ChoiceIn my eighteen years as an elementary school teacher, I have learned that the number one key to student success involves setting high standards. Typically, parents and teachers are the ones who establish high expectations for children, and, of course, this act is critically important. By themselves, though, high expectations set by adults will only take us so far. The real progress begins when students make these expectations their own - when they become high personal expectations.

Every year I see students make significant learning gains, and without exception this progress is due to the fact that the kids decided that they wanted to do better in school and made the choice to dedicate themselves to becoming quality students. Once children make “The Choice,” a virtuous cycle begins. I describe the steps of this chain reaction below. The diagram that follows conveys these steps visually. Sharing the diagram with kids is a wonderful way to introduce the concept of developing higher personal standards, and the visual can serve as a consistent, long-term reference point that can be used both at home and in the classroom. (Please e-mail me if you'd like to receive a pdf copy of this visual.)

1) After making “The Choice,” kids immediately start working harder in school, being more diligent with their homework, and caring more about doing well academically.

2) As a result of this greater care and effort, the kids produce better, higher quality work. This may not happen right away, but it will happen eventually. Samples of this improved work offer the first tangible proof that something special is starting to occur.

3) When students begin producing better work, others will begin to notice. Teachers, parents, and classmates will provide positive feedback. More important, the kids themselves will notice, and they will give themselves positive feedback.

4) Positive feedback will increase children’s confidence. Noted educator Theodore Sizer once said that children will maximize their potential when they are motivated and confident. Positive feedback powerfully affects both of motivation and confidence.

5) The virtuous cycle continues as kids, who are now feeling more confident and believing in themselves to a greater degree than ever before, feel a deeper sense of pride and become more enthusiastic about school. Children who reach this stage are doing well, and they know they are doing well. They walk taller, participate more frequently in class discussions, and handle adversity more effectively. They strive to make the most of every learning opportunity, and they believe they can be successful at whatever their teachers put in front of them.

6) This part of the chain reaction marks a crucial step in a child’s transformation. The high expectations established initially by parents and teachers now belong to the students themselves. The kids made the choice to develop higher standards with regard to their work, effort, and behavior, and they are the now the principal owners of this choice.


7) At this point the cycle rises to a new level as children try even harder and care even more about doing well in school.

If children have not yet made “The Choice,” the best way for parents to encourage this decision is through unconditional love and support and by communicating the following idea: “I know you are capable of so much more and that you have greatness inside of you if you are willing to work a little harder and put more time and effort into your school work.” When adults consistently communicate high opinions of children’s worth, talent, and potential, kids become more likely to believe in and expect more from themselves. Children may not alter their expectations tomorrow or next week, but if they hear this message enough times, ultimately it will sink in.

 

MakingTheChoice

Published in For Parents
Saturday, 26 November 2011 17:39

Discuss Quotes to Promote Literacy Development

For the past fifteen years of my teaching career, I have incorporated the use of quotes into my classroom’s morning routine to inspire my students, start the day on a positive note, and build lasting habits of character. Discussing well-known sayings brings out the best in children and helps them focus on important ideas. It is my enthusiasm for this exercise and my firm belief in its effectiveness that led me to write my new book, Changing Kids‘ Lives One Quote at a Time: 121 Inspirational Sayings to Build Character in Children.

In addition to its character-building mission, our “Quote of the Day” conversations also offer a powerful way to promote literacy. When I speak of literacy, I am referring to the specific skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking.

In its pure form the discussion begins when a student volunteer reads the “Quote of the Day” on the board. It is critical at this time to provide approximately thirty seconds of “wait time” so each child can then think about the quote, make sense of it, and perhaps even come up with an example of how the quote’s meaning applies to everyday life or connects to a habit of character.

To maximize student participation, the kids follow this “quiet think time” with a brief pair-share, in which each child has an opportunity both to express ideas and listen carefully to the partner’s thoughts. Next, a few volunteers share their interpretations of the quote’s meaning with the entire class. Finally, I close the activity by sharing some thoughts of my own. Whenever possible, I like to share a personal story that brings out the quote’s meaning in a deeper way. Storytelling is a powerful teaching strategy, and kids are likely to remember the stories and the lessons they contain for a long time to come.

Parents can follow the basic outline of this procedure when discussing quotes at home with their children. In addition, there are several ways that parents can modify this conversational structure to strengthen literary development.

Put one quote per day or week in your child’s lunch and discuss the quote’s meaning after school. Reading a quote at lunchtime is a novel experience for children, and the timing provides kids with several hours to think about the quote to prepare for the evening discussion, which can take place on the ride home, at the dinner table, or at bedtime. For example, with R. Herzog’s quote, “It is better to light a candle than complain about the darkness,” it may take children a while to figure out that the saying is telling them to adopt a problem solving attitude when life’s inevitable frustrations arise, not complain about them.

Analyze quotes for excellent word choice or interesting word play. With Rudy Benton’s quote, “7 days without exercise makes one weak,” discuss with your child how the word “weak” is spelled. The quote isn’t referring to a week on the calendar, but to the fact that if we don’t exercise, we will become physically weaker.

Consider writing a quote or a set of quotes on your child’s placemat and discuss these sayings during a healthy breakfast. Over cereal and fruit, you and your child can discuss Bonnie Hopper’s quote, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little EXTRA!” Together, you can talk about how consistently giving that extra effort in school, in sports, and other endeavors can make a huge difference in the long run.

If you’re trying to sharpen your child’s writing skills, consider using quotes for journal writing. Simply choose a quote and ask your child to respond to it using one of the prompts listed below. (More prompts are provided in Changing Kids‘ Lives One Quote at a Time.)

• Describe a time when you or someone you know demonstrated the main idea of this quote.
• What do you think this quote means? Give examples.
• Why do you think the speaker said this quote in the first place?
• Describe how you can use the meaning of this quote to help others.
• Describe how this quote can help you get along more effectively with other people.

For example, with Vince Lombardi’s quote, “If you'll not settle for anything less than your best, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in your lives,” children may address the first prompt by describing a time when they finished a writing assignment at school and then continued to revise it to improve the story’s word choice and sentence structure, rather than put it away because they simply wanted to be done.

• Choose a quote and ask your child to say whether (s)he agrees or disagrees with its meaning and then explain why. This type of exercise builds the critical thinking skill of evaluation (the highest level on the well-known Bloom’s taxonomy) and develops persuasive speaking skills. For example, when considering John Hancock’s quote, “The greatest ability in business is to get along with others,” a child may choose to disagree and argue that knowing how to do one’s job with knowledge and skill is more important than getting along with other people. This would likely lead to a very interesting conversation.


Discussing quotes with children is a powerful, engaging way to build character in children and develop valuable literacy skills. I hope you decide to give it a try.
Published in For Parents
Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. In this critical role parents have the greatest impact on their kids’ academic, physical, social, and moral development and the greatest impact on their children’s motivation to learn. In my experience, parents are typically eager to do everything in their power to contribute to their children’s success in school, but they’re not always shown how to do this. The following suggestions will help parents empower their kids to be the best they can be. 

1. Commit yourselves to playing an active role in your child’s education.  Frequently, many parents leave the responsibility for their child’s education solely with the teacher. No matter how satisfied you may be with your child’s teacher (and I hope you are very satisfied), this practice is unwise. Remain involved on a consistent basis, and feel free to ask questions and raise any concerns that you may have about your child’s progress.

2. Repeatedly express to your child how important it is to work hard, take school seriously, and achieve as much as possible academically. Explain all the benefits that come from learning, such as increased pride and confidence, greater educational and career options, and a greater ability to participate in community affairs and activities. You can never repeat this message too many times.

3. Develop a homework policy with your child. No television until all homework is complete? No play time? Discuss these issues with your child so that both of you are clear about your family’s expectations for home study. Then be sure to hold your child accountable with regard to these expectations. Completing homework should not require a nightly battle.

4. Provide your child with a quiet study area. If possible, supply a desk and a spot to keep all necessary books and materials organized.  With or without a desk, however, it’s critical that your child have a consistent, well-lit place to study that is free from distractions. Providing such an atmosphere will not only enable your child to have an easier time studying, but also it will send a clear message that you think doing homework is an important priority.

5. Encourage your child to complete homework activities as independently as possible; offer help only when necessary. Giving too much assistance may cause your child to become too dependent on you while not giving enough may cause frustration. Strive to achieve the right balance so that your child exercises responsibility while you still remain actively involved in overseeing their efforts, both on daily homework activities and during long-term projects and test preparation.

6. Respond promptly to all notices that your child’s teacher and the school office send home. Do your best to stay on top of these matters.

7. Discuss school events and happenings with your child as frequently as possible.

8. Be sure that your child gets enough sleep each night and eats a nutritious breakfast each morning. Students perform significantly better academically and are able to put forth consistent effort when they are well-fed and well-rested.

9. Be sure that your child takes to school each day all needed supplies. Of particular importance is a sturdy folder or binder in which students can securely transport homework papers and other important documents to and from school.

10. Encourage your child to exercise as much as possible. More is being written every year about the importance of exercise and its powerful impact on the brain. Exercising before school has been shown to improve children’s focus and attention.

Following these suggestions dramatically increases the likelihood that students will be successful in school. Specifically, when parents consistently emphasize these priorities, kids will be more responsible, organized, and motivated. In addition, they will work with greater focus and greater purpose and be far more likely to maximize their considerable potential.


Published in For Parents
Monday, 25 July 2011 17:32

7 Ways to Encourage Reluctant Readers

Reading is a tremendously appealing, satisfying activity, and children will become hooked once the adults in their lives consistently build it into their daily schedules. The key is getting children started. The following seven strategies will help even the most reluctant reader become more enthusiastic about the endeavor. By employing the strategies described below, reading will become something that students do willingly, even eagerly, and the adults in their lives will not have to resort to trickery, bribery, manipulation, or any other tactic that will, at best, lead to temporary compliance. After all, we’re striving to make reading a joyous lifelong habit.

1.   Start with the child’s passions.  Children will be more excited about reading when they can choose books or magazines related to their interests. This suggestion is far and away the most powerful one when it comes to encouraging those who are reluctant to read. When kids own the choice of what they will read, motivation increases significantly.

2.   Make reading a social experience.  Children who don’t enjoy reading alone often enjoy reading with somebody else.  Children can read with their parents, siblings, other relatives, and friends.  Some children even start mini-book clubs and discuss books related to their common interests.  Asking children to read to their younger siblings and cousins can powerfully impact their own motivation to read.

3.   Read aloud to children.  Many parents regularly read aloud to their children when they are very young, yet stop this activity as the kids get older.  Parents should read aloud to children throughout the elementary grades.  Doing so makes reading more enjoyable, improves listening skills, builds comprehension, lengthens attention spans, and grows the imagination.

4.   Take advantage of new technology.  Children who may not find books interesting may enjoy reading the same texts on smart phones, computers, and electronic readers, such as the iPad or Kindle.  Technology makes everything seem cooler and more engaging to children, and we should capitalize on this fact when it comes to reading.

5.   Be a role model to children.  When children see their parents reading frequently, discussing what they have read, and carrying books around, they will value reading to a greater extent.  The power of modeling cannot be underestimated.

6.   Camouflage reading.  Parents can increase the amount of time their children spend reading by subtly building the activity into other, seemingly unrelated activities.  Examples include reading menus at restaurants, reading the directions to board games, and looking at various websites together. Children who may not yet enjoy reading for its own sake may enjoy it tremendously when it’s incorporated into other engaging pastimes.

7.   Be sure children read books that are appropriately challenging.  Many times kids don’t want to read simply because the books they encounter are too difficult.  This seemingly obvious point is frequently forgotten. None of us want to encounter frustration, and we will go to great lengths to avoid experiences that make us feel this way. Appropriately challenging books are those in which students can fluently read approximately 95% of the words. Encountering a small number of difficult words can help children grow in their reading skills, but encountering too many of these words can interfere with fluency and lead to discouragement.

Commit to trying one or more these ideas to help your child become a more enthusiastic reader. Teaching the whole child means that we focus on developing children’s academic skills, but just as important, we focus on children’s attitudes about these skills. We want to raise children who read well and read because they want to do it, not because they have to do it.

 

Published in For Parents
Monday, 16 July 2012 06:09

Announcing the Release of Rock It!

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Rock It! Transform Classroom Learning with Movement, Songs, and Stories has over 100 activities you can implement today in your elementary classroom to energize your students and help them learn. All of the movement activities, songs, and stories for teaching math and English language arts are aligned with Common Core State Standards in grades K - 5 to help you meet those learning goals.

Published in Featured Stories
Sunday, 14 July 2013 08:45

The Most Important 30 Days of School

“Back to School” time is approaching in many parts of the country, and once the new school year begins, I always emphasize to fellow educators the importance of focusing on four critical priorities. Giving these four priorities the time and attention they deserve will pay big dividends for you, your students, and their families. In this article I list these four priorities.

In this Teaching Tip I provide a link to a short YouTube video I created. The video features two effective strategies that help children become “unstuck” while they are writing. The first of these strategies is a familiar one, while the second is less well-known and a bit more novel. Try these ideas in class with your students or at home with your children.
In a few months my new book Rock Your Students’ World is scheduled to be released. The book includes over 100 classroom-tested ideas, activities, and strategies that incorporate music, movement, and storytelling to improve student learning. In this Teaching Tip I provide a link to a short YouTube video I created. The video features one of the book’s engaging stories, “The Story of Area.” The unique personality of Area (pronounced ah • ree • uh) helps children understand and remember the concept of area. Try sharing this story in class with your students or at home with your children.
This coming fall my new book Rock Your Students’ World is scheduled to be released. The book includes over 100 classroom-tested ideas, activities, and strategies that incorporate music, movement, and storytelling to improve student learning. In this Teaching Tip I provide a link to a short YouTube video I created. The video features one of the book’s engaging stories, “The Story of Peri Meter.” The unique personality of young Peri Meter helps children understand and remember the concept of perimeter. Try sharing this story in class with your students or at home with your children.
In this Teaching Tip I provide a link to a short YouTube video I created. The video features hand gestures that help children learn the meaning of three different kinds of angles: right, acute, and obtuse. Accompanying each movement is a clever phrase that further assists students. I learned these gestures and corresponding hand movements from presenter extraordinaire Jean Blaydes several years ago at the Elementary Physical Education Workshop I attend each year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Try these ideas in class with your students or at home with your children.