Six Simple Ways to Be More Involved in Your Child’s Education

Six Simple Ways to Be More Involved in Your Child’s Education

Do you feel as if you don’t have a clue what your kid does all day at school? Sometimes it can seem like pulling teeth to get your child to open up and tell you about her day. Or perhaps you know what they are learning but would like to feel more involved in the process. Mothers and fathers can and should take part in their children’s education. Red Apple Reading has 6 simple suggestions that will help parents become more involved in the education of their kids.

  1. Volunteer – One of the best ways to find out what goes on in your kiddo’s classroom is to pay frequent visits. I have learned a lot about my children’s daily routine and classroom atmosphere by volunteering for a couple of hours once a week. You will feel more involved and your child’s teacher will appreciate the extra help. Everybody wins!
  2. Check Teacher Websites – Most teachers these days have their own websites. Parents can easily check daily homework assignments, see what the class will be focusing on for the week, and learn about upcoming events. Ask your school what information is available to you online.
  3. Ask Leading Questions – Probably the most typical one word answer to, “What did you learn in school today?” is, “Nothing.” Don’t be discouraged by your student’s economy of words! Instead, try asking more pointed questions such as, “What are you studying in science right now?”, “What is one new thing you learned today?”, or “What book did you check out of the library?”. These questions will prompt your kiddo to give more than just a token response and will hopefully lead to some great conversations!
  4. Learn What They are Learning – I have to admit – my 3rd grader’s math problems befuddle me! It’s not so much that I can’t solve them; I just don’t solve them the way he does. After attending math night at my son’s school, I got a better idea of why they are using the methodology they are using and learned (a little) along the way. Don’t be afraid to open your child’s textbook and learn along with him. Chances are he will love teaching you a thing or two!
  5. Join a Parent Committee – If you are like me, you aren’t looking for one more activity to fit into your already busy schedule. However, organizations such as P.T.O. usually involve a modest amount of time and allow parents to become better acquainted with their kid’s school system and its staff. So stop avoiding those meetings and learn what’s going on in your child’s school/classroom.
  6. Look in the Backpack – Yes – that dreaded black hole where teacher’s notes and homework assignments go to never again see the light of day – the backpack! A daily perusal of your kid’s backpack can yield a wealth of information. Most teachers send home weekly updates, lists of assignments, and other pertinent information on a regular basis. Whether or not you receive these, is a whole other story. Don’t assume your student is giving you all the information you need. Look through her backpack regularly – there’s no telling what you may unearth (how long has that granola bar been in there anyway?!).

We would love to hear how you stay connected with your child’s education. Leave us a comment below and share your secrets with us!

Debunking Myths About Combination Classrooms

Debunking Myths About Combination ClassroomsHave you heard of the combination classroom? If not, then it may be just a matter of time before it debuts in a school near you. With education budgets tighter than ever, these types of classroom environments are becoming more prevalent. So just what are they, exactly? Combination classrooms, also referred to as multi-grade classrooms, are those that accommodate students of different ages and grade levels under the instruction of a single teacher. Most parents panic when they learn of the possibility that their child may be put in the same classroom as children older or younger than them, but research has shown that there’s really no reason to fear. To put those worries aside, let’s examine and debunk some of the myths surrounding combination classrooms.

Myth 1: The teachers aren’t qualified.
In reality, principals typically recognize the increased challenge that a combination classroom poises and, as a result, choose the most experienced and qualified teachers on staff for these positions. Furthermore, these teachers often receive extensive training in order to learn the best practices for effectively managing the multi-grade classroom.

Myth 2: The teachers are overwhelmed.
Any teaching job can be overwhelming at times, but combination classroom teachers usually get more planning time and fewer duties outside of the classroom. Many of these teachers even have their own classroom aide to help ease the burden.

Myth 3: Students don’t perform as well academically.
Studies have shown that students taught in multi-grade  learning environments perform just as well—and in some cases, better—than students taught in a traditional classroom environment.

Myth 4: Older children won’t be challenged in a combination class.
Older children in combination classrooms not only receive grade-level instruction, but they also retain prior knowledge better since they often teach these skills to younger students in the class.

Myth 5: Children in combination classrooms don’t do well socially.
Although some parents and educators alike have expressed concerns that children in combination classrooms miss out on the social benefits gained from interacting with their same-age peers, studies often reveal the opposite. That is, research has shown that students in these types of learning environments not only get along better with one another, but also form more satisfying relationships with their teachers since they usually remain in the combination classroom for more than one school year. Advocates of the multi-grade classroom argue that the learning environment actually promotes enhanced social skills since it more accurately mimics the type of social situation a student will likely encounter in the “real world.”

The results of research conducted on combination classrooms thus far are quite impressive, and if studies continue to yield positive findings, then these types of classrooms may become the norm in the future. If you’re interested in finding out more about multi-grade classrooms including how and why they work, I’d highly recommend you check out The Multigrade Classroom: A Resource for Small, Rural Schools. It’s full of information for parents and teachers alike.

Keeping the Spark of Creativity Alive in Education

Keeping the Spark of Creativity Alive in EducationDo your kids come home talking about how boring school is? Are you worried that most of what they’re learning is either rote memorization or standardized test material?

You’re not alone, and unfortunately, your fears may not be entirely unwarranted. While schools do stress the importance of teachers leading students beyond knowledge-level concepts into higher levels of thinking, there’s still the pressure of preparing kids for high-stakes testing, and this isn’t always creative or fun—for the student or the teacher. Plus, teachers are often overloaded with responsibilities, from managing overcrowded classrooms, teaching an increasingly rigorous curriculum, and sponsoring extracurricular activities. Whether you’re a student or a teacher, feeling overwhelmed can be a creativity crusher!

Luckily, you don’t have to stand by hopelessly while your child’s imagination and enthusiasm for school dwindles down to nothing. There are things you can do to help both your child and his or her teacher!

Donate.
I don’t have to tell you that school budgets are tight these days. Many times, teachers have to dig into their own pockets to buy supplies for the classroom, and on a teacher’s salary, these pockets aren’t very deep. If your child’s class seems to be doing less and less creative activities, it could be a matter of funding or supplies. Many online charities have sprung up that make it easy to help classrooms in need. Help a teacher post their request on a site like DonorsChoose.org. Email your child’s teacher and let her know that you’re willing to donate either cash, materials, or time. Think you have nothing to give? Think again! You’d be surprised at what a teacher can do with empty milk jugs or paper towel rolls. Who knows? These throw-away items may just spark her creativity, and guess who benefits? Your child! If your teacher needs a little nudging, or if you want to try some recycled craft activities at home, check out these ideas.

Advocate.
Schools all over the country are cutting some of the very programs that have the most potential for sparking your child’s creativity. If we keep heading in this direction, music and art classes may soon become a thing of the past. Again, you don’t have to stand by idly, though. Let your school administrator, district superintendent, and state board of education know how you feel, and encourage other parents to do the same. Think that’s not enough? Consider starting or joining a cause to keep the arts in public schools.

Participate.
Of course, you can’t rely on the teacher alone to keep the spark of creativity alive in your child. It’s important that you do your part as well. Whether it’s by reading fun, age-appropriate books with your child, doing a craft project together, or simply talking about something new that you or your child has learned, you can make a difference in how your child perceives learning—for the long term!

Do you have ideas for keeping creativity alive at home or in the classroom? Please share them in the comments section below!

 

Special Needs Children: Are Their Needs Being Met in School?

Special Needs Children: Are Their Needs Being Met?Learning can be difficult for all children at times, but when a child has a learning disability or other special need that inhibits him from comprehending new concepts as readily as his peers, school can prove to be a real challenge. Of course, these students are not the only ones faced with a challenge. Parents and teachers have the difficult job of making decisions that affect where and how these children learn and ensuring that they receive the best education possible.

 

Inclusion
Laws protecting children with disabilities mandate that every effort must be made to place children with special needs in a regular education classroom. According to this legislation, children with learning disabilities and other special needs learn best when they are placed in the least restrictive environment possible. In order for these children to learn alongside their “average” peers, teachers are required to provide accommodations and modifications to the curriculum according to the child’s IEP, or Individual Education Plan. These plans may include special instructions such as preferential seating or certain testing accommodations. Some children may attend resource classes during specific times of the day such as during math or language arts, for instance, to receive additional instruction and remediation from a certified special education teacher.

Is Inclusion Effective?
Most experts agree that inclusion is best for most children, but of course, there are exceptions. Children with severe disabilities often receive one-on-one instruction from a special education teacher as opposed to being mainstreamed into a regular education classroom. There are also some opponents of inclusion, even for children with mild disabilities. They generally argue that a child with special needs requires more attention than a teacher with a couple dozen other students in her care can provide. Some even say that inclusion robs average students of the education they deserve by taking up too much of the teachers time and preventing the class from exploring more challenging concepts. Typically, though, inclusion does work—for everyone involved. Special needs students benefit from greater learning opportunities, and average students have the opportunity to work with a diverse set of peers. Plus, since everyone learns differently, all students thrive when teachers employ differentiated instruction for students with varying skills and abilities.

Testing for Students with Special Needs
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), students with special needs must participate in standardized testing and high-stakes testing. While there are some advantages of testing students with special needs including an increased emphasis on academics and teacher accountability, there are also some serious risks. With more schools implementing promotion tests that dictate whether or not a student will continue to the next grade level, special needs students are in danger of being held back. Since research shows that grade retention is directly correlated with both school dropout and unemployment, this can be a scary proposition for students with disabilities. Furthermore, since many special needs students do not pass high school exit exams—the assessments that some schools require for a high school diploma, alternative diploma programs are now being implemented such as IEP diplomas and certificates of completion. Often, these diplomas have little real value and could be seen as tantalizingly easy way out of the academic work necessary to prepare these children for life after high school.

The Need for Advocacy
No one knows a special needs child better than his or her parents. While there’s no easy solution to the problems a learning disability presents, one thing is for certain—students with disabilities perform significantly better in school when their parents are actively involved in making decisions about their education. Whether it’s an issue of educational settings or diploma options, parents must let their voices be heard and advocate for their children every step of the way. The best way to do this is to become educated on special needs legislation and stay on top of the trends and best practices in special education. If you need a place to start, check out the wealth of information available from the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

We’d love to hear from you about these highly debated issues in special education. Do you think schools are meeting the needs of children with disabilities?

The Flipped Classroom: Turning the School Day Upside Down

The Flipped Classroom: Turning the School Day Upside DownWhen my oldest child Kelsey was a toddler, she was a stickler for schedules. If we did something spontaneous or outside of our regular routine, she would tell me that things felt “topsy turvy.” I’m guessing that this is how some students and teachers are feeling about the latest trend to hit the education realm—the flipped classroom.

What Is the Flipped Classroom?
Using video recording technology and Internet connectivity, some teachers (and entire schools) are adopting a form of blended learning which allows students to listen to lectures at home from their computers or tablets and then complete assignments and participate in activities and discussions in class. In this “flipped model,” the theory is that students will no longer have to listen to boring lectures while struggling to take notes and retain information simultaneously, and they will no longer have to do assignments on their own at home without the teacher’s assistance. Instead, they will have the luxury of listening to lectures at their own pace, pausing and reviewing as necessary, and then completing their assignments in the classroom where they can ask for the teacher’s assistance. They will also have more time to collaborate with their peers on a project related to the lecture topic. View a Flipped Classroom Infographic here.

Pros and Cons of the Flipped Classroom
If this trend catches on, and it’s looking like it might, then only time will tell whether the model is an effective one. However, from the perspective of a teacher, a parent, and a former student myself, I can see both advantages and disadvantages to a flipped classroom.

Pros

  • Recorded lectures. Oh, what I would have given for video lectures of my high school physics class! I could barely keep up with the teacher, despite how hard I tried, and as a result, was completely lost when it came time for me to complete my homework at night. I can definitely see the benefits of watching instruction on your own time and then completing the “homework” in class with a little assistance from the teacher when necessary.
  • More classroom interaction. When I was teaching high school English, my curriculum was so jam-packed that I would often have to forego the fun classroom activity I had planned and just focus on relaying the important information. On these days, I felt more like a robot than a teacher, and I wondered how much my students had really learned as somewhat passive recipients of this information. I would have loved for my students to come into class having already received the information and ready to apply their knowledge.

Cons

  • Homework is homework. One issue I have with the idea of a flipped classroom is that assigning videos for students to watch on their own time is still homework. And like all homework assignments, only a percentage of them will be completed. If a student never watches the video lectures, then not only is he missing out on arguably the most important curriculum content, but class time will be wasted as well since he won’t have the prior knowledge to participate in assigned activities. All classroom models have their flaws, but I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t a particularly damaging one.
  • Lectures aren’t always necessary. Students learn differently, and lectures aren’t always the best approach for every student. In fact, many say that hands-on activities are more effective in helping children retain knowledge. If this flipped classroom pushes the traditional lecture format, then are we moving backwards instead of forwards in our understanding of how kids learn best?

As with all new educational trends, the question becomes: will the pros outweigh the cons? What do you think? Share your opinions in the comments section.