Questions From You

Parenting questions submitted by our community members and answered by a YOU Program facilitator.
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Find Your Child’s Learning Style

March 12, 2014

By Lorena Villa Parkman

Tweens use magnifying glasses to examine objects.

Helping a child with his or her school chores is usually a challenge for parents. There are many things to address in order to help a child be a well-rounded student: time efficiency, best test-taking strategies, smart study tips, and overall helping your child acquire good academic habits.

But even with all of these skills, your child may still need a head start in school, which you can provide through one simple task: understand how he or she learns.

Figuring out your child’s learning style can make his or her education a better experience. Children have different ways of learning, so when parents know their child's best way to learn, they can help him or her more effectively with homework, tests, and overall academic chores.

Test your child

There are many online resources to determine learning styles. Here are some of the best ones:

Study tips for each learning style

Once your child figures out his or her preferred style, you can create a study plan to help him or her understand concepts better.

Include your child’s counselor or teacher

It would be great if each teacher could adapt to the different learning styles that each of their students have, but in today’s school system that is almost impossible. However, sharing this information with your child’s teacher might be useful.

When you talk to your child’s counselor or teacher, let him or her know about your child’s preferred learning style and how this can be taken into account when assigning homework or tests.

If it turns out that even after you have pinpointed your child’s learning style, none of the study strategies are helping, you may want to rule out a learning disability. Seek help from his or her teachers, school staff, or your healthcare provider in order to eliminate this possibility.

Remember that information and engagement is the key to successful education. Knowing your child’s learning strength before you begin a study or educational strategy is important for his or her progress.

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My special needs child is falling behind in school. How can I help?

March 7, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

F on a test

Question: My daughter is special needs and is falling behind in school. I don’t think she’s getting the extra attention she needs in the classroom. How can I help her succeed?

Answer: With any child, it is important that you as the parent are involved in your daughter’s education. Since she has already been diagnosed as special needs, it is important that you follow up with the school regarding her declining progress. Both public and private schools are required to educate every child who enrolls in them. There are many rules and regulations in place for public and private schools. In either case, to help your school make the best accommodations for your daughter, talk to the administration about adapting your daughter’s curriculum using these five techniques:

  1. Scheduling. The teacher may need to allow your daughter extra time for assignments.
  2. Setting. Your daughter may perform better if she works in a smaller group or one-on-one with her teacher.
  3. Materials. The teacher may need to provide class material in various formats or include extra notes.
  4. Instruction. The teacher may need to reduce the difficulty of assignments or reading requirements.
  5. Student Response. Depending on your daughter’s needs, the teacher may be able to accept her responses in a different format, such as verbally instead of written, or in an outline instead of an essay.

You may also need to speak with the school regarding an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which would provide a different level of special education services. If your child is enrolled in a private school and the above options are not adequate, you will need to speak with your local or state educational agency (LEA or SEA) about further accommodations.

You can learn more about special needs education and an IEP in our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, specifically on pages 16-17 in Through Elementary and Middle School and page 23 in Through High School and Beyond.

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Teachers: Energize Your Students!

March 5, 2014

By Bruce Marchiafava

A teacher acts for his students

Of all the times of the school year, the most challenging is the winter months between New Year’s and spring break. Students can become lethargic even though the curriculum intensifies. Teachers may be pressured by the teaching schedule, the administration, even by parents (especially those concerned about their children’s grades for college applications). Under these circumstances, teaching can be difficult and learning may be lagging. What can you do?

First, compare teaching to another occupation: acting. The teacher and the actor are alike in some ways: each performs for an audience on a stage or in front of the room, each tries to communicate information to an audience, and each is responsible for engaging his or her listeners.

Actors are sensitive to their audience, quickly recognizing if they are emotionally engaged or bored. Good actors are exceptionally skilled in catching their audience’s attention. Good teachers need to do the same. One of my favorite bits of advice for both occupations is: if your audience is not listening, reevaluate your approach.

Especially during the winter doldrums, as teachers we must actively engage our students in instructional activities and learning. There are many different strategies to engage students: class discussions, demonstrations, cooperative learning, group projects, hands-on activities, Socratic questioning, and many others. Even lectures can be engaging if done well.

Remember your teachers who were spellbinders, engaging your attention and your mind? Think about what they did to keep your attention. Did they break down complicated topics to an easy-to-discuss level? Did they use humor or extra energy to spice up the material? Try some of those techniques.

By finding new strategies to capture and engage your students’ minds, you can reenergize them. Successful learning is based on the teacher’s mastery of content and his or her presentation. Determine if your students are engaged by looking in their eyes, encouraging their questions, watching their activities, and assessing their products in quizzes, homework, and in other forms.

Parents can also help by making sure their children eat a balanced breakfast in the morning for energy, have a nutritious lunch and snacks, and get enough sleep overnight so they are ready to learn throughout the day.

This month, take a look at what’s happening (or not happening) in your classes. Look for new ways to present the same old lessons. You could energize your students and recharge yourself.

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My son is smart but doesn’t perform well on tests. How can I help him do better?

February 28, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

A student struggles during an exam.

Question: My son is smart and does well in school but doesn't perform well on tests. I'm worried he won't get into good colleges because of his SAT scores. What can I do to help him?

Answer: People refer to this phenomenon as the Poor Test-Taker Syndrome. Don’t worry, it’s not a disease and it can be changed. It requires strategy, practice, and patience.

Try these tips that might help your son perform better on tests:

  1. Practice makes perfect. Create practice tests for your son in the subject he will be tested on. After he completes a test, grade it and let him know which answers were incorrect. However, don’t tell him the right answers. Let him retry the questions he missed and learn the right answers by rereading the text. Keep practicing!
  2. Calm down. Exams are often timed, which can result in anxiety for your son. He might be rushing through the questions and making careless mistakes. Remind him to breathe deeply before the exam starts and remember that he is a great student in class. These exercises should help him focus and remember that he already knows what the test is about.
  3. Learn concepts instead of memorizing. Memorizing is not always useful if your son is under pressure. Help him understand the concepts behind the facts he is studying. After he reads a passage, ask him to briefly summarize what he just read, which will help him understand the concept rather than memorize an answer. If he understands the material, he should perform better on the test.

If none of these strategies are helping your son with his test scores, talk to his teacher, school staff, or your healthcare provider to determine if he has a mild learning disability.

We discuss addressing difficulties, emphasis on critical thinking, and homework support in greater detail in in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher three-book series. Please refer to pages 50, 66, and 85 in Through Elementary and Middle School for more information.

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Translate Your Child's Video Gaming to Coding Skills

February 25, 2014

By Amanda Gebhardt

Two kids smile as they play video games.

Most of our lives and livelihoods are run on code. Our phones, our computers, our tablets, even our cars all run on code.

As coding becomes the language of the future, experts worry that American school children are not learning to code. Women and girls especially are underrepresented in the technology fields and classes. With today’s emphasis on science and technology and making sure that the U.S. produces the next generation of technological leaders, gaming might just be the hook that reels your child into the tech world.

Over the years, after marrying a gamer and becoming a bit of one myself, I’ve grown to love video games and respect the art and craft that go into building such complex systems. In fact, the pure technological know-how that goes into even the most basic video game says a lot for the dedication and passion of those people who have made careers out of gaming.

If your child loves gaming, help steer that love into technical skills like coding and digital animation. Some of the most frequently used programming languages in game development are C++, C#, Java, and Flash. Other languages in high demand with employers are SQL, C, XML, HTML, JavaScript, Perl, and Python.

There are many free online resources out there where children can learn to code. Here are some of the best sites that can teach you and your child the basics of programming:

  • Code Academy. Code Academy offers after-school programming for children that provides an easy way to learn code through interactive and fun activities. 
  • Khan Academy. The learning site has a computer science division with lessons that can teach you and your child how to use the JavaScript language and the ProcessingJS library to create fun drawings and animations. 
  • Code.org. All ages can watch video tutorials on programming starring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and other tech superstars, and even play games that will teach them the basics of coding.
  • Grok Learning. It offers, among other things, an introductory course about using Python for people with no programming experience, including high schoolers.

Honestly, I don’t know a lot about coding myself. The Visual Basic class I took in high school taught me about as much coding as my high school Spanish class taught me Spanish (thankfully I learned a bit more Spanish in college). Coders, though, are running the world, and any reason you can find that inspires your child to join their ranks might just be the thing that gets his or her future up and running.

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