This Place Is For You, Parents!
Below you will find various sources of information to support your child. Children tend to do better in school when there is support from home. As always, I’m here to support your child as well so please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s performance. Feel free to check out the Homework Policy tab too; it’s for both you and your child.
This is a free app/program I use to monitor student behaviour and performance. As students are “getting caught” doing both positive and negative things, they are recorded in Class Dojo. At the end of the week, you will receive a report via email indicating how well your child has done. Students and parents can also log in to Class Dojo to get further details about their report (and customize their avatars). Many of the points students earn are for behaviours that are fairly self-explanatory. However, here are a few descriptions that might otherwise be too vague:
- Good Citizenship: holding the door, coming to someone’s aid, being a good friend, singing O’Canada
- Extending Learning: asking thought-provoking questions, making connections, taking the learning beyond the basics
- Performance (Positive): student has earned a B- or higher on some form of assessment (ex. test, quiz, project)
- Readiness for Learning: transitions well; is ready to begin when I am
- Podium Finish: student has one of the top three scores on a test, quiz or assignment
- Disrespect: tone of voice, continued interruptions, inappropriate comments
- Performance (Negative): student has earned a D+ or lower on some form of assessment
- Inappropriate Behaviour: hands-on, safety issues
Many of these behaviours are weighted, so some will carry more points than others. For example, “Extending Learning” is worth four points each time because it tells me the student is thinking about his/her learning. A “Neat Desk”, however, is only worth one point because that is a general expectation anyway.
The creators of Class Dojo have developed the app into something truly spectacular and have insisted on teacher feedback throughout the development stage. A while back, they added a “Messaging” feature, much like those on smart phones today. Providing I have your email address and you’re connected with your child’s Class Dojo account, I can send you real time updates on the things going on in our classroom. It’s also an efficient way to send out messages quickly. Case in point: Two years ago, while on an outdoor field trip, stormy weather rolled into our area and we quickly took shelter. I was able to notify parents immediately that we were all safe and sound. The messaging feature is the main form of individualized and group communication that I use with parents (though I still check my email address).
I hope you will embrace the Class Dojo app as it will be a cornerstone of your child’s school year. As the app grows, you may find other teachers using it in the years and grades that follow.
How to Help Struggling Readers at Home:
For parents, helping a struggling reader can be difficult. Remember that estimates of reading levels are not always accurate, so try this simple test at home: If your child can read 95% of the words in a selected paragraph within a minute, they’re doing well. If they struggle, use the infographic below and these 7 tips to help struggling readers succeed:
- Reading success is based on 5 factors: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Learn more about each factor to gain a better understanding of where exactly your child may be struggling.
- Encourage kids to read anything—even if it isn’t a book. Magazines, comics or websites can engage children, and shows them that computers and iPads aren’t just for games.
- Know your options as a parent. Ask the teacher for work that is at the student’s developmental level if homework is consistently too hard.
- Within reason, never say no to your young reader. If your child is excited about reading about dinosaurs, for example, don’t push him or her to read something else.
- Motivate by making connections to real-world outcomes so children realize reading is more than just a grade. For example, writing a letter to their favorite singer, or to grandma, allows young readers to find meaning in what they are doing.
- Focus on what your child CAN do. Build on his/her strengths. For example, fold spelling into another activity that your child enjoys to build a sense of competence.
- Keep it positive. If your child becomes upset or starts crying, reading will seem like a punishment and that time will not be productive. Rather than being intense, keep the mood light and upbeat and keep your eyes on the goal of enjoying reading.
Source: University of Minnesota
Related: Raising A Less Reluctant Reader
Writing & Spelling
If you’re like most, you probably compare your education and learning to today (I’m certainly guilty). However, the “beast” has changed and so has our approach to many aspects of teaching and learning. You may recall the days of spelling lists and dictations every Friday. Spelling seems to have gone by the wayside but not necessarily; the “spelling beast” has changed. Linked below is an excellent article from Cult of Pedagogy, which examines how teachers nowadays approach spelling with regard to writing. This might clarify why the approach has changed since our days in school. Here’s an excerpt:
In the later years, spelling does “count,” but it has a time and a place. Most writing teachers use some version of the Writing Process, where students are taught to (1) gather and group their ideas (pre-writing), (2) flesh out those ideas in sentences and paragraphs (drafting), and (3) reorganize the piece so that it accomplishes the writer’s goals (revising). Only then, after the piece has been revised into a shape that’s close to finished, do most teachers tell their students to start the next step: editing. In this stage, final corrections are made to spelling, punctuation, and usage.
The reason spelling and mechanics are de-emphasized in the first few steps is the same as in the younger grades: Too much focus on correctness interrupts the flow of ideas. Furthermore, teachers want students to understand that good writers revise their pieces many times for structure, development, clarity and voice. Although the mechanics are important for polish, correct spelling can’t make up for a poorly structured, underdeveloped piece of writing. And if a piece is going to be revised several times, it makes no sense to keep correcting the mechanics, only to have those words dumped entirely in a later revision.
Producing a finished piece of writing is a lot like putting on a polished musical performance: It requires the synthesis of many skills, some of which need to be handled separately. Imagine if a band conductor brought a brand-new piece of music to her band and expected all sections to play it together, perfectly, the first time. Even someone with no musical training can see that this is an unreasonable approach. Instead, if each instrument section starts by practicing their part separately, the performers will get really solid on their individual parts before pulling it all together to refine the complete performance.
About Cursive Writing
There are many schools of thought on the preservation of cursive writing; I tend to be on the “let it go” side of the argument. We live in a digital world where so much of the text we read is electronic print. Cursive, by design, was invented to make handwriting faster. While we still write by hand in 2016, more and more of what we read and write is digital. I recently read an article about the topic of cursive and found it really intriguing, particularly this part:
“There’s nothing natural about handwriting: it’s a tool that we used for a particular period of time to communicate. Today people are using it less and less, because they’ve deemed the alternatives to be better.
In a sense that’s too bad – something is lost every time a technology is replaced. The compass meant fewer people learned how to navigate using the stars; GPS means fewer people know how to use a compass. But this doesn’t mean we should give up on the GPS, or teach everyone how to navigate by the stars. Some people will pursue this knowledge for fun, or because it’s been passed down by their family, but mandating everyone learns it just isn’t realistic.
The fact that people use cursive writing less often today is not because schools aren’t teaching it. The opposite is true: schools aren’t teaching cursive because students aren’t using the skill later in life – and mostly haven’t been for decades.” –Source: Justin Pot, makeuseof.com
If cursive is important to you as a parent, I encourage you to explore the craft that it is with your child. No harm can be done by practising it, but as the author states (and I share his view), the time we’re not spending on cursive in the classroom could be better used for teaching something more productive.
Assessment & Reporting
Education has changed so much since we were in school, even in the time that I’ve been an educator. Assessment is just one of those areas that looks distinctly different from what it used to be. Gone are the days of bringing home projects to be busily worked on at home (usually with too much help from parents). Instead, assessment is what happens in the classroom while the learning is going on. If your child has a project on the go, time at home could be spent gathering information and collecting materials, but the actual making of the project will occur in the classroom itself.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be of assistance to your child at home, however. You can help with the guiding of research, or planning a layout for a project. When it comes to homework, you can check work and redirect where you see errors. Just know that any kind of marking done for assessment purposes, will be done while your child completes that task in the classroom.
I’d also like to clarify a few “myths” about the reporting process. Often, when parents and students see the grades on the first report, they just assume that this is the level of their child; in some cases, it can be. However, the material and assessment is different from term to term and students, therefore, respond differently too. A student with a B+ in reading in term one isn’t guaranteed the same grade in term two. If your child’s grades rise or drop in any subject area, it’s not that they’re getting any better or worse in that subject; merely, it’s a reflection of how they responded to the expectations for that particular term and the material presented. We’re not comparing apples to apples because they’re not doing the same things in term one as they do in term two. For instance, a child may excel with graphing in term one , but struggle with probability in term two. Both are from the same strand of the math curriculum and a drop in grades might make a parent think that the child has taken a step back; this is far from the case. Apples and oranges, rather. I once had a parent ask me about his daughter’s “drop” in reading from an A- to a B+. It wasn’t a drop. She was just more challenged by the different material we learned in term two (which is to be expected as the year moves on).
Also keep in mind that the assessment process is multifaceted. You may only see grades on tests, quizzes and rubrics but things like observation, anecdotal notes, class presentations, participation/discussion, and group work are all a part of the overall grade; things you don’t see because you’re not in the classroom.
Typically, all the students are ever interested in is the letter grade and whether they went up or down. This is the wrong way of looking at it. Sadly, we’re too focused on grades rather than the learning journey it takes to get good ones. If students make the most of each learning moment, then the grades will come with it. It’s all about changing one’s mindset.