Are children’s educational needs different today from even a few years ago? What has stayed the same? What has changed?
How can teachers help the public gain a broader view of educational success?
The air is filled with headlines and recriminations about the quality of our schools and whether our students can compete in the world.
Is all the bemoaning about American education justified? Studies are unclear about this. What is clear is that when it comes to education, there has been an over-focus on the role of the school and insufficient focus on the role of the family. It’s important to remember what every family can do at home to enable children to become stronger students and citizens.
This truth remains: The family, regardless of income and educational background, can and must use opportunities now to make a truly positive impact on children’s attitudes and behaviors that determine school success. This is true for families even on the tightest time schedules and budgets.
National, state and local school assessments of children’s achievement are all very well and maybe even helpful. Yet, for each child a home report card is much more personal and meaningful to answer this question:. “What does my child know and need to know?’
The longest journeys, so say the sages, begin with a single step. Here are a few steps for teachers to share with families to make the big difference for children. These ideas work any time during the school year.
Parents: Look and talk together with your children about the report card that comes home. Are the grades fair? What do they reveal? What has to be worked on? Focus on your children’s strengths rather than weaknesses. Use strengths to overcome weaker areas. The child who likes gardening but is a poor speller can read and spell words from gardening books. The child in love with airplanes and robots but bored by textbooks can read books on planes and robots.
Remember that schools can see only a part of a child. That’s why it’s important to do this “home report card.” The signs looked for are less obvious than scores on tests.
Urge Parents: Take time to look at your children when you are not angry or adoring. Look at them working alone and also with friends. What do you see? How is your child enjoying life? What are the differences between this year and last? What do your children like now that they didn’t like before? How well does your child use school skills? Some children receive A’s in writing in school and never write at home.
Others do poorly in school math but do math games and sports averages at home. Build on these strengths.
Urge parents to recognize that, like all people, children pass through periods in which they achieve more, periods in which they do less. Remind parents to guard against jumping in too quickly to label a child who may be in a slower period as an underachiever. The child who gets labeled can get caught in a cycle of failure.
In an effort to raise test scores and build students academic skills in many schools across the nation, what have been called frills or non-essential subjects are being cut. This includes physical education, art, music, even recess. Let parents know that this is a bad idea. It’s vital that all children, especially those who start with lower test scores, have a variety of ways in which to succeed, to be able to say “I can do that.”
When we narrow the curriculum to academics and only to drill, drill, drill, there are fewer ways for students to experience feelings of success. This translates into lower morale and graduation rates. Test scores might blip up briefly but have trouble being sustained.
The arts, music and physical education cutters are forgetting what these “extras” teach. In fact, these aren’t extras at all. They are intrinsic to achievement.
Teachers know this and have to put this message across. Perhaps nowhere else except in sports, music and arts do children come to understand that achievement takes time. A vase starts with a lump of clay, a story with single word, a dance with a first step, a violin with a squeak. There is a level of personal satisfaction in the arts (and on the playing field with sports) that stimulate children to learn and to want to keep on learning.
Textbooks are not the only ways to teach reading, writing, and math. Good teachers know how to teach reading using sports and play and all the extras. So, let’s stop calling them “extras” or even “supplemental.” This demeans their power and the time allocated to them. These extras have always been essentials.
We all need a sense of achievement in order to go on to achieve more. This doesn’t always happen in the traditional academic classroom. The “extras” provide the extra chance that many, if not most, children need. Let’s be sure that parents hear this message from us, to broaden, not to narrow, the curriculum.
Dorothy Rich, Ed.D. is founder and president of the nonprofit Home and School Institute, MegaSkills Education Center in Washington. Readers may contact her at the Home and School Institute, MegaSkills Education Center, 1500 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005, Web sites: www.MegaSkills.org; www.dorothyrich.net
Dr. Dorothy Rich is founder and president of the nonprofit Home and School Institute, MegaSkills Education Center in Washington. She is the author of MegaSkills and developer of the MegaSkills Teacher Training Programs. For additional information:” www.MegaSkillsHSI.org.