Month: September 2016

Homework Woes: Sidestepping the Control Battles

Ah, homework woes.

The homework temperature rises across the country starting around 4:00 on the east coast steadily going out across the time zones.

As a chief strategy, parents tend to adopt punishing postures with homework resistant children. Largely, this approach is a mistake, leading to greater levels of anger (in the kid and the parent) and increased shutting down.

Punishment tends to be reactive, delivered in anger in the heat of the moment.

Does the punished child sit back and reflect, “Gee, I wonder what I can do to make things better?”

Not likely.

More likely, he is placing blame in one direction – squarely on the parents. An interior dialogue such as, “My parents are such jerks,” (or saltier language if the child is older) is probably taking place.

With the child fuming and digging a deeper hole following the punishment, no one wins, even if the parents feel that they were righteous in taking a firm parental position.

After the punishment, parents who believe they have no control over their child may feel a sense of momentary victory,, but the feeling is short-lived as the child rarely assumes greater levels of self-responsibility following the punishment.

Largely homework woes are versions of control battles. I am not suggesting that limits be removed altogether, but it is the reactivity and the tone of punishment that needs to be addressed.

Assuming that the homework assigned is in the child’s competence level (often not the case, mind you), then stepping back and giving the child choices that you can live with lessens the control battle. In some cases, the child may need some homework writing help. If so, you can be there to provide that support. Alternatively, there are a number of online tools that can be used to help your child with their homework. We all understand that not every child works at the same level, which is why one to one mentoring may be something worth considering. This way, each student can focus on their weaknesses in the classroom. Soon enough, you’ll be able to see progression in the child’s skills, homework and class work. And I’m sure parents would love to see these improvements, which is why you may want to discover these student portfolios found on the ClassDojo website. You’ll be able to keep a collection of student’s work to look back on in the future. When positive changes are implemented, it makes it a lot easier for everyone. Most of the time though, a child failing to do homework is a child refusing to do home work, not a child who is simply unable to do homework. You can try some positive enforcement or bringing in new stationery to make the homework experience more exciting. Some children learn best with bright colors, so purchasing highlighters from an office supplier like Office Monster, could be quite useful. It is very important to capture the imagination of the child.

“Look, what do you prefer,” you might say delivered in a fairly neutral tone, “starting homework before or after dinner?”

You might continue, “I’m not going to make myself crazy over homework. It’s up to you. I am close by if you really need some help. (Don’t make yourself too close by.) If you choose not to do your homework (set an outer time limit), I will let the teacher know about your choice. You can talk to her about it.”

There are other natural consequences for a child choosing the non-homework path.

Try a few of these on for size:

“Gee, I know you were looking forward to going to soccer game on Saturday, but we don’t bring kids who don’t do their job.”

“It’s a shame, we were going to have a fun night at Target after homework, but I probably won’t be in a good mood to take anyone who chooses to blow off his homework and just play on the iPad.”

“In our house, cell phones and iPads are turned off for night a child chooses to not do homework. Let me know what you choose.”

Now you might think those last few examples are punishment, but I don’t see it that way. These are not delivered in anger and frustration in the heat of the moment. They are simply laying out the landscape, the rules. The kid gets the notion that there is choice involved.

Takeaway Point:

Homework woes = Control Battles

Give the kid some latitude to make a choice and then let things fall into place

Relax. Pour yourself a glass of wine and put your feet up.

Get out your calculator and add up the money you will be saving not going to Target.

On the Inference Road : “Reading Between the Lines”

There is a great deal of emphasis these days on “decoding” development, but there is another side to the coin, often overlooked.   It is the side that involves the child’s understanding of what she has read.   “Comprehension” is very difficult to teach well and is often left to having a child read a story and answer some questions about it. The “corrective feedback” is either a check or an x with a score at the top of the page. (I know, because i get many of these worksheets brought to me.)

This is not teaching comprehension.

Good comprehension instruction/remediation involves a great deal of back and forth dialogue to help shape the child’s skill in managing text.  This instructional dialogue becomes particularly important in the middle to upper elementary grades where the text becomes dense, often overwhelming to the child and there is a greater emphasis on “higher-order reasoning.”

As an example, take a young girl I evaluated recently, Ada, age 9, in the fourth grade.   Ada showed a lot of difficulty with inferential thinking and answering questions that went beyond the basic factual information in the text.  If the question was not asking about something that  was not stated explicitly in the story, Ada was often at a loss as to how to respond.

To illustrate this difficulty, Ada read a story  that involved the narrator reflecting about a lake home that they used to go to as children that is no longer there.    Why the house is not there is not stated explicitly, but one can read between the lines that the house has been taken down.

When the comprehension question asked Ada whether the person telling the story still went to the house, she shrugged and said, “I don’t know.  It didn’t say.”

While Ada is technically correct that the story didn’t explicitly state that the narrator  didn’t go to the house anymore, with a little reading between the lines,  she would be able to use the clues and come up with a reasonable response.  Ada did not know how to use the clues.

Kids are either wired to do this type of  “clue seeking” thought process fairly intuitively or they are not and feel stuck with those questions.  For those in the latter category, they need much more guided, facilitated practice with similar style questions.

With good interactive instruction, emphasizing inferential questions, children need to be encouraged to be “detectives” and find the clues in the text even if something is not directly or factually stated. This process takes a lot of practice for a child to become more adept at the skill of inferences.

Takeaway Point

“Reading between the lines (inferences)” can be very difficult for many  kids.

When a kid looks blank and shrugs, ask,  “What clues are there that might give you the answer?”

Push the child to find the clues and she will be on the inference road.

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Beating Back the Kryptonite (#word problems)

Last week we talked about “marginally ready” children, the ones falling just under the radar screen, who have just enough skill to get themselves in the “average range,” but who limp along every year with many unresolved issues.

For marginally ready kids, there are two major “kryptonites’ out there – you know the deadly stuff they have to face daily.

One of the kryptonites is “open-ended” writing.  Most marginally ready kids haven’t the faintest idea how to organize their thoughts into a coherent essay.  The open-ended  nature of the writing process (e.g., write about your favorite vacation), is particularly problematic.

The other kryptonite is word problems.  To struggling kids both are equally deadly.

Take young Chloe, age, 8, a struggling, marginally ready child.  In second grade she can barely perform operations of addition and subtraction beyond the simplest one digit operations.   She doesn’t understand concept of money or time either.

Word problems “load” on child’s active working memory and fluid reasoning, two cognitive abilities that were very weak in Chloe’s profile.

Here’s a word problem that she had to manage recently:

“There were cows, horses and roosters at the farm.  There were 32 legs all together.  There were more cows than horses and more horses than roosters.  How many cows and horse and roosters were there?  (Answers will vary.)”

(Huh? What are they talking about here?)

I know math was never a strong suit of mine, but I was really scratching my head here when I looked at her worksheet.

Chloe drew some nice pictures to accompany the problem, but she didn’t have the faintest idea what  the problem was asking or how to approach it.

Breaking these problems down into visual terms and making a story out of them is one of the best ways to try and counter the kryptonite.  Usually there is an underlying “story” to the word problem, one that can be made into four parts.  Use a white board (kids like white boards) with fun colored markers to have the story (i.e., word problem) come to life.



You can also use one white sheet of paper and divide the page into four parts if a white board isn’t readily available.

The bottom line is that word problems can be deadly for the kids of concern.  Word problems like the one above can be particularly deadly because of their inherent confusion.

Takeaway Point

Even Superman couldn’t defeat kryptonite, but hey, you can beat it back and lessen its power.

The “Marginally Ready” Child

Just after Labor Day I did some purging of books and papers (not easy for me).  I know that common wisdom is to throw out old books, particularly in your field, because, “How relevant can that old stuff be and it’s all on the internet anyway,” says everyone.

Well, I look for inspiration from various places and found it in a book that had reprints of articles from about 40 years ago.

One of the articles that caught my eye was written by the late  Jeannette Jansky, Ph.D.,  a major figure in the field of learning/reading disabilities.  The article was called, “The Marginally Ready Child.”

“Marginally ready.”

I rarely hear people refer to kids as marginally ready. What a great way to describe so many kids.

As Dr. Jansky stated:

“All of us have become more aware of the sub-group of 5-year-olds who are clearly, dramatically unready for school and our tools for identifying them early have become more refined.  I would like to focus on a somewhat different subgroup of 5-year olds – those in the gray area, the ‘marginally ready’ children.  I would especially like to consider critically the point of view which proposes that these children be moved ahead because doing so will stimulate them, challenge them, stretch them.  I would suggest, on the contrary, that while moving ahead may challenge them and stretch them, it may very well to extinguish their enthusiasm for learning.”

 Bingo!!!   Right on the money.  So clear. Going against the tide back in the day.

Unfortunately that tide is still going in the same direction.

She went on to say,

I can’t prove it of course, but I think the marginally ready child slips past us all too often:  He ‘sort of’ learns to read, gradually slides down and becomes the middle schooler  I have referred to.”   (Note, she had discussed previously in the article  discouraged and failing middle schoolers who were marginally ready as five year olds.)”

She concluded,

“When we see the older child who is in trouble, along with his discouraging and complex array of problems, we wish somehow for a pill to be invented that would cure him instantly.  And by the way, that is what the children wish to, and the parents, and the teachers – that something would make it all go away as quickly as possible.  Unfortunately this wish gives rise to a number of highly publicized but simplistic treatment approaches which have little hope for success because they are too narrowly directed.  Careful research has shown that the best approaches are those that aim most directly at mastery of the performance self.  This is basically a pedagogic  responsibility.”

Keep in mind that the article was written some 42 years ago.

Takeaway Point:

Don’t be so quick to throw away the old books on your shelf.


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