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As a parent, are you unsure about how much help to give your children on homework assignments and special projects? Do you sometimes feel "darned if you do and darned if you don't"? If you don't help your child enough, does she get poor grades? If you do help, is the teacher critical?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may feel stuck in "the parent trap." We all want our children to be independent learners, but getting them there can be difficult—especially if you have a struggling learner or a child with a diagnosed learning disability. Here are some suggestions that might help.
Avoid blame. Make it a game.
It’s hard for people to self-motivate to work hard in areas where they struggle, and children are no exception. If you feel you are always badgering your child to get his work done, try turning homework into something fun by scheduling 'game breaks' every half hour or so. Set a timer for a short interval, and as long as he has worked consistently before the timer goes off, do a few minutes of something fun together—a race outside, quick game of "go fish," a short video game, etc. Elementary age children love playing games with a parent, so game breaks can be a great motivator.
Build rewards on assignment boards.
Post a whiteboard in the kitchen or another common area of your home. Each day after school, help your child write a to-do list of assignments for that night as well as for any projects with due dates. Then work with your child to determine a reasonable reward for completion. A reward might be watching a special TV show, calling or texting a friend, or a healthy before bedtime snack.
Rewarding your child for doing homework independently builds important life skills like self-control and stick-to-itiveness. Especially when children struggle with school, rewarding something your child can control (like how long they worked on an assignment by themselves) builds confidence and increases motivation better than punishing bad grades or rewarding good grades.
The 80%-20% rule builds success in school.
Brain scientists have found that when a task is 20% challenging it promotes brain plasticity (positive brain changes). So, to maximize your child’s learning potential, encourage her to do all assignments by herself first, assuring her that you will be there to help once she has completed as much as she can on her own.
You will be the checker: finding mistakes or missing pieces and then helping her with those. If she is accustomed to you providing more help, it may take a few weeks for her to work on her own. If so, set a smaller goal (half of each assignment alone, or a designated number of problems, for example) for a week or so. Try to get to the point where you help with no more than 20% of any assignment.
Strive for drive.
Remember, by making your child's independence in schoolwork your goal—instead of grades or other measures of achievement—you are not only improving your child's motivation and ability to please you, but you also are building self-sufficiency, a trait that will lead to success in many aspects of life.
Not everyone can get top grades in school, but everyone can learn to be a self-starter. Getting out of the parent trap will not only make your life easier it will foster important life skills in your child. In adult life, the ability to self-motivate is where the real dividends of a good education are paid out.
If you have already tried these suggestions or you feel your child cannot realistically reach 80% independence, consider consulting a professional. Your child might have a specific learning issue that can be significantly improved with appropriate neuroscience-based interventions.
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I remember the early years with my children and the dreams I had for their success. Of course, my dreams and theirs didn’t exactly end up being the same. But what happens when a mother realizes that her dreams for her child may be shattered because that child struggles with auditory processing issues, dyslexia, or other challenges never imagined? That’s exactly what Irene experienced with her daughter, Maria.
Attending school proved difficult for Maria. As she advanced from grade to grade and the work became progressively more difficult, anything presented in auditory form was especially challenging. By sixth grade, Maria had been diagnosed with dyslexia and Auditory Processing Disorder and was labeled with a language impairment.
For obvious reasons, Maria struggled in school. Because of this, she was shy around other students, avoided reading, and required extensive help at home. Her family considered sending her to a private school, but Maria was unable to pass the entrance exams.
By the middle of sixth grade, Maria had attended several different schools and the last was a disaster. It was then that one of her mother’s friends suggested Bridges Academy, a private school that specializes in serving students with learning challenges. Upon enrollment, Maria’s life began to turn in a new direction. When she got into her mother’s car after school she often said, “Mom, they understand me here!”
At Bridges Academy, Maria’s dyslexia and auditory processing issues were analyzed further and the Fast ForWord program was recommended in addition to Maria’s coursework and intervention regimen. Jacky Egli, the Director at Bridges Academy, explained to Maria’s mother that she personally researched every program thoroughly and only used programs that were scientifically based. Irene trusted Jacky and felt it was important to follow her recommendation, so Maria gave Fast ForWord a try.
Maria’s reading level was at least three to four years below grade level when she entered Bridges. She also had struggled in other subjects, because every subject—even math—requires reading. But that soon began to change and, in time, Maria made significant improvements. Maria’s comprehension level increased more than two full grade levels last year. This improvement aligned with her participation in the Fast ForWord Reading and Reading Assistant programs. Over the last 6 years, despite the odds, Maria improved on the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test 7.3 grade levels. Because of this significant improvement, she no longer receives remedial instruction.
Irene sought the best for her daughter and found it in the caring attitude of the staff at Bridges Academy and the innovative programs they use to make a difference for struggling students. “Jacky walks the walk and talks the talk of the school’s mission,” says Irene.
Maria has transformed from a shy, struggling child to a vibrant, engaged student who participates in class, reads aloud to her peers and conducts presentations for content area classes in front of her classmates. She is an ambassador for the school who greets and escorts new students and parents through the campus as she participates in open house and school events.
And, most exciting of all, Maria has been accepted into a local college and is thrilled about rising to meet a challenge and a future that once seemed entirely out of reach.
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
As an educator I spend a considerable amount of time providing advice to parents whose children are finding it difficult to be inspired with reading! Parents will describe their child as “struggling,” “disinterested,” or ”anxious” about reading and are searching for ways to instill the love of reading, when it is such a tedious task for their child.
It’s really quite simple: Children who do not read well will not be inspired to read, or to practice reading more. So, how do we get our reluctant readers to find reading fun?
As the director of a school that specializes in working with students with reading disorders—and a parent of a youngster who was diagnosed with dyslexia in 3rd grade—I see this issue from both sides. Some suggestions that I share with our parents (and that I used with my own son) can create a safe haven for reading for the emerging reader, gifted reader, or a student who needs more direct instruction to improve reading skills.
The Practice of Reading Skills
Keep the work of developing reading skills separate from pleasure reading. Students who require reinforcement in their decoding or vocabulary should practice those tasks for a short time (15-20 minutes) several times per week. Use some of these ideas to make the reading fun!
Reading for Pleasure
Children who are behind in their reading abilities, such as decoding, vocabulary, or comprehension, may not always select independent reading material that “matches” their age and grade. In fact, many children who struggle with the mechanics of reading may be interested in topics that are way above their independent reading level. To meet their intellectual interests and instill the “habit” of reading for pleasure, consider these ideas:
Above all, BE PATIENT and ENCOURAGING with your child as they develop independent reading habits. The “art” of reading is quite complex. Some children will require more support, individualized instruction, and continued practice, and may benefit from the services of a reading specialist. Your positive influence, patience, and support can make your child feel safe to take the “risk” of reading new words or selecting more challenging material. Celebrate the small steps, and keep positive so your child will become more confident!
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
Categories: Family Focus
So it is only October and the buzz and excitement of starting a new school year has already fizzled. Life is a little boring, the holidays seem too far away, you are more tired than usual, and you are having a little trouble getting enthusiastic about your job or your children’s upcoming book reports and science projects, or whatever. What’s going on? Of course you know, burn-out.
What exactly is burn-out? Does it come from working too hard, not being appreciated? Perhaps, but from the standpoint of the brain, burn-out occurs when motivation declines. The human brain is designed to keep motivation levels high for activities we need to survive, those that are very rewarding, and those that involve novelty. Hence we are usually very motivated to escape a dangerous situation, eat chocolate cake and watch a new movie we just purchased. We tend to associate reward and novelty with play and leisure – video games, a golf or tennis match, watching a new TV show or a sports event, playing a new board game, or visiting a new vacation spot – even though we might work very hard at those activities. Rarely do you hear avid golfers complain about golf burnout. But you also rarely hear CEOs talk about being burned out. They may retire to relieve the stress of their job or spend more time with their family, but rarely do they complain about their workload or burnout. Why not? Because the excitement of a new round of golf and the reward that might come from winning or achieving a greater profit margin motivates the golfer and the CEO. However, when your daily life becomes repetitive, unexciting or non-rewarding, motivation decreases. Burn-out is really the symptom of a brain that has lost its motivation. And motivation declines when two important aspects of life are missing – earned reward and novelty.
So, what can you do about burn-out? The answer actually comes from neuroscience research. Whether your burn-out is associated with a job in or out of the home, the solution is not to work less and play more (because poverty is not very rewarding). Rather, the solution is to turn work into play. And the way to do that is to imbue your day with novelty and challenges where there is an expectation of reward.
Reward thyself: If your work is not very rewarding or your boss is not good at showing appreciation, one important key to avoiding burnout is to build in self rewards for a job well done. Each morning, next to your to-do list, make a “reward when completed list”.
Keep it new: If a job largely involves repetitive routines, try to come up with something new to add.
Delay gratification: Make your work schedule its own reward by scheduling your most boring task first each day and your favorite task last so all day you are looking forward to the activity you enjoy the most.
Finally, build in healthy brain-building activities to your week. A happy brain is a brain that is thinking, creating, planning, solving, and learning new things. Schedule activities outside of work that make you feel good about yourself and keep your mind sharp:
To learn more about the brain, view our free recorded webinar!
Reading aloud with expression is a foundational reading skill students should be developing between grades 1 - 5, according to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (2012). It is pretty easy to recognize when someone skillfully reads aloud in an expressive manner. However, to effectively teach or assess this skill, a closer examination of its features, development, and relationship to other reading skills is needed.
Prosody, the defining feature of expressive reading, comprises all of the variables of timing, phrasing, emphasis, and intonation that speakers use to help convey aspects of meaning and to make their speech lively. One of the challenges of oral reading is adding back the prosodic cues that are largely absent from written language.
Researchers have found strong links between oral reading prosody and general reading achievement. For example, after comparing students’ reading prosody in first and second grades with their reading comprehension at the end of third grade, Miller and Schwanenflugel (2008) concluded that, “early acquisition of an adult-like intonation contour predicted better comprehension.” Another study, which included more than 1,750 fourth graders participating in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), found a strong correlation between prosody and overall reading achievement (Daane, Campbell, Grigg, Goodman, & Oranje, 2005).
In the context of oral reading, prosody can reflect linguistic features, such as sentence structure, as well as text features, such as punctuation. Skilled readers pick up on these features, and respond to them when reading aloud, as when they pause briefly at relevant commas, pause slightly longer at sentence boundaries, raise their pitch at the end of yes-no questions, and lower their pitch at the end of declarative sentences.
While punctuation provides some cues to prosody, young readers can be misled by it. For instance, they may pause at every comma, even when the grammar of the sentence does not call for pausing (e.g., “He made his usual egg, cheese, and tomato sandwich.”). As young readers move toward adult proficiency, their pauses increasingly respect the grammar of the text rather than doggedly following the punctuation (Miller & Schwanenflugel, 2006).
Prosody can also reflect aspects of meaning. For instance, slight fluctuations in pitch, timing, and emphasis can change a simple question (e.g., “What did you do?”) into an expression of censure. Learning to read dialog in a manner that reflects the intentions and emotional states of the characters is a great way for adolescent readers to delve deeply into literature. However, younger students may not understand this use of prosody well enough to apply it to oral reading (Cutler & Swinney, 1987). Notably, in the NAEP study, only 10% of fourth graders were judged as reading aloud with this level of expressiveness.
Finally, when thinking about prosody, it is critical to remember the other aspects of reading fluency: word reading accuracy and reading rate. Inefficient word reading is the primary barrier to good prosody for most young readers (Schwanenflugel, Hamilton, Wisenbaker, Kuhn, & Stahl, 2004). Children who are struggling to decode individual words tend to pause too frequently and for too long, so that their timing and phrasing are seriously disrupted. Furthermore, they must put so much effort into decoding that they do not have the mental resources left for constructing meaning and conveying it expressively.
Listening to the prosody of a child reading aloud provides parents and educators with a window into many aspects of reading skill. By reading aloud with appropriate timing, phrasing, and end of sentence intonation, younger readers can demonstrate their ability to:
read words accurately;
read at a reasonable rate;
read most words automatically, so that mental resources are available for comprehension;
use grammar and punctuation to help construct meaning;
By reading aloud with increasingly adult-like intonation and expressiveness, adolescent readers can demonstrate their ability to:
use discourse-level features, such as pronouns and signal words, to recognize relationships across and among the sentences in a text;
understand characters and their intentions when reading fiction
understand an author’s purpose or attitude.
Ultimately, all of these abilities must be brought to bear to achieve the ultimate goal of reading with comprehension.
Common Core State Standards Initiative (2012). English Language Arts Standards – Reading: Foundational Skills (Grade 1 – Grade 5). National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO): Washington, DC.
Cutler, A. & Swinney, D. A. (1987). Prosody and the development of comprehension. Journal of Child Language, 14, 145-167.
Daane, M.C., Campbell, J.R., Grigg, W.S., Goodman, M.J., and Oranje, A. (2005). Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading(NCES 2006-469). U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Miller, J. & Schwanenflugel, P. J. (2008). A Longitudinal Study of the Development of Reading Prosody as a Dimension of Oral Reading Fluency in Early Elementary School Children. Reading Research Quarterly, 43, 336-354.
Miller, J. & Schwanenflugel, P. J. (2006). Prosody of Syntactically Complex Sentences in the Oral Reading of Young Children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 839-843.
Schwanenflugel, P. J., Hamilton, A. M., Kuhn, M. R., Wisenbaker, J. M., & Stahl, S. A. (2004). Becoming a fluent reader: Reading skill and prosodic features in the oral reading of young readers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 119–129.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of school-age English Language Learners (ELLs) more than doubled between the years 1980 and 2009, rising from 4.7 million to 11.2 million. ELLs currently represent one in nine students ages 5 - 17 in US classrooms, with the majority found in the primary grades.
In a recent webinar, Dr. Virginia Mann, Professor of Cognitive Science at UC Irvine in Southern California, confronted the barriers that ELLs face, and outlined the pathway to success for these students. In order to develop into fluent readers, she explained, ELLs rely on a couple of basics:
The good news is that building these skills in a learner’s first language can help build skills in English, as phonemic awareness generalizes across languages and it’s a short hop to understand new English words that sound similar in both languages. The bad news is that many ELLs also grow up in poverty and research shows that young children living in poverty often do not get enough early language experience and exposure to develop strong early language skills.
Because early language skills are so critical for ELLs, if parents take the time to "become teachers" for their children and immerse their children in language by having conversations with them and working with them on listening and speaking activities, learners can make significant gains.
Students whose first language uses an alphabet system have some advantages over those whose first language use an orthographic system, but the bottom line is that when students engage frequently in language-oriented activities and build oral skills, vocabulary, and phonemic understanding in any language, they are on the pathway to successful English language learning.
Mann is quick to note that while parent involvement is crucial, one-shot programs are not sufficient. Parents of ELLs need coaching and support, not just instruction. Dr. Mann references numerous studies and gives examples of the enduring programs that she has created and implemented to support parents in helping their children succeed.
To learn more about why early immersion in any language is so crucial to future academic success, view Dr. Mann's webinar here.
Have you heard? Someone we know and love has won an award and we couldn’t be prouder! Parents’ Choice® Children’s Media and Toy Reviews has awarded Eddy the dog a silver medal for his Eddy’s Number Party! kindergarten readiness app for iPad!
In Eddy’s Number Party!, kids collect balloons, track party hats, toss presents, and gather friends to bring to Eddy’s big surprise party. Along the way, they practice counting, number matching, and more, while the app continuously individualizes the level of challenge for each child. Fun, in-app sticker play helps extend the learning.
Parents’ Choice found Eddy’s Number Party! to be “appealing and user-friendly” and noted the progressive challenge as a plus. And it’s not just Parents’ Choice that loves the app; Common Sense Media loves it, too (“a hidden gem”).
Join us in sending Eddy big congratulations!
Many a study has laid out the innate physiological differences between the male and female brain. Michael D. De Bellis and his team of researchers, for example, clearly showed how the maturing brain differs between boys and girls, and how those differences vary over the course of regular development.
Based on the work of De Bellis et al., we know, for example, that the proportions of white matter to grey matter predictably vary between the genders. We also know that the volume of the corpus callosum area is proportionally different between males and females. And of course, we know that the varying levels of testosterone and estrogen create behavioral differences, especially during pre-adolescence and adolescence. (2001)
With these findings in mind, the question arises: Can such information help us better educate our young people? And maybe more importantly, should it be used to differentiate instruction based on gender?
Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett, authors of The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children (Columbia University Press, 2011), argue that boys’ and girls’ brains and ways of thinking are actually much more the same than they are different, and that “the differences that do exist are trivial."
Nevertheless, there is a current trend of well-meaning educators and parents citing these brain differences to support gender stereotypes—a trend that is damaging to learners as individuals and to our society as a whole, says Catherine A. Cardno in her recent EdWeek review of the book. The following are a few of the stereotypes often expounded:
She cites a caution the authors make in their introduction, that "Today, parents and educators are being fed a diet of junk science that is at best a misunderstanding of the research and at worst what amounts to a deliberate fraud on the American public."
In her book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, Lise Eliot, associate professor of neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School, discusses her conclusions after comprehensively reviewing the research on the child through adolescent brain. Her conclusion is that there is “surprisingly little evidence of sex differences in children’s brains.” (2009) The real differences, she says, arise from the neuroplastic nature of the brain and how children’s ways of thinking differentiate along gender lines over time as a result of the input they receive via parents, friends, relatives and educators – NOT because of any innate physiological variations between the sexes.
It is thus our role and responsibility as educators to be aware of the pitfalls of gender-based – and all – stereotyping in our classrooms that we may be perpetuating. Only through completely supporting each learner – regardless of their skin color, SES, gender or any other difference – can we ensure that they will reach their greatest potential.
Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers. Why Science Doesn't Support Single-Sex Classes. May 20, 2012. http://www.edweek.org.
“It is now well accepted that the chief cause of the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups is a language gap.”
- E.D. Hirsch, 2003
Research shows that children from rich language environments start off their academic career with a definite advantage over their peers. In one study with 280 1st grade students, results indicated a strong connection between language skills and later academic performance.[i] Another study found that “children who are provided a wide variety of experiences and opportunities to talk, tell stories, read storybooks, draw, and write are generally successful in learning to read and write.”[ii]
How can parents enhance the home language environment to help their children succeed?
Here are a few simple ways:
It’s never too early to help children appreciate the usefulness of language, the power of communicating effectively with others, and the joy of words. Every word spoken and every word read is truly a gift to a young child.
[i] Elements Comprising the Colorado Literacy Framework: III. Communication Skills, Including Oral and Written Language. (2010). Colorado Literacy Framework. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
[ii] Kastner JW, May W, Hildman L. Relationship between language skills and academic achievement in first grade. Percept Mot Skills. 2001 Apr;92(2):381-90.PMID: 11361297