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Children are drawing

In every classroom there are students who have a wide range of abilities. Some students will have learned material before; others will be encountering it for the first time. This can be a challenge for teachers who need to use a standard curriculum to instruct students with different abilities. With a few simple strategies, teachers can make room for students who learn more slowly, while still challenging students who have an easier time.

One way to make students who learn more slowly feel comfortable is to allow students to work in groups that fit their learning style. This is easily accomplished by putting students in small groups to complete projects. The key to this activity is to give students a flexible number of tasks to complete. For instance, each group can have a worksheet that has ten activities. By telling students at the outset that they are not expected to complete all the activities, and that they should just do as many as they can, you create a low-stakes opportunity for students to work at their own pace. By putting students into groups with similar abilities, teachers can create a comfortable working environment for all students.

Another way to make students of different abilities feel more comfortable is to send more time-consuming work home to be completed as homework. Students don’t have to report how much time they spent on homework each night. So students who work more slowly don’t have to compare themselves to students who complete their homework more quickly. All that matters is that every student has the time they need to complete the work. Not only does this create a less judgmental environment for students who take more time, but it also frees up time for more instruction in class. By reserving class time for activities that everyone can complete quickly, teachers can ensure that they’re able to cover as much material as possible in the classroom.

A more creative way to deal with the issue of students who work at different speeds is to give students assignments that they can structure themselves. One example of this is to give students ten questions to answer, and tell them that they’re required to turn in at least five correct answers. Students who work quickly can complete more questions for extra credit. Students who work more slowly can select which questions they want to tackle with the time they have. This puts all the students in control of their own goals and the pace at which they work. A second benefit of this strategy is that students who generally work quickly can elect to take it easy and work more slowly if it helps them. In this way, we aren’t just helping the students who need more time. We are giving all students more control of their learning processes.

There will always be a diversity of abilities in a classroom. But by using some simple strategies to make assignments more flexible, we can create a more comfortable learning experience for everyone.

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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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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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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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Students in Class Room

Photo Credit : NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Students love getting a break from school. Winter break is no exception. It’s great to have a few weeks off to play with friends and watch TV. However, when it’s time to go back, that few weeks can make it hard for kids to transition back into a structured learning environment. Here are a few tips for a successful transition back to school after a break.

Go to Bed on Time

One of the perks of a break is that children often get to stay up a little later than they usually would at night. There’s nothing wrong with giving your children a little extra fun time before bed. However, in order to get them back in the habit of getting a good night’s sleep, and waking up ready to learn, you can have them go to bed and wake up at their regular time for the last few days of their break. This way, the first day back at school isn’t the first day that they’re struggling to wake up early again. By getting them back in the groove for a few days beforehand, they’ll have an easier time managing the school day and coursework and classmates and all the other things that come with being back at school.

Replenish School Supplies

One way to help get students excited to go back (and help their teachers in the process) is to make sure your students have everything they need to participate in class. Do your children need new folders or notebooks? How about their pencils, pens, and art supplies? Are they running out of the tissues or paper towels they use in class? You can inquire with your child’s teacher(s) about what they might need. Then you and your student can go school shopping together. By bringing this beginning-of-the-year ritual into the middle of the year, you help create an atmosphere of excitement and expectation for your students.

Catch Up on Schoolwork

Breaks are important. But they’re also an opportunity to catch up on work that we may have fallen behind on. Are there any classes or concepts that your student could use some extra help with? The winter break is a great time to get a little extra practice. If your child is struggling to keep up with reading in class, you can incorporate holiday reading practice into your winter break. This helps to keep the season festive while also making it productive. If your child’s teacher sent home any optional practice work, encourage them to take a few minutes every day to work on the skills they need to improve. They can also use their schoolbooks to review and do practice work. It’s not necessary to do schoolwork during a break, but it can be a good way to stay sharp for the return to class.

Finally, in the days before school starts, talk to your child about their goals for the next semester. What do they plan to accomplish? What are the things they want to improve? Are there clubs or activities they want to join? By helping your child to think about going back to school as an opportunity, you prepare them to make the most of the return to the classroom.

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Math learning toy numbers counting

It’s common to hear preschoolers reciting alphabet letters and even numbers. Many can even recite or “count” to 10 on their own. But is this really counting? Does it actually teach them anything about math? Recent research shows that this ability is simply memorization and doesn’t teach them to count or learn differences in amount any more than reciting the alphabet teaches phonic sounds. So, what should you teach them?

Give Real Examples

To actually learn any real math skills at a young age, a child needs to experience actual number sense. This means that instead of showing them the number, having them trace it and repeat its sound, they are given one object, like a toy car. Then give them another one and so on, counting as you add or subtract. When they begin to learn in real life situations like this, they begin equating a specific situation or setting to a specific number.

Sort

By age two, toddlers have the ability to sort or organize and even subitize. This helps to teach them comparisons and form the ideas of patterns and relationships. You will see them separate toy animals by kind, color, or size. By teaching your child to count and recognize the number of objects in those small groups and how they relate to one another, you are building their scientific inquiry skills.

Measure

Measurement Concept

This is continued even more when we draw on a child’s attraction with size. As we work with them to form relationships of bigger and smaller, we can begin to introduce the concepts of measurement, such as miles, inches, and/or pounds. This is one of the best and simplest ways to teach your child about math, as we use size constantly in every day life. And this helps to create a more compounded sense of logic and reasoning in children.

Speak of Space

Also important to early math skills is the language of space. Words like behind, over, under, in, circle, deep, next, front, triangle etc., not only allow children to understand the world around them better but also teach them spatial representation, giving them a foundation of math vocabulary terms. Make sure to point out spatial relationships when reading books, walking through the park, or even eating dinner.

Picture Patterns

Patterns are largely impactful on a young child’s mathematic abilities as well. Things like dance, visual art and movement patterns such as stop, drop, and roll help children to learn about making predictions, guessing and understanding what may come next and using reasoning skills, which is the basis of multiplication.

Encourage

The most important factor for any child learning math, or any subject for that matter, is a can-do attitude. If a child is to learn and master any skill, they need to be encouraged that they have what it takes to succeed. This attitude of self-efficacy that is learned as a child will most often carry them through their entire life, no matter what situation or subject they are dealing with. Be a constant support and place of encouragement to help them along.

Give your child the skills to succeed, give them encouragement and you will constantly be surprised at the accomplishments they can make. Sometimes, it all begins with just a few math lessons taught at a young age.

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How To Teach Persistence

At some point, every student finds a subject, an activity, or a situation that they no longer want to continue. It could be the new book they have been assigned in class or maybe the algebra problems they were sent home with. Maybe it’s a sport or musical activity. But we can’t let them simply quit. This is their education and it's too important. A little persistence can go a long way, but how you can get your middle or high school student to understand that and put it to good use?

Don’t Rush to the Rescue

As parents, it is difficult to see our children struggling, no matter what it is. And often times we find it tempting to come to their rescue and make it all better. However, that doesn’t teach them persistence. We all learn by trial and error. That means we have to give them a chance to fail and succeed on their own.

So instead of doing it for them, work through it together and ask them to do the thinking. If they never learn to do it on their own, they will never be able to solve their own problems. Life, in general, isn’t always fair or easy. Letting them work through these situations will teach them to persevere even if life isn’t being gentle.

Don’t Rush to the Rescue

Talk About it

Sometimes the best way to help them understand is to just talk about it with them. Hearing about the importance of persistence often can greatly benefit your child. If they are constantly hearing phrases such as, “I can do it,” “I won’t quit,” or “It’s always hardest the first time,” it’s much easier for them face problems with your positive voice in their heads. You might think of a family persistence mantra to say often, such as “Mistakes won’t get us down.”

Give them a Gentle Nudge

Pushing your child can be difficult for both parents and children, but it can make a world of difference. As creatures of habit, many of us, including our students, tend to stay in our comfort zone without straying too far. However, you can help your child by pushing them to try just a little harder, practice a little longer, and make it a little more challenging.

The key is to not push too hard or make expectations too great. A child will easily get discouraged and the lesson will be lost to them if are never able to reach your goals. A simple kitchen timer can work wonders here. For example, instead of only practicing their band instrument for 10 minutes, add another five minutes. And when they complain or grumble about it, remind them of their past achievements and give them encouragement.

When your child is feeling defeated and begins to say he can’t, make sure to remind him of all the times that he has. Use your family persistence mantra and give her a little nudge in the right direction. Your child needs to hear this from you and will benefit greatly from these persistence lessons that will last a lifetime.

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Math Practice

When we talk about teaching math concepts and ideas, repetition is the most common method used. Children are given sheets of the same type of problem to figure out, having them repeat the same actions over and over again. But is this the best way to learn such things?

Repetition and Simplest Form Learning

It’s a proven fact that learning happens as synapses fire. The brain does change structurally when we revisit ideas and learn deeply but repetition is not the only way to learn. Recent studies show that practicing the same functions over and over is, in fact, not helping you to learn the concept as a whole.

Those who are taught primarily this way learn to apply those concepts to one situation type only and it typically causes students to dislike the subject altogether. They learn to produce mindless and impractical answers and relationships, instead of being able to connect and reason as a whole.

This is further complicated by the fact that many teachers and/or text books only offer the most simplified version of the concept in isolation to anything else. These simplified versions are then practiced and drilled, causing boredom in most students as they learn to just accept the concept and repeat it, instead of learning the why behind it and where it might actually be used in the real world.

This can be seen when we look at how simple shapes are taught as well as mathematical equations and more complex ideas.

For example, students were asked to name the following shape.

Hexagon

It is a hexagon (a six-sided polygon), but most students couldn’t give this answer because they were taught that the proper shape of a hexagon looks like this.

Regular Hexagon

They were taught the simplest form of this concept and not to relate it to any other form. Over half of all students who took part in this study couldn’t give the correct response to this and other questions about similar shapes and concepts. When students only learn these simplest versions, they are not given the opportunity to really learn what the concept or idea is all about and easily form misconceptions about it.

Non-Example Learning

Teaching a variety of situations and definitions is important to learn and master each concept. So is the teaching of “non-examples.” These are definitions of what a concept is not. For example, when teaching the concept of the above-mentioned hexagon, teachers should also include examples of other polygons or shapes that are not hexagons. When teaching about mammals, giving examples such as a sparrow and teaching why it is not can be much more efficient than simply showing many examples of dogs and cats.

Giving students a more comprehensive and comparative learning method teaches them to differentiate between what is and what isn’t in a realistic way. They can then learn to apply that method to multiple situations and not just the simplest form or a perfect model.

Let’s make sure to teach in a way that gives children realistic expectations of what they can apply these important math concepts and ideas to. To learn more about Math help click here.

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I Love to Write Day

Writing is a huge part of education. During your child’s academic career, they will have written tens of thousands of words. These may be simple answers to everyday questions. They may be poems, short stories, letters, essays, and/or and thesis papers. And for school purposes, most do not like the task of completing them.

However, if you can instill in your child a love of writing or even a mild tolerance, you will be amazed at what they can create. I Love to Write Day is to use this and expand it. While it's not every child’s dream to write for a living, everyone does have dreams they want to see unfold. Many times, writing them down helps to solidify those aspirations and make them come to life.

History of I Love to Write Day

This day was started in 2002 by John Riddle, a non-fiction and self-help, Delaware-based author. John has been writing for over thirty years, with a total of 34 published books in his name. As many authors do, he has a great love of writing and the creativity it creates. Also, like many authors and writing-lovers, John would like others to take part in and learn to enjoy his passion as well.

That is why he created this day. It is a call to action; however, it is not meant to be overwhelming or too audacious. John stated that his goal for this day is to simply get all peoples from all ages and walks of life writing. It can be any length, any genre, and anywhere. Just something that puts your thoughts onto paper or in a computer and gets you writing. Who knows, this could be the start of your New York Times bestseller.

How to Celebrate the Day?

History of I Love to Write Day

Many different organizations including community centers, churches, schools, and even stores celebrate this day and use it to strengthen a child’s skills in writing and putting their thoughts into words.

Celebrating this day for yourself and your children is just as simple as it sounds. Write something. Don’t put limitations on it, such as length, style, or genre. Don’t think too hard about it, just write. Start a journal, write a poem, a letter, or a simple greeting or thank you card for your child’s teacher.

And don’t worry if it doesn’t sound amazing. Everyone has to start somewhere. J.K. Rowling didn’t imagine everything in her Harry Potter series in one writing session. She didn’t submit her work and get immediate approval. And she didn’t become a world-renown writer overnight.

If you or your child has big dreams, they will take time and effort before they may come to light. But the time to start is now, with just a line or two. Get those creative juices flowing. Before you know it, you may just have a masterpiece in your hands.

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