Talking with kids about race-related issues can be very difficult. Today, it’s more important than ever to begin talking with them early on about race – but carefully, so as to not accidentally begin shaping old attitudes and assumptions in them. Here are just a few tips and suggestions for beginning such a conversation:
- Try asking your kids what they already know about figures like MLK or relevant news stories. Then let them lead the conversation. Don’t jump in early and don’t “correct” them unless their responses are blatantly hateful or prejudiced. It’s important that kids figure (some) things out for themselves and that you don’t make assumptions about what they know/don’t know or understand/don’t understand.
- Try watching an age-appropriate film with your kids that either touches on issues of race or that features leading actors who are racially different from them. (Examples: To Kill a Mockingbird or Remember the Titans, etc.)
- If you live in an area that’s not terribly diverse, make an effort to take your kids to events that are more diverse (though don’t comment on this motive to your kids). It’s only important that they experience the fullness of their country’s rich diversity as well as the diversity of their own local community firsthand. Again, don’t be the one to begin the conversation. If you think your kids might have questions, wait for them to ask.
- Take advantage of upcoming holidays like President’s Day (Feb. 16th) and Black History Month to learn with your kids about racial diversity and discuss how all people — no matter their race — are human and have the same human needs and desires—loves, hurts, cares, and dreams.
- Check out different relevant TED Talks like “Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story”
Entering a new grade or school, whether in elementary, high school, or college, can be absolutely nerve-wracking — from fears of not making friends to the basics of simply learning how to find your way to each physical classroom (I still have nightmares about not being able to find the right classroom). And each new level – transitioning from elementary to middle to high school to college – comes with its own unique stresses and concerns.
Elementary School: What if I fall behind? What if I don’t make friends?
High School: What if I bomb the SATs? What if I don’t get into college? What if I choose the wrong college?
College: What if I choose the wrong major? What if I drop-out? What if I don’t get into grad school? What if I don’t get a job? What if I can’t balance work and school and health/social life?
Well, the good news is that no one’s alone in these fears and anxieties. The even better news is that teachers at every level – teachers worth their salt, anyway – are well aware of these stresses and are eager to see their students push past them and into success. Below, we’ve compiled a short list of tips and advice for how to help overcome some of these fears for 2015.
Note: We draw from and reference the following sources, and highly encourage you to visit them and read the articles in full.
“A Professor’s Pointers for Success in College: 21 Easy-to-Follow Tips” by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead, St. Lawrence University, with The Huffington Post
“Top 12 Time-Management Tips” by Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, with US News
- Keep careful stock of your course syllabi, assignments, and attendance policies. This may seem obvious but, in both high school and college, these rules/expectations can vary significantly from teacher to teacher. It’s vital to making a good impression and to maintaining your own schedule that you keep aware of deadlines, required readings, attendance, and so forth. (For more, see Halstead)
- Don’t keep your head down. Especially in a new grade, classroom, and/or school, it can often seem like the best policy to lay low for a while till you know the ropes. However, this can actually be counterproductive to your ultimate goals of making friends, having good student-teacher relationships, and keeping on top of your work. If, instead of keeping your head down, you take the time to introduce yourself to others (student and teacher), raise your hand to answer and/or ask the occasional question, and just generally approach others with your daily concerns and joys, then you’ll quickly find yourself with a terrific group of friends and an impressed passel of teachers (no matter how new or introverted you are). By establishing these relationships right off the bat, you also set yourself up with a stronger safety net for making mistakes – people will be more understanding of you running (very) occasionally late, for example, if they already know your name and have a favorable impression of you. (For more, see Halstead)
- Pump up your writing skills. Whether it’s an essay, short story, book report, or email, make sure your writing is always a clear, respectful, and positive reflection of yourself. This means using a teacher’s full title when contacting them via email (e.g. Ms. Ryan for [most] elementary teachers, Dean Ryan for a college dean, Professor Ryan for a professor [this is often better, actually, than saying “Dr.” Ryan as not all professors are full doctors yet], Assistant Principal Ryan for – you get the idea); not using ALL CAPS in written communication; using clear, proper grammar and spelling in all written works (as much for clarity’s sake as for professionalism); and always including courtesy details such as full headings on all papers, page numbers, and so forth. For help with improving your writing skills, be sure to talk to your teachers and librarians; meet with tutors; read a lot; take up writing-heavy hobbies such as creative writing, blogging, or letter writing; and take full advantage of any Writing Center services your school provides. (For more, see Halstead)
- Know Thyself – Are you a morning person or a night owl? And no, I don’t mean: Are you weirdly peppy in the morning or do you prefer to stay out late partying? I mean: Do you get more done if you block time in the morning to do your homework or review your notes, or do you have an easier time completing your work if you do it first thing after school, or perhaps even in the later evening after dinner? Everyone has a different personal schedule that works best for them. Knowing your preferences (and being honest with yourself about them), will be a great step in the right direction of getting your work done well and on time. (For more, see Jacobs & Hyman)
- Be patient and make sure you take the time you need. Today, kids and young adults are learning to read and interact with new information in very different ways than their parents did as students, whether by following blogs, Twitter, 24-hour TV news, or online hubs like Vox and The Huffington Post. However, while all of these have their time, place, and value, they aren’t the same as sitting down to read a book or other piece of long-form writing. Because of this, many students today don’t recognize until it’s too late just how much time is actually necessary to read and study and write intelligently about long-form works. Sure they’ve read plenty of novels in the past, but leisure-reading isn’t the same animal (and we all know it!). So, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get into your academic reading-and-writing groove, and don’t let other seemingly-complementary items (like film documentaries or extra seminars) unnecessarily (or stressfully) clutter up your schedule. (For more, see Jacobs & Hyman)
Our Nation’s Report Card for 2013 has been available online for months now, but many Americans don’t even know it exists. Here are the basics:
“The Nation’s Report CardTM informs the public about the academic achievement of elementary and secondary students in the United States. Report cards communicate the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a continuing and nationally representative measure of achievement in various subjects over time.”
If you haven’t already checked out our report card for 2013, go ahead and give it a whirl. This is a terrific tool for learning more about the U.S.’s complicated education system and all the ways it’s bettering and neglecting us. You can check out everything from achievement gaps to report cards specific to certain school subjects to report cards specific to your state (and a ton more!).
For an example, consider their “Results for 2013 NAEP Mathematics and Reading Assessments Are In”:
“Nationally representative samples of more than 376,000 fourth-graders and 341,000 eighth-graders were assessed in either mathematics or reading in 2013. Results are reported for public and private school students in the nation, and for public school students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Department of Defense schools.”
On top of this assessment, they provide both graphs and written explanation of the data to make the results as clear and understandable as possible.
Example graph (the images are much sharper on the official website):
(2013 NAEP assessments)
This data is useful not only for teachers, policymakers, and administrators, but can be useful for students and parents as well. Try using this as a tool to not only engage with your students/children about their personal education (strengths and weaknesses, concerns and goals, etc.), but about what they (your students/kids) might like to see change or improved in their own schools.
Have you or your kids or your teacher friends/colleagues been complaining about certain parts of their education or school system for a while now? Well, there might be some credence to the complaints—and educating yourself with data from the Nation’s Report Card can be a great way to begin making (or learning how to make) substantive change happen at the local level.
If you want to arm your kids with the best knowledge out there, then you ought to do the same for yourself.
A few of the highlights:
- Blending on-site (classroom) learning with distance (technology-based) learning.
- Greater scrutiny of and concern related to student data.
- The renewal of or substantive departure from No Child Left Behind.
- More online and game-based teaching practices.
- The introduction of Kindergarten Entry Assessments (KEAs).
“In 2015, education systems will cut through the clutter and invest the needed resources to develop and administer developmentally appropriate KEAs and thus improve instruction for young children.”
— Rhian Evans Allvin, Executive Director, National Association for the Education of Young Children
Further/Related Reading Suggestions
- Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, The Washington Post, “Standardized Tests Must Measure Up”
- Maanvi Singh, NPR, “Why Emotional Learning May Be As Important As The ABCs”
- Anya Kamenetz, NPR, “What Schools Could Use Instead Of Standardized Tests”
- Claudio Sanchez, NPR, “Six Education Stories To Watch in 2015”
- Education Week, “The National K-12 Testing Landscape”
- Council of Chief State School Officers, “Chief State School Officers and Urban School Leaders Announce Joint Effort to Improve Student Testing”
“Close your eyes for a minute and daydream about a world without bubble tests. Education Week recently reported that some Republican Senate aides are doing more than dreaming — they’re drafting a bill that would eliminate the federal mandate on standardized testing.”
– Anya Kamenetz, NPR
(To read the full Education Week article by Alyson Klein, please see: “GOP Senate Aides Working on Draft ESEA Bill That Could Ditch Annual Testing”)
Ever since the passing of No Child Left Behind, teachers, administrators, parents, students, and policy experts have been working to understand—to definitively know—whether or not it’s done more harm than good (or vice versa). Well, when the issue recently came back before Congress for renewal, Senate Republicans released their new vision for U.S. public education in 2015: Instead of renewing the federal mandate for annual, standardized testing, they “would leave decisions about testing schedules up to states.”
And while The Council of Chief State School Officers, national teachers unions, many traditionally Democratic groups, and many of the country’s largest school districts have come out in favor of reducing or doing away with standardized tests—as NPR’s Anya Kamenetz explains in “What Schools Could Use Instead of Standardized Tests”—what’s still missing from this conversation is what might replace annual standardized tests. To this end, Kamenetz suggests four possible options:
- Sampling: Keep standardized tests, but just reduce the number of them.
- Stealth Assessment: Use software provided by major textbook publishers in order to invisibly monitor and assess children’s learning.
- Multiple Measures: Rather than just test scores, data on everything from graduation rates to demographics to workforce outcomes ought to be collected and considered. Schools could even begin issuing surveys to consider elements like “grit” and “optimism,” or games to help assess a student’s creativity and other higher-order skills.
- Inspections: Perhaps in addition to some or all of the above measures, the government could also create a team of inspectors who function for schools almost the same way that health inspectors function for restaurants. These officials might observe classrooms, examine syllabi, evaluate student projects, and interview students, staff members, and faculty.
(To read Anya Kamenetz’s full article, visit: “What Schools Could Use Instead of Standardized Tests”)
What are your opinions on standardized testing? Do you think we should keep annual exams? If not, what might you suggest in substitute?