8. Show them the word again and have them compare what they wrote to what they saw. If they spelled it correctly, move on to the second word, etc.

If they spelled it incorrectly, have them flip to a new panel (so they can't see the word they just spelled) and review steps 3-6 until they are able to spell it correctly. Having the four panels gives them an opportunity to spell the word several times until they get it right.

9. As soon as they spell it correctly, stay on the current panel and continue to the next word. (You will NOT end up with a complete list of words on any one panel.)

10. Repeat these steps for each spelling word they have to study.

Remember, this isn't just "drill." It's not repeating over and over. It's building the skills that help visual memory to get stronger. Think of it as weight lifting for spelling. It will take doing the exercise several times (over several weeks) to make that "muscle" stronger.

DON'T GIVE UP on this technique. As time goes on, the better their visual memory skills will become...and the faster they'll get at memorizing those spelling words.

Math Triangles to Help Learn Relationship Between Numbers

 Many of my students tell me they don't get math, and I saw this technique at a presentation from Stowell Learning Center and liked it a lot. I believe if the students were able to visualize numbers this way, they would be less frustrated:

Many students can DO math.  But DOING math is NOT the same thing as UNDERSTANDING math and how it works.

This week we're introducing you to "Math Triangles" which help students UNDERSTAND the relationship between numbers and operations.

It's both a good way to study AND a good way to deepen students' understanding of math.  Try this out and see if it helps.

Here's to making this the best school year ever,
Math Triangles (+ - x ÷ Facts)
  • Help students associate addition and subtraction as opposite operations
  • Help students associate multiplication and division as opposite operations
  • Learn math facts
  • Make flashcards of challenging math facts (the ones the student doesn't know and needs to practice). Draw a triangle on the card.
For Addition and Subtraction
  • At the top of the triangle, put the answer to the addition problem (sum).  On the bottom two corners, put the addends (two numbers that are added together to make the sum).
Interesting Image
  • Have the student practice reading all possible problems as the instructor points to the numbers:
  • 7+9 = 16
  • 9+7 = 16
  • 16-7 = 9
  • 16-9 = 7
  • Guide the student in noting:
  • Whichever order he adds the numbers at the bottom of the triangle, the answer is always the same.
  • The answer (sum) of an addition problem is always a bigger number then either of the two numbers he is adding.
  • When subtracting, he always starts with the biggest number (16 in the problem above).
  • The relationship between the addition and subtraction facts (that the addition and subtraction facts use the same numbers).
  • Drill while looking at the numbers: The instructor points to the number. The student says the numbers and supplies the operation based on where the instructor started.

  • Drill the various facts: Instructor covers one corner of the triangle and says the corresponding problem. The student says the answer.

  • Drill with a visualized triangle: The instructor points to the spot where the numbers would be as the student says the numbers and supplies the operation based on where the instructor started.
For Multiplication and Division
  • The procedure and practice work the same for multiplication and division as for addition and subtraction. At the top of the triangle, put the answer to the multiplication problem (product). On the bottom two corners put the factors (two numbers that are multiplied together to make the product).
Interesting Image
Signs can be added to the triangle as need help the student understand and remember.


How to Study for a Test w/ Concept Diagrams

 There are many ways to study for tests, and although we tell our students to study, sometime we forget to explain how to study or don't provide many ideas for students of various learning styles. Below are some different methods of studying for a test that came from Stowell Learning Center that I like. 

And most students have no clue about effective studying.

In fact, most students use one of these strategies:

  • Read the chapter over and over, hoping it will sink in
  • Ask parents to read the material and quiz them
  • Hope (not really a strategy but it is what they do!)
Have you ever felt your student knew the right answers but then failed the test?

Typically that can happen when students work hard to memorize their study guides or practice questions word for word.  They think they know the material, but when it appears on the test, stated in a different way, they don't recognize it as being what they studied and end up being disappointed in their grade.

Below you'll find a strategy for studying for content type tests.  When you need to know the material, this will work well.
Concept Diagramming Makes Studying More Fun and
Test Grades Better

This strategy takes a little bit of time up front, but helps students really understand the material and makes studying much more interesting. Test grades improve because students are really thinking about the information instead of just trying to "ingest" it by rote.

It's called Concept Diagramming and is great for use with content areas such as history or science. It is a good tool to use when studying in groups or with a partner (or parent).

What to do
The student should:
  1. Put important events, dates, vocabulary, and names on 3x5 cards.
  2. Organize the cards in some logical way, and then orally explain why it makes sense to group the cards in that way.
  3. Then mix the cards up and group them in a different (still logical) way.  Again, orally explain the new organization / connections.
This process may show students that they don't really know the material. Memorizing a date is not the same thing as understanding a date and why it's important. If the student really does understand the material, it will be fun to come up with multiple ways to organize/group the cards.

After each test, save all of the cards, labeling them by chapter or section so that they can be used again to study for unit tests and finals.

Automatic Negative Thoughts about Homework

The more I learn about my own child's learning and behavior difficulties, the more I understand how our thoughts play a part in how we approach goals and tasks. I like the explanation given here of "Automatic Negative Thoughts" and how to overcome them from Stowell Learning Center.

Do you remember LIKING homework when you were a kid?
Most of us simply didn't have that experience. It was either "hate" or "just get it done so that I can get on to something fun."
When homework is a real struggle for students, especially day after day, just thinking about having to do homework can turn moods downward in a hurry.

Suddenly the energy that could be invested into getting homework done has evaporated. In its place are slow movements, slow thinking, and slow productivity. What would have taken a long time now stretches into all evening.
I understand. Most people feel that way when they begin a task they feel is difficult or impossible. It's a natural human reaction.
It's also counterproductive. If I don't like doing something, I should put all my energy into doing it so that it won't take longer than it needs to.
Below you'll find a quick summary of one of Dr. Daniel Amen's wonderful books. I think you'll find it helpful, especially when you apply it to helping your child do  homework.

Are "ANTs" Infesting Your Brain?

Have you ever heard your child or teen say something like:
"I'll never get this stupid assignment done."
"I hate doing this math. Why do I need to know this anyway?"
"I can't get this project done because I'm not good at planning.
Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D. calls these kinds of thoughts ANTs, or Automatic Negative Thoughts.

What we think and what we say to ourselves is very powerful. Whether we realize it or not, our body reacts physically to every thought we have. Negative thoughts can automatically come into our minds, and if we let them, they can infest our thinking and ruin our day.
As study strategies go, focusing on how much we hate our homework is a very inefficient one! When the mind is filled with "ANTS," there's no room to focus on doing the job we need to do.

Help your children put the power of words to work for them by learning positive and productive self-talk. How about:

"I'll do this assignment first because I'll feel so proud of myself when it's done."

"I can get the job done when I focus on one problem at a time."

"I need help with planning, but I'm good at other parts of this project."

In his wonderful little book called Mind Coach: How to Teach Kids to Think Positive and Feel GoodDr. Amen points out 9 different types of ANTs. He challenges children and teens to monitor their thoughts, identify the ANTs, and exterminate them.

If we don't challenge our negative thoughts, we just might believe them. Learning to notice our negative thoughts and talk back to them gives us the power to think positively and feel good.

Don't let ANTs infest your brain.
For more information about ANTs or the book Mind Coach, go to