By Leib Lurie | Categories Challenges | Educators | September 20, 2017

For many children, going to school is just one part of their daily ritual. They grumble get out of their comfortable bed, have breakfast, and are transported to school for a day of learning and spending time with friends. They receive their assignments for the day, then head home to complete them before they head to bed and get ready to complete the cycle the next day. That is the ideal: a stable base for children to build their education upon.

That is not the reality for may children. As of 2013, most students come to school from low-income households. They can leave for school malnourished and tired from sleepless nights in unstable homes. Heading to school can be dangerous as well, especially if their home is in a high crime neighborhood. School can add to the struggle when they cannot stay awake, are focused on their hunger instead of lessons, and have no time at home to complete assignments. Such a fragile base is difficult to build an education upon.

There are ways that the school itself can be a place to help students from low-income or unstable homes educate students in subjects beyond the three Rs.

One way was suggested over two decades ago by Dr. James Comer, a child psychologist from Yale University. He believed that “no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” He developed a process called the Comer Process, known by some as the School Development Program. It is a system that looks after the whole student, helping them develop social and life skills in school along with being educated. Teams are built to help students manage their lives inside and outside of the classroom.

It takes a major commitment to apply the Comer Process to a school. There are many other options for schools to ensure that students are being supported for the time they are there.

 

Low-income students offer schools the opportunity to be a haven from their day to day life. They can help them with life skills they may not find at home, adding stability to what can be a very unstable existence. A stability to help them become lifelong learners.


By | Categories Educators | September 20, 2017

The creation of a lifelong learner and passionate reader extends beyond the classroom. It involves a group effort, which includes the friends and family of the student. They are the support system that ensures the lessons learned in the classroom get reinforced outside of it. They are the ones that make sure that homework gets completed promptly and passive learning occurs. Researcher Susan B.Neuman, in her paper Guiding Young Children’s Participation in Early Literacy Development: A Family Literacy Program for Adolescent Mothers, states that “engaging parents and children in mutual activities that include book reading, but are not limited to it, may constitute the richest potential for supporting children’s early literacy development.”

It can be a challenge to get parents to engage.  Parents have busy lives, and while they want to participate, other problems in life prevent it. They are not only making sure their children are doing well at school, but they are also working to pay the bills, get children to social events and possibly taking care of other family and friends. Schools intimidate some parents, based on their history with education. Teachers have a variety of tools at their disposal to invite and encourage parents to become more active in their child’s education.

 

Opening the door for parents to help in the classroom is a significant benefit to the students. Teachers and parents, when they combine their resources and efforts, provide a seamless educational experience for a student. This has long-term benefits for the student, and the family as well. It creates a culture of learning in the home, which is an advantage to the whole community.

 


By | Categories Educators | September 12, 2017

Language philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

Wittgenstein knew that his world was limited to the words he could use to describe it. This has been borne out through more methodical tests, like those performed by Johnson O’Conner. For over two decades he performed a variety of experiments to establish what factors turn a person into a success. The one factor that Johnson found to predict success, taking other variables into account, was vocabulary size. The larger the vocabulary, the better chances that the person would find their way into the C-Suite. The earlier children begin building vocabulary, the better their chances are for success in life.

Children start to understand words at 12-18 months, absorbing everything they hear. As they get older, they benefit from having their vocabulary expanded with more complicated words. By the time they are ready to start preschool and kindergarten, their vocabulary is advanced enough that they need to have discussions that improve their word knowledge. Kindergarten is the time when vocabulary differences become evident. A child from an affluent family will understand nearly twice the words that a child from a poor family. This is a gap that, if left unchecked, affects student learning.

Fortunately, many strategies are available to close that gap.

These small but necessary steps build a foundation for reading. The more words a student has in their possession, the easier it is for them to grasp new concepts in class. Building vocabulary encourages them to explore new concepts, opening them up to new ideas, that expose them to new words. A virtuous learning circle develops, giving every student a chance at success through high school graduation and beyond.


By | Categories Challenges | Educators | September 8, 2017

In 2011, innovative game designer Jane McGonigal wrote a book about her experiences with gamers and how to live better through games. The book was Reality is Broken, and it discussed how to improve life through gamification.

Offering rewards for people to achieve has become a staple in our everyday lives, from points on credit cards to badges in apps. Every little win gives us a little burst of dopamine that makes us want to reach out for one more attempt. There is always one more carrot to make us want to take one more step towards our goal. We have discussed before how goal setting and rewards can help motivate students to achieve. But there are other ways to build that excitement for learning.

Chapter four of Reality is Broken begins with the story of an experiment that discovered that success is motivational, but to be entertained and encouraged by failing may be more motivational. The M.I.N.D. Lab studied how gamers reacted to success and failure in 2005 by using the Super NES game Super Monkey Ball 2. It is a game where you “bowl” with monkeys in clear balls. A gutter ball sends the monkey hurling into space with an entertaining graphic. The monitored subjects reacted well to hitting the pins with the ball, but they were more excited when the ball went off the side.

Their reasoning? By failing, and receiving something positive out of the experience, they are encouraged to try again. It is a combination of a challenge that they feel they can overcome and the opportunity to overcome it that keeps the gamers returning to the game. Learning a new piece of information releases the same dopamine as earning a badge in an app. According to a study done by The Princeton Review, 90% of high school students are focused on the results of their work, while only 10% are focused on the process of learning. Making the process of learning engaging keeps the students interested in the lesson. It becomes a challenge they want to achieve.

The Center for American Progress surveyed students from across the country and came to similar conclusions. Up to 37% of fourth graders surveyed stated that their math problems were too easy. The highest performing students overwhelmingly agreed (67%) with the statement “Schoolwork is interesting,” while a much smaller percentage (40%) of lower performing students agree with this declaration. Students that lack challenges are not engaged. If they are not engaged, they are not learning. Instilling a love of the process of learning makes it much more likely that they will achieve better results in the long run.

Students that discover at an early age experiments and unknowns in learning can be as enjoyable as the successes also discover doing the wrong thing becomes less intimidating. Accepting the challenge of the unknown becomes part of the process. Learning becomes a journey, filled with exciting new challenges to overcome instead of something to fear. As the Super Monkey Ball 2 players learned, the fun of the game is not always the success. Sometimes it is the joy of the journey!


By KRN Admin | Categories Educators | August 29, 2017

The problem starts slowly. Students begin to struggle with their assignments. They work hard to understand the explanation of the concept, but it is just not coming to them as easily as it comes to their neighbor. When they go home to do homework, they do not have the same support system as other students. That frustration builds as they struggle to keep up with the rest of the class. One of the most accurate predictors of this negative behavior is literacy level.

Illiteracy is a threat to the teacher’s classroom as much as it is to the student’s future. Students who struggle to read act out during class in a variety of ways. Their outbursts cover the full range of emotions, from anger and lashing out to comedic interludes to gain attention. By the time they reach third grade, they possess a basic understanding of the fact that they are behind their peers. This can lead to the negative emotions that cause them to act out during class, doing whatever they can to distract from time spent having to learn. Students that have a hard time learning become adverse to going to school and using that time productively.

Deborah Stipek and Sarah Miles at the Stanford School of Education discovered in a 2006 study that “relatively low literacy achievement in 1st grade predicted relatively high aggressive behavior in 3rd grade … [and] low literacy achievement in 3rd grade similarly predicted high aggressive behavior in 5th grade.”

The theory was that as students became more discouraged with school, they acted out more often. These issues are magnified over time, resulting in adults that are more likely to end up with lower earning potential (75% of unemployed adults have low literacy) and a higher risk of ending up incarcerated (70% of those incarcerated have low literacy rates).

Fortunately, early intervention can help students avoid these problems. Catching this shift in behavior early provides teachers, and other students, a much more conducive learning environment. Some positive information to consider:

 

 

 

The events that influence students before third-grade may cause ripples through their entire life. Helping students equate the class with a positive experience helps mitigate future problems. The less time teachers must spend dealing with unruly students, the more time they can contribute to developing all of their students into enthusiastic readers and lifelong learners.

 


By KRN Admin | Categories Educators | August 23, 2017

The impact of the summer slide has been the focus of multiple studies over the past several decades. Over the course of their school career, students can lose up four years of education by not studying during vacation. This affects graduation rates, employment rates, and incarceration rates. The impact on society is well documented. What is not as well documented is the impact on the school itself.

The summer slide can be costly to school districts that do not take action to halt it. Many of the school districts in Ohio are facing reduced funding from the state over the next several years. This means that every dollar spent in the district must be spent wisely, balancing the advantages and disadvantages of every purchase for the district. Understanding the direct costs of the summer slide to any district’s budget is important.

Fortunately, there are many programs that offer ways to mitigate or eliminate the summer slide. The least expensive ones are well managed summer reading programs that offer incentives for reading through the summer. The Kids Read Now summer reading program encourages stopping this slide by sending self selected books home for the family to enjoy. There are many places that offer summer reading camps as an option, taught by community volunteers or teachers.

Utilizing funds as a preventative measure instead of reacting to learning loss can save districts millions in revenue. Money that can be spent on new books, new facilities, and new programs to help teachers. This approach does not only help the school district manage its resources, it improves the lives of students by keeping their minds busy during the summer, ready to begin a new school year!


By KRN Admin | Categories Educators | August 11, 2017

Over the summer, home is an incredibly important place in the development of a love for reading. That center shifts when the days get cooler and school begins. The classroom becomes the place where children continue to build their literacy skills. Instilling this desire goes beyond lessons taught in English class. There are amazing stories to be told in Science, History, the Arts and Social Studies. Every subject offers tales that can be inspirational to students!

The best time to foster a love of reading in students is when they are young. Younger students learn by imitating what they see in the world around them. In school, this means seeing teachers reading books while they are doing work at their desk. Or having a discussion with the principal about what books they are reading. Becoming role models for reading and literacy can go a long way to developing a love of reading in a student. There are plenty of ways to do that as a school:

The environments that students are part of is only part of the equation for encouraging reading. Demonstrating that reading is a pleasurable and relaxing activity helps students develop a similar perspective. The combination of parents and teachers acting as reading role models is the best way possible to encourage a love of reading in children.


By KRN Admin | Categories News | July 31, 2017

Like developing anything important, building better students requires providing the right environment. This is an easier task when the children are in school. A school is filled with teachers, staff, and materials that serve the purpose of encouraging students to learn. Outside of the classroom, that encouragement is not always present. Those materials are not always available when they are at home. They do not need desks, whiteboards, or even computers to spend time learning at home. All they need are home libraries.

Having a library at home encourages students to spend time reading, and learning, outside of the classroom. Richard Allington, author of Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, states that a handful of self-selected books could have a dramatic impact on a child’s learning over time.

In a multi-year study, he discovered that just adding 12 self-selected books to a home every summer can have the same learning impact that summer school offers. When books are convenient, it is more likely those books will be used by the students and parents. It creates a home environment that shows that reading is encouraged, especially when there are books within easy reach at all times. Helping parents build home libraries have other benefits as well:

Creating a friendly environment for students to read changes the environment for the whole family. Even in areas where there may not be a bookstore or community library available, home libraries offer a bridge to literacy. It extends a small part of the learning environment into every home.


By KRN Admin | Categories Educators | July 25, 2017

Motivating students is complicated. School staff knows what is required of the students by the state. The challenge has been to find a way to get the class to not only see that goal but to instill a desire to achieve it.

A healthy debate has existed for years whether or not rewarding student achievement is the right mechanism for this task. This means of motivation does work (as shown in a study by Robert Fryer, Jr.), but it is important that faculty use it properly.

Not all positive reinforcement is beneficial to students. Reinforcement generally falls into two categories: planned and unplanned. Planned motivation–offering a reward for performing certain tasks–can help students develop good habits over the years. It is the unplanned motivation, bribing a student to get them to perform, that ultimately harms students in the long run. There are distinct differences between the two.

This trail of breadcrumbs, filled with more books, more experiences, and more education about the joy of learning, can turn students focused on trudging from test to test to ones that understand the journey. Bribing students to prevent bad behaviors teaches them the wrong lesson. It shows them that they can get an advantage by using the right leverage, not by working for it.  A system of planned rewards makes the complication of motivating students into a learning mindset easier to do.


By KRN Admin | Categories Challenges | Educators | July 17, 2017

In the middle of the summer, it can be difficult to keep children motivated to read. There are pools to play in, friends running up and down the street, and for many, little desire to be reading anything.

School is not for another month, and there is not a scrap of homework in sight. They have a small stack of colorful and exciting books to read, and even more of them will be coming as they finish each one. Without the motivation of assignments or encouragement of teachers, reading over the summer could fall the wayside.

There are multiple ways to keep students motivated to read over the summer. These tips are just as valuable during the school year as well, encouraging students to read for pleasure as well as for homework and information.

 

Summer reading does more than preventing the summer slide. It is an opportunity to build their love of reading outside an environment where reading is required. Maintaining the momentum of reading through the summer will help students find an appreciation for reading they may not discover elsewhere.