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For School Admin: How to Identify & Address Cyberbullying

One of the most difficult aspects of cyberbullying from a school administrative perspective is simply that, by definition, it happens in a virtual world. Cyberbullying happens where bullies can often mask their crimes more easily and escape school-administered consequences by committing their offenses off-campus. As Katherine Cowan, communications director for the National Association of School Psychologists, explains for Scholastic,

One of the capacities of cyberbullying is that it goes from zero to 60 rapidly—it can go viral very quickly and can live permanently online … School administrators face the challenge of having to wrap their arms around a dynamic and incredibly complex social system with the students they serve. The Internet makes it that much more complicated.

However, there are some steps that school administrators can begin taking in order to better combat and prevent instances of cyberbullying.

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According to Emily Richmond’s Scholastic article, “Cyberbullying: What schools can do to stop it,” teachers and school administrators can…

“[1] Define cyberbullying clearly, and incorporate expectations into Internet and electronic communications for students and staff.

[2] Involve parents and the wider community as early as possible, whether it’s through a task force to review policy, or via workshops to help families understand and respond to how their children are using the Internet and electronic communications.

[3] Teach students to be cyber-savvy. In addition to understanding the risks involved in sharing personal information online, students need to understand how the ‘tone’ of their communications can be perceived much differently than they might have intended.

[4] Finally, report suspected cases of bullying to the supervisors, the parents of all involved students, and, when necessary, law enforcement. While the steps may seem simple, the reality is invariably complicated and changes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”

School administrators should also be careful not to conflate anti-cyberbullying efforts with simply more surveillance. Extra surveillance can not only fail to address the key issues at hand, but can also inadvertently punish students who haven’t done anything wrong. To avoid this conflation, your school can also try implementing hotlines or tip lines rather than more attempts at teacher surveillance of student technologies. As Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center argues,

…every school should have a system in place that allows students who experience or observe bullying or cyberbullying (or any inappropriate behavior) to report it in as confidential a manner as possible. It seems obvious that we should be using mediums that youth already prefer [i.e. via text/phone]. In addition, being able to broach the subject without being forced to reveal one’s identity or do it face-to-face may prove valuable in alerting faculty and staff to harmful student experiences, and help promote an informed response to bring positive change.

What’s more, school administrators should also work to set a rigorous standard in regards to all student cyber activity on school grounds—a standard that draws the line at inappropriate behavior rather than inappropriate content. For example, if a student posts a “harmless” video on their blog of a teacher or other student simply walking down the hall, but does so without that teacher or student’s knowledge or permission, that student should be quickly and sharply reprimanded. For though the content may seem innocuous, it is the behavior of video-taping, publishing, and taking liberties with another person’s life and image that is inappropriate and therefore punishable.

By cutting students off at inappropriate behavior rather than waiting for the content itself to become inappropriate, we can begin to teach students that it isn’t simply a matter of blatantly offensive material that’s the core issue here; it’s the use of technologies to inappropriately invade and disrespect the space and reputation of others that’s at the heart of the problem.

These sorts of anti-cyberbullying behavior-centered policies can stretch from anything like having home-room teachers confiscate all cellphones at the beginning of classes and returning them at the end of the day to simply punishing students if they’re caught using a cellphone during class. The severity of the measures will inevitably vary from community to community as the individual school’s climate and state’s laws demand.

For more information and ideas, check out the following resources:

For Teachers: How to Identify Bullying

It is of the utmost importance that all teachers recognize that, in today’s classroom, there are two very distinct types of bullying: in-person bullying and cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can include everything from text messages to emails to Facebook to blogs to chatrooms. Understanding this difference as well as the ins-and-outs of bullying itself will better enable teachers to detect when bullying is taking place and who the perpetrators (and victims) are.

According to the National Education Association (NEA), bullying can be defined as the act of “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt and/or psychological distress on another.” According to StopBullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

Operating under these understandings of bullying (as well as the knowledge that cyberbullying is distinctive from in-person bullying), how then can teachers take the next step to recognizing where and when bullying is happening?

StopBullying.gov provides a good list of starting places when it comes to identifying signs of bullying in students, including: students suffering from unexplained injuries, lost or damaged belongings, frequent illness or feelings of illness, sudden changes in appetite, sudden negative changes in grades and/or academic interests/rigor, sudden negative change in school relationships, and a variety of self-inflicted wounds such as cutting or running away from home.

IMG_2506While these symptoms may sound obvious enough, they can actually be kept well-hidden by students (and often are) due to feelings of immense shame, fear, depression, and/or isolation. In order to detect and identify these symptoms, it is of paramount importance that teachers strive to develop a healthy rapport with their students, their students’ parents, and their fellow teachers. Without these clear lines and opportunities for honest communication, we won’t be able to recognize what’s normal for any given child and thus won’t be able to recognize significant changes (aka possible warning signs) either.

Developing and maintaining this many relationships, however, is far too much for any one teacher to undertake successfully by themselves. Knowing this, consider the following possibilities for fostering and opening up wider lines of communication, empathy, and observation:

  • Hold regular (mandatory) meetings/lunches/get-togethers with other teachers in order to catch up on how each other’s students are doing
  • Try creating an anti-bullying task force composed of teachers, administrative staff, and students
  • Discuss and share the Anti-Bullying “Seating Chart” from Glennon Doyle Melton’s article, “One Teacher’s Brilliant Strategy to Stop Bullying”***
  • Hold regular meetings with parents to discuss their children’ s home life, internet usage, phone usage, and any issues that might be cropping up in the classroom
  • Work with school administrative staff to craft and implement anti-bullying policies for your school
  • Make sure that all students understand that, should they come to you with information or concerns, they will not be immediately judged or punished, but listened to, considered, and respected

Further reading:

News Update: Sexism in the Classroom

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This past February, Danielle Kurtzleben’s article, “Grade-school teachers can push girls away from math, with huge consequences,” appeared in Vox, speaking to some very important and, tragically, very widespread misconceptions regarding the gender “math gap” in education. According to Kurtzleben:

“A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that something else might be at work here shaping the supposed ‘choices’ girls and women make. It shows that young girls’ teachers have biases that push girls away from math and science early on, which could be influencing where they go later in life.

Economists Victor Lavy from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and Edith Sand from Israel’s Tel Aviv University looked at Tel Aviv sixth graders’ test scores both on standardized tests and internal tests in Hebrew, English, and math.”

In this research, Lavy and Sand tested to see if there was any difference in test scores if the ones responsible for grading the tests knew or did not know the test-takers’ gender. Their results clearly suggest the existence of a “systematic bias against girls in the marking of math exams.” And as Lavy and Sand followed their sixth-graders through the eighth grade and high school, they found that “those early teacher biases led to significant improvements on the later math exams for boys and negative and significant effects in math for girls.”

Of course, as Kurtzleben also points out, “this is a working paper, meaning its results are preliminary, and it studied students in a different culture and school system, so we can’t assume US students would see the exact same magnitudes of effects” (emphasis added). However, what’s most important about this research now, as Kurtzleben explains, is that it shows how powerfully “socialization takes hold early on” as well as showcases

“the power of biases — discourage a child from pursuing a subject, and she will, years later, later perform worse on that subject (encourage her, meanwhile, and she’ll do better). So when you discourage a whole swath of the population from pursuing high-paying fields, all those people will be much more likely to have lower-paying jobs.”

What does this mean for us in the here and now? What does it mean for us as parents, teachers, and/or fellow students? It means constantly interrogating ourselves and our assumptions. It means asking ourselves hard questions before we hand back that test or agree with our daughters that Yeah, math really is boring or Yeah, math is super hard, when we might be telling our sons, Yeah, but you can do it or Yeah, but you want to be a marine biologist one day, don’t you? The insidious evil of sexism is that you can sometimes be adding to the problem and perpetuating old sins without ever realizing it or meaning to.

This is a trend and social failing that should both greatly concern and anger you, for your sake as well as for the rest of the world’s. After all, as Kurtzleben so well explains:

“This isn’t just a problem for women; it’s a problem for society. This study suggests that girls were just as capable as boys at math at the start of the observation period, but they were slowly pushed away from math. To diminish an entire demographic’s talent at once is to squander their potential productivity, and economic growth.”

If we want to one day live in a better, more just, more equitable, and more peaceful world, then there’s really no better or easier place to start than right at home with the editing, improving, and monitoring of our own attitudes, perspectives, and actions. The hard truth is, we will only have justice and equality for all when we begin treating others justly and equitably.

 

All quotes and facts here were drawn from Danielle Kurtzleben’s Vox article, “Grade-school teachers can push girls away from math, with huge consequences.”

How to Know if Your Kid Needs Tutoring

USNAccording to U.S. News, three good ways to know whether or not your child would benefit from tutoring are:

  1. Use Your Institution: You know your kids better than anyone.
  2. Get to the Root Cause: Are your kids struggling to pay attention or are the subjects themselves eluding them?
  3. Look Beyond the Score: Don’t settle for your kids’ grades and test scores as a barometer of how they’re really doing in school.

(Article by Kelsey Sheehy)


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According to Parents:

  1. Slipping Grades: If you believe that your child can do better than he did on his latest report card, or if you’ve noticed a gradual or sudden decline in his test scores, communicate with his teacher about your concerns. …”
  2. “Not Managing Time Well: If your child puts off projects and postpone homework, she may not be able to keep up as workloads increase. …”
  3. “Being Consistently Confused: Sometimes a child is underperforming because he simply doesn’t understand the homework. …”
  4. “Lacking Confidence: It is natural to be uncertain when learning a new concept, but it is not constructive when a child is told she isn’t smart enough to do well in school. …”
  5. “Decreasing Parental Supervision: When parents take on additional commitments outside of the family, it may be impossible to maintain the same level of homework help they had been providing their child. …”
  6. “Learning Disabilities: Tutoring sessions are also beneficial for children who have been diagnosed with a learning disorder, such as ADHD, dyslexia, or a visual processing problem. …

(Article by Mali Anderson)


 

CBS According to PBS Parents, there are several ways to know if your child may need a math tutor, including:

  1. “If your child is old enough to receive report cards, you can tell pretty quickly whether or not he might need help when you see his grades.”
  2. “Beyond slipping grades, look out for a lack of enthusiasm for math.”
  3. “That loss in interest could signal that your child needs help, but it also may mean that he or she is bored. That’s where a tutor can come in.”

(Article by Laura Lewis Brown)


CBS News

 

 

 

 

 

According to CBS, a few key ways to recognize whether or not your kids might benefit from tutoring are:

  1. “Continued failing grades in school.”
  2. “Child is constantly making excuses as to why he or she is not doing homework. The student is unhappy in school or having problems in general that you are aware of.”
  3. “The teacher sends notes home to you and you have to go to school because there is disruptive behavior, a pattern that goes on for at least a full school year.”

(Article by Tatiana Morales)


And according to KSL News:KSL News

  1. “Does your child have continual bad grades that do not seem to improve?”
  2. “Does your child have behavior problems at school? Behavior problems at school do not always indicate a need for a tutor. Some students have behavior problems because they do not seem to understand what is being taught and some have behavior problems because they are simply bored with the subject material.”
  3. “Does your child regularly say they hate school?”
  4. “When working on homework assignments, does it seem to take your child longer to finish them than you would expect?”
  5. “When confronted about unfinished schoolwork, does your child makes excuses as to why it is not finished?”

(Article by Leann Mills)

Getting Back the Joys of Learning

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them…”

—Charles Dickens, Hard Times

In “Joy: A Subject Schools Lack” (The Atlantic; Jan 2015), Susan Engel – a mother, teacher, and developmental psychologist – points out the troubling truth that, for many schools, the last thing they’re concerned with nowadays is “what it feels like to be a child, or what makes childhood an important and valuable stage of life in its own right.” Thus, we now see many elementary and high schools (and even some colleges) focusing on the needs and wants of parents rather than students, pitching buzzwords and slogans about getting kids prepped for college and high-stakes careers rather than for adulthood, lifelong learning, and – I don’t know – their upcoming grade level. Or, as Engel puts it, “This may explain why so many schools that I visit seem more like something out of a Dickens novel than anything else.”

As a kid, my husband attended a private elementary school in Ft. Worth for his K-8 – a school that’s principal was often fond of telling parents, Third grade is the best preparation for fourth grade, fourth grade is the best preparation for fifth grade, and so on. In other words, a child’s education should really be just that: an education for children that takes one step at a time, not an education for future college students or CEOs that constantly leaps forward without regard to the here-and-now. What’s more, it seems to me that instilling and focusing on the joys of learning for students would be a tremendous means of also increasing and enhancing the joys of teaching.

As feminist philosopher and writer Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote in Women Who Run With the Wolves, people’s

“psyches and souls…have their own cycles and seasons of doing and solitude, running and staying, being involved and being removed, questing and resting, creating and incubating, being of the world and returning to the soul-place. When we are children … the instinctive nature notices all these phases and cycles. … Children are the wildish nature, and without being told to, they prepare for the coming of these times, greeting them, living with them, and keeping from those times recuerdos, mementos, for remembering ….” (pg 276-277)

What joys might we all better experience and live with now – not simply remember – if we’d allowed ourselves to learn and grow with these instinctive, wildish, soul-fulfilling cycles, rather than elbowing our way out of them in some abstract desire to one day be “successful”? How much more successful and joyful might we all be if we’d let ourselves continue to love and enjoy learning, if we’d been encouraged to experience and embrace feelings of awe and wonderment rather than to push constantly ahead, constantly faster, and to act “cool” and unimpressed with the world, ourselves, and each other?

Engel inspired and started us off in this post, so I’ll let her end it as well:

Before you brush this argument aside as sentimental fluff, or think of joy as an unaffordable luxury in a nation where there is dire poverty, low academic achievement, and high dropout rates, think again. The more dire the school circumstances, the more important pleasure is to achieving any educational success. … The more difficult a child’s life circumstances, the more important it is for that child to find joy in his or her classroom.”

Further Readings & Videos:

Time-Management Advice & Other Tips for Academic Success

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



  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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)
  5. 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)

 

Girls and Women in STEM

“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

— First Lady Michelle Obama, September 26, 2011

While First Lady Obama is perhaps best known for her work to combat childhood obesity, her work to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for children (and especially for girls) has also been—thankfully—substantial and groundbreaking as well. Improved STEM education is one of the clearest paths to a better future for our world and our children as technological and scientific innovations in medicine, climate change, and energy grow more complex by the day.

STEM education is an investment in everyone’s future.

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According to The Department of Commerce’s (2011) Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, “though they represent a mere 24 percent of the STEM workforce, women earn on average 33 percent more when they work in these high-growth fields.” However, even with this boon for entering the STEM fields, and even though “women today currently earn 41% of PhD’s in STEM fields, [they] make up only 28% of tenure-track faculty
in those fields.

Despite this inequality and despite the rampant sexism that is often reported by women studying and working in STEM fields, there are many significant positive steps being taken to encourage and promote more girls and young women to pursue the sciences in their education and careers.

For example, the Department of Education has recently created an “Invest in Innovation” fund that

provides competitive grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement. The program’s selection criteria prioritizes schools that support women and girls in STEM, emphasizing the need to increase the number of women and girls teaching and studying STEM subjects, and ensuring that both educators and students receive access to rigorous and engaging coursework, high-quality academic preparation, and opportunities for professional development.”

Moreover, NASA has recently gotten in on the game by teaming up with the Girl Scouts of the U.S. to develop a memorandum of understanding uniting the organizations “to achieve common goals: motivating and encouraging girls to do their best.” NASA was present at the Girl Scout’s annual convention and thus created an “opportunity for 17,000 leaders and girls to experience fun, hands-on NASA STEM activities….

In other words, the government is trying to think outside the box for getting young girls more involved and interested in STEM today. But it’s not only the government that’s interested in mining this “new” vein of gold in the American mountain; clubs and organizations are popping up all over the place aimed at supporting young girls’ interests in STEM fields.

Take Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative Project, for example. The Kentucky Girls Project, led by the University of Kentucky, is focused on “informing and motivating girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics…to build a strong, diverse workforce in Kentucky.” Many other states have similar collaboratives supported by various high education institutions including Illinois, Colorado, Missouri, Georgia, New Mexico, and others.

And even our local Texas schools like Lovejoy (Lucas, TX) have started including STEM courses in their elective rotation to support and deepen students’ interest and access to the sciences. Lovejoy now offers several agricultural elective courses to their ninth graders as well as an optional introductory course to design and robotics. Similarly, Ford Middle School (Allen, TX) has begun offering “Career Portals in STEM” as an elective course designed to introduce students to the careers of science and engineering. Of course, given that students begin engaging in the Science Fair as early as 6th grade (in TX) and that children of all ages are often naturally drawn to the splendor and wilds of science, these STEM courses and options ought to be made available to students much earlier.

If you’re a parent, mentor, or student looking to get yourself or someone close to you more involved in STEM fields, here are a few terrific ideas and resources to consider: