In 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 â€œThe Choice,â€ 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 â€œThe Choice,â€ 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 childrenâ€™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 childâ€™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 â€œThe Choice,â€ the best way for parents to encourage this decision is through unconditional love and support and by communicating the following idea: â€œI 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.â€ When adults consistently communicate high opinions of childrenâ€™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.
1. Commit yourselves to playing an active role in your childâ€™s education. Frequently, many parents leave the responsibility for their childâ€™s education solely with the teacher. No matter how satisfied you may be with your childâ€™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 childâ€™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 familyâ€™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, itâ€™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 childâ€™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 childrenâ€™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.
1. Start with the childâ€™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 donâ€™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 itâ€™s incorporated into other engaging pastimes.
7. Be sure children read books that are appropriately challenging. Many times kids donâ€™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 childrenâ€™s academic skills, but just as important, we focus on childrenâ€™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.
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.
â€œBack to Schoolâ€ 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.