Monday, August 31, 2015

SAT Word of the Week

A dotard is defined as an elderly person who is weak minded and perhaps foolish or senile. Perhaps this word is most used in decades old, classic literature, but it is worth knowing and using!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Writing: A Formula for Success

How many times do people say, “I’m more of a math person,” to explain away their lack of writing skills? 

Too often!

Parents and educators need to stop looking at the difference between the two disciplines and begin pointing out some of the similarities.

First and foremost, both math and writing disciplines are just that: DISCIPLINES. They require structure and practice. There are no shortcuts.

Secondly, both math and writing follow distinct formulas which lead to the correct answer, or in this case, a strong piece of writing.

In Math, A squared plus B squared equals C squared. In Writing, hook plus thesis equals introduction. There  are formulas to be followed. Once formulaic writing is mastered, then students are prepared to venture off into the creative unknown: fully equipped for success.

One problem is that few students are being taught these writing formulas. Consider a traditional math class. It begins by introducing a concept, learning a formula, and then practicing with real problems. Teachers practice problems with students in class and then assign more practice at home. The motto is practice, practice,                                                         practice!

Now consider a writing class. Oh...hmmm, well…few students ever get a writing class! They take an English class where writing is supposed to be incorporated. Often what this looks like is a teacher reading a classic piece of literature with students and then assigning a paper — a paper to be done at home. When are students taught the formulas to write well? When are they practiced?

It will always be a challenge to produce students who write well, if we don’t begin to value the subject enough to make it a class all on its own.

I wonder if we as a nation can continue to blame our students for writing failures, if we don’t provide them the tools to succeed in the first place.

Monday, August 24, 2015

SAT Word of the Week: Quaff

To quaff means to drink down quickly or guzzle a beverage. This little known word will really separate well read students with excellent vocabulary from those just getting by with their grade level lists. 

Add it to your SAT vocab list!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Working with Young or Reluctant Writers

Dealing with a reluctant or beginning writer can be frustrating at best. At worst, it can make you want to throw your hands up in surrender.  Instead, refocus your energy on small accomplishments and find ways to “trick” your young writer into frequent practice.

One way to get your reluctant writer practicing is to have them write thank you notes. Even preschool and kindergarten age students can be writing their own thank you notes at birthday and holiday time. (For even more practice, write thank you notes for play dates and outings with grandma!)  Sit with your reluctant or young writer and let them dictate a basic thank you of 2 or 3 sentences. As they dictate the words, write them on a tablet of primary lined paper. Carefully form each letter properly. Be sure the grammar is correct—even if you need to correct the way it was spoken to you.  Then read the note back to your child while pointing out each word.

“Is this what you want to say?” 

Give the young or reluctant writer ownership of the words and the message. This will make them aware that each word is important.  The message might be simple:

     Dear Aunt Sally, 

     Thank you for coming to my birthday party. Thank you for the doll. I love her. 


Short and sweet but completely appropriate for a young child.  Now have your child copy the words on a clean sheet of paper. You may need to sit with her and help her stay focused—but DO NOT take over!  After the note is written, let her decorate the edges with crayons or markers and then fold it and put it in an envelope.

Finish each note beginning to end in one sitting. After all, writing is a process that will be more fulfilling when it produces a finished product.

Have high but reasonable expectations. Insist on proper spelling, letter formation, and punctuation. (I highly suggest writing in pencil!) You might only finish one note a day—but that’s okay! This means more time to practice tomorrow!

Believe me, the positive reinforcement that comes from those who receive the notes will more than encourage your little one to keep on writing!

Monday, August 17, 2015

SAT Word of the Week: Hamper

The verb hamper means to hinder or get in the way of something. A toddler, for example, might hinder his mother's ability to get dinner ready on time. Road work might hinder mom from getting home from work for dinner. 

Many students only know hamper as a noun - a laundry basket. This is exactly the kind of word that will appear on standardized tests to test a student's versatility of vocabulary. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Word on Praise

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or caregiver, we all know that praise is often its own reward. The thought of praise can help the smallest child use the potty and the oldest of children study for a big test. Praise is powerful indeed.

But too often, we don't think about the best way to correct a child. Equally powerful is correction. When done compassionately and timely, correction by adults helps children to decipher right from wrong and to learn new skills. Done publically, correction demolishes self esteem and breaks trust.

It doesn't matter if I'm correcting an English paper for a student or agonizing over the neighbor trampling my rose bushes...I always do my best to follow the mantra:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ability Grouping?

"IPS - Classroom View" by Larsipsheger - Own work
Wikimedia Commons 
In recent years, it has become taboo in schools to group children according to performance and ability. There is no Minnow math group for struggling students, nor is there a Shark math group for those students light years ahead in their math skills. Grouping has become a thing of the past...and full of negative connotations to boot.

The overwhelming view among modern educators is that assigning groups degrades children and prevents growth out of said group. Instead, non-grouping allows struggling students to learn from their peers.

However, according to an article by Vivian Yee in the New York Times (Grouping Students by Ability Regains Favor in Classroom), teachers have begun speaking out in favor of grouping. Without establishing proper groups, teachers say, only the middle of the road students have their needs met. Essentially, teaching is aimed to the middle 1/3 of the class and leaves both the high achieving and struggling students to fend for themselves.
It seems that grouping by ability allows teachers to address specific needs of each student and to provide positive feedback for all levels of achievement across the board. This results in increased self-esteem for all students which in turn leads to greater ambition and performance.
The world is in a constant state of change. But it is important to recognize that change simply for change sake is not beneficial to our students. Listening to teachers about what works and is practical in a classroom is essential and not to be overlooked in favor of educational theorists who have never taught a group of students.

No wonder so many of our nation’s students are now being homeschooled - where their individual needs can be met and praise and positive reinforcement doled out freely and frequently

Monday, August 10, 2015

SAT Word of the Week: TALISMAN

A talisman is an object or lucky charm. Originally, a talisman referred to a stone or ring with magical powers. Today a talisman can be any object that brings someone luck including a lucky rabit's foot, coin, blanket or other object.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Does Texting Hurt Writing Skills?

Texting is a daily part of life for teens and preteens in today’s technology driven world. Their thumbs dance at super human speeds as they beat out acronym after acronym: the LOL’s, GTG’s, and TTYL’s that have become the basis for communication between young people.

But one has to wonder if texting is hurting the writing skills of our children.

One study, conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project called "Writing, Technology and Teens" found that the casual email, messaging, and texting lingo are indeed having a detrimental effect on student performance. Most alarming is the fact that text-talk is creeping into schoolwork and writing assignments more and more.

Many students admit that they often substitute a numerical 2 for the word “to” in class papers while others confess to occasionally inserting a smiley face emoticon in their work for good measure.
At least teens are writing something, say some parents. At least they are communicating.

But teachers disagree.

The more students text, the more they drift away from proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling.

Certainly students are writing more often than their pre-tech era  counterparts, but the quality of the writing has deteriorated. Incomplete sentences run rampant, and the essentials of basic sentence structure are in danger of becoming obsolete.

Students need to be made aware that writing is not simply an art form. Proper writing is a necessity of life as much as practical math and science skills. Writing will have long lasting implications for their future success whether it be in a four year university or in their chosen career.

So as parents and educators, we must make the effort to not only teach but demand competent writing and to lead by example. If there was ever a time to diligently and conscientiously put formal writing back into academic curriculums, the time is now.

So maybe it’s time to put down the cell phones and pick up a pen — before writing in your home becomes a distant memory.

Monday, August 3, 2015

SAT Word of the Week: REMUNERATION

This week's SAT word is especially important for our high school students who may find it appear not only on their ACTs and SATs, but on job applications or during an interview. 

Remuneration is payment for work done or a salary.