Wednesday, July 28, 2010

School Sense

Well, it is definitely that time of year.  Summer is coming to a rapid end and it's time to get the kids ready for school.  The #1 question I have gotten repeatedly over the years from parents is " what can I do to help my child be more successful in school?"

With over 10 years of experience as a teacher, I'd like to share from my perspective some quick yet simple to implement strategies that can not only help students become more successful, but assist parents in becoming more involved in the process.

  • Get Organized!!  Use color coded notebooks, folders, binders etc. to help students keep up with assignments for different classes.  For, example- If red is the math color, everything from folders to spiral notebooks and dividers should be red!  This can assist even the most disorganized student and saves valuable time when looking for assignments, notes and everything else.
  • Designate a place for students to study!  With all the distractions kids have from their cell phones, to I-pods this is even more important than ever.  Take the time to carve out a place in your home specifically for working on school work.  This can be office or a small corner equipped with a desk, school supplies, and a computer if possible.  Make sure it's away from the television and create rules around cell phones and other potentially electronic distractions. This varies considerably from child to child; some of my students were perfectly capable of working while listening to music and required minimal supervision when working online while others were on Facebook the minute I turned my back.  Know your kids and set the rules accordingly. 
  • Most kids think they have the ability to multitask, but most need to be taught to focus. (See Frontline Digital Nation piece for interesting insight into this topic) Regularly review what this looks like for your child by discussing how and when paying attention is key and what to do when they're having trouble paying attention to the task at hand.  Do they need to change seats?  Move closer to the teacher? Highlight important words and phrases to help them remember?  The strategies are numerous and one size does not fits all.  Equip kids with as many tools as you can- they will learn to utilize the ones that work best for them.
  • Embrace Technology!  If it's in the budget, I highly recommend purchasing either a desktop or laptop to help students not only stay organized but to be ready for the 21st Century overall.  Students who are not able to search and evaluate information from multiple sources, research effectively, and collaborate on a global scale will find themselves far behind their peers. 
  • Don't assume all students are digital natives.  Although most kids are pretty adept at using technology, you would be surprised at how many do not know basic functionality around creating and editing documents, using spreadsheets, creating folders for easy retrieval of documents, and identifying valid information.  Again, these things need to be taught!
  • Calendars, Calendars, Calendars!  Whether you are a techie like myself or not, students need to be taught to organize and plan effectively.  Buy an actual planner and help your kids figure out how to utilize them effectively for planning and completing assignments.  Better yet, get them a G-mail account and teach them how to use Google Calendar which can send reminders and can be accessed from anywhere. 
  • Purchase some inexpensive locker dividers and shelving units, baskets etc. to be used at home.  Again, organization is key- the more time you spend up front the less frustration you will experience later.  
  • Watch for red flags!  Sudden emotional changes can be a sure sign of trouble ranging from bullying to depression.  Skipping classes and complaining about certain subjects and/or teachers may simply be your child's way of saying " I don't get it" so don't be afraid to get a tutor .  Enlist help from the school or outside agencies if additional academic or social issues need to be addressed.  
    I hope you found these helpful.  For additional help refer to the following websites:

    How To Study
    Google Calendar
    PBS Parents
    Frontline- Distracted by Everything (Video)
    Tech Teacher Blog

    About Tracy:
    Tracy has an extensive background in teaching, curriculum development, and school administration.  She has held several positions in Chicago Public Schools, University of Chicago Charter Schools, Illinois State Government, and Digital Youth Network.  Tracy has presented her work at several conferences including the National Writing Project, Hawaii International Conference on Education (January 2011), and served as a consultant for a one-to-one laptop initiative in Brisbane, Australia.  Tracy is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University.



    1. Excellent post, Tracy! Organization is the key to my success as both a learner and teacher. I also agree that kids need to be taught how to use social media and technology tools responsibly. It's amazing (and scary) to see the information they put on the web. I'm planning on using more technology in my class but know that I will need to spend time talking about being a safe and responsible user of the web.

    2. Hi! I'm so glad to hear your are planning to spend time talking about responsible use of the internet. In regards to organization, I've seen students literally go from failing to earning all A's as a result of being taught solid study skills. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and I hope you have a great school year.