Parenting Articles

Why Vocabulary and Facts Are So Important

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Getty Center July 17 2010 024How do you know all the words without looking at the back of the cards? 

A fifth grade student was amazed that I knew every word on the American Heritage Dictionary’s Top 100 Words Every Middle Schooler Should Know  list. She only recognized five.

I assured her that soon she would also know these words, because we were about to begin learning them now.The authors explain why knowing these words is so important:


The Perils of Instant Gratification

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Redding. LSM, Wpt, etc for posts 074As the economy gets ever better at satisfying our immediate, self-serving needs, who is minding the future?

So asks the cover article of the fall edition of American Scholar magazine, entitled Temptation, Inc. It’s a long, wide-ranging, provocative piece that explores the many ways in which consumer technology is getting better and better at exploiting our natural impulsiveness and cravings for immediate rewards and pleasure.

As a parent and educator, it was the first few paragraphs that really grabbed my attention, this profile of a young man addicted to the online game World of Warcraft:


A Student Discovers The Joy of Reading

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

 

The original Winnie the Pooh and friends on display at the New York Public Library

The original Winnie the Pooh and friends on display at the New York Public Library

Dear Friends,

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with one of my older students. He was brimming over with enthusiasm for his senior-level College Reading class.

It’s really more a structured study period than a class, in which students come in every day and spend the entire 48-minute period silently reading a book of their choice. When they’re finished they write a brief summary of the book and then select another.

The whole point, of course, is to get college-bound seniors used to the discipline of sustained, focused reading. And this particular student was loving it!

As soon as he left I grabbed my notebook and jotted down everything I could remember of what he had said so I could share with you this glimpse into the head of an older, more mature student. (Read on, dear parents of tweens, and take heart!):


The Back-to-School Fresh Start

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

P9160357Dear Friends,

Back-to-school time is the perfect time to start fresh routines and establish healthy habits. These are the ones parents and I have been talking about the most:

  • First of All, Plan for Adequate Sleep: Most kids don’t get enough sleep. Students learn better, feel better and behave better when they’re properly rested. Check with your pediatrician and find out how many hours of sleep your child ought to be logging per night (chances are good you’ll be shocked at the large number), and then set the appropriate bedtime and enforce it.
  • Limit Electronics: Computers and cellphones and anything else with a glowing screen (including TVs and video games) need to be turned off one hour before bedtime to allow the mind to calm down for good sleep (this applies to adults, too!). And do establish cellphone-free chunks of time during the afternoon and evening; students need to read, study and eat dinner in peace. Interestingly, parents have been telling me that their kids often seem relieved to be given breaks from the relentless social pressure and privacy invasion of social media. I also felt this from my SAT class; students seemed to like my rule of collecting their cellphones before class!
  • Establish the Reading Habit: Before the school year becomes super-hectic, build in the habit of quiet reading for 20-30 minutes before lights out.
  • Don’t Overschedule: Too many sports and extra-curricular activities aren’t fun; they’re stressful!

Tips for Test-Takers from “Thinking Fast and Slow”

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Redding. LSM, Wpt, etc for posts 074Dear Friends,

Have you ever felt like there were two people inside you vying for control?

I’m rereading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize-winning psychologist who studies reasoning and decision-making. Kahneman explains that our minds do contain two agents: A System One which makes quick, emotionally-based decisions, and a System Two which reasons slowly and deliberately.

The premise of Thinking Fast and Slow is that we’d all be better off if we learned awareness of these two systems so as to use the right system for the right purpose.

Most of the time, System One works just fine. It makes its decisions by applying heuristics (rules), which are stored in the brain innately or through prior experience. Because its answers are prepackaged, System One’s decisions are quick and feel easy and use little mental energy. System One works well in simple situations and on problems that are similar to ones that have been solved before.

But when situations are complex or novel, System Two ought to be hauled out. Many financial decisions (Should I buy this house?) and academic ones (What is the correct answer to this SAT question?) are properly the province of System Two. They ought to be reasoned out slowly and deliberately, with a vigilant eye out for mistakes and skipped steps and unfounded assumptions.

And yet, we all too often apply a System One-level decision to a System Two-level problem. That’s because “going by our gut” feels so pleasant and satisfying, whereas the application of meticulous mental effort is drudgery.

System Two thinking is physiologically uncomfortable. It burns more glucose (it literally consumes “mental energy,” which is why students should carry energy bar snacks to their standardized tests). Heart rate and blood pressure rise and pupils dilate. System Two work is a lot like running, and most of us would much rather walk:

“This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.” 

Memory and Summer Math Review

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

 

It's easy to procrastinate in the summer.

It’s easy to procrastinate in the summer.

Dear Friends, Many students believe it’s best to leave their summer math review for the end of the summer; they fear that if they do the work too early they will have forgotten the material again by September. In fact, the best way to make learning stick is to work at it consistently and review all summer long. The brain is exposed to a barrage of information every day, so how does it decide what to keep and what to forget? One big marker is repetition. The brain receives most facts only once, and because those bits of information never show up again they don’t need to be remembered.


Reading Tips for Everyone

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

Dear Friends,

Group 1 085

Some 60’s era references at The Black Hole Museum, Los Alamos, New Mexico

A young student of mine began reading a fun-looking (to me) book called Schooled; I smiled as soon as I saw the peace symbol and tie-dye cover.

Here’s the Amazon synopsis:”Capricorn Cap Anderson has been homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Rain. When Rain is injured in a fall, Cap is forced to attend the local middle school. Although he knows a lot about Zen Buddhism, nothing has prepared him for the politics of public school.”

But of course my fifth grade student was having trouble relating to the book because, unlike me, he knew nothing about flower children, communes or any of the other 60’s era references. He had read the first two chapters on his own and was totally confused and lost.


Summer Review, Summer Preview for School Success in the Fall

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

Lis Sur Mer August 2008 weekends 011Dear Friends,

I know we are all breathing a sigh of relief to finally get finished with the school year and into the blissful mood of summer ease and relaxation.

It’s so satisfying and empowering to accomplish some small academic goal by September.  Just 10-20 minutes of studying every day (or at least four days per week) can mount up to noticeable results by fall.

Here are my favorite suggestions:


Mindsets, Grades and Test Scores

Friday, April 11th, 2014

London with Hannah Aug 2010 031Dear Friends,
I was delighted to arrive home from my spring break and find good SAT results from my students who had taken the test for the second time in March. In every case, their consistent hard work between the two testings had produced significant gains of 50, 100 or more points!

Students are always exhilarated to see their efforts pay off, and I am also always thrilled, because it drives home to them this critically important life lesson: Hard work is what makes improvement happen.

Here in the US, we arguably don’t teach this lesson very well. Our culture is very talent-focused;


Spring Break Road Trip? Use it to Fill the Knowledge Tank

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

P4210022Dear Friends,

I get a kick out of the recent Volkswagen commercial in which two guys pile into their Passat for a road trip, and then the passenger is appalled when his driver pal announces that instead of listening to music they’re going to learn a language.

Thirteen hours later, the buddies climb out of the car at a rest stop; the friend is still highly annoyed, and he rants and fumes at his companion…in fluent Spanish:

My own kids passed a good chunk of their childhoods in the car; I’ve always been an eager and ambitious traveler, so we spent virtually every school break driving somewhere. And we made those hours pass by listening to books on tape.


 

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