The outsides of most school buildings today look exactly like those of schools in the past. However, if you were to go into the classrooms, you would probably see numerous new methods of teaching. Many of these ideas have great potential for educational use at home. Here are a few of our favorites for your consideration.
How many times have you as a parent tried to help your child with homework and felt that you were only making matters worse? “Focus correction,” an adaptation of the Collins Writing Program , can be of enormous help.
Here is how it works. Instead of the parent having the child correct all the mistakes that were made on a homework assignment, the parent focuses on one or two areas needing improvement. The parent points out only those mistakes and helps the child to correct them. The homework may not come out perfectly, but it will be a positive learning experience.
Here are some examples that you can implement at home: When correcting a writing assignment, the parent can check that each paragraph has a topic sentence. In doing math, children often write the numbers in a way that makes it hard to compute. The parent can have the child rewrite only those problems, making the numbers larger and well-spaced so that each column is clearly aligned.
Educational Use of Computers
The use of computers in schools allows teachers to broaden and enrich students’ knowledge. Computers enable teachers to go way beyond the prescribed curriculum. But home computers are mainly used for playing video games or communicating with friends, rather than for activities more conducive to learning.
Parents can easily change that habit and introduce activities that are fun and educational too. Leo F. Buscaglia once said, “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”
Computer Use at Home
Parents can use educational Web sites. They will need to look these sites over ahead of time to find ones that their children could benefit from. Surfnetkids.com, Kidsites.com, and Internet4classrooms.com are three well-known sites that could help a parent with this task.
There are several great computer programs used by schools. Parents can access many of the same sites at home if the school their child attends has purchased a school site license. Good examples of great programs are Riverdeep, MathStories , Study Island, and Brainpop.
Parents can have their children get the latest information on any subject that they want from the Internet. This will deepen a child's knowledge base. Two especially good search engines designed for children are Kidsclick.org and Yahooligans.com.
Just like schools, parents can expand on book reference tools. Interactive dictionaries and thesauruses are available on the Web or in software versions. They enable children to fully explore words, hear pronunciations, and even play word games. Scholastic's Word Wizard Dictionary (Teacher.scholastic.com/dictionary) is a free site anyone can use. In addition, encyclopedias are available online, as are software programs that are valuable for research.
Teachers use magazines such as Time For Us, Weekly Reader, and Scholastic News for supplemental learning materials and to keep their curriculum current. IPL Kidspace (under the heading Reading Zone) will give parents a list of online magazines. In fact, we enthusiastically recommend that parents use Kid Space to find many resources to help their children learn.
In school, literature circles are the equivalent of book groups for adults. The groups could be teacher run, but they are usually student driven. Students at different reading levels are in the same group. The students have different roles for which they are responsible such as discussion leader, summarizer, clarifier of certain passages, predictor of what is going to happen, and vocabulary interpreter.
In the literature circle, students analyze characters, discuss the plot of the story, talk about the setting, and so on. They take turns talking about the book and listening to others. This is usually very successful as children have a desire to share responses to books. It is an excellent way to build a lifelong love of reading.
We are convinced that one of the reasons for the popularity of the “Harry Potter” books was simply that children saw other children reading them. A peer recommendation is powerful.
Parents can set up literature circles by finding a place for three to six children to meet and having all the children read the same book. The settings for the meetings can be more varied than school—different homes, of course, but also a restaurant, a park, the beach, a tree house, or some other area that is appealing to the children. The books can range from comic books to serious novels.
The parent assigns roles to the participants and then, depending on the age of the children, either takes a minimal role in the discussion or does not participate at all. As long as children are respectful to one another, there should be active learning in the literature circle.
At school, there is a prescribed curriculum for all the major subjects. There are mandated tests, pacing guides, and curriculum frameworks. During the regular school day, there is not always time for extras, so special events provide the time and space to foster a deeper love of learning.
These special events include Books for Bingo, science fairs, and math nights (an event that allows kids and their parents to explore areas of mathematics different from the usual work in school). Parents need not wait for a notice of something special from school. Here are some suggestions for special events at home.
• Parents can encourage a math-games play session. (See “Math and Logic Board Games Encourage Academic Skills” by Linda Wiegenfeld.)
• Parents can give books as prizes for any games that children like (not just Bingo).
• Parents can provide LEGO blocks for educational activities. Some hands-on learning pursuits can be found at Littlebrickschoolhouse.com.
• Parents can encourage children to read books on science experiments and then have a science experiment day.
• Parents can also encourage children to set up an exhibit of their favorite hobby for their friends to see.
Remember, parents are a major factor in the success of children in school. Above everyone else, they help their children develop a passion for learning.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Linda Wiegenfeld currently teaches in Somerville, Mass. She was recently named Teacher of the Year.
Michael Welch is a special education teacher currently focusing on math intervention.