What to do if you Suspect Your Child is Gifted (Part I)

You suspect your child is gifted. Actually, you pretty much know your child is gifted. You know it from observing your child. And you know it from all those articles you’ve found with their bulleted lists of gifted children behaviors—you’ve mentally ticked off most of the items.

So okay, now that you know, what should you do?

Dr. Shannon W. Bellezza of Triangle Behavioral and Educational Solutions, suggests that parents find out how schools in their area test for giftedness. “Some schools do universal screening around 3rd grade to see which children may be gifted. Sometimes there are options for parents or teachers to nominate children for testing to qualify for acceleration in certain subjects. Parents should find out how their school screens for giftedness and follow through with the appropriate procedures.”

Testing For Giftedness

Can’t wait that long? You don’t have to, if you don’t mind paying out of pocket. “Many private psychologists offer IQ tests for children as young as 3-4 years-old, including the Stanford-Binet and the WPPSI tests,” says Alina Adams, a school consultant and author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten.

Adams cautions that there are many variables to these tests, which means the results will vary, too. “An important thing to remember is that the tests are different, and it’s entirely possible for a child to test gifted on one, but not on another. Also very few IQ tests are reliable before the ages of 10-12, so it’s possible your child will test gifted one year, but not the next,” says Adams.

Before having children tested, parents should consider that “gifted” means different things to different people, says Parenting and Family Coach Dr. Richard Horowitz. “At times parents with reasonably bright kids latch on to the label ‘gifted’ without actually getting confirmation by a teacher or psychologist. There is no universally recognized standard for gifted. School districts will set criteria for admission into a gifted/talented program but again it is the school’s arbitrary standard rather than a definition based on research.”

Fostering The Gift

Some parents don’t bother with confirmation. Tobi Kosanke, for example. She and her husband just assumed their 13-year-old daughter girl was gifted and ran with it: did what they could to foster their child’s development. “We nourished her intellect as a baby and toddler with toys, music, and books.”

“Gifted,” by the way, is not the same as “genius.” Alina Adams points out that unlike the lack of universal school standards for giftedness, there are actual accepted distinctions that separate those in the category “genius” from the merely “gifted.” “Giftedness can be anything from the top 90th percentile, to the top 95th or 97th. Genius is the 99.99 the percentile. The needs of the two groups are different.”

“Those with IQs between 125 to 145 can basically handle anything they decide to do. Those with IQs of 145 plus often have a harder time making themselves understood, which can get in the way of achievement. There is also the concept of multi-potentiality. When people are good at most anything they try, it becomes harder to narrow down exactly what they want to do. So they end up doing nothing, like the metaphor of Buridan’s ass,” says Adams.

Gifted=Special Needs??

Laurie Endicott Thomas, author of Not Trivial: How Studying the Traditional Liberal Arts Can Set You Free, has a different way of looking at IQ. She thinks that children on either end of the IQ spectrum should be thought of and treated as special needs children. “Keep in mind that a gifted child’s IQ is at least 30 points above the average. You would not dream of putting a child with an average IQ (100) in a classroom for mentally retarded children (IQ of 70). Yet gifted children are expected to thrive in a classroom that is geared to children whose IQ is 30 points below theirs. Not only will the gifted children be miserable from boredom, they will be wasting their time and developing bad study habits. (There’s no need to take notes if you know that the teacher is going to repeat the same boring thing 10 times!)”

Here Adams disagrees. “It really depends on the child. Some children who have tested gifted are so used to being the smartest kid in the room, the one that everyone fusses over and praises, that being put in a situation where everyone else is as smart—or even smarter—than they are, is a horrible experience. Some kids shut down completely, and become depressed. If their entire self-image is based on being the best, learning that there are others like them can be devastating.

“Another problem with gifted programs,” says Adams, “is that most public school-based ones operate on the assumption that all gifted children are gifted at the same things in the same way on the same schedule. The whole point of being gifted is that you are uniquely talented in a particular area. I’ve worked with families where their extremely verbal child struggled in advanced math, while other children with incredible math skills floundered in advanced English classes where their very literal-minded approach made parsing the nuances of texts nearly impossible.

Adams gives the personal example of her gifted son, who, when faced with Hemingway’s iconic six-word short story, For sale: baby shoes, never worn, insisted that there simply weren’t enough facts available to draw a definitive conclusion. “Sure, you could assume the baby died. But you could also assume it was an ad from a baby shoe factory that was closing down.”

Educational Needs

Horowitz has a more general view of gifted programs versus mainstreaming gifted children. “The best advice for a parent is to make sure that their child’s individual educational needs are being met and the parents should arrange a conference with the teacher or teachers early in the school year to make sure this is occurring. If the teacher can meet the child’s needs in the regular classroom than there is no need for an additional program,” says Horowitz, adding this caveat: “If, however, the school has identified a child as eligible for a gifted program, I believe the parents should take advantage of the offering.”

Whether or not to mainstream your gifted child is likely to be determined, says Bellezza, by school policy and availability of resources. Bellezza details the various types of school instruction that might be available to a gifted student depending on the school. “Pull-out enrichment (when the child is removed from the classroom for specialized instruction), push-in enrichment (when the child remains in the regular classroom and is given specialized instruction via differentiation by the classroom teacher or from another teacher who comes to the classroom), or some combination are usually offered by schools.”

William Schlitz of Keller, Texas, and his wife, Dr. Myiesha Taylor, decided to bypass the school system altogether. “My wife and I have homeschooled our 3 children here in Texas. We did not make the decision for religious or conservative political reasons. The decision was made to specifically address the gifted status of our two oldest children and tailor their education to create an academic environment that allowed them to thrive. Part of that was our desire to create a secure environment where our kids felt safe, free from bias, and could focus on their education. Like many who start this process we were concerned if our decision would hurt our children’s future (college?). But in reality it served as a launching point for all of them to thrive.

Education Disinterest

Schlitz’s and Taylor’s eldest daughter, Haley Taylor Schlitz, is today a 15-year-old senior at Texas Woman’s University. “Haley made the jump to homeschool when we became concerned about her academic progress at a local middle school. It was Haley’s growing disinterest with her education that led us to have her formally tested for giftedness. Her tests demonstrated a very highly gifted person.”

Haley went on to become a Davidson Young Scholar, and a member of both MENSA and Intertel, graduating homeschool high school at age 13. The young woman has been on the Dean’s List of TWU for the past two years with a GPA of 3.7. Haley will have her BS degree in May 2019, when she will be 16 years-old, and plans on attending law school starting the following Fall semester. Another son is about to follow in Haley’s footsteps. Ian, at 12, has just passed the entrance exam at a local community college.

Having taken the journey of homeschooling her children, Myiesha Taylor has developed insight into gifted education processes around the United States, and has served as a resource for families traveling a similar path. To this end, Taylor created a Facebook group, Brilliant In Color, that helps families of color discuss how to navigate giftedness for their children.

Testing, confirmation of giftedness, and education aside, some parents wonder what being gifted will mean for their child’s emotional makeup. Will being gifted mark a child as different? Do gifted children have difficulty finding and making friends, and cultivating relationships? Will a gifted child, of necessity, always be lonely? How will being gifted affect the child’s world view?

Social Skills

“Gifted children are prone to problems with loneliness and depression. Often, the gifted children themselves are blamed for having ‘poor social skills.’ Yet the real problem is that children generally develop real friendships only with other children whose IQ is within 15 points of theirs.

“If your child’s IQ is 100, then 68% of the population falls within his or her ‘friendship zone.’ As a result, your child is likely to have lots and lots of (rather dim-witted) friends. But if your child’s IQ is 140, less than 2% of the population falls within his or her ‘friendship zone.’ You may need to get involved in some organization for the gifted in order for your child to find children whom they can befriend,” says Endicott Thomas, who suggests parents of gifted children visit the SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) website.

Endicott Thomas describes the emotional downside of being gifted. “Because of their abilities to use abstract reasoning, gifted people are often keenly aware that the universe is indifferent to human suffering, that many social institutions are stupid and cruel, and that many adults are hypocrites. For this reason, gifted people need to find some way to make a positive difference in the world. Otherwise, they can suffer greatly from a problem called existential depression.”

On Being Different

Alina Adams disagrees, suggesting that the real problem with being gifted (and knowing it) is watching out for inflated egos. “Professionally, I can tell you that gifted kids love feeling different, and knowing things other kids don’t. Personally, I can tell you my husband and I tell our kids, ‘You’re not that great. Even if you’re one in a million, there are 6000 people out there just like you. And many more who are better.’

“Some parents like gifted schools and programs so that their children can be with like-minded peers. We like them because they prove to our kids just how not special they are,” says Adams.

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5 Tips for Keeping Your Child Safe Around Dogs

Dogs can be wonderful companions for children. They are loyal, fun and provide unconditional love, so it’s not surprising many parents want their children to grow up with a family dog. Despite these attractions to the idea of a canine/child relationship, not every parent knows how to keep a child safe around dogs.

Children and dogs speak very different languages. The way a child shows affection may feel confrontational to a dog, which could cause the animal anxiety or stress. Children also find it hard to understand that a dog isn’t a cuddly toy and sometimes needs to be left alone.

Despite these issues with communication, most dogs tolerate human behavior. Bites are rare and almost never happen without warning. There are also plenty of things parents can do to reduce the chance of a bite, so here are five tips to keep your child safe around dogs.

Tip One: Teach Children How to Greet a Dog

There’s an expectation from some parents that all dogs should be friendly. This is transmitted to the child, who may not understand that strange dogs shouldn’t be approached. Keeping a child safe around dogs means teaching the child to approach the dog with caution.

As a dog owner, I’ve often had children run up to my pet at the park—sometimes screaming with delight—and pat him on the forehead. Their parents usually don’t ask permission or stop the child from approaching my dog, which is to them, an unknown dog. This is most definitely not the way to keep a child safe around dogs.

Despite the child’s good intentions, this sudden approach by a stranger can be a scary situation for a dog. Dogs don’t know what a strange child wants when the child approaches without warning. The dog often has no way to escape this unwanted attention. A dog’s attempts at communicating discomfort are usually missed or ignored.

little boy plays with dog in autumn park

Many dogs, including my own, are able to tolerate this sort of behavior. But some dogs may become defensive or even bite if they feel trapped, scared, or startled. For this reason, it’s important for all children to know how to politely greet a dog. This reduces the chance of a bite and teaches respect for dogs.

Here’s a simple four-step process you can use to teach your child how to greet a dog:

  1. Ask Permission: The first thing to teach a child is that he or she should never approach a strange dog without a parent’s permission. Similarly, the parent should always check with the owner before allowing a child near a dog. Never stroke (or allow a child to stroke) a dog if you can’t speak with the owner first—even if the dog is tied up in a public space.
  2. Proper Approach: Once the owner has given permission, show your child how to walk towards the dog with an outstretched arm and a closed fist. This protects the fingers and gives the dog a chance to communicate his feelings.
  3. The Dog’s Decision: The dog will sniff the child’s hand and either turn away or continue looking. If he turns away, he doesn’t want to continue with the interaction and you should leave him alone. This can be difficult for a child to understand, but it’s important to teach a child to respect a dog’s wishes. If the dog continues looking at the child or licks the child’s hand, the dog is giving his permission to be greeted.
  4. Stroking the Dog: Once the dog has signaled that he’s happy to continue making friends, the child can stroke him on the chest, shoulder or back. The child should avoid reaching over the dog’s head.
little girl offers dog food from her hand
Keep your child safe around dogs by teaching your child to seek permission to greet the dog.

Even if the dog has shown positive signals of accepting your child’s friendship, you and your child should watch for signs of discomfort. Signs of a dog’s discomfort might include moving away, yawning or licking lips. If you see any such signs, have your child move away. Doing so teaches your child how to read the dog’s body language, which is critical to keeping your child safe around dogs.

Tip Two: Dogs Don’t Like Hugs

With their fluffy coats and big round eyes, dogs can seem like the perfect cuddling companions. The sad truth, however, is that most dogs don’t like hugs. Hugging feels restrictive to canines and they often don’t see a hug as a sign of affection. This can be difficult for young children to understand, but it’s important children learn that a dog is not a teddy bear.

There are some exceptions to the hugging rule. I’ve known several dogs that actively seek hugs from their owners and even strangers. Dogs, like people, have individual likes and dislikes. The average dog, however, tends to shows signs of anxiety when hugged. The dog may make “Whale Eyes” or lick his lips. The child should look for these signs when hugging a dog and be honest with himself as to whether the dog is really enjoying the hug, or would rather have a back scratch. If the dog is not enjoying the hug, the child should stop hugging the dog, of course.

While most dogs don’t enjoy hugs, that doesn’t mean a dog will automatically become aggressive or bite when hugged. Family dogs, in fact, often tolerate hugs from children and adults. Even so, it’s not fair or kind to hug dogs  when it’s not in a dog’s nature to enjoy hugging. To hug a dog is to put him in a situation that makes him feel stressed and anxious.

Tip Three: Understand A Dog’s Discomfort Body Language

As a parent, the most important skill you can develop to keep your child safe around dogs is understanding the dog’s basic body language. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Canine body language is surprisingly complex, but the signals for anxiety, stress or unhappiness are often easy to spot. The following signs tell you when a child’s play is becoming too rough and/or the dog should be left alone:

  • Repetitive yawning despite being well rested
  • Licking of lips when there’s no food in the area
  • Heavy panting
  • Turning the head away from the child
  • Giving “Whale Eye” by tilting the head away and showing the whites of the eyes
  • Moving or crawling away

These signals are the dog’s way of communicating he’s uncomfortable. If your child is the one causing the discomfort, it’s time to have your child give the dog some space. This is the smart way to keep your child safe around dogs.

There are, of course, other body language signals that dogs use to communicate feelings. In some situations, a dog will display the more obvious emotions of fear or aggression. Most people know that growling, teeth baring, and raised hackles are signs a dog shouldn’t be approached—especially by a child. In contrast, the classic “play bow” is a signal that a dog wants to play.

Such emotions are generally obvious even to humans who don’t understand canine body language. It’s the subtler signals of canine emotion that are often missed.

Tip Four: Supervise Children and Dogs at All Times

Dogs can make brilliant family pets. Many are patient, tolerant and loving around children, which is why the child/canine bond can quickly become so strong. Even so, parents should always supervise time spent between young children and dogs. Most dog bites happen when the parent or caregiver is nearby—and there are always warning signs that might have prevented the bite, if only someone had been paying attention. Except for the case in which there is a physical barrier between dog and child, for instance a sturdy fence, parents should actively supervise a child’s interaction with a dog.

“Active” supervision refers to parents watching the dog for signs of discomfort. The parent should be watching the dog without any outside distractions. No checking your phone screen, or watching television. You’re on watch. If the dog shows signs of anxiety or defensiveness—or if the play is becoming too boisterous—the parent should calmly step in and lead the child away.

Supervision isn’t only important when the child and dog are at play. Parents should always be on the watch for dangerous encounters between child and dog, such as, for instance, a child walking towards a sleeping dog. This can be hard work—always watching your child’s interactions with a dog—but active supervision is the best way to prevent a bite.

little girl huddles with dog on white rug

Tip Five: Show Your Child How to React to a Strange Dog

Just as I’ve seen children run up to dogs without first asking permission, I often see off-leash dogs approaching people with their owners nowhere in sight. This is often just a dog being playful, and wanting to meet new people. A boisterous dog can, however, be scary to a child. The child’s reaction can also sometimes make the dog mistakenly believe the child want to play.

To avoid misunderstandings, it’s important for frightened children to know how to react to a strange dog. The worst way for a frightened child to react to a dog is to run away screaming. Instead, the child should stand still with hands together and avoid making eye contact with the dog. The phrase “Be a Tree” is often used to describe this technique. A boisterous or playful dog usually becomes bored when someone behaves in this way. Once the dog loses interest, the child should calmly walk to an adult.

Admittedly, this is a lot to ask of a young child who is scared. But Be a Tree is a useful technique to teach children once they are able to understand how to behave around dogs. The Be a Tree technique also works well in the rare case in which a dog behaves aggressively towards a child.

Most dogs are brilliant companions and unlikely to bite. They should, however, always be treated with care, gentleness, and respect. For this reason, it’s important for children to know how to greet and interact with a dog. This helps keep the child safe while building a stronger bond between child and dog. Parents should also be able to identify common canine distress signals, so they can end an interaction before it becomes dangerous.

Do you have any questions about how to keep your child safe around dogs? Do you find it difficult to teach your child to behave politely around dogs? Please let me know in the comments and I’ll answer as soon as I can.

Top 10 Educational and Enriching Things to Do With Kids This Summer

School is out, or it will be within a few short weeks. Your children might be anticipating long, lazy days of watching Netflix and playing video games. You might be checking your calendar, not knowing what to do to get the kids off of their electronics and out doing something productive and fun. It can be hard to keep kids entertained all summer, which is why we’ve put together a list of the top 10 educational and enriching activities to inspire you and your children!

little girl enjoys summer library fun with books on head

#1 Go to the Library

Children often lose some of their reading skills over the summer, which sets them back when school starts up again in August or September. Visiting the library on a weekly or biweekly basis gives kids the chance to keep up their skills by reading books of their choosing. Encourage them to choose books that roughly correlate with their reading level, but don’t worry if they enjoy books that are easier to read. Any reading will help them stay on track.

daughter rides father's shoulders as they tour their toqn

#2 Explore Your Town

There are likely fun, educational places in your own city or town that you have never taken your children to. If you were going to host family members with children the same ages as your kids, where would you think about taking them? Play tourist in your own town and explore the nearby attractions.

mother daughter cooking lesson

#3 Teach Them to Cook

During the school year, it can be hectic to get meals made and on the table in time to get the kids off to soccer practice and leave time to get homework done. During the summer, however, you might have more time. Teach your children how to make your family favorites and explore some new recipes together, too.

#4 Learn How to Take Photographs

Do you ever see a beautiful bird, a stunning sunset, or even an interesting insect? All of these are worth pointing out to your kids. If you have a camera (or even a smartphone!), you can also teach them how to take good photographs. Take a photography class together if you’re interested in making it into a hobby; check in with your local community centers to see if this type of class is available.

children on parents' shoulders at concert

#5 Attend Music Events

Does your city or town sponsor free music gatherings on summer evenings? Many areas do; it might be held on a town green, near the city hall, or at a park. These types of events can consist of hired bands or simply members of the community getting together to play instruments, sing, and dance. These are great opportunities to introduce your children to music and to help them become part of the community. Pack a picnic dinner and encourage them to dance and enjoy the music.

animation of welcoming exchange student

 

#6 Host an Exchange Student

There are organizations that bring teenagers from other countries to the United States for a few weeks or a month during the summer to learn a bit about American culture and to practice their English. This is a great way to learn more about another culture while extending hospitality to another young person. If you enjoy the experience, you might even consider hosting a student who is here for the academic year!

mother daughter art lesson

#7 Make Time for Art

Letting kids do art projects can be messy and inconvenient, but it’s so important to let them express their creativity. Stock up on art supplies like paper, crayons, paint, colored pencils, glue, kid-size scissors, googly eyes, feathers, beads, and anything else you can think of. Use a plastic cover on your table or set the kids up in the backyard on a nice day, and let them experiment.

popcorn and family movie time

#8 Introduce Them to Old Movies

While you might be trying to minimize time spent in front of the television, watching old movies with a parent or grandparent can be a great way to spend time together indoors on a rainy day. Choose flicks you enjoyed as a child. One caveat: If it’s been decades since you have last seen a childhood favorite, check out the rating on a site like Common Sense Media. More than a few parents have been surprised by some of the content in movies they enjoyed as children.

family camping trip

#9 Go Summer Camping

“There is perhaps nothing that says childhood summer quite like camping,” says Angela Stringfellow, senior editor at Family Living Today. You can make it a week-long trip in an RV, find a camp that has air-conditioned cabins, or just pitch a tent in your backyard. Whatever type of camping appeals to you, be sure to roast marshmallows, catch fireflies, and sing around a campfire for memories that will last your child well into adulthood.

mother and two daughters volunteer at soup kitchen

#10 Volunteer Together

Making a difference in your community is a wonderful way to round out the summer and add some enrichment to your child’s life. Volunteering can include playing with kitties or puppies at the animal shelter, handing out groceries to food pantry patrons, or helping an elderly shut-in with chores around the house. Working together to serve the less fortunate will be a habit that your child can practice for a lifetime.

What are your best ideas for keeping kids busy, engaged, and learning this summer?

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Getting Kids to be Kind

Getting kids to be kind could be and probably should be the focus of the long summer vacation from school. After all, one large study found some 49% of children in grades 4–12 said they’d been bullied at school at least once during the past month. And if bullying by definition, is a form of cruelty, the antidote then, must surely be kindness and empathy.

Here’s the truth: we can’t fix the world. We can’t eradicate cruelty; can’t wipe out the bullies at one fell swoop. There’s no app for that. But we can and should be actively cultivating an atmosphere of kindness in our homes. And that is how we can face bullying and cruelty head on: we do it by getting kids to be kind.

Let this summer be a summer of kindness then. And in fact, just by making kindness the focus of your child’s summer, you’re more than halfway there. Because once you make kindness “a thing,” you’ve shown your children that for you, kindness is a priority. You’ve modeled your values for your kids. And after that, getting kids to be kind is a snap.

How you make kindness the focus of your children’s summer vacation is up to you. You might, for instance, begin by just saying it: “Let’s have a theme this summer: being kind to others!”

Getting Kids to be Kind may mean having them clean up the local park
Getting kids to be kind may mean having them clean up the local park

By saying it out loud: that you’re hereby dedicating the summer to kindness, you’ve already set the tone and initiated a discussion, too. Ask your children to talk about kindness. What do they see as kindness? Can they remember something kind someone did for them? How did it make them feel?

What about the opposite of kindness? What would that look like? Have they experienced that? How did that make them feel?

This is summer, remember, so you’ve got time on your side. It can be an ongoing discussion. In fact, you can say, “As part of our focus on kindness this summer, let’s talk about kindness every morning.”

This also gives your children a chance to talk about anything they did since the last discussion that was kind. Discussion time also affords you an opportunity to praise children for their kindness. Talk about positive reinforcement!

child hands elderly woman a daisy

Children can be directed to use discussion time to describe new insights they’ve had about kindness. You might say, “What have you learned about kindness since we last spoke?”

Directing the discussions in this manner can turn children into keen observers of kindness. They will actively look for things they might talk about during family discussion time on kindness. Daddy pulling out a chair for Mommy becomes a kindness rather than something they’ve come to see as rote behavior. They’d never thought about it before: how being polite is being kind. Now they’re thinking about it!

The discussions can be thought-provoking. Is it a kindness to tell a white lie? Was it right to tell a friend she looks nice in her new dress when actually, it looks awful on her? What if everyone laughs at her behind her back for how she looks? Would it have been better to tell her the truth so she might change?

Whose Act of Kindness Wins?

Of course, discussion can’t be the be all and end all of your summer focus on kindness. Getting kids to be kind and having a summer focus on kindness can take many forms. You might, for instance, turn it into a friendly competition: each family member must do a daily kindness. Then talk about whose kindness was the best: who wins.

Let your children see that some kindnesses take no time at all to perform, and make a big difference, while other kindnesses require an investment of time and effort. Both types of kindnesses are important. You may want to stress that some kindnesses may be more important than others, but all kindnesses have value.

Modeling kindness for your child should be your own focus during this summer and at all times. It goes without saying that your behavior should always be kind, as children learn by example. Tempted to say something snide about a third party in conversation with a friend? Remember that your children are listening and paying attention. Do you want them to become ugly gossips? Or do you want them to be kind enough to keep quiet when they’ve got something nasty on their minds?

And guess what? When you make kindness the focus of your summer—when you see getting kids to be kind as a goal, you’ll find you are more careful to be kind even when your children are not with you. You’ll find that being kind is contagious! (And that’s a good thing.)

Kindness Begins at Birth

Now it’s all well and good to make kindness a focus of the long summer vacation. But actually, getting kids to be kind begins at birth. “Empathy and compassion are learned best by experience. If the child is treated with warmth, empathy, and compassion she has a high likelihood of becoming an empathic adolescent and adult. Of course, this empathic relating must begin at birth when the new mom responds to each of her infant’s cries/needs. This warm maternal response should carry through into the early and middle childhood years,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV.

This idea naturally leads to wondering what happens when there is no such warm responsiveness in a child’s early life. Can you still make kindness a focus of a summer? Can it be taught, for instance, to a teen? “The answer and final outcome depends on a number of complicated things,” says Dr. Walfish. “Number one, and most importantly, the teen must personally want to become a compassionate, empathic person. Without that desire the change will not happen. To change requires a tremendous amount of motivation and hard work. If, indeed, the teen is motivated to change, he or she usually does best if they have a mentor.”

Parents may wonder about that: who is the best mentor to teach teenagers loving kindness?  Dr. Walfish suggests that the mentor can be a parent, teacher, relative, minister, rabbi, counselor, or therapist. “It must be someone the teen looks up to, admires, respects, and can trust. This opens the pathway for communication,” says Walfish.

“You can tell the teen to treat the other person the way they would want to be treated. But without the idealized respect and trust it will fall on deaf ears.”

Kindness at the Dinner Table

Perhaps the best place to practice getting kids to be kind, whether young children or teenagers, is at the family dinner table. “The dinner table is always a great place to practice taking turns talking and listening. Kids, and many adults, get excited about their own ideas and chime in or interrupt while someone else is speaking,” says Walfish.

“This is a golden opportunity for parents to mediate or referee and make sure each person’s turn to talk is not interrupted. This is also a chance for your kids to grow in front of your very eyes. Praise them for every incremental step toward respectful listening behavior,” because, as it turns out, getting kids to be kind is about being kind enough to take the time to tell them they’ve done good.

Saying “Good job!” to your child, may, in fact, be the kindest thing you do all day, every day this summer. It may be the most important thing you’ll ever do to model kindness for your children. And getting kids to be kind, by the way? Way to end those bullies, for good.

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Antagonistic Teachers Lower Scores, Hurt Academic Futures

Antagonistic teachers, or teachers who seem hostile much of the time, are a fact of life. We reassure school children suffering the misery of an unpleasant teacher who belittles them. We tell them that not every teacher they have will be amazing, that muddling through the year is just something they have to do. But a new study suggests that having antagonistic teachers not only lowers students’ grades, but affects their ability to learn in future.

Which suggests that the tack we’ve taken all along, as parents, has been wrong. Why would we tell our kids to put up and shut up with unpleasant teachers knowing this will not only affect their grade point average but sour them on learning, going forward? The simple answer is: we wouldn’t. We’d try like heck to get our children transferred to a different class, in order to avoid that awful, no good teacher.

The study, by researchers from West Virginia University, Morgantown, and California State University, Long Beach, and funded by the Taylor & Francis Group, defines the antagonistic teacher as one who belittles students, shows favoritism, or criticizes a student’s efforts. And while the participants of this randomized trial were college students, it seems likely the results could be even more profound among, for instance, adolescents whose brains are still maturing and whose behavior is more volatile as a result.

In this particular study, experts in communication set up a teaching experiment in which around 500 college undergrads watched one of two versions of a videotaped lecture. Half the students watched a version of the lecture in which the teacher antagonized students. The other half watched a standard lesson, without antagonism. The students then answered questions on how they felt about the lesson, and went on to take a multiple-choice quiz on the lesson content.

Lesson With Or Without Antagonistic Teacher

In order to make the student subjects feel like they were in a real classroom, the authors filmed the lecture to show four undergrad students, two guys in the front row, two young women in the second row. The study participants viewed the lectures as if they were students sitting in the third row, behind the students shown in the first two rows in the video. What happened next was very simple, very clear cut: the students who watched the video of the lesson served with a side order of antagonism, performed worse on the test than the students who watched the standard lesson, without an antagonistic teacher.

Just what kind of antagonism did the students face? Some examples:

Antagonistic teacher: “You should already know the answer to that question if you were paying attention to last class.”

Normal teacher: “We went over that last class, so it should be in your notes, but I can go over that with you later if you’d like.”

Teacher modeling positive behavior
Teacher models positive behavior

Antagonistic teacher: “Yup. Well, it looks like some people can keep up and pay attention.” [Looks at student # 1.] “Brian, you could try and be more like Brenda here.” [Brenda is student #3].

Normal teacher: “Yup. Thanks for keeping up and paying attention.”

In the video with the antagonistic teacher, the instructor belittled the students in the first two rows, criticizing their answers and showing favoritism toward one of the students while criticizing the others. It sounds quite bad enough, but the truth is, the antagonistic teacher never raised his voice. The study participants generally rated the instructor as more than “sometimes antagonistic,” but less than “often antagonistic.

And still, the results were significant. Even stunning.

Boy happy to be holding a stack of books
Students do well when they enjoy their lessons

The students who watched the class with the antagonistic teacher scored as much as 5 percent lower than those who watched the standard lesson. The implication seems obvious: students don’t do as well when they don’t enjoy their lessons.

And it would be a rare student indeed who would enjoy being belittled, criticized, or shunted aside in favor of other students. That kind of teacher behavior is arguably abuse. At a certain point, you’d tune out the lesson in order to tune out the abuse. You’d miss stuff.

Anyone would.

Antagonistic Teacher: Long-Lasting Effects

The thing is, this wasn’t just about a student’s score on a single test after one lesson that showed the effects of the antagonistic teacher. The effects were much longer-lasting than that. The students made less of an effort with their learning: after all, if you can’t please the teacher, what’s the point of working hard and doing well? The students with the hostile teacher, moreover, said they would never take part in a future course taught by that teacher, going forward.

Can you blame them?

Study author Dr. Alan Goodboy feels that the long-term consequences of having an antagonistic teacher are the real takeaway from this study. “Even slight antagonism, coupled with otherwise effective teaching, can demotivate students from being engaged and hinder their learning opportunities. So even one bad day of teaching can ruin a student’s perception of the teacher and create an unnecessary roadblock to learning for the rest of the term.”

In Dr. Goodboy’s opinion, teachers must therefore take particular care not to allow themselves to engage in this sort of negative and hostile behavior in the classroom. “Antagonism can come into classrooms unexpectedly and suddenly, even without the knowledge of the teachers themselves,” said Goodboy.

Antagonistic Teachers: Unaware of Their Own Behavior

Asked how an antagonistic teacher could be unaware of his own unpleasant behavior, Goodboy said, “We know that many instructors are unaware when they are misbehaving by antagonizing their students. We know this because they self-report at very low levels of misbehavior (or they don’t want to admit that they do it).”

Goodboy admits there is another kind of teacher who is very much aware of his or her own ill behavior in the classroom. For them it’s a choice. “There are plenty of instructors who are quite aware of their misbehavior and choose to belittle and put down their students in class. These instructors make the volitional decision to antagonize their students,” says Goodboy.

The results of this study, however, are without regard to the teacher’s intention. It’s all about the students’ perspective in relation to nasty teacher behavior, whether purposeful or otherwise. In general, explains Goodboy, the antagonism occurs at “very low levels, but when it does occur, it negatively impacts a learning environment as students do not enjoy learning the content and subsequently score worse on a quiz of that material.”

Dr. Goodboy believes that most teachers don’t engage in this sort of behavior, don’t antagonize their students. But where they do, learning is compromised. The researcher offers a suggestion that teachers be trained in self-awareness: to know when they are beginning to act in an antagonistic manner in the classroom. It’s critical for teachers to recognize and put a stop to this negative behavior that we now know can both damage a student’s grades and his or her attitude to learning in future.

Staying Positive No Matter What

Goodboy also suggests that teachers work at developing positive methods of interacting with students, maintaining an even behavioral keel, even when disagreements arise between student and teacher.

Will the researchers continue to pursue this topic further? Absolutely. The subject is too important to stop here. “These studies focus on instructor misbehaviors in a college context. We do not know that teacher misbehaviors in middle school or high school are similar to those with college aged adults. We believe that college instructors engage in hostility more than K-12 teachers, but without the data this is just speculation,” says Goodboy.

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Taylor & Francis Group. “Hostile teachers can lose students 5 percent on test scores.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 May 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180510203744.htm

Roots of Empathy: Can Babies Heal Bullies?

Can spending time with a baby prevent bullying? One school program, Roots of Empathy, brings babies and their moms into classrooms. And research suggests that participating classrooms show a reduction in bullying and aggressive behavior.

Is it really just that simple? What is the exact nature of the Roots of Empathy program, and how can we reproduce these results in our own children’s classrooms? Because even one child bullied, is one child too many.

Roots of Empathy has developed a research-based school program for primary school children in which the teaching tools consist, in the main, of a local baby and parent. The program has spread across Canada and to 10 other countries, as well. More than 800,000 children have experienced the program since the nonprofit’s founding, in 1996. Roots of Empathy Founder Mary Gordon, says the long-term goal of the program is to build a “more caring, peaceful, and civil society, where everybody feels a sense of belonging.”

The Roots of Empathy program has local parents volunteering themselves and their babies, coming every few weeks to classrooms, so that children can witness a baby’s vulnerability and development over time. Gordon says she started the program because she wanted to find a way to help children talk about their feelings. “Roots of empathy is a bit of a trick. We use a baby to help children find the vulnerability and humanity in this little baby so that then you can flip it back to their own experiences.

“They realize this sudden universe of ‘everybody in the world feels the same as me. We’re not so disconnected.’

“It’s very hard to hate someone if you realize they feel like you. It’s very hard to be bullying someone if you realize that.”

Lisa Bahar, a licensed psychotherapist in Newport Beach, California, explains that the goal of the Roots of Empathy program goal is to realize that “we” are all the same, “in the sense of wanting to belong, to be loved and cared about. This kind of unique vehicle of bringing a baby into the classroom is what I consider a wonderful way to allow children to relate to someone who is nonthreatening, and who can give a young person the awareness of true connection to other human beings. This creates empathy, sympathy and compassion,” says Bahar.

But is this really something we need to have in our classrooms? Shouldn’t parents be teaching empathy at home? “If we are educating children who can read well and compute well but can’t relate well, we will have a failed society. Learning how to relate to one another requires empathy. You have to understand how the other fella feels,” says Mary Gordon.

Can It Heal A Bully?

Can the Roots of Empathy program help turn around a child who is already a bully? Bahar says yes. “Spending time with a baby activates the senses as we observe the eyes, the responses, the touch, and the expressions of the baby. These sensory impressions can be internalized and experienced through the baby. The pathology that exists within the bully will fight to resist the impact of these sensory lessons, the insight will nonetheless be gained, as the child experiences a sense of connection to another living being,” says Bahar.

Studies from 2000 onward, confirm that the Roots of Empathy program is effective, reducing bullying and aggression over the course of the school year and over time, in general. Children who take part in the program have an increased sense of positivity about the classroom environment. They feel more of a sense of belonging and acceptance. Students are also more likely to engage in “pro-social” behavior, for instance sharing with and helping their peers, and including them in their activities. Perhaps most important of all, the program appears to reduce fighting among classmates by 50 percent, on average. This is notable, since in general, classroom squabbles tend to increase over the course of the school year.

Roots of Empathy and the Root Cause of Bullying

But Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV, says that as a method of targeting bullies, Roots of Empathy misses the mark. “Roots of Empathy is a truly wonderful and beautiful program that by bringing a baby into the classroom teaches school age children about human relatedness, reading/understanding emotions, and human-to-human engagement. However, they missed the mark for targeting prevention of bullying. Clearly, the creators do not fully understand the root cause of all bullies,” says Walfish, who explains, “All bullies carry a secret that they, personally, have been the target of bullying, mistreatment, and mishandling by someone important within their family. That important someone is usually their father or mother, and in less frequent instances, an older sibling. Often, the mistreatment is abusive—emotionally or physically.

“The child who is the victim in his own family cannot ‘hold’ or contain the hostility and rage, and thus becomes the bully. He goes to school or out into the world and looks for an easy target. Then, he expels his hostilities onto another innocent victim.  It is a vicious cycle,” says Walfish, suggesting that playing with a baby is just not going to cut it, not going to stop that cycle, and is certainly not going to prevent that cycle from occurring in the first place.

Erin Clabough, PhD, a neurobiologist and author of Second Nature: How Parents Can Use Neuroscience to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Control  (December 2018, Sounds True Publishing) sees Roots of Empathy program as, at the very least, a valuable tool in developing empathy, even among bullies. “Being a bully doesn’t mean you are pathological. Everyone can be a bully if they are placed in the wrong kind of situation. Part of our role as parents is to put our kids in roles where they can experience healthy things and feel how rewarding they are. Roots of Empathy is an incredible program that works to increase social awareness in kids and its effectiveness is supported by lots of peer-reviewed studies.”

But according to Clabough, the Roots of Empathy program isn’t enough. “Bringing a baby into the classroom to decrease the incidence of bullying in a school is a great start. But if that’s all we do, it will make as much meaningful change in a person as playing with a puppy for the afternoon. It’s a cute stress-reliever, a great wake-up call, and you can certainly learn a lot about nonverbal emotional communication from a baby, but these kids also need to practice cross-age relationships in an ongoing way.”

Buddy System

Clabough suggests that the buddy system is a great way to provide this sort of relationship practice and provides a means to build on the Roots of Empathy program. “Having a buddy in lower grades that kids see once a week is a great way to do this through the school setting, as is providing older mentors (for example, an 8th grader mentoring a 6th grader new to middle school). Our elementary school (Free Union Country School, in the Charlottesville, Virginia area) does a great job with this—every child in grades 2-5 has a smaller buddy in grades PreK-1. The buddy partnerships change each year, and as the children advance through school, they look forward to the time when they can finally be the big buddy,” says Clabough.

The practical benefits of the buddy system, suggests Clabough, are broad. “This buddy system normalizes having friends of different ages, it allows kids to grow meaningful connections to individuals outside their normal social groups, it creates a broader sense of belonging, and it strengthens every kid’s support network. Perhaps most importantly, it gives kids a chance to practice empathy through both teaching and looking at things from a different person’s perspective,” says Clabough, a mother of four, who concedes that, “The Roots of Empathy program has other components that are worth exploring.”

Is Dyslexia a Gift?

Is Dyslexia a gift? Or is it a curse? Is it a learning disability or a learning difference? It all depends on whom you ask. But dyslexia sure does make it difficult to read. Dyslexia, in fact, is defined as an unexpected reading difficulty that occurs without relation to intelligence, age, motivation, or education.

How could that be a good thing? It makes it hard to read. It comes out of the blue. How can one learn anything without having the knack of fluent reading, let alone attain a high school diploma? How is someone who find it difficult to read going to get through school and get a job?

It is often said that the first three years of school are spent learning to read. After that, students read to learn. Students with dyslexia find it difficult to read, so of course they’re going to find it difficult to learn, right? On the face of it, it sure looks as though dyslexia is a curse, rather than a gift.

Gift of Dyslexia: Superior Understanding

So far, we’re talking facts. Except that there’s another set of talking points on dyslexia that appears to contradict these facts. These alternative arguments say that people with dyslexia just have a different way of learning, that of course people with dyslexia are going to fail if you teach them the way you teach more typical students. This line of thinking holds that people with dyslexia have a superior way of learning and understanding, if only you teach according to their abilities and gifts.

Judy Packhem, a reading specialist, owner and consultant at Shaping Readers explains, “Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that is characterized by problems with phonological processing skills. In layman’s terms, dyslexics have trouble with accurate and fluent word reading, spelling and decoding (sounding out words). Functional MRIs show a difference between the brains of dyslexics and non-dyslexics. Simply put, the wiring in the brain for reading processes is different. But while their reading skills are lacking, dyslexics excel in other areas.”

If you’re a parent of a child with dyslexia, by now, you’re wondering: what are these “other areas” at which people with dyslexia “excel?” According to Packhem, people with dyslexia are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, which is why some 35% of all entrepreneurs have dyslexia. Packhem recites the usual list of geniuses said to have dyslexia, including Albert Einstein, Steven Spielber, and Bill Gates on her list.

Can Kids With Dyslexia See It As A Gift?

All fine and good. But how do you help children with dyslexia to see their difficulty as a gift? Because if you fail at making them see this, they’re going to feel inferior to their peers who have no trouble whatsoever when it comes to making sense of text. From Packhem’s point of view, the relief that comes with diagnosis solves that problem. “Once diagnosed, dyslexics are often relieved to learn that there is an explanation for their reading difficulty and that they aren’t ‘dumb,’” says Packhem. “They know that having dyslexia means they need to learn in a different way. With the right treatment, dyslexics are able to learn to read. It requires intervention that is multisensory, explicit, language-based, and emotionally sound.”

As far as Packhem is concerned, the gold standard for the effective treatment of dyslexia is the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) approach. “O-G succeeds where traditional teaching does not in that it is able to create new neural pathways in the brain for reading,” says Packhem, who has a master’s degree in reading and literacy and is a certified dyslexia therapist.

But what, exactly, does it mean to “think out of the box?” What does it mean, in practical terms, to learn in a “different” way? For Arvin Vohra, founder of the Vohra Method of study, and author of Lies, Damned Lies, and College Admissions, and The Equation for Excellence: How to Make Your Child Excel at Math, it’s about a difference in vision, in how people with dyslexia see things. “Students with dyslexia often treat letters as three dimensional objects. Just as we consider a pen rotated to still be a pen, they often see a b and a d to be the same thing. This poses a challenge in initial stages of reading, but thanks to the work of many educational innovators, a challenge most students can overcome. But the positive benefits of dyslexia are huge! Students who have that 3 dimensional reading facility have a huge advantage in advanced math, as well as in non-academic areas like sculpture and sport,” says Vohra.

Dyslexia: Gift and Curse

Phil Weaver, of the Learning Success System, doesn’t necessarily agree. “Dyslexia is a gift and a curse. You have chosen a very controversial subject. We deal with that statement every day and know well how emotional people can get around that simple phrase.”

Weaver suggests that you can’t define dyslexia according to a single standard. “The exact definition of dyslexia is wildly disputed. So before saying dyslexia is a gift it would be good to know how the term is being used.

“Many schools and professionals will use the term ‘specific learning disability,’ instead. Sometimes this term is used to circumvent providing necessary programs and other times simply to be more descriptive. In fact, all this vagary of speech is one of the main problems in the space.

“Dyslexia can refer to phonological dyslexia, visual dyslexia, or kinesthetic dyslexia. Phonological dyslexia is a problem with language, which could be either a problem deciphering sounds or a problem with abstractions. Visual dyslexia could be a problem with the eyes which could be treated with visual therapy, or it might be Irlen syndrome*, or a difficulty with visual mental skills such as visual memory, visual discrimination, or visual closure. Kinesthetic dyslexia describes problems with directionality and proprioception. Or, to confuse things even more, any possible combination of any of those, which is actually more likely,” says Weaver.

Children With Dyslexia Need Help Not Battles

“There is a large faction that will claim that only phonological dyslexia is true dyslexia. And they get quite defensive if anyone says otherwise. All of this is ridiculous. These children need help and endless battles are fought over definitions.

“With all of that in mind,” says Weaver, “if we can just go with a basic assumption of some specific learning disability. This means that a child (or adult) has a problem with a specific learning skill, in this case reading, but is otherwise intelligent.”

Building on this idea, Weaver suggests that once we stipulate dyslexia as a difficulty with perception or mental function, we can speak about compensation, which is what people do when they have any sort of deficit. For students with dyslexia, says Weaver, compensation is often seen in the area of social skills. “Students with dyslexia may develop some amazing social skills in the interest of hiding their problem,” says Weaver, who suggests that compensation occurs with a student’s thinking skills (cognition), as well. “When we think we use our internal visual, auditory, and spatial skills. These all work together in such a way that we really don’t notice them. And we all use these skills a bit differently. When one skill is weak, the others will become stronger to compensate.”

In summary, says Weaver, there are an infinite number of ways in which the “gifts” of dyslexia display themselves. “You will hear a lot of generalizations such as ‘dyslexics are visual thinkers.’ The truth is that some dyslexics are amazing visual thinkers. Others may actually have a weakness in that area and that is the cause of their dyslexia. These generalizations all sprout from specific subjective experiences.

All Kinds of Dyslexics

“You’ll also hear many claims of dyslexics being highly intelligent. The reality is that dyslexics span the full range of intelligence. No specific gift of intelligence comes with dyslexia. There are highly intelligent dyslexics. Dyslexics of average intelligence. And there are dyslexics of low intelligence,” says Weaver.

Weaver cautions that while some students with dyslexia do develop their gifts, others never get past the issue of low self-esteem. The low self-esteem comes from feeling inferior to their neurotypical classmates, who have no trouble reading. “If they don’t get past the typical self-esteem issues caused by the disability then it is unlikely those gifts will help much. Some get past it by intentionally developing self-esteem. Others do well by constantly proving themselves.

“For dyslexics to not feel “less than” the neurotypical I think it is important for them to realize that there truly is no “neurotypical.” We all think differently. Some are easier to fit into a box and learn in the standard ways. This just means that their neurological differences are not so obvious,” says Weaver.

Concrete Example Of Dyslexia As Gift: John Crossman, CEO

For John Crossman, however, a 46-year-old man with dyslexia who is CEO of Crossman & Company, the difference is indeed obvious. “I consider dyslexia a gift in that it pushed me (without knowing it) to sharpen my skills as a public speaker. I can now write a speech in my head and deliver it without every writing down a note. I give a speech about once a month and almost never use notes.”

Weaver suggests that what Crossman sees as a gift is part and parcel of learning to cope with dyslexia. “In the context of dyslexics realizing that they have a fantastic opportunity for having very pronounced skills that they can maximize and profit from, talking about dyslexia as a gift is quite healthy. With that realization must come the acceptance that those gifts emerged from a difficulty. With that healthy acceptance, a dyslexic can strive to both maximize the gift, and work to overcome the difficulty,” says Weaver.

Referring to the plasticity of the brain, that the brain can grow connections, improve, and change, Weaver comments, “We are not forced to live with the same brain we were born with. We can change it if we want to. To what extent no one knows. But we can only start with a healthy look at where we are at any given moment.”

*Irlen syndrome is a controversial topic. Some of the studies conducted on Irlen syndrome were in some ways faulty, and it is disputed whether or not the syndrome actually exists.  For more information, see:

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/002221949002301010

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-colored-overlays/study-doubts-colored-overlays-for-reading-problems-idUSTRE78K4J420110921

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/09/15/peds.2011-0314

http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4872/rr/761729

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/irlen-syndrome/

Study Strategies for Students of All Ages

How younger students study is somewhat in the hands of their parents. Last week’s post, Homework Help and Advice From the Experts, was all about this topic. This post expands on the homework theme, beginning where we left off, with the younger student, and moving on to high school and college students.

For the older student, homework is different, becoming a far more difficult task than ever before. Now, homework is about long hours of study to prep for difficult exams or for researching and writing lengthy papers. At this point, parents aren’t much help. Students are on their own with this sort of homework. Parents can, however, still gently suggest helpful study methods to their older children. And of course, encourage them.

While some of the advice you will find here applies to the younger student (parents of younger children—don’t stop reading—this is for you, too!), this post is mostly about tried and true homework advice for the older student, from the experts. And if your older child doesn’t want to hear the advice from you, you can always leave a copy of this article on his desk with a no-pressure note: “This is interesting!”

Study by Teaching the Parent

Our first piece of advice comes from Murray Suid, who has served as a teacher to middle school, high school, and college level students. Suid, who has co-authored a number of educational books including, 10 Minute Grammar Grabbers, and How to Teach Writing Without Going Crazy, likes to quote Joseph Joubert: “To teach is to learn twice.”

What does this mean? It means, says Suid, that the best way to learn is to teach. Suid offers the following advice:

“Have the child teach the homework lesson to the parent. If it’s learning to capitalize nouns, the student could tell the parent the rule and then make up a short worksheet for the parent. Same thing if it’s solving an algebraic word problem or analyzing why Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo.

“When students teach what they’re learning, they are forced to really think about the lesson and come up with creative strategies for making it clear.

“This method not only reinforces the lesson at hand, but also gives [the student] important practice in communication.”

If the student wants to switch things up, Suid suggests that rather than teach the parent the lesson, the student can summarize the lesson and its purpose, for instance: “We’re learning how pronouns relate to their antecedents. This is important because if the connection isn’t clear, readers may be confused.”

“By putting a homework assignment into his or her own words, students are compelled to think about a task and why it matters. This can make doing homework more meaningful,” says Suid.

Study as if you Expect to Teach the Material

Troy Dvorak agrees with Suid that teaching is a valuable method of learning, or at least studying the material as if preparing to teach it to others. Dvorak, a psychology professor at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, has made a study of the factors associated with student success. He has, in fact, authored a book called, Psychological Keys to Student Success, and is finishing up his second book, Studying vs Learning. “One of the most influential quotations I’ve come across,” says Dvorak, “is ‘Learning how to learn cannot be left to students. It must be taught.’ That has really shaped my approach to teaching.”

Dvorak offers two strategies that students of all ages can use to be more successful. These strategies, he says, are empirically validated. That means it has been demonstrated that these strategies work, whether or not we understand why.Girl at study stretches

“The first strategy is self-testing. The testing effect is a very well-known aspect of learning and is the subject of a ton of psychological research. In order to find out what you know, you must test yourself. There is also robust research on the metacognitive feeling of knowing (the “ya ya ya, I know that” feeling you have as you review something multiple times) – it can mislead students because recognition is not the same as free recall,” says Dvorak, who recommends this pdf file as a valuable resource on self-testing.

“The second strategy is to have students study as if they will have to teach the information to someone else. Studying in anticipation of having to explain the material results in higher test scores than simply studying for a test,” says Dvorak, citing a study that demonstrates the power of this particular strategy:

Nestojko, J. F., Bui, D. C., Kornell, N., & Bjork, E. L. (2014). Expecting to teach enhances learning and organization of knowledge in free recall of text passages. Memory & cognition42(7), 1038-1048.

7 TNT Study Strategies and Tips

Our final series of tips comes from Janet Ruth Heller, Ph.D., president of the Michigan College English Association. Dr. Heller has taught English and American literature, creative writing, linguistics, composition, and women’s studies courses for 35 years at 8 colleges and universities. She has also tutored many students in her office to help them understand concepts, improve their writing, and apply to graduate schools. Dr. Heller has also advised students on how to handle various academic problems. Here is Dr. Heller’s advice for students and their parents about homework:

1) Avoid procrastination. Read your assigned chapters and do your assigned writing and other projects on time. If you procrastinate, you will have to cram too much information into your brain too quickly to process everything. Also, procrastination leads to poorly executed papers, tests, and research projects.

2) Some students benefit from having a study group, a supportive group of students who are in the same class and study together. Study group members can ask one another questions, discuss the most important aspects of a reading assignment, compare class notes to make sure that everyone understands the material, prepare for tests, give one another advice on improving research papers and projects, etc. However, make sure that your study group does not disintegrate into a purely social conversation.

3) Find college students, especially graduate students, who major in your most difficult subject areas to tutor and/or mentor you. Such tutors/mentors can help you to prepare for tests, understand difficult material, give you advice on research, etc. You or your parents can e-mail or phone the chairs of different departments at a local college to recommend the best graduate students as tutors.

4) Feel free to make an appointment to meet with your teacher or professor if you have questions or want feedback. Your teacher can answer your questions about difficult material, look over your rough draft of a paper and give you comments, advise you on the best way to handle a research project, etc. When I was teaching, I respected students who took the time to meet with me because they tended to be more motivated and they often improved their work dramatically due to their extra effort.

5) If your teacher or professor offers extra-credit assignments, try to complete these. Such work will improve your competence and impress faculty members. They will remember this when you come to them later asking for a letter of recommendation.

6) As you work on your assignments, underline or highlight key sentences and paragraphs. This will help you to focus on the most important material and to review for tests. Also, write down questions that you have. Feel free to ask your teachers to answer these questions in class or at a meeting that you have scheduled.

7) For research projects, librarians can be very helpful. Find reference librarians and other knowledgeable staff members at your school library to help you find the best articles and books about your topic.

If your younger or older child is struggling with studies, why not try have the student try at least one tip from this piece to see if it helps? Assuming it works, build on that success by taking on another strategy. The bottom line? We hope these expert tips will send your child to the top of the class!

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Homework Help and Advice from the Experts

Homework is an area in which parents can have some influence over their children’s education. At midway through the school year or any time at all, it’s a good time to think about how we can tweak and refine all things homework. What are the best ways to remind and encourage children to do their homework? How can parents provide the best atmosphere for doing homework?

From an educator’s standpoint, homework is crucial. In order to cement the lessons learned in the classroom, there needs to be a gap in time between one lesson and the next. It is important to have a review of the work in between these two lessons. This is how the information learned in the classroom moves from the child’s short-term, working memory, to the child’s long-term memory bank. It’s how the brain works, how humans build synapses, those connections within the brain that hold the data  we take in.

Some parents, however, are annoyed by homework assignments. They feel that children spend enough hours in the classroom, that afterschool hours should be reserved for free time and play. Other parents feel that while children should do some homework, their children are being asked to do too much homework. These parents are concerned that their children are being asked to do the bulk of their schoolwork at home. It looks to these parents as if the teachers are shirking their responsibility in the classroom—that the amount of homework assigned to their children is unfair.

Then there are the parents who feel that homework, while important, is not their responsibility. They believe that homework is solely the responsibility of the child. These parents may believe in getting involved with homework in the beginning, to get children started on the right track, but feel it’s important to wean children from needing homework help and encouragement as the children grow older. Many parents, however, continue to feel responsible to offer support and ensure their children do their homework, even as their children age.

No matter where, as a parent, you fall within these three categories: responsible, somewhat responsible, or not at all responsible for your child’s homework, it can’t hurt to provide children with the tools they need to get the job done. To that end, experts were consulted for their best tips on making sure that children will want to do their homework and will do it to the best of their ability, with minimal or no fuss.

Eliminate Homework Distractions

Alisa Taylor, of The Lotus Page, designed to help parents keep children safe online, says that one of the best things parents can do to help their kids successfully complete their homework is to minimize distractions. “Create a space that is comfortable, clutter-free and quiet. This includes keeping electronic devices in another room until the homework is finished. Kids may reason that monitoring social media feeds and responding to texts is just multitasking but in reality, those notifications are just distractions.

“A study by Gloria Mark from the University of California, shows that it can take us 23 minutes to get back on track after an interruption. By keeping phones out of the study space, kids will have a greater chance of resisting the urge to satisfy their FOMO* and focus on what needs to be done,” says Taylor.

Parental Engagement

Former school counselor Erica Bley, now in private practice providing therapy to children and their parents, feels that it’s crucial parents engage with their children’s homework. “Engaging in your child’s work is important for boosting your child’s work ethic and self-efficacy. If you don’t care about the work or her effort, why should she? Look through her work for the day and make at least one positive, specific comment on the work, such as, ‘I like the way you added that detail to your writing,’ or ‘Your handwriting is really improving!’ Make corrections and suggestions as needed,” says Bley.

Get It Over With

Jen Henson, a teacher of 22 years before starting her company The Goal Digger, which offers ACT and SAT test preparation, says that parents should have their children do the homework they dread, first. “This allows the student to push through to get to the more enjoyable things,” says Henson.

Much practical advice, as you’d expect from an educator with 40-plus years of experience as a teacher, special-education teacher, assistant principal, principal, and more (!), comes from Nancy K. Gretzinger, EdD.

Get Into the Mood

“When your child comes home from school, change out of school clothes, have a nutritious snack and take about 20-30 minutes to unwind. While your child is having a snack, ask open-ended questions. What did you learn that is new today?

“As a teacher, when I was closing a lesson, I would typically say, ‘Tell your parents you learned . . . today in math,” says Gretzinger.

Set the Scene

“Your child needs a designated homework area with necessary supplies. Pencil, paper, maybe a calculator, a timer, and good lighting. Comfortable chair (no dangling feet—put some type of support so your child’s feet have something to rest on), also a desk and table at the proper heights. If your child is a wiggler, buy a beach ball, slightly inflated, and place on the chair—this allows for movement. If they would prefer to stand, let them. Provide a squeeze ball for the opposite, non-writing hand if it wouldn’t be a distractor.

“Many teachers provide a folder—one side for papers that stay home, the other side for papers to be returned to school. If the teacher did not do this, the parent should,” says Gretzinger, who adds that parents who go to school may want to consider doing homework at the same time as their children to help motivate them.

Keep Homework Manageable

Some children find homework overwhelming. Gretzinger says some children benefit by having a worksheet folded in half or partially covered. Seeing the whole paper at once, says Gretzinger, can be overwhelming. By covering some of the work, the task seems shorter, more manageable. The educator adds that for some children, working in 20-minute intervals, followed by 5-10-minute breaks, seems to help. She suggests setting a timer for 20 minutes, after which parents can check the child’s work and give positive reinforcement for correctly completed work. The child next receives the 5-10-minute break, then back to work.

Homework Warning Bells

Gretzinger says that when a child makes a conscientious effort to complete the work, but doesn’t understand it, and is taking an inordinate amount of time to complete the work, this means it’s time to schedule a meeting with the child’s teacher. “It’s mandatory the child attends, too,” says Gretzinger.

How Much Homework?

In terms of how much homework is appropriate, Gretzinger says that the old school of thought on the proper amount of homework is 10 minutes per grade. If it takes your child longer to complete the work, it may be too much homework, or it may be that the child is struggling and needs more help. A talk with the teacher is indicated here, too.

“If for some good reason (and not too often) work cannot be completed, the parent may consider writing a note directly on the homework paper as to why it’s not completed, adding a signature and the date. There may still be a consequence for your child, however, the note lets the teacher know the parent is aware that homework was not done. When this happens, the non-completed homework assignment should immediately go back into the “stays home” folder and into the child’s backpack,” says Gretzinger.

If all this advice seems overwhelming, why not choose one or two tips and begin there? Over time, you can always try including more of these tips in your child’s daily homework routine. Leave a comment if something you found here made a difference for your child!

*Fear of missing out

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Critical Thinking Skills: Resources for Parents

Critical thinking skills are one of the greatest gifts a parent can offer a child in today’s world of too much information. As a people, we humans are bombarded by information coming at us from our various screens. How we relate to that information separates us into two groups. We are either intelligent, sensitive people, or we are “sheeple.” Sheeple take in the data they see and hear and spit it back out at the world, without stopping to examine or assess the information in the first place.

Being one with the sheeple means being ripe for manipulation. The sheeple drink in false propaganda like it’s water. They’ll happily buy whatever moral code you plug without question and adopt it as their own. They’ll buy any product you tell them will make them happy.

We don’t want our children to be vulnerable to group think. We want them to stop and use their critical thinking skills before buying products marketers claim will make them thin and happy, when no product can replace diet and exercise, or fix their emotional baggage. We don’t want our children to buy into what the media tells them to think, rather we want our children to dig deep, find the facts, and develop their own, fact-based opinions.

Critical Thinking is a Learning Process

Critical thinking isn’t a lesson you’re going to sit down and teach your children at one fell swoop. It’s a process. One that takes time and patience.

Your children are going to demand you buy them pretty, sparkly things, based on advertising. Each time, you’re going to have to point out the manipulation in the marketing. When children come to you with ideas on current events, moreover, you’re going to have to press them regarding the facts. You’re going to have to show them how the media uses suasion to drive home an editorial stance. You’ll need to show them how the story is depicted in a completely different manner on a different website and help them understand how to read between the lines to learn the truth of any given news story.

Critical thinking is about questioning: is this all there is to this story? Is there another side? Am I being manipulated? Will a given product fulfill the promise, the claim of the packaging and advertising?

Is it any wonder that right about now you’re thinking you never signed up for this when you decided to have a baby? All this scrutiny, all this teaching your child how to think! It’s a tall order, this critical thinking business.

Critical Thinking Resources

Lucky for you, there are resources out there to help you do the hard work of helping your child separate fact from fiction. There are actually amazing websites that can help you teach your child the important skill of critical thinking, no matter the topic at hand.

Many of these resources were developed for teachers, but there is no reason why we can’t, as parents, partake of these free tools. Parents, after all, were the first teachers, and remain the go-to source of information for their children. One great place to start is NAMLE, which stands for National Association for Media Literacy Education. NAMLE is sponsoring the third yearly Media Literacy Week (November 6-10, 2017), a cause  near and dear to NAMLE’s heart.

A great place for parents to begin exploring what NAMLE has to offer is this recently released parent’s guide on teaching children how to be careful media consumers. The focus of the guide is on teaching kids to always ask questions. Here, parents can read up on how to have the conversation about fake news, how to teach children to identify scams, and how to guide children in avoiding plagiarizing information found on websites. An invaluable resource for instilling in our children the message of using their critical thinking faculties.

The Newseum, on the other hand, is more like a teacher’s treasure trove, with lesson plans galore for teaching children how to use their critical thinking skills to form opinions. Choose a topic, such as civil rights, women’s rights, the Holocaust, or an election campaign, and you’ve got everything you need to show children all about it. Looking at Newseum’s collection on women’s suffrage, for instance, there are downloadable units on the history of women’s suffrage; how the Suffragettes used media to further their aims comparing these tactics to today’s use of social media; and a unit on the new techniques women used to get the vote and how these techniques are still in use today. There’s a timeline for feminist milestones a map showing how women’s suffrage spread, and search engines to learn about people important to the women’s movement. We can see women’s movement-related government documents and newspaper clippings, too.

Sortable Resources

Newseum has neat things you can download, like a colorful poster with a mnemonic device to aid children in spotting media bias. The various offerings can be sorted according to grade, format, topic, theme, and century. There are even case studies relating to current events, such as this one about First Amendment rights and the cancellation of Milo Yiannopolous’ speech at the University of Berkeley campus. Good stuff here, whether for kids just cutting their teeth on finding their thoughts or somewhat further along with their critical thinking skills.critical thinking skills involve questioning, a girl at a desk raises her hand

Common Sense Media is devoted to providing unbiased media to and honing critical thinking skills in children, and offers resources to parents on media literacy and bias under the heading of “Parent Concerns.” Here, parents can find videos, articles, and infographics to help them navigate the news with children. The Common Sense Media statement at the bottom of the website’s homepage is a pleasure to read, a terrific moral statement:

“Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century.”

If all this wealth of information seems overwhelming, and you’d rather have everything you need on one page, try this resource at Internet4Classrooms: How to Evaluate News Sources for Media Bias. Written for teachers to use in the classroom, this resource breaks down the various forms of media bias for the student. This article can serve as a kind of checklist for the child who is trying to figure out whether a particular news piece is or is not biased. (Speaking of bias, the piece was written by this author, so there may be some bias in recommending the piece to you, the reader!)

Avoiding Cynicism

Critical thinking is an ongoing learning process. Once you get kids started on the right path asking lots of questions, however, it shouldn’t be difficult to encourage them to continue. Kids have a strong sense of morality and will enjoy applying their critical thinking skills to all situations. Helping them avoid bitter cynicism as they wake up to the deceptive nature of too many media outlets and advertisers, on the other hand, may be a lesson that’s harder to teach.

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