Every single day we are tasked with ensuring that our students are entering into our building safely, that they are to learn wholeheartedly, and that they get to experience a wide variety of knowledge along the way. In doing this, as educators one of the pivotal roles we play is to promote classroom conversations. These discussions, these special moments of discourse, are necessary to allow students the time to pull apart their own ideas, formulate their own opinions, and better understand others. We have seen the world swiftly change in the past year, more than we ever thought it would. We want to be sure to do our part to provide a forum of opportunity for our students to speak about real-world events. In doing this effectively, there are three main approaches that should be taken into account across grade and content levels:
Classroom rules and norms are a regularly occurrence, but we want to be sure we revisit them before conversations. Our students need safe community spaces to process information, so having set expectations for when students can speak, how they can address each other respectfully and mindfully, and how it can foster a positive classroom culture are all critical.
Role as a Facilitator
The classroom teacher needs to take ownership of the facilitator role. No matter what age your students are, it is easy to want to jump in and help a student clarify their own thought. But as a facilitator, as furthering this classroom conversation, it involves taking a big step back and not influencing or exerting an opinion or stance. Allow your young people to take the mic, to process their thoughts, and use their own words to inform you. This should be a big moment as they work through their own pieces of information, their own views, and find their footing.
As you wrap up these conversations, we want to be sure to tie back to those classroom norms and expectations. We are all growing, we are all learning, we are all evolving, from students to adults. Reassure them that while differences exist, it is the power of understanding one another and having respectful conversations that allows us to make change.
These necessary conversations establish and support the classroom community. They allow for relationships to thrive, for inspiration to occur, and for student engagement to be accelerated. It shows students that we know they are aware of what is going on in the world today, and we want to be there for them in any capacity that we can. It shows students we care.
Homework was not always a staple of a student’s’ life. Until the 1950s, homework felt to be an unnecessary burden on school children. When they left school, it was time for chores on the farm or around the home. It was not until the Cold War, when there was a fear of falling behind the Russians, that a fresh emphasis on homework reignited. We needed to keep our educational edge.
Over the last decade, educators have been examining the wisdom of giving students hours worth of homework every night. A rule developed suggesting ten minutes of homework for every grade the student was in. So a second grader would have twenty minutes of homework, while middle school students would have over an hour of work to do when they got home. This “10-Minute Rule”, while not an exact science, is a rule of thumb that many schools and school districts have adopted.
Homework at a young age can be a critical step in turning your child into a lifelong learner, but homework amounts can cause negative results. Too much homework can be intimidating to a new learner, driving them away from school and learning. Too little and they are not stimulated enough to want to learn outside of school. The National Education Association (NEA) goes by guidelines suggested by Harris Cooper: ten to twenty minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional ten minutes per grade. This research is where the 10-Minute Rule developed.
This rule works in multiple ways. The first way is keeping a definite time for children to explore. Studies show that the further children get in their school careers, the more homework becomes a benefit to them. Before third grade, most children cannot learn outside lessons from their homework. They can do it and understand what they do, but they cannot fully apply it. As students start to read to learn, a love of reading becomes essential. Younger students, however, do most of their learning by playing and exploring the world around them. Small amounts of homework benefit students at this age, as long as it does not interfere with their exploration of the world.
Homework at a younger age puts stress on parents as well. Older students that have developed more critical thinking skills can answer the questions on their own. Younger students do not always have that ability, and may struggle with assignments. This puts some of the onus for educating them on the parents. This can add stress to the parents, especially if they have busy lives.
Younger students’ benefits from homework are much different than older students. The repetition and reinforcement of the lessons they are learning in school are the primary reasons for elementary school students’ homework. Homework for younger students is a way to allow parents to see what they are learning in school. As parents help their young children, they can look at the lessons and can reinforce them at home. The children also are starting to understand the necessity of doing schoolwork at home. This is a valuable lesson as they move through their education.
Though the pendulum of how much homework to give students will always swing, we have discovered that homework is an essential tool for students’ growth. It teaches them more than what it is on the paper. It helps them with discipline, reinforces what they are learning in school, and builds them into better learners.
Reading and writing are skills that go hand in hand. As children develop, they learn to speak first. Reading follows, and then the ability to write in their language. Writing is a great way to reinforce the lessons they learn from reading. They start to mimic writing the words they see, much like they mimic hearing the words they hear on a daily basis. Introducing children to writing is a task that should occur early. It can start with items as simple as crayons and some paper.
Providing the opportunity to draw at an early age is one way of encouraging writing. Much like ancient cultures drew images that morphed into letters, the pictures that young children draw are their way of communicating. Getting them to put markers and crayons to paper is a way to encourage early writing skills. When they complete their drawings, you can have them tell you stories about them. As they get older, you can teach them that writing is very similar to drawing.
This playful approach to writing can be the perfect introduction to associating letters with sounds. Children can start practicing associating letterforms with sounds and words as early as the preschool years. During that time, they begin putting sounds together with the words they hear. They are starting to understand the connection between the letters they see and the sounds or ideas they represent. Picture books emphasize this connection as well, helping children to associate the images of the words with pictures.
As they become more familiar with what letters look like, those letters may start to emerge in their drawings. The letters will be random at first. Mostly they will be working on consonants and a few vowels. Each time they write down letters spend some time talking about them. What sounds do the letters make? What words are they part of? When the letterforms start to develop, they will eventually mimic the words they see in books. This is an opportune time to continue to teach them more about the words they are seeing as they begin to write them out.
Another way that young children are encouraged to write is by seeing their parents write. Children like to repeat what their parents are doing. Before computers became such powerful communication devices, there was more writing done at kitchen tables around the country. With fewer letters and checks written, it is essential to take time out of the day to show your children that you write. This is also a chance to teach them the importance of things like thank you letters, as well as their own creative works. When children tell stories about their drawings, write them down for them. Then have them read the stories back to you. They have created their own stories to share with your help!
Developing writing is a way to reinforce what they are learning when they read. They are learning the building blocks of reading, letters, and words, while they connect what a letter looks like to how it sounds. It starts with something as simple as drawing pictures, eventually turning those pictures into full-blown stories.
Sitting down with a good book for pleasure is much different than sitting down to go over tax documents or reading a book that you are analyzing for a paper. Readers relax when they read for pleasure. They make a comfortable space and do all they cannot be interrupted while they devour tales of trips to far off places, unlikely romances, and conflicts for the heart of the world. It can be about historical figures that made a significant impact on society or events that changed the direction of society. Reading for pleasure does not have to be fiction!
Reading for pleasure starts with the adults. Administrators, teachers, and parents all have to show that reading is as much a fun activity as it is a necessary activity. Any teacher, even math and science teachers, can read to young students at the beginning of class. Let the parents know what their child liked, and did not like, and help them build a library at home. Or encourage students to go to the school or community library and find books they love.
What reading for pleasure has to be, though, is self-selected. Teachers and parents who hope, or make, children read books outside of class that are “better for them” blunt some of the pleasure otherwise found in the book. As children’s book author Neil Gaiman once pointed out in a speech about libraries,”Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer.” It is a route to other benefits as well.
Reading for pleasure does not make them better at reading; it makes them better at learning. The British Cohort Study (BCS) found that children that read for fun are not just better at reading and English, they are better at all subjects. On a longer timeline, they have a better vocabulary as adults as well. In fact, whether or not a child reads for pleasure at a young age can have more impact on their educational growth than socioeconomic status.
Another benefit that reading for pleasure has uncovered is better empathy and decision making. The stories that people read often show characters interacting in a variety of situations. Children get so engrossed in the book that their brains would react as if the events were happening in the real world. A fourteen-year-old who participated in one of the studies commented that “sometimes when big stuff happens in my life, I’ll think about what my favorite characters would have done, the ones I admire most. … They all have different approaches, different ways they approach things, and then I try to apply that to my life, to see which way works for me.” The situations they see in books give them social clues to how people react to various experiences.
This understanding of socialization does not just come from what they are reading. Like any other hobbyist, readers often interact with other people that love reading. These interactions help students develop social skills at a young age. Students learn how to share opinions at a younger age as well as building their understanding of other cultures and perspectives.
Extending that love of reading to the home is equally important. Have books ready to be read at any place around the house. Instead of watching television, have a family reading night. Once your children are reading on their own, spend time reading books you like with them for pleasure. It can encourage them to ask about the book and possibly introduce them to a whole different subject or series!
Reading for pleasure has benefits that go beyond the scholastic. By giving students choices about what they want to read, a lifelong reader is created. Practice allowing your child to read what they want and see where it takes them!
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.
- Building Relationships – You do not need to treat students as friends, but you do need to give them respect. A trusting relationship is a big step in discovering what is happening outside the classroom that could affect them inside of it.
- Formal Communication – Unless the home is highly religious, formal speech is not often used in low-income families. Most tests over the years are written formally, which makes them harder to understand for these students. Building this form of vocabulary is incredibly important over the long haul.
- Understand their Resources – By understanding what support a student has, arrangements can often be made by the school to offer what they do not have. Time and tutoring are usually the two things most students in low-income families need most.
- How to be a Student – Being a student is a skill that is not inborn; it is learned. Asking questions, planning assignments, and preparing for tests may not be taught in the home. Especially if the parents struggled in school. But it can be taught with other lessons.
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.
People have chosen the end of the year as a special time for honoring, celebrating and giving, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. For thousands of years, people have revered this time of year for a variety of reasons and with distinctive flairs in every culture. Celebration and ceremony continues today all over the world from Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa to more specialized solstice happenings, such as Dong Zhi in China, Shab-e Yalda in Iran, and Shalako in the American Southwest.
Over the years, countless traditions have become part of the celebrations, too. It’s these traditions that give holiday celebrations their personality, whether they are simply ornamental fun or symbols of deeper meaning. Here are a few from our more common holidays.
One day during the Christmas season in Germany in the early 1600s, someone chopped down a pine tree, brought it inside, and decorated it. People apparently loved the idea, and the tradition caught on, though it was slow to take hold in the United States because it was seen as a pagan relic. Today, the Christmas tree is probably one of the most notable symbols of the Christmas season. Now people strap them to car roofs and rush them home, and it’s where everyone goes to give and receive presents.
For a several-week time span in the late fall in Iceland, publishers release a lot of books, and people buy them at a furious pace. It’s called the Christmas Book Flood, and Icelanders crowd the local bookstores seeking to extend their personal libraries. This massive book drive is also closely related to the tradition of giving books to one another on Christmas Eve. Icelanders then spend the evening reading while waiting for old St. Nick.
It would not be right to overlook the great Yule tradition of donning Christmas sweaters in holiday competition to determine who has the most obnoxious outfit. This American tradition has quite a following as a cultural trend, though it lacks the venerable pedigree of the Christmas tree or caroling. To take part, all one needs are like-minded people and a red or green sweater excessively embroidered with Christmas symbols.
Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights, and lasts for eight days. It honors the reclaiming of a Jewish temple from the Greeks about 2200 years ago. After reclaiming the temple, the people sought to light a menorah. They discovered, however, that only about one day’s worth of oil was at hand. But to everyone’s amazement, they got eight days of oil from the lamp. Since then, people who celebrate Hanukkah keep a menorah, a special candleholder, and light it each night of Hanukkah. On day one, they light one candle; on day two, they light two candles; they continue until the eighth night when all eight candles blaze.
Because of the significance of oil in the temple lamp, cooking foods in oil is an important tradition at Hanukkah. Tables overflow with fried indulgence, such as potato latkes and jelly donuts. Dairy foods are significant as well in honor of Judith, so cheesecake and blintzes are not an unusual sight.
Jewish tradition included giving money, rather than presents, at Hanukkah. Today people can still expect to see some money during Hanukkah, but they also might see another kind of currency: chocolate gelt, or chocolate coins wrapped in foil.
Relatively new to the end-of-year-celebrations, Kwanzaa sets it foundation in a desire to bring African Americans together in community. The holiday derived from a collection of traditional African harvest celebrations, and it involves storytelling, poetry, feasting and candle lighting. Kwanzaa candle lighting is similar to Hanukkah candle lighting. For Kwanzaa, people light seven candles, each corresponding to the seven principles (ideals to honor). As a candle is lit each night of Kwanzaa, people discuss one of the principles.
The sixth day of Kwanzaa brings the people together for feasting. This tradition begins with an artistic performance. Next, a ritual drinking ceremony takes place followed by a reading and drum performance. Then people eat. After the feast, the host or hostess provides a farewell speech.
There has been a lot of debate lately about the importance of physical education in school curriculums. Many schools have cut PE funding or the programs have taken a back seat to “teaching the test”. The focus on raising standardized test scores has negatively affected other areas of education. Important ones. Such as Physical Education which is essential to a child’s development physically and mentally.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends 60 minutes of physical activity a day for children and adolescents. If you’ve watched professional football in the last 5 years you may have noticed a campaign called Play 60. This campaign encourages kids to get out and play for at least 60 minutes a day; using popular NFL players and kids of all ages. Besides the fact that this play or physical activity helps reduce obesity and obesity-related issues in students it helps them focus, learn and be attentive during stationary lessons. The more active, the better the academic performance.
“Exercise directly affects the development and cognitive ability of the brain.”
Studies from the CDC, Columbia University, the New York City Health Department and Department of Education and the Universities of West Virginia, Illinois and California have all published research that supports this need for physical education in school systems. Exercise directly affects the development and cognitive ability of the brain. It positively impacts a child’s ability to learn, retain and think at a higher level. According to Active Living Research, “In some cases, more time in physical education leads to improved grades and standardized test scores.”
Besides the improved grades and brain function physical activity cultivates it also helps with a sense of social connectedness and drop-out rates. At risk students are more likely to attend class when interscholastic sports are offered. Every student, regardless of financial situation, should have access to quality education and the tools to succeed outside of the classroom. Physical education can tie all of these issues together.
“Every student, regardless of financial situation, should have access to quality education and the tools to succeed outside of the classroom.”
During the summer months as we encourage our kids to go outside and play, swim and get dirty, we should encourage reading as well. They are exercising their bodies which helps their brain so why not support both. Kids Read Now! is like the Play 60 campaign. Both are working towards a common goal to help develop and positively influence children and adolescents. We want to give them every opportunity to succeed. Physical activity helps create eager-to-learn kids and Kids Read Now is providing the tools necessary for that success. Who knows, maybe they will begin to practice both on their own.