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Lynne Featherstone Interrviewed about youth issues by Hornsey School Girl students

Photo Credit: Lynn Featherstone from Flickr

Oral history is the use of narratives, personal experiences, and storytelling from historical and everyday people to share about certain topics and time periods. These experiences are most often videotaped or audio recorded, but they can also be written down as a result of an interview or conversation. Many museums use this type of instruction to educate their visitors about all sorts of events and topics. It offers people from all walks of life the opportunity to learn from someone else’s point of view just by listening. But how can it be brought to life in the classroom?

Instead of reading about WWII in a book and doing a worksheet about it, oral histories allow students to personally connect with those who experienced it firsthand. They hear the emotion in the voices they listen to, see expressions on their faces, and are, therefore, far more moved. These stories and experiences let them feel as though they are part of the story somehow and, in turn, may put life into a different perspective.

More than just allowing students to hear about these experiences, many teachers have found that getting them to conduct their own oral history research forms a far greater connection to the subject. In the classroom, teachers can give each student a specific topic for which they must conduct research for. This research is gathered in the form of interviews and conversations with members of their family and community, as well as their peers, about experience or point of view based on that topic.

The key is to make the topic something that is interesting to the student, something that is important to them or that they know someone who has an opinion about it. This allows them to become even more interested and learn to care about other’s experiences.

Indian Youth

Photo Credit: David Brewer from Flickr

However, don’t limit this type of instruction to just history class. Oral history can be used in just about any type of classroom and for any age group. For example, in math class, a teacher could ask students to interview members of their family or community about how they use math on a daily basis. This can help those students relate to the subject a bit more, realizing its importance and its use in their lives now and in the future.

Younger children can also learn to participate in such projects, though on a much lesser scale of course. While second and third graders may not be up to the challenge of writing a paper about their oral history research, they can certainly be sent home with the homework to ask their family members or even close neighbors about certain experiences or topics. Even just one question or two could suffice. You would be surprised at how a child’s opinion or connection to learning could be influenced just by participating in oral histories.

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Active Students

One of the frustrations of anyone who has ever tried to hold the attention of young children is that they are easily distracted and may have a hard time focusing on important tasks. For schoolteachers, this is an especially irksome challenge. How do you teach children to write the alphabet when you can’t hold their attention for more than five minutes? But research suggests that what seems like a weakness may actually be one of children’s greatest strengths. We know that children have flexible minds and can learn remarkable amounts of material in a short amount of time. But by staying active, young people can actually increase their focus and be better students.

One of the biggest frustrations teachers of young children encounter is the tendency of small children to be overly active in the classroom. Even getting students to stay in their seats can be a challenge. But thoughtful teachers can use this to their advantage. By incorporating this energy into their lessons, educators can help students to stay more engaged with material. Imagine a lesson where students have to respond to a math problem by clapping to indicate the answer. If the answer is four, students will clap four times. Another possibility is to have students get up, get moving, and use props as part of their lessons. You might teach a lesson where students have to walk to one end of the room and retrieve the correct prop to indicate the answer to a question. These kinds of simple activities make the most of the energy that children bring into the classroom.

There is good reason to think that students’ energy is an important part of the learning process. Studies have shown that children who are more physically active do better on standardized tests and generally perform better in school. These effects are especially pronounced in young boys. Just like for adults, who may notice that they feel better after doing yoga or going for a run, exercise has remarkable benefits for young children.

This doesn’t mean that children have to do a full hour of exercise at school. Just getting up and walking around the room can be helpful. As both parents and teachers of young children can attest, young people have lots of excess energy that they need to expend during the day. Incorporating this energy into classroom lessons can be a powerful teaching tool that helps to settle the minds of restless students, and increases their focus on challenging tasks.

Of course, it will take some practice to find the right mix of activity and instruction. We don’t want to introduce physical activities that ultimate distract our students. But by thoughtfully incorporating movement into daily classroom instruction, we can create classrooms that make the most of young children’s unique energy and invite them to be fully engaged in their education.

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Whild Writing

Photo Credit: Kurt_Niemans from Pixabay

If you have a child in first, second, or even third and fourth grade, you may notice homework or graded papers coming home with multiple spelling errors that are not counted. You may have also questioned this. After all, they are supposed to be learning about spelling, aren’t they? So, why would a teacher ignore such mistakes? Do they not teach spelling anymore?

The Early Years

Beginning in the first grade, students must begin writing complete ideas and even paragraphs. This requires the child to first master letters and then put them together into words. Next, they must figure out how to put those words together in a way that makes sense both to them and to others. It takes a lot of effort for someone so young. In response, teachers may choose to ignore spelling mistakes in younger grades as a way to allow the student to focus more on the process of writing itself.

It’s a method called inventive or temporary spelling. Children simply spell out the words to the best of their ability or by the way it sounds. This way the children think solely on what they want to write and how to put pieces of sentences or paragraphs together. And recent studies back up this method, saying that it allows children to write more fluently, quickly, and use a richer vocabulary than students who had the check their spelling along the way.

Older Grades

Correcting Papers

Photo Credit: 3844328 from Pixabay

Even in older grades, spelling is not always given top priority, at least not at first. This again goes back to the writing process. Most educators agree that there is a certain process that goes into writing pretty much anything. First, there is the gathering and grouping of ideas, then ordering those into sentences and paragraphs, and then reorganizing everything so that it has a single cohesive goal. When the piece has been completely shaped, only then do teachers suggest editing, the final and last step of writing. This is when they check for the minor details, such as correct spelling, usage, and punctuation.

When constant criticism on their spelling happens, no matter how small, it tends to get in the way of the natural writing process. If the child has to stop and figure out how to spell words correctly before they go on, it slows the whole process down considerably, often making them lose focus or their ideas. This also makes the child focus on their mistakes and can make them feel rather negative about the whole process. Some children get so discouraged they learn to not enjoy writing or the process at all.

So the next time your child comes home with graded work and you notice spelling errors, don’t assume the teacher doesn’t care or that she isn’t teaching it. Instead, entertain the possibility that spelling may not be the number one priority on that assignment. Spelling is important but it can be learned later if need be.

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Thank You Card

Photo Credit: Rawpixel on Unsplash

January 23rd is National Handwriting Day. The birthday of John Hancock was chosen to mark the celebration of handwriting because he was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence, and has one of the most famous signatures in American history. Today, our signatures are the one place that most of our handwriting is still visible. With all of our digital communications, a day to celebrate paper and pen provides a special opportunity to share something meaningful with someone we care for.

For adults, this can mean sending a hand-written letter to a friend. How many of your friends would recognize your handwriting if they saw it? A nice note can be a warm and welcome surprise in a week filled with texts and emails. For children, National Handwriting Day provides the perfect opportunity to practice and develop an appreciation for the skills they’ll use throughout their education.

If your children are just learning to write, they will not have developed their own sense of handwriting yet. And they are probably spending most of their writing practice trying to repeat the letters they see on their worksheets. This is important practice. But handwriting is also personal and creative. Show your children some examples of creative and unique handwriting. You can even show them your own. Lots of children practice copying their parents’ handwriting while they’re learning.

Take the opportunity to practice the everyday acts of handwriting that your children will perform in their daily lives. They can fill out a calendar by hand, write a Thank You note to a neighbor, make a card for a grandparent, or simply write their names freeform in whatever style they’d like. Show them your signature and let them imagine what their own might look like.

Allow them to experiment and break the rules they normally have to follow. You can show young children examples of cursive writing and calligraphy to pique their interest. If they normally practice in pencil, let children write with pens and colorful markers. Encourage them to personalize their handwriting with flourishes and special embellishments. Let them dot their I’s with smiley faces or draw illustrations as part of their letters.

All of these things are a healthy and productive way to show children the creative possibilities in practicing their own handwriting. Once they’ve mastered the formal rules, their writing can be anything they want it to be. And no matter how far technology advances, there will always be a place for a thoughtfully written letter. Building an appreciation for old-fashioned pen and paper is something you can do with your children now that will pay dividends for the rest of their lives.

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Stopwatch

Photo Credit: Ansgar Koreng from Flickr

Math facts such as addition and multiplication have been timed in many classrooms in the U.S. for decades. However, their use has become a hotly debated topic in recent years. Many would argue that such tests are a great way to strengthen a child’s math skills. Yet others stand firm that they are only causing more harm than good. So, who is correct? Should math facts be timed? To answer this, we must first look closely at both sides of the argument.

Pro Time

  • Studies have proven that the more practice any person gets on a certain topic, the stronger and better their neuronal connections are and the faster their neurons are able to fire. This means that more practice equals better results. A timed math test is a way for students to practice these math facts and to continuously try to better those skills.
  • There are those students who really like timed tests. These are a fun way to compete with the clock, turning what could be a boring quiz or test into a game of sorts.

Against Time

  • However, not all children enjoy being timed. For some, it causes stress and anxiety. This often results in very low scores even if they know the material very well. The fact is that not all students learn well at a fast pace.
  • Timed tests teach kids to be afraid of making mistakes. Instead of focusing on how to learn from their mistakes and find another way to solve it, they are taught that they only have one chance and mistakes are not tolerated. Rather than making new connections and learning new solutions, they eventually give up in timed situations.
  • They also give the perception that to be good at math, you have to be fast. This is entirely false. However, if students continuously see that high scores only go to the students who finish first it is hard to dismiss the idea. The fact is there are many great mathematicians who are not the fastest thinkers. But that doesn’t mean they are not incredibly smart or capable.

To Time or Not to Time

Test Clock

Photo Credit: Geralt from Pixabay

Based on the facts, we believe a compromise can be made. Good teachers have found that using timed tests do offer good practice for all students. However, they shouldn’t be graded, at least not by the teacher. Timed tests are the perfect activity for a Friday afternoon when there is a little free time.

They provide an excellent opportunity for students to try to beat their own time and work on their skills, without being compared to the rest of the class. And it turns something that could be stressful for slower thinking students into a fun challenge. After all, grading should reflect the child’s comprehension of the material, not their speed.

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Provincetown High School

Photo Credit: Gautam Krishnan on Unsplash

In the long stressful process of applying to colleges, one of the fun lights at the end of the tunnel is getting to visit the colleges you’ve been accepted to. This is a time when you and your child together can preview what life might be like for the next four years. While college tours typically cover things like dorm food and how late the library is open, there are some less popular but equally important topics to consider when visiting schools.

Transportation

One thing you should ask your tour guides and host students about is transportation, both in the town where the college is located and also in the region of the country where your child will be living. Ask currents students how often they get to travel home and how easy or challenging it is to get there. Is there a major airport in that city where your son or daughter can get direct flights home for breaks and holidays? Are there popular train and bus routes between the college town and the city where you live? The hassle of arranging transportation can be a big reason that students travel away from campus less often. If you know this ahead of time, you can factor in things like needing a car to use at school when making the decision of which college to attend.

Community Groups

Another question you can ask the students on campus when you visit is what kinds of community groups are active on campus. In the first year of college, lots of students can use the support of cultural, religious, and other groups they share key interests with. These groups host dinners, cultural events, religious services, and other outings that can help new students feel more at home and make friends in an intimidating environment.

If you ask around, you may even be able to attend a meeting or dinner while you’re visiting. Before your visit, you can look at a college’s website or contact their Dean of Students office to inquire about the various student groups on campus. If your daughter is interested in volleyball, maybe there’s an intramural volleyball game you can attend during your visit. If your son likes dance, there may be a performance of the campus breakdance club during your visit. Lots of people make friends on their initial campus visit that they remain close to throughout their time in college. Don’t pass up this prime opportunity to make connections.

Long-Term Financial Aid

Everyone who applies to college thinks about money. But did you know that the cost of attending a university can change significantly while you’re enrolled? Annual tuition raises are standard at many schools. No one knows more about this than the students who are currently attending those schools. So when you get the chance to talk to current students, ask them about the cost of attending and how it has changed while they’ve been there. Has the cost of health insurance gone up every year? Are student activity fees out of control? What happens when a family has trouble meeting rising tuition costs? The current students at a university will have experience tackling these issues, and many of them will be happy to talk candidly with you about them. They may even be able to refer you to the most helpful college administrators to talk to.

Ultimately, the college visit is an excellent time to assess your options and determine where you and your child will be comfortable investing for the next four years. By asking important questions and having sober conversations, you can be sure to make an informed decision that will pay off in the experience of a lifetime.

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Sharing out Easter Eggs

Photo Credit: Sophie Elvis on Unsplash

For children who make friends easily, school can be a source of not only information, but of tremendous fun. For children who struggle to connect with others, there can be isolation and anxiety about fitting in. That’s okay. School is filled with opportunities to form healthy bonds that can help support your children’s social development. Here are some steps you can take to help your children develop a healthy social circle at school.

The first thing to do is to talk to your children about who they spend time with at school. Ask them about their friends in class. Who do they sit with or eat lunch with? You may already know all of your children’s friends. But you might be surprised to know that there’s a certain person they like to do projects with or that one of their classmates has been helping them with their algebra homework for a few months. These are small connections that can grow into broader friendships. You can encourage your child to be attentive to these relationships and to express gratitude for the time they spend with their peers.

If you have a child who seems not to be making healthy connections at school, you should also have a talk with their teachers or counselors. There are lots of social dynamics at play in a school environment. Teachers see patterns that may not be obvious to parents and other adults. Your child’s teachers may be able to alert you to situations where your child seems quiet or uncomfortable speaking up. They can also tell you if there are certain groups or situations where your child seems more at ease. You and the teacher can work together to foster a comfortable learning environment where your child is comfortable opening up and connecting with classmates.

For children who want to make more friends, you can also encourage them to get involved in activities at school. Most of the school day is spent working on lessons, so children aren’t necessarily socializing. After-school activities provide a time for kids to interact with each other informally, and to exercise more of their personalities. Students who don’t speak up in class might be more comfortable asserting themselves on a soccer field. Extracurricular activities provide students with additional opportunities to express themselves and connect with others.

No matter the age, one of the best parts of being in school is making friends. Of course we’re there to learn. But having people we enjoy being around makes every project a little easier. Knowing that your children have smart, supportive friends at school can help alleviate some of your anxiety and provide a sense of comfort about their health and happiness when they’re away. By taking some simple steps to encourage them, you can support your children’s healthy social development in ways that may pay off in years of friendship.

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Bunch of Pencils

Photo Credit: Ben Chun from Flickr

Every spring in Texas, STAAR (State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness) tests are given to all students enrolled in public school for grades 3-12. The number of STAAR tests your child takes will depend on their current grade. In preparation for Spring and the season of standardized testing, we want to make sure you and your children are as prepared as possible for what is to come.

A Little Bit About STAAR…

The purpose of these standardized assessments is to measure how well each student has learned state curriculum standards in their grade and to determine if they are ready for the next grade. Assessments are taken in the core subjects of mathematics, reading, writing, social studies, and science.

By giving these tests, schools can see if each individual student is getting their educational needs met. Schools, parents, and the community can then come together to ensure that each child is given the best chance at academic success.

Test Preparation Tips…

OMR sheet marking

Photo Credit: Alberto G. from Flickr

Here are some great tips to ensure that your child is ready for STAAR this year:

Know what to expect. Most teachers send home some sort of info about the format, length, and types of questions on each test. Go through this with your child so neither of you are surprised on test day.

Get a good night’s sleep. It is recommended that children get, at the very least, eight hours of sleep. For younger students, 3-6 graders, 10-12 hours of sleep each night is needed for healthy brain function.

Eat a good, healthy breakfast. This is not the morning for sugary cereals or Pop-tarts. Instead, eat yogurt with fruit or granola and toast. Something light that will fill your child up and ensure they are able to focus and not crash after a sugar high.

Be positive and encouraging. These tests cover topics your child has already been taught and should know. If she has a tendency to get nervous, teach her to count to ten slowly or give her deep breathing tips to relax during the test. This simple acronym created by our Texas staff has also been a great help to many students:

I know, I need to know: Read and reread the question for important information.

Try to think of my answer before looking at the choices.

Examine all the choices.

X-out answers I know are wrong.

A  Analyze all answers: Take a closer look at the leftover choices and pick the best one.

Satisfied? No Silly Mistakes: Am I satisfied with my work? Go back and look for silly mistakes.

Be physically prepared. Have pencils, erasers, calculators, paper, etc. all laid out the night before, ready to go when the time is right. If he wakes up feeling poorly that morning, let him stay home. He will be able to retake it at a later date when he is at his best.

Encourage good study habits. If you have helped your child consistently with homework and daily activities, these tests should simply be a review for her. Encourage reading whenever possible and ask him to talk about it often to develop healthy thought processes.

Here at Best Brains, academic success is our passion for each and every child. That is why our Texas learning centers hold classes each year in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics specifically for STAAR test preparation. If you are interested in a little extra test help, please contact us today.

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Girl Studying a Book

Photo Credit: The Benefits of Literacy Circles

Few classroom instructions are as impactful as a literacy circle. These small groups of students reading together and discussing their text offer experiences for children that are not only educational but extremely beneficial to emotional development and their overall success. The main reason for this success is that literacy circles get kids to talk. Let’s see how this is done.

Student Choice

Choice is often something few students have when it comes to their education. However, in literacy circles, students are typically given the choice of what books they read as well as what other students are in their group. While these choices may seem small, giving children just a little bit of say in their education makes them connect to it more. They suddenly seem to have more intrinsic motivation and a deeper engagement with what they are learning. They are more willing to get involved with conversation as a result.

Teaches Cooperative Learning

As kids sit in a group of their peers and discuss characters, plots, and the meaning of their texts, students learn to hear other opinions and to make sense of them. Lit circles teach students to help each other figure it out and be taught by one another. They learn to value this help from their peers and see others as resources of knowledge, all while making independent choices.

Fun and Social

Boy Student Studying a book

Photo Credit: Fun and Social

Most of a child’s day is spent listening to instruction or completing projects and assignments where they are expected to remain, for the most part, quiet. Literacy circles, on the other hand, require each student to speak their mind, to voice their opinions, and to even argue those ideas. They allow students to be social and talk a lot, bringing their own experiences with the text to life and making reading fun.

This in turn, helps them feel more connected, not only to their peers, but to the school itself. They begin to associate school and reading with joy and fun. This has a huge impact on the drop out rates in most schools. Kids tend to disengage when they don’t feel connected, whether it’s with the people, place, or their education. Lit circles allow all three to be touched in a positive way and reinforce a personal connection.

Opportunities for Struggling Readers

Because they are fun experiences that allow for cooperative learning and students to make choices, these circles often provide the most opportunities for those who may be a little more reluctant when it comes to reading. This type of instruction allows for children to be grouped at different levels and then to choose reading selections based on that level, instead of having to read the same book as the rest of the class and not always being able to understand it.

Students should also be allowed to choose from a wide variety of genres and topics. Not all books need to be fiction. In fact, many struggling readers prefer to read non-fiction, as it often can be related to real life more.

For more ways to involve your students in reading click here.

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