Category Archives: English Language Arts

5 Summer Reading Tips for Parents

book

“Books fall open, you fall in” (David McCord)

Almost every student has a summer reading list to conquer.  Some children love summer reading and can’t wait to dive into the books. Other dread it. If your child dislikes required reading, I have five tips for you:

  1. Start early and space reading out over the next few weeks. Plan a related reward for each book.
  2. Is there an assignment to complete after the book? Find the directions and make sure she understands what to do before reading. That way, she can pick up cues as she reads. (Even better: Ask her to find the directions and read them aloud to you.)
  3. Create a routine and a comfortable place to read. In a treehouse? By the pool? Tucked away on the porch with lemonade and cookies?
  4.  If a book is challenging, have everyone in the family read the same book, together or separately.  Invite grandparents to read it, too. Then talk about it over a book dinner.
  5. Complete the assignment right after reading is finished and keep it out where your child can see it.  She’ll use it in the following days to remember what the book is about.

Everyone responds to praise and don’t be afraid of using it abundantly while helping a child complete a summer project, a difficult book, or many books!  It boosts your child’s confidence when you compliment her thoughtfully and often.  Two suggestions:

  •  “Emily, I’m proud of you for sticking with that book. Doesn’t it feel good to accomplish something difficult?”
  •   “Luis, I love to see you disappear into a book.  I can see your mind learning new things when you read.”

Let me know how any of these work for you.

William Shakespeare for Parents

I bet you’ve never thought of looking to William Shakespeare for parenting help, but I have.VG.Onions-and-drawing-table-1889

When one of my daughters was a teenager, she fell in love with Shakespearean sonnets. Sonnet 116 was one of her favorites:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
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Inside this sonnet, on line five, I found words that I clung to when the going got tough:
Love…is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
Those are true, supportive words we parents need to whisper to ourselves when we are overwhelmed and don’t know if we can handle one more conflict. They are also words that every teenager must hear from us, repeatedly.
No matter how we argue, fight, or disagree, I will love you no matter what.
William Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets.  Which one speaks to you?

 

 

 

Understanding “Politically Correct”

In our homes, what we say and how we say it matters. Children hear everything and understand more than we think they do. We’re the ones who help explain the world for them as they grow. And there is plenty to help them understand  during this election season.VG.Country.Rd.Prov

In school, your child learns to understand today’s politics by thinking, reading, writing, and discussion.  We teachers guide students toward carefully considered, informed opinions expressed with appropriate vocabulary.  Most teachers do this without inserting their opinions to sway a student’s mind.

This year, though, parents are needed more than ever.  The accepted–even admired–communication style consists of rudeness laced with vulgarity and crudeness, with the disclaimer, “This isn’t politically correct, but…”

Our language and its phrases change over time. Not long ago, being politically correct referred to the act of being sensitive to expressions that disparaged people or ridiculed groups.  But now, thanks to the media, we’re able to hear these vicious statements blared over and over and around the clock.

When you get your child thinking about politics, I urge you to teach him that being politically correct is not wrong. Teach him to understand that respectful disagreement is fine, healthy, and sheds better light on ideas.

Should Parents Help with Homework?

An article in yesterday’s Boston Globe about homework caught my eye.  Its subtitle is “Should parents nag, assist, or [let kids do it…]?”

Heavy backpacks are a health problem. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Heavy backpacks are a health problem. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

I once ran an after-school  homework club for students. It began with a snack and fun conversation between the students and the volunteers who staffed it.  The environment was quiet but not silent.  All the tools students needed were in reach.  Volunteers circulated to answer questions and provide help when needed.  If students finished early, they read.  Then everyone played outside until their rides arrived.

Students went home happy and with the bulk of their homework complete.

Parents loved the homework club because it helped them understand the essentials of getting homework done–through conversations with me and a newsletter I sent home.  Snack. Relax. A quiet environment. Tools and help available. The student does the work.  Read and play.

Some commonly asked questions I received follow:

Do homework in a different environment. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Do homework in a different environment. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

What if the homework is too hard?  Let the student do as much as possible alone.  Then help, but remember that helping is assisting, not doing.

What if the homework is boring?  Ask the teacher about the rationale for it.  Request a challenging twist for your child if you think he needs more.

What if the homework is repetitive, like packets of worksheets?  Ask the teacher why they are assigned.  Sometimes we parents learn that they are assignments that the student didn’t finish in school.  But homework should not be make-work, punishment, or mind-numbing for students.  If it is, discuss this with the teacher.  It’s okay to ask the teacher for modifications that help your child to love learning.

What if the homework consists of test prep?  Research shows that this kind of cramming test prep does little to raise scores, although it may help students with some types of questions. If a school’s curricula is well-designed, properly resourced, and aligned to the Common Core or your state’s curriculum frameworks, there is no need for burdensome test prep.

 

 

 

 

 

Common Core Plus S’mores

Our daily conversations are full of fractions and estimation:

I’m half way there…The project is 75% complete…About a quarter of a piece

What fraction best represents this slice?

What fraction best represents this slice?

That’s why it’s important to thread these skills into teaching whenever possible. And since this Friday, May 15, is National Pizza Party Day, pull out all the stops!

Remember math worksheets with pictures of pizza showing how     ¼ + ¼ = ½ ? Without a visual, it’s hard for some students to understand that when they add fractions, the piece gets bigger but the denominators get smaller.

Guy Fiori's S'mores Pizza.  Photo by Yunhee Kim, Food Network Magazine

Guy Fiori’s S’mores Pizza. (Photo by Yunhee Kim, Food Network Magazine)

This isn’t just for young children, either. I’ve known many students who needed the help of visuals and manipulatives right into high school. Providing these aids is not babyish, nor is it some kind of crutch, nor should it be shaming. Knowing that you need tools to help solve a problem is smart.

When you have a pizza party math lesson, it’s an interdisciplinary feast! Allow students to make the dough and choose their own combinations and amounts of toppings.

Will you use 1/2 of the bag? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Will you use 1/2 of the bag?
(Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Next, students write out the recipe using fractions and demonstrate making their pizza, explaining their math along the way. You might even have a taste testing to choose the most delicious variations.

Sprinkle about 1/8 of a bag on each slice.  (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Sprinkle about 1/8 of a bag on each slice. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

There you have it.  Common Core math and English language arts, plus a built-in assessment.

From Zymurgy to Zyzzyvas

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Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

Are you a dictionary lover? If so, you enjoy holding the book in your hands while browsing through its pages. You relish the distraction of looking up a word, because you see lots of other cool words along the way.

I never mind when students do that; in fact, I encourage it.  At their age, I’d visit my grandmother’s and tuck away in a corner with her 1937 version of Merriam’s Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition. It was an adventure and I loved the last word in it, zymurgy (p. 1174):

IMG_3744

Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

 

leafhopper

Image from unvegan.com

Today I click on Merriam Webster online and get to the point without distractions, a real loss. Also, I need to know the word for which I’m searching, which takes the fun out of it. The last word in today’s unabridged version (you pay for it) is zyzzyvas, a genus of South American weevils. Notice the amazing snout of one in the photo.

There’s value in having physical dictionaries in classrooms and homes.  It’s not just about finding the word.  It’s about the pleasure of finding a word that’s your very own discovery, as you hold a book in your hands.

 

 

 

 

 

Image:  http://unvegan.com/reviews/a-nightcap-at-smokes-poutinerie/

 

National Library Week

Public libraries have been around since Benjamin Franklin donated over a hundred books to the town of Franklin, MA, about forty minutes away from me.256px-Benjamin-Franklin-U.S.-$100-bill I grew up around libraries, even worked in one, studied in many, and built my classroom library through constant scrounging as well as donations from families.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother taking me to the library, a weekly pilgrimage to a squat brick building downtown. Inside, opaque glass block windows cast a creepy gray-green light that I’ve never forgotten.

Children weren’t allowed in the adult stacks back then, which presented a problem for fluent readers. I wasn’t the only child who reached a no-man’s-land when I finished reading the children’s books. But my mother, who’d been a teacher, spoke to the head librarian, who reluctantly granted permission for me to borrow from the adult collection. My love of reading blossomed from there.

What role have libraries played in your life?

Poem in Your Pocket Day

What’s in your pocket today? Keys, coins, lip balm? Tomorrow, remember to slip in a poem.

This year’s Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 24, a day for everyone to celebrate. It’s free and fun. You select a poem or favorite lines from one. Copy it, fold it up, put it in your pocket to share with others. Get your peers and friends to do it, too. Throughout the day enjoy all of the poems–funny, sublime, solemn, or clever.

Sometimes I feel shy about sharing poems. Perhaps it’s because many poems evoke personal connections that reside deep inside. It’s far less risky to share other forms of art, like books or music, because they seem more mainstream. However, my perspective expanded during a trip to California a few years ago.

On a warm, sunny day I’d planned a visit to a national historic forest. When Tom pulled his pickup van up to the hotel, I climbed aboard for a great adventure. We chatted during the half hour ride and he mentioned that he was a published poet.

Tom knew the forest well, and recommended certain vistas of natural beauty to experience on my hike. The conversation turned to his favorite bench in the forest, where he’d written a poem about the birth and strength of its trees. He recited it upon request and gave me his business card as I left.

The front of the card held his tour company information. On the back of the card was his poem.

I carried around his card in my pocket for months. And I learned a valuable lesson, too. Sharing poetry is a generous act that expands our connections to each other.

 

Click on the tab Kathy Shares for some of my favorite poems and lines

Kathy Nollet

Give Thanks for Family Stories

Thanksgiving

Did you hear the story of the Victorian grandmother who stripped down to her foundation garments to keep cool on hot days? She answered the door and frightened the postman. “Oh, dear lady!” he shrieked as he covered his eyes in shame.

And what about the story reminding you how grandfather banged his fists on the table before dessert and led his grandchildren in the chant, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, Tra! La! LA!”

Holidays like Thanksgiving create the perfect time to tell and retell family stories. They enrich a child’s understanding of family and the bonds that connect generations.  Stories about travels, traditions, and wars make their heritage real.  Even young ones are able to discern voices and generational differences. It draws children in to hear stories that deepen their understanding of time family lore and loved ones’ experiences that may span a century.

Mine is a family that likes to linger at the table after dessert and that lingering invites conversation that turns to family storytelling.  Some years I’ve taken videos of these priceless times.  These videos become part of my family heirlooms–storytelling by beloved family members that will be preserved for a long time. I’m deeply grateful for that.

  1. Listen to family stories this Thanksgiving.  Then talk about them in the car.  Ask your child, “What do you remember most?”
  2. Bring a recording device so you can preserve the storytelling.
  3. Participate in the National Day of Listening  http://nationaldayoflistening.org/   on Friday, November 29, 2013.  A part of StoryCorps, you can record your own interview with a loved one.

Kathy Nollet