It is a clichè, but I am a creature of habit. Just the other day my kids asked me to help tune up their bikes. I had just finished my day teaching online and was thinking about making dinner. Fixing bikes wasn’t on my list of things to do during that 2 hour time period. I immediately felt anxious about having to do another thing in a small window of time. I love my kids and want to help them exercise and have fun but at the time it was too much. I pushed my kids off until Saturday.

I feel guilt pushing my kids off to another day.

Schedules can feel restricting, like something that ties us down. But, I like to think of schedules like they’re the string that holds a kite up in the air. Kids need guidance and security no matter how much they fight it. Like the wind pushing the kite higher and higher, kids feel secure when they know what is coming up and what is expected of them.

Schedules are more important now especially since kids don’t have the structure of going to school. It isn’t summertime. Kids still have responsibilities with school and maybe even work. If a schedule doesn’t exist for them and parents aren’t helping keep kids on track, kids are less likely to get their schoolwork done and waste the day playing videogames or watching videos.

How to

It’s the parent’s responsibility to help their kids get things done. Parents know what their kids need, and what their weaknesses are when it comes to working.

  1. Sit down with your child and plan the week. Write it out. Print it off. Make it accessible.
  2. Be specific. Don’t just write in a window for homework. Create time slots for individual classwork.
  3. Make time for fun things too.
  4. Check with your kids each morning. Make sure that they have what they need for their work.
  5. Be aware of what is happening. You have your work to do, but watch what they’re doing.
  6. End the day with a reflection. How did the day go? What work got done? What work still needs more time?
  7. Hold them accountable. Set expectations with rewards and consequences. They are more capable than we often give them credit for. If you follow through with rewards and punishments they will feel the weight of getting things done daily and not putting things off.

Most students aren’t self-motivated. They need guidance on how to make things happen. They need someone to help them get started.

It is a strange time

These experiences will help define who they are and what they are capable of. Our kids and students are learning what it takes to be flexible, adjust to different circumstances, make things happen, and perhaps most important, they are learning how to communicate with people about what is expected.

I know it is difficult to manage your job, and your kid, or kids’ schoolwork. That’s why scheduling is so important. The more practice they get, the more you can leave them to do what they need to.

You can do this. Your kids can do this. We are all working for the same results. We want to see our students, your kids make good decisions, learn from their mistakes, and be successful and resilient in the future.

Hang in there!

-Dave

 

I have to tread lightly when it comes to whether a book is appropriate or not. I live in a pretty conservative city, in a pretty conservative state, so when it comes to recommending books, I hesitate.

The Solution

I love hearing stories about kids finding the book that they couldn’t put down. Just the other day I had a 16 year old girl tell me about how she found a book at the school library by Jay Asher, the author of Thirteen Reasons Why. I don’t know which book she was looking for but she picked another by Mr. Asher and started it at school that day. On a whim she decided to take it home. She finished it that weekend. She FINISHED IT! THAT WEEKEND!

Please forgive my excitement. She talked to me about how she hadn’t found a book that she liked since Twilight. She has connected the dots. She now realizes that she likes books with relationships where the characters have an issue that they need to work through. She likes books! 🙂

I can have a conversation with students about books that they might be interested in. I can gauge how they might respond to a book by their facial expressions. And I don’t pressure them. If they don’t like it, they know they can put it down and pick up something else. I want kids to read. I know they have to like it to keep going. I know that reading opens doors to vocabulary, ideas, compassion, respect, and less judgement. I can get a feeling for how much gore a student is comfortable with. I’m okay if a student isn’t comfortable with rough language in a story. I’m okay with students reading romances. I’m okay with students reading graphic novels. I’m okay with students reading, even if there’s gore, violence, language, relationships. Students, well…high school students, are generally better at accepting the differences of others in story form. Things that are edgy are appealing. I recognize that it’s not my job to teach my standards to my students. And I respect theirs.

The Problem

Parents. Parents are trying to protect their children from the sad and scary things that happen in our world. I understand. I’m a parent. I would never talk with my 8 year old daughter about the details of The Diary of Anne Frank. We might talk about it generally. The terrible things that happened during The Holocaust can’t be ignored, but there are levels of appropriateness. I’ll eventually talk with my daughters about dating rules and dating safety. They need to know what’s okay, what’s not, and what I will do if they need help.

Teenagers today are dealing with terrible things that happen at school. They know of students or have friends that have been through awful situations at home, at parties, or at school. They could be dealing with the topics that are coming up in books that are in our public and school libraries. Do we expect our students, our children to avoid these topics? Do we talk with them about what’s happening in the news, in our nation, and around the world? Here’s a small list of controversial, possibly inappropriate titles that are being read by teens in our country.

These aren’t bad books. They have language. They have mature situations. They’re dealing with things that are happening in our world right now. They’re addressing situations and ideas that our young adults are experiencing.

I have found that you have to trust what you have taught your kids. If they find a book, and the book has language that makes them uncomfortable, they’ll probably stop reading it. If they keep reading an edgy book because they have a friend who recommended it, and they’re trying to be understanding, is that really a bad thing?

Have conversations with your kids about what they’re reading and why they’re reading it. Talk about the difficult situations. What should they do if they have a friend who is contemplating running away, or committing suicide? Who should they be able to talk to? Hopefully that would be you.

Reading is an escape, but more often it’s a way to understand other people. It’s a way to understand people who are different from you. Reading is how we learn to treat other people, as if we were the main character in the story. We compare ourselves to the main character. We empathize with them. We cheer them on. We cry when they’re hurt. Reading is magic.

So, when it comes to determining if a book is appropriate for your child, you could search the internet for what other people think, or you could have a conversation with your child about it.

What do you think? Let me know.

Read on!
-Dave

 

Writing is a skill. It doesn’t matter how old your child is. To become better at writing they need to practice. So, how do they practice? It all depends on their age and the purpose of the writing. It also depends on whether you were thinking about penmanship or actual writing ability.

Penmanship and Handwriting

Penmanship is a disappearing art. Many schools find that it takes too much time from the day to practice writing legibly. There are so many things to learn! Some argue that the art of writing is disappearing as technology takes over more avenues of our communication. Of course, if we spend more time typing and texting, penmanship is an unnecessary skill. But, is there something that we’re losing as we migrate toward faster communication?

We are creating a disadvantage for students who don’t practice handwriting. There are many studies and articles about the things that we benefit from through handwriting. Posted in 2016, this article from psychologytoday.com covers some of the benefits of handwriting, along with some other scientific references that support handwriting.

Elementary School

As students begin school and learn to write, they realize that just like speaking what they think they can write what they think too. It just takes longer for the writing process. It’s a good thing, though. Thinking about what you are going to write down on a page helps you to solidify in your mind what you are really trying to say. If the writing assignment is too easy, scribbles or chicken scratch happens. Even the student can’t decipher what they wrote 30 minutes ago. Being deliberate in writing takes time, focus, and confidence in the message that is being written.

Practice writing to different questions or writing prompts. Take time to think about the answers, or what you are trying to get your child to write. Write with your child. Show him or her what the process looks like. Talk about what you’re writing and if you can, what you’re thinking while you’re writing.

Middle School

Middle School is tough. There are so many things that can be distractions for your student. You know this, right? Writing assignments have to be high-interest, or the product is mediocre. If you’re practicing with a middle-schooler, let them write on any topic that they like. Really. Even writing about what is so frustrating about writing might be rebellious enough for him to “buy in”.

High School 

Something happens for high school students. It’s like they realize that they know how to write, and that they have a vocabulary that doesn’t match their after school single-syllable parent-child conversation. There are more opportunities for students in high school to practice writing. They might have multiple classes that expect essays. They have a variety of opportunities to explore poetry, creative writing, and essays. They can think about their writing and what they’re missing. They can look at what they’ve written, and figure out what is missing, or what can be improved.

The Outcome

If anyone is going to get better at doing something, it is going to take practice and feedback. In order to really understand how an argument essay works, students need to write multiple essays on multiple topics. I once heard it said that students need to practice writing 5 essays for every one that the teacher is able to read and give good feedback on. That’s a lot of writing! If your student is going to be a good writer, it takes time, and practice. And, of course, the better you write, the better you read.

Write on! Read on!

-Dave

 

 

I really dislike confrontation. By nature, I am a people pleaser and an introvert. I get along really well with students who do their work, are polite, ask questions, and help other students. However, students who have an attitude or visibly don’t want to be in class make me uncomfortable.
And I love it!

Conflict Leads To Solutions

Every year I have taught at least one student who has displayed some form of apathy or disinterest. I know some kids don’t like English. I know everyone likes some subjects in school, while others subjects are awful. You don’t have to love the subject to do well. Effort and attitude are everything!

One year I taught a 7th grade young man who regularly forgot to turn things in. He knew that even if he got bad scores, he would still be moved to the next grade level. I tried to encourage him to turn in work. I tried to create assignments that would get him writing. It didn’t work. He didn’t care.
So I lied. It was a little lie. I told him that if he didn’t pass class he would have to repeat the same class over the summer. Some school districts do this, some don’t. The district I was in didn’t do summer school, but he didn’t know this. It turned him around. He knew that he didn’t want to do work over the summer.

This year has been different because I’ve been teaching Sophomores in high school. They need to pass or they don’t get the credit and have to take the class again or do a credit recovery packet.

Sometimes Let Behavior Simmer

Because I love to read, I want to foster that love in my students. I know not all are going to love reading, but my hope is that maybe they will find the things that they like to read and will accept that as a part of their lives. I permit all forms of books. Paper books, eBooks, audiobooks, nonfiction, graphic novels, everything counts as reading. As a result, students are often on their phones for the first 15 minutes of class. It’s quite funny really, when I get questions about grades or citizenship marks. As if reading a book requires so much swiping and tapping. I can hear what you’re listening to, it’s so loud (and it’s not a book).

One student asked about this terms grade. The assignments were terrible for sophomore level writing. No elaboration, no details, no supporting evidence. The writing was basically skimming answers to say the assignments were done. When the question was asked, “What can I do to fix my grade?”, I responded with, “Do the work. Fix it if it’s not good enough. Edit and revise”.

The Confrontation

It happened just before the winter break. It wasn’t really a confrontation, but the student was obviously frustrated.
My heart was racing. Did I mention I have a hard time with conflict?
And then, it all came out in a rush. “You’re not doing your best. You’re not reading a book when we read. Your writing isn’t a real attempt to address the prompt. I don’t believe you’re writing is going to help you when you take the ACT test next year. You’re not even trying. You play sports, right? If your coach is mean to you and doesn’t seem to like you, but you want to be first string, what do you do?”

I think their response clicked. “I do my best no matter what.”

“YES! No matter how good you think you are, you will succeed if you do your best! Show me your best writing. Find a book you want to read. Try like you care about your future. Especially if you want to play sports in college!”

Whatever my students’ goals, I want them to be successful. Sometimes they need to figure what that looks like for them. There needs to be consequences for inaction. Whatever that looks like in your home, stand strong. Set rules. No matter how much they whine or yell or cry, stick to your rules. You’re helping your child succeed by setting expectations.

Help them find something they like to read. Read with them. Set time aside where all technology is off. You will be teaching persistence, growth, and success.

I hope this helped.

Read on!

-Dave

 

Do you have a special situation that could use some specific advice? Let me know in the comments, or send me an email. I’d love to help!

 

 

 

 

I love to read. It used to bother me when people would say that they didn’t like to read. I didn’t understand their reasons for why they didn’t like to read. But I think I get it now. At least a little.

I’ve learned a few things about how our brains work when we communicate with people. I’ve spent some time with family therapists and psychologists. I’ve read articles about how our brains process information from reading words, decoding images, and listening to others speak. Even though we’re not making things up, we use our imagination to picture things.

To put it down simply, we visualize things in our minds. Some have illustrated this process by describing our mind and imagination as a movie screen. When someone tells us a story we can visualize the details in our minds. The more information that we are given, the image we create is clearer, more precise.

Have you ever noticed when you ask someone a question they pause? They obviously know the answer to the question, but are trying to remember details, or maybe someones name. Often, the person will look up and shift their eyes side to side as if they’re scanning a visual screen for information. There isn’t anything there physically, but we visualize things as if they are.

Let’s try it out. I’m going to try to communicate to you an image by describing it to you.

Picture a spider.
Got it? Are you imagining the same spider that I am picturing in my mind? I doubt it. You don’t have enough information for us to be thinking about the same type of spider.  Let me give you more details.
The spider I’m picturing is black.
The spider is also shiny, almost like it’s wet.
The spider is the size of a nail head, and it’s on the wall.
Now the spider is the size of a golf ball.
Now the spider is as big as a dog.
It has dagger-sharp legs.

Are you still with me? Sorry if you have a fear of spiders. Did your spider change with every detail added?

So what does this exercise show? I think that some people have a more active imagination than others. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think that’s why some people don’t like reading. Their imagination isn’t as active, so visualizing details in a story is boring.

Can it be fixed? I think so. That’s why I’m addressing the issue. When reading with someone who doesn’t like to read, ask what they see when reading a story with them. If there isn’t a lot of detail in the story, almost anything visualized works. But if there are specifics like brick houses or red cars, ask them what they see. How tall is the house? How many doors does the car have? Is it a convertible? Or a race car?

Now, this doesn’t work with picture books. This exercise can be done with text only stories. The more that you read and imagine, the easier it becomes.

I hope this helps you with your resistant reader.
If you find these articles helpful, please share them with people who could use the help. Thanks!

Read on,

-Dave