August 15, 2014

Homework Strategies for Making Life Easier for ADHD Kids (and their parents)

Guest Expert 
 Home work. Those two words seem mismatched.

Home is where you can chill, be yourself, and get a little break from “work.” And yet homework is what every child dreads. And parents, too!

So who can blame kids for not wanting to do their homework?

As parents, we understand that homework reinforces lessons learned from the school day. Revisiting material and practicing skills is fruitful. However, if you’re reading this, you probably have stories that prove otherwise. Attention-challenged children struggle because of problems unrelated to the specific homework assignment:

·         distraction during the lesson,
·         disenchantment with the topic,
·         dismay by how long it takes to answer a single question
·         discombobulation by all the important information in front of them

Homework also assumes that all children have stay-at-home moms who are “on call” to help – which is not exactly true in this day and age!

Since our smart but scattered children aren’t naturally supplied with minds that can keep track of due dates and directions, here are some pointers to ease their challenge. But remember – the most important thing you can do to help your child,by far, is to notice what she or he does well, and encourage it.

Here are 5 homework strategies to get you started:


Allow your children to help you establish their homework routine.

·         Right after school or later?
·         Broken into time segments?
·         With or without music?
·         At a desk or the kitchen counter? (or changing, depending on the day)

Foster Independence

Around 5th grade, a major goal can be independence with homework. From start to finish, the parent should assist – not nag to completion. You can gradually help your child less and less, and still expect high quality work.

·         Only help when your child wants it.
·         Remember that it’s their work – not yours.
·         Reward for independence, being organized, sticking to a time schedule, etc.

Visual Charts

Large white boards are great, ideally one for each child. If you don’t have room, substitute it with a white piece of paper inside a transparency sheet (the dry-erase part is important). Designate a special place on the wall for it. Use it to make charts that track homework topics or nightly reading. Use abbreviations or humor to simplify and keep your child’s attention.

Boxes on the chart can also list homework assignments and estimations for how long they should take to finish. It’s beneficial to an ADD mind to track time elapsing. After the work is done, write down how long it actually took to track time management.

Physical Space

A desk. The kitchen table. The treehouse. Which is best for learning and focusing? Some children may need to do homework in the same place each night. Some need novelty. While they all learn and respond to different stimuli, they need consistency with the basics:

·         Comfortable, flat surface
·         Well-lit from above
·         Not too far from the printer, if a middle or high schooler
·         Quiet (except possible headphones)
·         Free from distraction
·         No clutter
·         Stocked with needed materials
  • Fidgets that help focus (not distract)
Paperwork – Breathe, and Scan Everything!

Keeping track of the endless reading logs, rubrics, drafts, and study sheets seems impossible! Maintaining their original condition is even more difficult. This is where technology is your friend. Teachers who post documents on their websites are saviors. Scan any blank reading logs or assignments to keep on record at home. It also helps to color code folders and notebooks.

June 19, 2014

Taming the Octopus - The Many Arms of Writing: Common Core

Taming the Octopus - The Many Arms of Writing: Common Core: Okay, outta the way with my accusatory statements about Common Core and then we can get on to other topics in another blog post. I co...

June 15, 2014

Common Core

Okay, outta the way with my accusatory statements about Common Core and then we can get on to other topics in another blog post.

I could actually argue FOR or AGAINST the CC, with my ammunition of evidence and citations, to use a little lingo from the well-known source itself. 

I am becoming - via the Internet - uh oh - some sort of expert on the Common Core Standards because:

a) I spend a lot of time translating and navigating convoluted assignments given to my students in approx. 4th - 10th grade. Which are based on the Common Core. While I can beat the drum of critical thinking just as much as the average administrator, I also know that developmentally the writing brains of 11 year-olds are not ready for this level of argument. 

Talk about turning a kid OFF to writing!

       "Write and alternate ending to the short story, 
         Murders in the Rue Morgue                                 
        and analyze the two main character's motives in one paragraph, using textual evidence."

b) I like to find out what is on the minds of the majority of stressed-out teachers in the U.S., given that they are the unsung heroes and they don't really get their own form of Veteran's Day to honor their sacrifice.

c) I used to teach in a school where we had to turn in precise lesson plans to our principal, with the numerical listing of the Illinois State Standard right alongside them. It didn't make me a better teacher, but I learned to write tiny, and could spout some lingo in the standards to said principal.

d) I was initially excited years ago about the concept of standards being aligned between states. "Clear goals and confident, well-prepared students." It sounded so hopeful! Just like in this video!

e) Since some families move a lot, and teachers do too, it sounded promising. Plus, when I traveled and presented staff development I had to re-learn some particular differences between states. Confusing. Finally we could have the same oral reading fluency benchmarks, fractions taught in a hands-on way at about the same point in 4th grade, and history key points would not be sanitized of the Native American's impact on our country.

f) I am assisting two homeschooling families in teaching using CC starting next year. We don't have a principal observing our lessons, but we have to turn in monthly reports proving we did academically worthy, Common Core stamped of approval-ness instruction.

I am happy to find sources like this to pick and choose from. Phew. Lessons and example writings from actual kids, and a fairly easy-to-use website.

And then there are those techie people who save the day with websites like this one, where we have a fashion runway of apps and software to make teaching life easier or more complicated, depending on how organized or techie the reader of the website is!

Reflections on Google Apps for Common Core ELA

I am going to rebelliously NOT wrap this up with a neat little conclusion, because this was not a "5-paragraph essay" and it is midnight. 

April 24, 2014

Spray and Pray

Teachers who work with struggling readers think that they need more choice, and more freedom, and more time. Actually, NON-struggling writers need those things. Let's revisit the "Spray and Pray" strategy that teachers execute without knowing the anxiety they might be causing.

They tell a 5th grade class to write realistic fiction piece, with a certain amount of dialogue, and inner and outer character conflict. As a class they examine good models from well-known children's authors. ("Mentor Texts"). Then they are "free" to write. This is what Anita Archer calls "Spray and Pray."

So many times one of my students comes to my office and after much inquisitive wrangling from me admits that he has sat and "tried to think of something to write" for the last two days during writer's workshop time. I dig down to see if they had an idea but nixed it because it wasn't perfect, or had an idea for a story but didn't know how to start, or had a blank brain and couldn't find a thread of a story. 

And then there are those students who have an idea, but they want the FIRST Draft to be perfect so no revising will be asked of them, so they freeze.
This is where I pull out all the tools and practically decoupage my desk space with word lists, brainstorm guides, pre-write organizers, sentence starters, and so much more. And Color - Coding helps too with their first brainstorm or rough draft, for categories, or all of the W's and How.

As for ME....

I have 5 writing projects going at once, and my mind is batty like my pin-ball machine students.
Let's see, taking my own advice, I would first tell a student to write them down and look at the list and decide what CAN be done, in the next day.

So here is the dirty almost half dozen:
(at least each of them are over halfway complete)

1) My book on teaching writing to kids who struggle with writing. Working Title: "But I hate writing..." - Teaching a small step at a time to reluctant writers. Not very sexy. Not like, "Finding the joy in writing - Igniting the love of writing in all ages and stages."

2) A Ted Talk that someone dared me to write about the extensive closure ceremony with my ex husband on January 1st, after 8 months of nudging it to occur.

3) An article for a Twice Exceptional Newsletter for Parents, on teaching tips for written expression, for parents of Asperger-like kids.

4) A tip sheet on ADHD kids and how to teach and parent them while keeping your sanity, for a Fall Support Group I am going to facilitate.

5) My novel I haven't touched in 4 years and is forming cobwebs in my computer.

I write a lot of emails.
I write in my journal.
I write in the margins of many kid's papers.
I don't write for extended periods of time in order to complete the above projects.
Do I hear an echo of irony in the tunnel of my professional trajectory?

On another note...

I have enjoyed watching some significant leaps in three of my resistant boy writers lately. They grasp the concept of "show don't tell" and it is no coincidence that all three of them are solid readers. This gives them that "ear" for language, and for elaboration.

I also heard from a former client. I worked with her daughter in 4th grade. Waldorf School. Loosey goosey about learning to read - so she needed decoding, and later she needed writing, since they presume that an exciting topic will launch deep writing. She needed to learn ways to write with coherence, using facts to back it up. Well, she has now won a mini award in high school for her composition. Well, that leaves a teensy weensy legacy in my corner of the universe.

February 16, 2014

A New Species of Thesis: Delayed Thesis, Equation Thesis, and Anti-thesis

Uncertainty as Opportunity

Of course, this phrase could be applied to a business strategy, philosophical treatise, spiritual discipline, or medical diagnosis. But in this case it was a blog post from this Valentine's weekend and stirred me to write on my blog for the first time since October. November was mom's health declining. December was her dying. January was the estate lawyer divining. 

This high school girl in the blog post has a paper due that requires a "delayed thesis" - which simply means that she has to write some introductory gobbledy gook and then....drum roll: the final thesis statement in the first paragraph. Nothing new under the sun there, except that I have never heard that term.

Delayed has a slightly negative association with it. 

And the phrase's fancy-ness makes it seem harder to master, in the mind of a high school sophomore.

The blog post is not particularly focused on the delayed thesis part, but rather on risk-taking, which I harp on as a teacher, and, in addition, that we should let students meander in the unknown of what it is to be a writer and not make them too attached to what the teacher wants.

Writing is an act of risk-taking on so many levels, emotionally, academically, personally, grammatically, artistically. You are on stage, improvising, constantly refining your craft, without any sense of the audience and how they are responding.  And if I am going to follow Common Core Standards, then I absolutely must set-up and introduce this quote from the blog that I am referencing, lest the quote police drag me away to those dark and punitive essay catacombs. This is what the author wants us to grapple with in his writing on uncertainty:

"How might we create the conditions in our conversations with young people so that they see it’s okay to try something new, to feel like they have a legitimate stake in what they are trying so that the uncertainty and struggle is worth it?"

And then there is the "equation thesis" where teachers literally take points off if your thesis does not wear the clothing of a math equation, where FACTS plus your ARGUMENT are woven eloquently together in a sentence that in my opinion ends up too long. 

And the antithesis is when you are presenting a counter-argument.

Here is the wording from my ballerina blonde very dyslexic high school junior's teacher:

"Your essay is a deficient argument if it does not address antithetical evidence. You should anticipate the strongest objections to your argument, and expound their merits and limitations. Your antithesis should make clear how this idea would contradict or qualify your thesis. You should give evidence in favor of the antithesis, followed by analysis. You should always explain how this antithesis, if valid, impacts your overall thesis."

Right now I have learned more about certain Civil War history and the Nazi sympathizer rocket scientists of the Cold War than I ever knew before. 

Did every black person agree that slavery should be ended? How can we know? 

Were most of the ground-breaking bomb makers and rocket scientists aware of what the Nazis were really up to, as they toiled in their laboratories with geeky but Hitler-loving fellow engineers?

Thesis-itis. I tell students we write with thesis statements but we never talk with them.

And then I surprise them with a personal truth:

I Did Not Learn All of This Until College.