Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What does soccer have to do with reading?

What does soccer have to do with reading?

I am an excellent reader, primarily because reading is one of my hobbies.  However, if you give me instructions on how to build a piece of furniture, I may not understand it.  I not only have no experience building furniture, but I don’t know the names of the parts.

According to Daniel T. Willingham, who recently wrote an editorial for The New York Times called “How to Get Your Mind to Read,” reading comprehension has more to do with factual knowledge than general reading ability.  Most people can sound out words alright, but making meaning of them is another story.  The reason wealthier students do better on IQ tests and standardized tests are their greater knowledge of various topics.  For example, I once took an IQ test, and one of the questions I got wrong was a question about farming.  Needless to say, I had no experience of farms.

Professor Willingham sited an experiment on third graders.  The readers who were identified as “poor” readers were “three times as likely to make accurate inferences about” a passage on soccer as readers identified as “good” readers who didn’t know much about soccer. “This implies that students who score well on reading tests are those with broad knowledge; they usually know at least a little about the topics of the passages on the test.”  He concludes that “comprehension is intimately intertwined with knowledge.”

Professor Willingham advises that education officials write “content-rich grade level standards” and using “high-information texts in early elementary grades,” which “historically have been light in content.”  In other words, children need to be taught general knowledge throughout their lives.

The best thing you can do to help your own children is to read to them daily when they are little and encourage independent daily reading when they get older.  They should read about topics that interest them on an appropriate level so that reading will be a joy, not a chore.  I recently gave my 11- year old niece Guinness World Records 2018, which she and her siblings devoured, just as my own children had at that age.  Children should choose their own books, but can also gain broad knowledge by reading magazines and newspapers, going on historic trips and to museums, and by having family discussions about various topics.  Children absorb new information like sponges – parents can take the initiative to help them broaden their minds.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Building Relationships with Teachers

Setting up Parent-Teacher Conferences

Building Relationships with Teachers

Now that first quarter report cards have come out, some parents may have questions about the grades.  While most elementary schools have November parent-teacher conferences, this is not true for most middle and high schools.  However, it is still important to be connected with the teachers, who play a large part in your children’s lives. 

One of the most important things I learned at Teachers College was to emphasize positive first, whether meeting with parents or writing student evaluations.  No one wants to open a report card or attend a parent-teacher conference to be bombarded with negatives about their child. So we teachers start off by talking about what the child is doing well, and then lead to ways the student can improve, being constructive and positive.  I learned the flip side at my 2 ½ year old daughter’s conference at her pre-school.  We were told that she wouldn’t go to circle time, had difficulty with transitions, bla, bla, bla, nothing positive whatsoever.  This felt terrible.  The following year, we sent her to a different pre-school. 

Teachers are human too, and they do not want hear all complaints from parents.  In fact, complaints tend to put people on the defensive, which is not productive or helpful to your child.  So it is important to build a positive relationship with your children’s teachers from the beginning.  This includes showing up at school events and conferences, volunteering for at least one activity, and thanking the teacher in some way for what she does.  When I was a classroom teacher, I received and appreciated many useless gifts during December holidays, but what I appreciated the most was a heartfelt note.  I had become a teacher from the business world, to more work and less pay.  In fact, I worked way harder and longer hours as a teacher than I did at my previous office job.  Like most teachers, I did it because it was fulfilling, and I wanted to make a difference.  Being appreciated enhanced my job a great deal.

 If you are concerned about anything at school, you should not be shy in contacting the teacher with your concern.  You can do this by email, phone call, or by setting up a meeting.  It is your job as a parent to advocate for your child, which you can do in a constructive way.  

  1. Start the conversation with something positive. 
  2. Plan what you want to say in a non-accusatory way.  
  3. State your perspective, ask for the teacher’s perspective, and work with the teacher to find solutions.  Have a pleasant and relaxed expression. 

Then the teacher will want to help.  Be sure to pick your battles.  A teacher will be more likely to make the extra effort for a child whose parent rarely complains than for a constant complainer. 
As your child gets older, you should teach him to advocate for himself.  He can address the teacher with his concerns, and if this doesn’t work, you can then intervene.  In our family, by 10th grade I stayed out of the picture.  If something extreme had happened, however, I would have intervened.

If you do have a concern that you want to personally address, always go to the teacher first.  Teachers get very annoyed with parents who go to an administrator without approaching them first.  

I can tell you from personal experience that educators are there because they want to make a difference.  We can best help our children by building positive relationships with their teachers and by appreciating the teachers’ tremendous efforts to educate our children.