My Child Is “Bored” In School: Suggestions for Productive Parent-Teacher Conferences


Parent-teacher conferences are an excellent forum for addressing questions and concerns about student progress.  Yet, when face to face with a child’s teacher, a concern such as “I think that my child is bored in school,” can be difficult to articulate. Here are a few suggestions for parents with concerns about insufficient challenge:

  • Be specific: Children’s academic strengths can vary with respect to subject area. If you feel that your child is insufficiently challenged, is there a certain subject, such as reading or math, that is of concern? Is there a particular topic such as spelling or multiplication that your child feels is too easy? If available, bring examples of your child’s work in these areas. The more specific your concern, the better able the teacher will be to address it.
  • Focus on Growth: We want children to be challenged because every child deserves to grow academically and be engaged in school. With respect to growth, here are a few questions to ask your child’s teacher: What are my child’s areas of strength and/or extra focus? How can I provide support at home? How are areas of growth/strength communicated to my child at school? What improvement has been observed in my child’s work since the beginning of the school year?
  • Share What You Know: If you have them, bring in samples of stories, writing, or projects that your child creates at home. This can provide the teacher with valuable information about your child’s interests and academic potential.
  • Avoid “Side-Stepping”: A child’s complaint about “boredom” may sometimes indicate struggle with the less “glitzy,” but important aspects of learning such as proofreading, revising, computation practice, or even problem-solving. It is true that “skill practice” needs to be balanced with opportunities for exploration, creativity, and fun. Yet, attention to detail, perseverance, and accuracy are important for success in school and beyond. When advocating for your high-ability child at conferences, do not sidestep these “challenges” — ask your child’s teacher about ways to support and encourage your child in these areas at home.
  • Keep Your Child Accountable for Behavior: For parents and teachers of high ability children, behavior issues in the classroom can be a “red flag” indicating that the child needs more challenge. In light of this, it may be tempting to empathize with your child’s feelings of frustration and look away from negative behaviors. But this response undermines learning and can even encourage underachievement.  Addressing behavior issues associated with insufficient challenge takes a “two-pronged” approach. Hold your child accountable for behavior, but don’t stop there; teach your child how to advocate for challenge in a positive way. Does your child have a story to write or a topic of interest that she could to explore if class work is finished early? Are there meaningful ways to improve his or her work? If possible, consider a follow up meeting with your child and the teacher to discuss ways to access more challenge in the classroom, as well as to “start over” and make positive behavior choices.
  • Ask what resources/opportunities are available for differentiation in the classroom for high ability students: Schools have different approaches to meeting the needs of high ability students. Ask about what kinds of opportunities are available in the classroom and are/may be used to meet your child’s needs for challenge.
  • Investigate Opportunities for Acceleration: If insufficient challenge is an ongoing issue for your child, the teacher or the principal may be able to provide information about other academic options, such as acceleration.* Are there opportunities for grade-level and/or content acceleration at your school? Is this an appropriate option for your child?

*For a recent study on the benefits of acceleration, see:

Assouline, Susan G., Susan G. Assouline, Nicholas Colangelo, and Miraca U. M. Gross. A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students. IA City, IA: Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, U of Iowa, 2015. Print.

Acceleration Institute, Belin-Blank Center, College of Education, The University of Iowa

Challenging or Pushing? Finding the Right Balance

IMG_1963How much challenge is part of a healthy, “balanced diet” for learning?

Children are capable of wonderful things; we should never underestimate what they can achieve. Moreover, children need academic challenges in elementary school to prepare them for the future, and they need to develop dispositions, such as perseverance and resilience that lead to success in school and in life.

Yet, when parents encourage their elementary and middle-school children to take on academic challenges such as enrichment and accelerated classes, a question that can sometimes arise is: “Am I pushing my child too much in school?”

The answer is an individual one. The following questions may help parents when considering whether they are “pushing too hard” about school work:

  • Is my child healthy — physically/emotionally (sleep, diet, exercise, happy, energy level)?
  • Is my child excited and enthusiastic about schoolwork and learning?
  • Does my child have time to pursue interests and friendships that are positive?
  • Is the “homework load” generally manageable for my child (not a “flashpoint” for arguments or a consistent cause of stress)?

If the answers to any of the above questions are “no,” (in addition to addressing any health concerns with your child’s doctor), it may be time to ask your child’s teacher about possible options to support your child in school and/or to re-evaluate his or her academic placement.

Achieving the “perfect” balance of challenge and fun every day during the school year is an elusive goal.  Yet, parents can do a great deal to help their children keep healthy attitudes about academic challenge. Here are a few ideas:

  • Celebrate/validate incremental success and all kinds of achievement.
  • Talk to your child; keep tabs on his or her feelings.
  • Be self aware when modeling learning/responsibility/failure.
  • Think in terms of making choices that support your child’s individual personal and academic needs rather than “pushing.”
  • Play your “own game.” Do what’s right for your child – not someone else’s!
  • Reevaluate extracurricular commitments and priorities. What are your child’s interests? Does your child have sufficient time to pursue these interests?

As we fill our children’s lives with delicious, meaningful challenges, we need to continue to nourish our children by showing that we love them for who they are—not what they achieve.

“Question Me An Answer”

Question me an answer bright and clear.
I will answer with a question clear and bright.
Even though your answer may be wrong 
my question will be right…

The Right Question

From Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s song, “Answer Me a Question” performed by Bobby Van in the 1973 movie, “Lost Horizons.”

Teachers fuel meaningful, deep, classroom discussions with questions that deepen student knowledge and encourage critical thinking.

Although asking questions may sound simple, teaching resources for questioning abound. We have Webb’s “Depth of Knowledge” that designates four levels of activities of increasing cognitive complexity.We have the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy with six levels of knowledge including Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating.

In fact, for teachers who wish to help students develop questions at a “higher” level there is a dizzying array of Bloom’s Taxonomy “question stems” out there for students to write questions from a template of “high level” starters such as “”What would happen if…”, “How would you improve…” “Would it be better if….”, and “What evidence can you find?”

As a teacher of high ability students whose mission is to encourage critical thinking and deep exploration, I have piles of print-outs filled with question stems. Yet, I seldomly reach for them.

Questions are personal creations; they grow from the raw, grasping desire to know. Answers are out there—but questions come from inside of us—from the heart. For me, reaching for “question stems” for students feels like I’m reaching for a defibrillator.

 So yesterday when we discussed Laurence Yep’s memoir, The Lost Garden, in our Sixth Grade classroom, this is what we did:

  • The students took a few minutes to think of the most interesting questions that they could ask about the memoir.
  • In small groups, they generated four questions that they felt would make an interesting class discussion about the book.
  • After reflecting on these questions as a group, they wrote a brief reflection explaining why these questions were likely to spark an interesting conversation.
  • After the students wrote their questions and discussed their answers, I compiled the questions to create a list.

Today, I introduced a table that provided the four levels of Webb’s “Depth of Knowledge” (Level I: Recall and Reproduction, Level II: Basic Application of Skills and Concepts, Level III: Strategic Thinking, and Level IV: Extended Thinking).  We talked about kinds of questions that would fall into each group. Then, I showed the students a chart that sorted their questions about The Lost Garden according to the Depth of Knowledge level each question reflected.

The students immediately recognized that their most interesting discussion questions fell under higher depth of knowledge levels.   However, they found that none of their questions reached the highest level, “Extended Thinking.” So, we discussed how we could ask even more thought-provoking questions about society and culture that related to the novel.  To find answers, we recognized that we would need to extend our thinking  by exploring a broad variety of sources and authors.

As the class ended, the students were soon revising and enriching their queries to probe for deeper meaning in the text. They were searching for better, more intriguing questions!

I’m not sure what answers my students will discover.  However, I hope that if one day these students reach for my pile of “question stem defibrillators,” it will be when they recognize the warm, lively heartbeat of discussion – authentic, high level questioning.

…And their questions will be right.

Find more information on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge levels at NYC Department of Education Website
Find more information on Bloom’s Taxonomy at Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching Website

Public Transportation: A Learning Destination Worth Visiting

IMG_1938Are you planning a downtown adventure with your child this summer? Public transportation is not only an economical, efficient way to reach city attractions; it can also be a fresh “destination” for learning.

Rather than tow your child along as you navigate the train or bus schedule, engage her in the journey.  Look over the departure and arrival times and answer questions together. At what platform will the train stop? How many hours can we stay downtown if we take the 8:00 a.m. train and leave on the 2:30 p.m. train? Should we choose to walk or to take the bus from the station?

Challenge your child to read the train schedule, to explain the subway map, or to choose the correct bus. Not only will your child to gradually learn to navigate the city with adult supervision; he or she will experience how to reach a goal by making real, responsible choices in an authentic context.

Best wishes for a safe, fun, and memorable trip!

Looking Back on the Year

IMG_1917Another school year has sped by and I am again looking “through the rear view mirror” at another journey in the classroom.  Although bumper to bumper end-of year parties, assemblies, and classroom textbook return may create a sizable jam, I find that building some reflection time into those last few classes is essential.

Here are five “fuel efficient” ways for teachers to assess how the year went and to make next year even better:

  • “Scale” Response: A simple classroom feedback scale is an excellent tool to help students communicate general feelings about their classroom experience. Soliciting anonymous student feedback about what was “too much,” “too little,” or “just enough” during the school year takes only a few minutes, but can provide invaluable insights for improving instruction.[1]  These are also easy to administer online with survey tools such as Google Forms.
  • “How-To” Pamphlet: At the end of the year, our students are the “experts” on being in our classes. Accordingly, I encourage students to share their expertise by making “pamphlets” to guide next year’s students through a successful year. A black sheet of paper folded into thirds with such headings as, “The Year in Summary,” “Tips for Success,” and “This Year’s Highlights” provides a terrific end-of-year wrap-up and a peer-supported welcome when school resumes in the fall.
  • Pre/Post Assessment Review: In my language arts class, at the beginning and end of each year, students take a pre-assessment and post-assessment in which they answer the same literature analysis questions.   At the end of the year, I distribute these assessments for their review (before teacher feedback/grades are shared). Challenging students to identify two or three specific areas of improvement on their own reinforces a sense of “ownership” of their learning. Moreover, encouraging students to share their observations provides a wonderful “wrap up” discussion about the year’s accomplishments, learning trends, and accomplishments.
  • Written Student Reflections: Student self-reflections are another meaningful way to collect information about whether “it was a good year.” They also provide insights about student understanding, readiness for additional challenge, and activities that students find particularly meaningful. Student reflection questions that yield meaningful feedback may include prompts such as: What challenged you the most this year? What about this class would you enjoy? What would you change about this class? If you could plan a lesson that would improve this class, what would it be? (I have sometimes found some wonderful, fresh ideas for instruction this way!)
  • Invite Parent Feedback: Keeping school-home communication avenues open throughout the year is essential for classroom teachers. In addition to the fact that strong family-school partnerships support student learning, children will sometimes share perspectives with their families at home that they do not express at school. At the end of the year, sending home a form for parent written reflections and suggestions is one way to invite summative feedback from parents. Also, a simple email or phone call to parents at the year’s end to celebrate their child’s success, provide suggestions for summer practice, and/or identify areas of strengths and challenge is a natural way to open dialogue that can potentially deepen a teacher’s understanding about the overall classroom experience.

[1] Dr. Richard Best modeled the “too much” “too little” “just enough” categories to collect feedback in his graduate class in Educational Leadership at National-Louis University.  This idea for collecting feedback to be helpful both when leading professional development sessions for colleagues and when teaching elementary students.

Content Knowledge: Let’s Hear it For the Underdog!

photo from Microsoft Word Clip Art



As educators, is our lamenting that there’s “too much content to teach and not enough time” drowning out our enthusiasm about the “stuff” of learning?  In the tug-of-war of professional priorities, do we too casually make content knowledge the underdog?

For elementary school teachers, professional development related to Common Core State Standards, assessment, differentiation and social-emotional learning is important for keeping up on best practices.  But how much time per year do we spend expanding and deepening our own knowledge about the content that we are teaching?  If we teach Social Studies, Reading, Science, or Mathematics, do we set aside time to expand our knowledge and explore topics of personal interest related to these subjects?  Do we regularly enjoy meaningful discussions and share resources with our colleagues about these topics?

As educators, when we make it a priority to pursue and share content knowledge among ourselves, we naturally convey to our students a sense of renewed excitement about the “stuff” we are teaching and learning.

So if we haven’t cheered for content knowledge lately, let’s do it together…

Hooray for the amazing pleasure of learning lots and lots of new things!


Spring Morning: Bringing Schools To Life


This morning was the first warm Monday that Chicago has experienced for a while — the sun was bright, and there was a high temperature of around 45 degrees.  As I stood at my crosswalk post, the sunshine revealed a crowd of diverse families and students entering the school doors, bringing the school to life again.  

How do we keep our schools alive?  Quite simply, school leadership can keep our schools healthy by building connections with the families who nourish them.  In fact, the following types of activities/practices offer a few ways that educators can bring families and schools together:

  • Welcome parents and family members to school and greet them as they come to the door. 
  • Schedule a rich variety of inclusive school events at different times throughout the year so that families with diverse schedules and interests will be able to attend and feel welcome. 
  • Routinely provide opportunities for parents to share their perspectives about the school and to better understand the needs and interests of families.  Such opportunities can range from one-to-one interactions, to coffees, town meetings, and surveys.
  • Engage with the community, understand its assets and struggles, and develop relationships with business owners, community leaders, and institutions. 
  • Take walks through the community, getting to know the surrounding neighborhood and its residents.
  • Understand the needs and preferences of families for communication avenues, so that school communications cross language and cultural barriers, and all families feel a part of the school community.  

As the weather turns warmer, it is a wonderful time for teachers and principals to look for new ways to step outside and open doors for the diverse families that are our schools.  Let’s keep it “spring” all year round.

Ubi Caritas


UntitledDuring these days of tight school budgets, schools must make it a priority to support and treasure programs in music and the visual arts. One important reason for this is that we find so many talented, inspiring teachers in the arts who fill the school experience with creativity, meaning, and joy. In fact, here’s a personal story …

I remember myself as an eighth grader. As one of six siblings, all of whom played the violin, I had grown up in Corning, New York with music and was also a serious student. So, when the conductor of the high school Choristers, Mr. Perry, led an information session for incoming freshmen, I asked him, “What should I do if I’d much rather sing in the Choristers, but I’ve been told I should take Latin instead?”

He quipped with a laugh, “That’s easy! Join Choristers!”

So, I did.

For me, singing in the high school chorus was an experience that brought joy as well as learning. We sang a wide variety of music, explored musical theory, practiced singing in multi-part harmony, and learned how to perform with dynamics and expression. Mr. Perry’s content knowledge was extensive, and his musicianship and high standards for excellence were captivating. His rehearsal room was always filled with laughter.

When I think of what makes a great teacher, I think of Mr. Perry who developed personal relationships with students and demonstrated time and again how with perseverance and practice, a cacophony could evolve into beautiful music. Mr. Perry was authentic and approachable—and the learning that took place in his rehearsal room was lasting and genuine.

In high school, when I followed Mr. Perry’s advice to “Join Choristers,” I found that true joy in learning came, not by thoughtlessly following a course set by others, but by following my dreams—a journey that led me to teaching. In the end, I never took a Latin class, but from Choristers my heart is filled with beautiful song lyrics that we sang together—in Latin.

A New Year’s Resolution for the Classroom

New Year

For us teachers, “New Year’s Day” offers a second chance to look ahead at all of the possibilities and make new resolutions. In addition to the luxury of celebrating the new year with a fresh start to the school year in August, we observe the January 1st New Year along with the rest of the country. Teachers are experts at ringing in the New Year, and have twice as many opportunities to be creative with New Year’s resolutions.

As part of my personal “second New Year’s celebration,” I resolve to enjoy more meals with friends and family at home by pulling out a few of the “tried and true” recipes. By cooking up lasagna, bisque, or a pie, I need not worry about the basic recipes, but can add a special twist or two to the old favorites and focus on listening to and enjoying the guests.

It’s time for a similar resolution in the classroom…

Teachers have an endless smorgasbord of “new dishes” out there to digest and absorb into the classrooms—new Common Core standards, new changes in curriculum, new instruction, new technology.  Of course effective teachers need to continually sample and master new curricula, keep up with the latest technology, and learn new instructional strategies. However, to maintain excellence, teachers also need to fully digest, taste, savor, and add new spice to the instruction being served.   We need to nourish our students with some “tried and true” menu items that improve over the years with reflection, experimentation, and modification.

So what can we do to provide a balanced menu in the classroom? Very simply—let’s find some truly great recipes for learning and prepare them more than once.

To welcome 2015, here’s a simple New Year’s Resolution for the classroom– “Do something old.” Choose a lesson or a unit that was taught before, and find a way to improve it by approaching it from a different angle, presenting it in a more engaging way through technology, enriching it with questions to promote high level thinking, focusing on an applicable state standard, or adapting instruction to meet the unique needs of a student.   Have fun. Be fulfilled.

Let’s resolve to teach something old, but not just again—Let’s teach it better.

Instruction vs. Holiday Shopping: What’s the “Wrap”?

A leading researcher in education, Robert Marzano, asserts that “identifying similarities and differences” is an effective strategy for deepening understanding.¹   The Venn Diagram is a wonderful graphic for comparing similarities and differences.  It also brings to light the undeniable relationship between holiday shopping and instruction.  If you’ve been doing a lot of both lately, you may have already noticed that they often get a similar “wrap”…

Steinmeyer Theresa TB 1


¹Marzano, R. J., Brown, J. L., & Association for Supervision and Curriculum, D. (2009). A Handbook for the Art and Science of Teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Improving Education: Let’s Not Lose the Conversation

With the new Common Core, teachers are unpacking standards, adjusting instruction, incorporating technology, and sifting through new piles of educational stuff. But whether these resources are “gifts” or “distractions” depends upon whether teachers use them to spark or inhibit meaningful conversations.  In essence, teaching means understanding and responding to the needs of learners in our classrooms. We do this when we talk with the students.

In the 1967 Musical Film, Dr. Dolittle, an adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s classic series, Rex Harrison portrayed the eccentric doctor who could talk to animals.   He declared:

…It’s a fairy tale worthy of Hans Anderson and Grimm

A man who walks with the animals, talks with the animals

…And they could squeak and squawk and speak and talk to me!

As human beings, teachers and students certainly do not need magic to communicate. But, as Dr. Dolittle found, talking can bring about amazing discovery.

In fact, one day I talked with my fourth grade math students, and the conversation went like this:

Me: “So, what units did we use to measure length on this quiz?”

Students: “Centimeters!”

Me:  “So why would you write ‘5 cubic centimeters’ on your quiz to measure a line segment? How did you picture yourself doing this problem in your mind?”

Student Response: “I pictured myself taking my unit cube [a plastic one-by-one centimeter block] and counting how many cubes would fit on the line segment.

I had assumed that these were careless errors! Yet, by asking and listening to the students, I discovered the “little cube in their minds” that they were using to measure length. So, rather than tell them to slow down and check their work, I gave them what they truly needed–more “hands-on” practice with appropriate measuring tools and with using units to show what they measured — length, volume, or area.

Another conversation happened in my fifth grade Reading class. In order to develop research skills and creativity, my students were starting a project we call “REAL” time–“Read, Explore, and Apply knowledge about a subject that you Love.” (“REAL” time is inspired by the “Genius Hour,” which is an education initiative to increase engagement, motivation, and learning by setting aside time for students to research and develop “passion projects” on subjects of their choice.)

As we brainstormed research topics, some students struggled with the open-ended question—“If you could learn about anything, what would it be? What would it really be?”

Finally, after lots of talking, asking, and listening, the REAL topics started flowing. Movies, Alternative Energy Sources, Vikings, Cars, Baseball…

In fact, one morning the students were so engrossed in learning about the subjects they loved that I had to remind them, ”Kids, class time ended ten minutes ago! You really need to leave!”

Although the results can seem magical, unlike in Dr. Dolittle, there is no “fairy tale” process required for talking with students.   It is simple, natural, and essential for learning.  Data, technology, and assessments  can’t get us there.  Let’s accept the truth: To truly improve education, we need to recognize, nurture, and enrich the conversation inside our classrooms.

“What are you picturing in your mind?…Is there another way to solve this problem?… If you had a choice, what would you love to learn?”

We need to talk with the students. And we need to listen.

Doing Our Homework About Homework

slateAlthough there is some debate about the value of homework in elementary school, thoughtfully designed homework can support learning for our younger students.

In order to help ensure that the advantages from elementary school homework assignments out-weigh the hassles, here are ten “homework” questions to help teachers “come to class prepared” before assigning homework to students:

1.  How does this assignment support student learning?

2.  Are teachers, students and parents aware of the approximate time it should take for the student to finish this assignment, and is this time period appropriate for the grade level?

3.   Are the directions clear?

4.   Is there homework that other teachers are assigning?

5.  Do the students have a workable plan for what they should do if they struggle with the homework or have questions?

6. Can all of the students be reasonably expected to have the support and tools available at home to complete the homework successfully?

7.  Is the assignment meaningful and engaging for students?

8.  Do the students have a system to record assignments, and a clear procedure for correcting assignments/turning them in to the teacher for feedback, and do any students need extra support with this system?

9.  Are there major extracurricular events are happening in the school or surrounding community that may impact homework time/student motivation?

10.  When assigning homework and determining class procedures for student accountability, have the daily realities and challenges of family life been considered?

-Patricia Steinmeyer

At the Copy Machine


            I have heard that the true nature of a person reveals itself when “no one is looking.” There is no truer place where “no one is looking” than the elementary school copy machine.

            The two copy machines at my school churn out paper for over 600 students; they are always warm. Warm – like the teachers who stand in line waiting to use them as they ask, “Are you in a hurry? Do you want to step ahead of me?”

            And then there is that fifth grade teacher with a classroom right across from the hallway copy machine. I suspect he knows how and where the copier “clogs” just by the noise it makes.  After school, I’ll see another teacher standing there with the machine beeping and flashing, trying to decipher the “fix it” diagram on the machine display.   Ten to one —before the teacher finishes reading, that fifth grade teacher has already opened the doors, removed the jammed paper, pulled the levers, and restarted the job.

             Are you into corporate team building? Standing at our elementary school copy machine may be the most meaningful professional development opportunity out there.

            In fact, one of my most memorable learning moments as a new teacher happened at the copier. I remember waiting for my turn to use the copier as a “veteran teacher,” who was just a year or two from retirement was straightening his finished worksheet stack.  He looked so composed.  Yet for me, as the machine whirled, images of student behavior issues, new curriculum, and parent calls cranked through my mind—everything new; everything impossible.

          When it was my turn to use that machine, I lifted the tray to set my paper down on the glass.   Then, something sparkling caught my eye — two pieces of dark chocolate wrapped in pink foil resting on the ledge by the “start” button.

           “The dark kind is good for you,” he gently advised as he walked away.

-Patricia Steinmeyer

Jumping In


This week, at Keuka Lake, New York my forty-nine-year-old husband enjoyed swimming with the kids–jumping into the lake off the dock repeatedly. When he emerged from the water in a state of pure euphoria, he announced, “It doesn’t matter whether you are nine or forty-nine…jumping off the dock into a lake always feels the same.” I couldn’t agree more.

Yet, I remember that as a nine-year-old staring down into the smooth, glassy deep water—I couldn’t bring myself to leap. I was too afraid.

Eventually, I overcame it. Maybe it was my father, who patiently waited at the end of the dock for me to jump in, promising to catch me if I went under. Maybe it was my mother, who waded in the water with me until I gradually gathered the courage to swim in the deeper water. Maybe it was one of my brothers and sisters, who jumped in laughing, making it look like such fun. So now at forty-seven, I can leap right in laughing and shouting; I have learned to override that split-second tinge of fear—but it nevertheless remains an element of the jump.

For me, like jumping off the dock, plunging into a new year of teaching brings back childhood sensations. The distinctive, soapy-rubber smell of fresh school supplies, the click of a new lunchbox fastener, the early morning dew on the grass, the fog lifting as we set off. The first day of school has a sensory experience all of its own—clean, smiling, hopeful.

How will the first day of school 2014 actually feel for teachers, parents and students? With so many school rules and procedures to convey, paperwork to complete, and “rigorous” curriculum to deliver in preparation for state testing, we may be tempted to dive in mindlessly. However, in her book, The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other, Harvard University Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot discusses the powerful role that childhood experiences have in forming teacher and parent attitudes toward school. In parent-teacher conferences, she observes:

There is something immediate, reflexive, and regressive, both for parents and teachers, about their encounters with one another, a turning inward and backward, a sense of primal urgency…The adults come together prepared to focus on the present and the future of the child, but instead they feel themselves drawn back into their own pasts, visited by the ghosts of their parents, grandparents, siblings, and former teachers, haunted by ancient childhood dramas. (Lawrence-Lightfoot 4)[1]

This observation reflects a crucial understanding that the innate responses formed by our own experiences of school—positive and negative—have profoundly deep implications for our children now and in the future.

The truth is that on the first day of school, while many of our children celebrate “jumping” into a new school environment, others may not. For educators, it takes patience and time to encourage those who hesitate to adjust to the “deep water” of new relationships, expectations, and challenges. Consequently, external classroom demands that tempt teachers to hurry, “toss the students in,” and mechanically tread water to keep afloat with curriculum and testing schedules may result in a learning experience that doesn’t even get our toes wet. After all, when it comes to both school and deep water, “It doesn’t matter whether you are nine or forty-nine…jumping off the dock into a lake always feels the same.”

[1] Lawrence-Lightfoot, Sara. The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. New York: Random House, 2003. Print.


Keeping “Calm on Core” Standards

Ah…summer! A perfect time to pour an iced tea, reflect and luxuriate over next year’s lesson plans. In this leg of my teaching odyssey, I am a blissful lotus eater. On my summer island, the Common Core State Standards, this year’s new PARCC Assessment, and the new teacher evaluation process seem like a dream…

But these are reality for teachers, even as debates about the Common Core rage on.

In fact, last year, we “unpacked” those Common Core Standards. (“Unpacking” is Eduspeak for, “We read them closely to figure out what they meant.”)  So, now that I have an idea of what these Standards say, the next step is to find a way for my students to meet them.

As I review a couple of the Standards, I note that my 6th Grade Reading students will need to do such things as “Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says…” and “[i]ntegrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.” [1]  This means that my students will need to read closely and understand what authors say.  Also, my students will need to be able to analyze different texts and media to learn something new.  Important stuff for kids who will be writing the news someday…and voting.

So, it’s time to keep calm, pour another iced tea, and try some of the following:

(1) Surf the Internet and Twitter for some insightful professional conversations and resources related to the new core standards.

(2) Become familiar with school district resources and any new Common Core teaching materials for my classes that are accessible to me this summer.

(3) Identify which of the Common Core Standards are addressed in existing lesson plans and how they are assessed.

(4) Make notes about Common Core standard objectives that are not met through the current lesson plans, and brainstorm ideas to adjust and differentiate existing lessons for student success and engagement. (These can be discussed and developed with colleagues in the fall.)

(5) Develop tools to help students track their progress and reflect on their learning.

(6) Discover some meaningful ways to integrate technology for 21st Century Learning.

It’s a long summer…so why panic?. . . Pass the sugar and the lemon.

[1] See Common Core State Standards Initiative