Wednesday, October 8, 2014

5 Things To Know Right From the Very Start of the School Year

As a teacher, I can appreciate a parent wanting to stay on top of assignments for their child. I can not always guarantee dates, but I can give parents a heads up about the type of projects to expect in the semester/year. 
I also find it helpful as a teacher and parent when check a students agenda or planner. If it's not required for a students to write the homework down in the classroom by the teacher, then the parent should require their child to write their homework down. If a student doesn't fill in the agenda properly, assign a consequence. You can even ask your student to get a teacher signature if you don't trust your child to write down the correct answer. Just remember it will be the students' responsibility to ask the teacher. And don't forget to reward follow-through as well!

I just learned about a free texting website for teachers: Teachers can sign-up for free and parents and students can sign-up to receive texts from the teacher. I usually send out reminders on dates for tests and projects. I like that I can also upload a document with the text. Parents and students cannot text back, but find it useful for being reminded about important events in the classroom. 

Here are some other things to consider at the start of the school year.I love how Stowell Learning Center explains how to help students who get anxiety when school starts.

These three "visitors" often arrive soon after school starts.

Why? Because students want to feel successful at school and they are afraid they won't be.

This week's homework tip is's about finding out what is going to be expected during the school year. If you want to be able to help your student you must know "what's coming."

There's nothing worse than finding out the night before that the insect collection is due tomorrow (It's that one time in life when you hope to find some ants in your house!).

Take some time to find the answers to these five questions and you'll be well on your way to having a great year."
5 Things To Know Right From the Very Start of the School Year

More than any other time in the year, the beginning of school is the time when teachers lay out their expectations. This usually happens through Back to School Night or a written class syllabus or calendar. Take advantage of these to find out:
  1. When will tests typically be given and how much will they cover?
    For younger students, weekly spelling tests are normal. How many words are there usually? What about math facts test? How many questions? How often?

  2. What long-term projects will be assigned and how much time will there be to complete them?
    Some teachers are on a constant long term "track" while others may assign just a couple of projects during the year. Find out the expectations and "ground rules" now so that you can plan.

  3. How much time does the teacher expect students to spend on homework daily?
    This is a VERY important question. If your child is spending lots more time than the teacher expects, find out why. It could be that the teacher doesn't know how much is being assigned. It could be that students need a little time to adjust to the new kind of work.

    But it can also mean that there are some learning issues that ought to be dealt with.

    Just keep comparing the teacher's expectations with the reality at your house.

  4. What are the expectations for AR (Accelerated Reader)?
    How many minutes a day / week or how many books per week / month? What grade level books should be read? What if your child can't keep up? What if the books are too hard? Ask the questions NOW so that you get a clear idea of the expectations.

  5. What does the teacher expect regarding use of the computer for research and final copies of written work?
    Each teacher has his / her own expectations. Get very specific when you ask to be sure. There is nothing worse than spending the time and doing the work only to find that it won't be accepted.
Really "dig" to get the answers. DON'T wait until things are a BIG problem!

Armed with this information, you and your student should set aside time to do some long term planning. It's always best to have plans written down, even if it is a "skeleton timeline."  This will help everyone know what to expect and provides a sense of security

Getting Started with Homework

My own son has trouble following through with instructions. I ask him to get his shoes on and ten  minutes later he is playing in his room with his shoes next to him, but not on his feet. This continues with other responsibilities like homework. 

I've made my own list of things for students (who act like my son) to get started in my class:
 1. Get out your agenda
2. Write down the homework
3 Get out your opening activity (DO NOW, Sponge activity) 
4. Answer the opening activity
5. Get out your homework

This list works well for my RSP, ELL, and easily distracted students. I have laminated these instructions on a flashcard. I tell students they are to be out on their desk every time they come to my class. Usually the students have these memorized after several weeks and give me back the cards. They are able to keep up with class and don't get behind in the first ten minutes of class. 

Stowell Learning Center has a similar tip that may work for your child:

Have you ever told your son or daughter to start doing their homework, only to find them 30 minutes later just wasting time, doing other things, or staring at the pile of homework but not doing it? 

This week's tip is all about getting started.

It used to baffle me why kids wouldn't sit down and just get their work done. Now, I understand...what's obvious to me is not obvious to them!

This is one of those tips that apply whether your child struggles in school or not.

If your bright child struggles in school, this won't make the actual work easier, but it will get them organized and moving forward.   

Homework Tip
Homework Problem:
"What do I do first?"

This may sound very simple.  In fact, the answer should be obvious to everyone.

Except we know that the set of skills known as the Executive Function Skills don't actually finish developing until about the age of 25.  That means what's obvious to adults isn't so obvious to students.

Even bright older children (yes, especially those in high school) put off getting homework started just because they aren't sure what to do first.  And often they don't really understand why they are procrastinating!
Homework Solution:
Getting the Homework Started -
A Quick 4-Step Plan
Use these 4 steps to get started and keep homework organized all the way through the process.
  1. Help your child look at ALL of the homework he has.  Together decide about how much time is needed for EACH assignment.
  2. Prioritize the assignments in order from hardest to easiest
  3. As assignments are completed, teach your child to check them off.  Seeing one's own progress (checking off the assignment) is very motivating.
  4. Help your child develop a habit of putting their completed assignments in an appropriate place in their folder and backpack.  Habits don't develop without practice, so lots of monitoring and praise is needed here.
While this is pretty obvious organizational "stuff," it actually involves a lot of skills that kids won't develop until later on in life.  Getting started now will give them a procedure they can use for the rest of their lives.

Homework: Getting Started

 As a teacher, parents are constantly frustrated  with their child not doing their homework, having trouble getting started, and figuring out what to do next. I started writing down the beginning and ending procedures in my class for students who have trouble getting started. I added these tips below from Stowell Learning Center for students who have trouble focusing in my class. I've had success with all my students who use these guidelines in my classroom.

"Have you ever had this dialogue with your student?   
"I don't know what to do on this assignment!"

"What did your teacher say to do?"

"I don't remember."

"What part don't you understand?"

"All of it!"
There has to be a starting place, an anchor, a comfortable and familiar beginning point that students can rely on to get them started."

Homework Tip
Homework Problem:
"How Do I Get Started with EACH Assignment?"

Some students struggle to get started because they are unsure about what to do. They often fail to read or understand instructions. Some really need to be shown, as well as reading or hearing the instructions.

We want students to be as independent as possible on homework, but getting them started and reassuring them that they are on the right track can alleviate a lot of wasted time.
Homework Solution:
Use The "Getting Started Questions"
Here are 5 questions to ask your child to answer at the beginning of each assignment:
  1. What should I do first? (Put my name on the paper)
  2. What do the directions say?
  3. Is there an example I can look at?
  4. In this assignment, are there questions I will need to answer after reading something?  If so, where are those questions?  Read the questions before reading the section (paragraph, chapter, etc.).
  5. Do I need to ask for help?
Are there other questions that should be asked at the beginning of every assignment?
  • Write all the questions on a card that your child will use every time he does homework.
  • Now "walk" your child through each question. Direct your child through using the questions on several assignments.
  • Finally, have him try to use them independently.
Once you have gotten your child in the habit of using the card at the start of each and every assignment, homework becomes much faster to get into and to finish...which means more time for fun!

Capital Letter & Punctuation, Oh My!

I use COPS to remind students of capitalizing and punctuation when writing in 7th grade. You would think students would have their capitalization technique down when they reach middle school, but they do not. Here are some great ideas from Stowell Learning Center:

"Does it drive you crazy that you constantly have to remind your child to use capital letters and punctuation when they write?

Is your child feeling angry and picked on because you have to be the punctuation and capitalization "police?"

Below is a simple technique to help writers of any age become more independent in proofreading their written work."

Don't be the"Police." Instead, Teach Your Child About "COPS!"

Have your child write "COPS" on a 3x5 card at the top of their paper.

Explain what each letter in the acronym stands for and walk through the process together with everything your child writes - even single sentences. Very quickly, most students will begin to apply COPS all on their own.

Even though they many continue to need some help locating or correcting their errors, you are no longer the bad guy. Just COPS - a process we do every time we write.

Here's what COPS stands for:

Overall Appearance (Spacing; clean, clear, well-formed letters; mistakes erased completely)
Spelling (Have the student check spelling by starting with the last word in the sentence or paragraph. This takes the words out of context. The student should check to see if the word "sounds right" and "looks right."