Here Comes Summer!

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Well, not really, but spring break is upon us which means summer is not far behind. Whether families are going away or staying at home, the routine changes and everyone is on a different schedule.

We all need a break once in a while.

Taking a break from learning for a week or two tends to revitalize everyone; however, taking a break from learning for two months or more has the opposite effect.

What to do?

Well, of course, I am going to have a suggestion. At j&R Tutoring Academy we are going to have four special eight week sessions. They are: Kindergarten Readiness, Cursive Writing, Organizational and Study Skills for Elementary Students, and Cognitive Skills.

We will continue to have our normal math and reading sessions for kindergarten through grade six students.

Why These?

Tutoring young students has exposed specific and repeated deficiencies. These four offerings are the ones that we see most frequently.

Cursive writing is not taught in the public schools at this time. We all know the justification for this – due to the proliferation of technology and keyboards, “we no longer need cursive writing.”

Ever tried to read the printing of an eight, nine or ten-year-old boy? Although I’m sure there are some who do quite well, far too many write illegibly! Cursive writing develops fine motor skills. And the number of children who form letters incorrectly is astonishing!

Kindergarten Readiness has become a critical skill.

SIDE NOTE: Personally I am not in favor pushing formal learning down to four and five year olds; however, it is the reality.

The third offering is Organizational and Study Skills for Elementary students. Although there are some who just seem to know what to keep and where to put assignments, too many do not. The current trend seems to be that each child has a packet of some type that includes homework and other requirements.

I never had a teacher who put a packet together for me! If I had homework, I was expected to take it home, do it and bring it back. That is called learning responsibility.

Although it is very nice that the students have these packets, it seems to take the place of personal responsibility.

We will teach students how to decide what to keep, what to file, what to throw away, and how to do these. We will use American history as a basis for this class.

Our final summer course is Cognitive Skills. This may be the most important offering we have. We will be using materials developed by Dr. Erica Warren.

This includes reversing letters, following directions, visualization as well as other cognitive skills. Very often children have trouble learning because these cognitive skills are lacking. There may be more than one session for this as we will group by age.

Where to sign up?

Our Facebook page has a longer description of each class. Go to http://www.facebook.com/jnrtutoring/. LIKE US while you are there!

Our website http://www.jnrtutoring.com has the registration sheet.

Join me for Summer Study Fun!

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Those %$#@*& Standardized Tests!

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This past week most of my tutoring students were taking the ISTEP, Indiana’s version of state testing.

I originally wrote about standardized testing in November of 2014. Not much has changed since then unless you live in Indiana and have a school-aged child. ISTEP has become the number one topic of derision.

Last year’s test was a total waste of time and money. There is not enough room in a blog posting to even begin to review all that went wrong.

So a year later, what has changed?

The results

I’d like to report that the test, the delivery system and the scoring have all been fixed. Operative word – like.  Pretty much everything is the same.

Parents of one student informed the school that they would hold their daughter out of school to prevent her from taking the test. They believe that their daughter would be better served if she were spending her class time receiving instruction rather than taking the test.

Naturally this has created quite a storm.

Then there is the situation with one of my current students. She came to tutoring literally traumatized about not being able to move to the fourth grade. I tried to comfort her and assure her that she would be fine. I do not think I was successful.

Sadly, these fears, founded or not, were the result of comments from her teacher.

Some history

In the mid twentieth century when standardized testing was first implemented, the tests were used ONLY to gauge the individual child against the standards for the grade and/or against that child’s prior test scores.  Schools were strictly prohibited from comparing classes or schools and districts (or cities or states, etc.) with one another.

Lest you think I’m just saying this to bolster my own opinion, I did a research paper on the topic while earning my MA/Education a few years ago. I was stunned when I discovered the truth about standardized tests.

With the creation of the U.S. Department of Education in the 1970’s, the situation began to change.

Follow the money

How many times has the leading character told his underling to “follow the money?” I suspect these three words provide the path to answers for way too many issues. And education issues are not immune from money.

Every time I read an article about the ISTEP debacle, I intentionally look for the importance of educating students. Oh, it shows up – eventually. But the majority of the article discusses teacher contracts, federal money, cost of tests, outside vendors, computer problems – you get the picture.

Last week an article in my local paper noted that schools are required to administer an annual standardized test in order to receive federal money. I find that to be very odd considering that according to the U.S. Constitution all powers not specifically granted to the federal government go to the states. And since education is not mentioned in the Constitution . . .

Is there a solution?

There is always a solution, but like any, it will not be easy. Parents must again take over the education of their children. Not in the literal sense, although that does explain the exploding growth of homeschooling, but by actively participating in the process.

Much like the grass roots anger that has surfaced during the Presidential contest this year, the time has come for parents to push back against the bureaucrats in Washington, DC and their largely puppet local school boards.

Local school boards have little real control because they do not want to do anything that may draw the ire of politicos. Note I did not say the school board was concerned about drawing the ire of parents.

Parents have become too comfortable just letting the schools do whatever “they” deem is in the best interest of the children.

One more comment – the teachers have nothing to do with this.  They are at the mercy of the system. Wonder why we have a teacher shortage?

 

Don’t forget to checkout our Summer Study Fun offerings!

See our Facebook page for information! Don’t forget to “Like” us!

Need Help!

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First – thanks to all of you who regularly read my little blog. I need some feedback from you.

Tutoring is one of the fastest growing professions in the world. There are many reasons for this – with which I will not bore you at this time (but I might later).

j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana, LLC is about to enter its fourth year of existence. Our little endeavor is growing. We have established a good foundation, found our stride and have enjoyed many successes. We have also had a few failures and going forward we need to learn what we can do to avoid additional ones.

Here’s where I need your input. There are some attitudes or behaviors that I find confusing, and as a result I do not know how to react. About a fourth of the people who make appointments to bring their child in for a diagnostic do not show up and do not call to cancel or reschedule.

Has our society lost basic politeness? I always call them and leave a message where I assume that I made the mistake and had the wrong time. I know I didn’t, but I do try to provide a way to return my call gracefully. Would you do that to your doctor? What gives?

Although we charge for the diagnostic, if the parent enrolls the child in tutoring, we apply the cost of the diagnostic to the first month’s tuition. Seems like a very fair arrangement to me! Am I wrong? What do you think?

We purchase an excellent diagnostic from an international curriculum development company that is used by school systems all over the United States and Canada. This diagnostic tells us where the child “is” in the educational process. Our responsibility is to discover how and why the child got to that point. Why are some skills weak? Why are others missing? Then we fill in the gaps.

In order to do this effectively one must possess the skills that professional educators have. This is why we only employ former teachers with classroom experience and a master’s degree in education. The combined classroom experience of me and my other three tutors is 70 plus years!

The numerous national franchises advertise “certified instructors.” What they don’t tell you is that it is the franchise that certifies them. And these franchises charge considerably more. My question to you is why would a parent spend more money with a franchise?

A little side note on the national tutoring franchises – one of them has a radio commercial that I seem to hear daily stating that one does not need any prior experience in education to own a franchise! Would you take your child to a hardware store to have their teeth fixed? Then why would a parent employ a tutoring agency where no one has a background or degree in education?

I worked for a time for one of these franchises, and I was the only one with any educational background, including the owner!

Another aspect of tutoring and parenting for which I would like some input regards time. Many children who need additional help have developed diversions. Simple things like dropping a pencil or forgetting a book – anything to keep from doing their work. These behaviors have to be unlearned before new ones can be learned.

There is no way to know how long it will take. I have had more than one parent become frustrated with me because after three months – one after just one month – I had not made enough progress.

I try to be patient and understanding because I know how frustrating it is to have a child who is struggling. I had one. The child did not arrive at the current situation in one or two months, and it will take more than a couple of months to correct it. Is there something else I could be sharing with parents to explain this?

What would you like to hear from me if you brought your child in for some help? What don’t you care about? What do you want to know before you call?

Jackie and I started this business because we saw a real need to help children establish a solid educational foundation. Help us bump up our efforts with your feedback! Thanks!

Ah! Summer!

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For the majority of children in my area this is the first week of summer vacation. Parents and kids are happy that school work is only a memory. Sadly, that memory does not retain all the knowledge that it learned the previous year.

Summer is a big contributor to knowledge loss. Numerous studies have been done that confirm elementary children lose 20-25% of their basic knowledge during the summer break.

Many years ago when I graduated from college, we were informed that year-round school was just over the horizon. I clearly remember thinking at the time that it was a fantastic idea! I’m a grandmother and I’m still waiting for year-round school to be established! What happened?

Sadly, parents are the main objectors. They have the memories of their own childhood summers and want the same for their children. Teachers are another roadblock. They like the long time off, and many use the time to return to school themselves. Then there are the childcare issues. We have been programmed to accept that children are off in the summer. People are resistant to major changes in any accepted or long term life practice.

These are legitimate objections.

However, even the schools that are not on a year round schedule have altered the school year. We were always out by Memorial Day and school began in the fall right after Labor Day. If you are counting, that was a full three months. Now even schools that are on what may be considered an old-fashioned schedule only take June and July off.

Additionally, there are more and longer vacations during the school year.
And for many teachers returning to school has become much more accessible via the many online opportunities.

The changes are coming – albeit slowly. But a young child’s brain is only young once. And how that brain develops is fundamental to the overall success of the child. Think about the brain being a malleable mass of matter (that was a mouth full!). In order for the proper paths to be developed in that brain matter, various activities need to be repeated on a regular basis.

Pathways that are not “exercised” over the summer lose their way. One can equate this to any muscle in the body. If it is not exercised, it will become limp. On the last day of second grade (quite a number of years ago) my seven year old son broke his leg. He spent the summer first in traction, then in a full body cast. By the end of summer when the cast came off, the muscle on that leg had literally disappeared. It took about 18 months for the muscle to return to normal size and strength.

The brain is a muscle. Although I doubt the deterioration would be as dramatic as my son’s leg muscle, the brain does deteriorate – thus the loss of the 20-25% of knowledge.

Although many parents would rather not have their children burdened with “learning” over the summer, I posit that this is actually a disservice to the kids. I have a long term client who was the only student in his class last year who returned to school at grade level (after the requisite NWEA back to school test). He comes three days a week, two for reading and one for math. Each session is 45 minutes. With this small amount of time he was able to keep pace over the summer.

A little bit of time can reap generous results for young children. Additionally if a child has exhibited any difficulties learning new skills, then getting ahead can result in a much smoother back-to-school transition. And just maybe instead of trying to catch up or figure out what is wrong, your child will be right on task!

Too Much Information!

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I get a lot of educational information via the ever-present Internet. Some of it I don’t even know how I came to receive it. I suspect that I was not paying attention while reading an article and inadvertently indicated that I wanted to receive someone else’s information!

A lot of it – I just delete. Some are thought provoking; others are annoying; and still others just plain maddening. I probably should take some time and delete some of these . . .

As the end of the school year rapidly approaches, I suspect that these authors fear losing their audience because I have been bombarded with new articles the past couple of weeks. The majority of these have a very similar theme – “CRISIS.”

In several of my blogs I have suggested that we, as a people and a country, seemed to have managed to accomplish quite a bit over the course of a relatively short time period when compared to the rest of the world. And we did this without preschool or Baby Einstein CDs played in utero.

In the 21st century kindergarten curriculum has become what first grade used to be. Parents who don’t or can’t send their children to pre-school suddenly find themselves and their child way behind the learning curve. Of course, the educators don’t tell you that by the upper elementary grades, any advantage that was gained by this earlier learning has largely evened out. Unfortunately in the meantime many children – and their parents – suffer the embarrassment of “not knowing” their letters or numbers, etc.

A crisis is determined and the parents and school charge into “save” mode.

We recently had a delightful young kindergartener who had not gone to preschool. He was behind. He also was allowed to spend way too much time playing video games (and THAT is a subject where I could spend hours!). He has older siblings who both excel in school. Mother enrolled him for both math and reading, four sessions a week.

I thought this was too much for a five year old, but Mother insisted that he had to catch up. One of his major problems was that he was used to being able to “reset” everything whenever the correct response was not immediately noted. The mother’s recommendation was that I make everything a game! After a lot of work, we were able to move past this, but we still had a long way to go.

After nine months, he was finally reading and was obviously proud of himself. Mother removed him because it was not fast enough. The school had indicated that he was still behind.

I do not know if this mother sees or hears one-tenth of the educational information I receive, but I suspect if she does, she believes that there is some type of formula for educating young children. All one has to do is follow the specific regimen as determined by the educational academics, and magically the child will learn!!

One of the blogs I received this week was entitled “5 Strategies to Improve Executive Function.” This was not about helping young adults excel or even improve in the workplace. This was directed to the teachers of five, six and seven year old children! The blog’s purpose was to help teachers instruct in a manner that would help children understand how to recognize and use these executive functions.

The article made my head hurt!

Another point that I probably state too often, but feel that it needs to be stated again – young children develop at very different speeds. The same child does not equally develop both math and reading skills. At this very early age development is all over the map! No two children develop at the same rate.

Our former student will eventually catch up unless the pressure on him is so great that he just quits because of it.

Children need room to grow and develop at their own speed. They all want to learn, and they will. They may not do it when the curriculum states that they should, but they will.

Granted they need direction and some structure, but too much of anything is TOO MUCH!

Summer Is Here!

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

For many the first week of summer vacation has come to a close. What did your children do? Swim? Shop? Play? Stay up late? Sleep late? Have friends spend the night? Go to the movies?

Were you pleased with the end-of-the-year school report? Did your son and/or daughter achieve what you expected? Unless the answer is a resounding YES, do you have a plan for improvement?

Or are you certain that it will be better next year? And if you are certain, how do you plan to make that happen?

GreatSchools.org is a wonderful website that discusses many valuable and informative educational topics. Recently they published lists of skills that children who have completed each grade should have accomplished. I can’t list all of them, but will choose a few for each grade to provide an overall view.

Your about-to-be first grader should know and be able to write her name and address, write both lower and upper case letters of the alphabet, count to 100 by ones and tens, add and subtract up to 10, and know the relationship between letters and the sounds they make.

The soon-to-be second grader should be able to complete homework and return it to school the next day, write and spell untaught words correct phonetically, tell time to the hour and half hour, be able to see things from another‘s point of view, and understand and use prepositions and conjunctions correctly.

The new third grader should understand the basic concepts of multiplication, be able to use a dictionary, use an apostrophe to make contractions, revise and edit a piece of writing, correctly use irregular verbs, begin to reason and concentrate, and work cooperatively with a partner or group.

And the upcoming fourth grader should be able to multiply and divide single and multi-digit numbers, know multiplication tables, use linking words to show contrast, sequence and causation, read chapter books, understand how choices affect consequences, and be able to read materials to prepare for class discussion.

The skills I have listed do not include everything. I chose items that I suspect many parents may not realize are necessary learning skills. For example the ability to read and participate in a class discussion is not reflected on a report card; however, the information learned during the process affects other skills.

Studies have shown that over the summer elementary children lose up to two and one half months of math skills, and some students also lose two months of reading skills. Although everyone is still likely giddy with the new freedom of summer, we all know that the “there’s nothing to do” lament will begin soon. Or your children will disappear into cyber space.

A couple hours a week with a tutor could prevent that summer learning loss!

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Are We Teaching the Wrong Things?

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

One of the best things about the Internet is the vast amount of knowledge at one’s fingertips! You can either go look for it, or with the many social networks and blogs, the information comes to you.

Since I began writing this blog, I have been fortunate – most of the time – to receive information from numerous writers on a variety of subjects. One writer who primarily discusses home schooling issues addressed an educational topic that I had never before considered.

Why do instructors and curricula address mistakes and deficiencies? More to the point, why don’t they focus on each student’s strengths rather than pointing out weaknesses? To me this was a revolutionary concept!

Think about it! What if we focused on a student’s strengths rather than going over – and over – those items not mastered?

I have noted numerous times that children develop at different rates, and they do not develop all their skills at the same time. What if a curriculum were designed to build upon the skills that have been mastered? A child would experience success and hopefully gain self-confidence.

This system would not eliminate skills not mastered, but rather introduce them later in the educational process. Every child is good at something! A child who possesses self-confidence is going to be more willing to address new, more difficult areas.

Obviously this type of education would, by nature, be quite individualized and the exact opposite of today’s educational trends.

With the implementation of the Common Core Standards and the nationalized curriculum that is rapidly following, the one-size-fits-all curriculum concept is nearly a done deal. By its nature CCS cannot allow for individual differences. I was told by one proponent that it was going to be great when a child moved from one state to another because the child would be at the same spot in the curriculum!

On the surface that sounds like a good idea. What it really does is ignore the vast developmental differences common in young children. Even very young children are aware when they don’t know something. They may act out or become quiet and disengage. Continuing to focus on and “trying to fix” the problem area often has the reverse affect.

Just imagine your child coming home excited because s/he did so well in addition that s/he was going to get to do extra math activities! Maybe the spelling grade had been poor, but the teacher was not going to focus on that.

Rather than focusing on why the child does poorly in spelling, the teacher provides extra incentives in math where the child does well. The child may or may not ever become a quality speller, but is that a reason not to nurture an area where the child does excel?

Not all skills develop at the same time or at the same rate. Why not encourage strengths while continuing to work on, but not dwell on, areas of weakness? Just a thought …

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Measuring Improvement

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

Have you noticed that every time a politician or other public official want to make sure an idea or program is accepted that it is always “for the children?” Not many of us are going to object to anything that is for the children. Anyone who objects is certain to be on the receiving end of constant criticism.

The plethora of standardized tests, the implementation of Common Core Standards, and universal pre-K for four year olds have all been presented as necessary for the children. We are assured that all these items are needed to measure improvement, ensure learning and educate the next generation of leaders.

The amount of money spent on education has never been higher yet the percentage of children graduating from high school has only slightly improved since the mid-1980s. Additionally far too many high school graduates are taking non-credit remedial classes in college because they are not adequately prepared.

I am not aware that my Big Ten alma mater even offered remedial classes when I was in college!

Until the Carter administration there was not a U.S. Department of Education. There was no need for one since according to the Constitution, education was to be the province of the states. I will restrain myself and not go off on this issue at this time! One can only wonder how much money has been spent by the US Dept. of Ed in the past 40 years!

To what end?

What do we know for sure? There are a lot of bureaucrats and staffers at the US Dept. of Ed making nice salaries. Many “educational” companies are growing and making a lot of money. Politicians have found a new issue on which to campaign. Very wealthy Americans like Bill and Melinda Gates, through their foundations, spend a lot of money and feel very good about themselves, because they give money to help education.

Yet the high school graduation rate has only slightly improved and now colleges must offer remedial courses.

Tech companies are selling school systems computers and related equipment needed to take the standardized tests. Curriculum companies are selling schools new curriculum that is aligned with Common Core. The type and number of standardized tests continue to expand; schools buy them; companies score them; and schools make more changes.

Yet the high school graduation rate has only slightly improved and now colleges must offer remedial courses.

Seems like the only entities that are improving measurably are the ones selling education!

 

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Socioeconomic Conditions

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In 2011The Nation magazine reported, “…at most teaching accounts for about 15 percent of student achievement outcomes, while socioeconomic factors account for 60 percent.”

I mention this quote not to diminish the importance of teaching, but to emphasize that there are some elements over which a teacher has no control. Why do students who attend schools in higher socioeconomic areas always do better on tests than inner city urban schools? You know the answer.

There was a letter to the editor in my paper this past week downplaying socioeconomic factors in education. His rationale was that in the earlier 20th century nearly everyone lived in poor socioeconomic conditions, but achieved success.

The writer missed the obvious point! When the majority of the people experience the same situation, there is NO DIFFERENCE in circumstances.

The work ethic in early 20th century America was much stronger than it is today. During my master’s program one instructor shared an old test with us. Initially we were told nothing about it. The questions were wide reaching and quite difficult. Later she told us that the test was an early twentieth century eighth grade graduation test!

Many of us have heard about family members who only had an eighth grade education. Trust me; if they had to pass that test, then their eight years were no walk in the park!

Good teachers can make a difference in the educational life of a child, but realistically how many children can one teacher reach? Classes may have 20 or more children. To expect one teacher to learn and then address the individual needs of each one on a daily basis is unrealistic at best! In the early grades the differences among children are wide reaching.

Those who adamantly support the one-size-fits-all education program (Common Core, standardized tests, four-year-old pre-K) strongly believe that all children can learn. Additionally they tell us that socioeconomic conditions do not have to affect learning.

Yes, all children can learn! But socioeconomic conditions affect learning whether we want to accept it or not. Schools have encroached further and further into child rearing over the past 30 years. Meals, before and after school care, character building, sex education, including in some schools distribution of condoms, just to name a few.

Why are the schools doing what parents have done for generations?

Because in far too many situations, there are no real parents. Or there is one parent who may or may not understand what is required of a parent. Or one parent who is overworked and struggling to care adequately for the children. In far too many cases the parent herself (because in the vast majority of instances, it is a mother on site) had a poor or incomplete education, and she does not see any value in education.

Children become possessions and a means to secure government support. The Politically Correct out there are probably about to get their torches and come after me, but true is true. The longer we ignore facts, the longer it will take to resolve the problem. Substituting school programs for parenting is not the means to raise healthy – in every sense of the word – children.

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Summer

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

Summer is nearly here!!Depending on your school’s calendar, that means eight to ten weeks of sun, fun, freedom, and loss.
Loss?

Did you know that children, especially younger ones can lose up to two months of skills during the summer?

Schools have traditionally been in session for about nine months and off for about three. This is primarily because America was an agrarian society for the first three hundred plus years. Secondly, air conditioning did not become readily available until after World War II.

Children were needed to help in the fields in the summer months. And we all know how difficult it is to study when the classroom is over 90º!

As a result, the school year was established on 19th century American conditions. Are any other institutions are still operating by the same criteria they were 200 years ago? I’d be very curious to learn how they are doing.

When I was a senior in college – quite a few years ago, we were told that year round school was imminent. Since we are still waiting for year round school, does this mean I’m still a senior in college? If only …

Given the established fact that children can lose up to two months of learning skills over the summer, why is year round school still a discussion topic rather than a reality?

Traditions may be nice, but if they are no longer in the best interest of the people involved, why are we holding on to them? I could probably fill a page with traditions no one currently reading this has ever heard of!

There is a constant drumbeat about how American children are falling behind the rest of the world in education. This reasoning is used to impose all kinds of new requirements (Common Core, anyone?).
Although children may not need to be in school more days each year, the scheduling of the days do need to be addressed.

Year round scheduling is being implemented gradually in many areas, but the traditional schedule is still more prevalent. Giving your children the summer off from learning is not in their best interests. What can you do to prevent your child from experiencing skill loss over the summer?

I’d like to strongly suggest that you consider tutoring for the summer. Tutoring does not necessarily mean that a child is behind or has a learning problem. Tutoring can be enrichment or in the summer a means to retain knowledge.

Wouldn’t it be great for your child to start the year and not be stressed?

. . . a little plug for j&R Tutoring here. We do not have a rigidly structured format. We determine what each child needs to learn or where skills can be strengthened and design a program accordingly. We play some educational games. We have fun learning!

An hour a day three or four days a week could make a huge difference next fall!

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Special Summer Programming

1)    Focus on Reading and Writing

2)    Spotlight on Math

3)    Kindergarten Readiness

The special summer programs are offered in addition to our ongoing tutoring and enrichment.

Who Is Really Being Tested?

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

 Yes, your children are being tested, but is it to improve their education, or is it done to make it easier to judge teachers?

There is a move in New York state against standardized testing. Parents have concluded that the testing is being used to make it easier for administrators to either fire or retain teachers, not to educate their children. Many of them are not allowing their children to take the tests.

Other states including Pennsylvania, Colorado, Maryland, and Florida are experiencing similar resistance. Several national organizations have evolved such as Change the Stakes, The Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE) and United Opt Out. Then there is Texas where a student must take 15 standardized tests in order to graduate!

The pressure for students to perform on standardized tests has led to massive fraud in Atlanta and Washington, DC. In both cities those in charge of education systematically and repeatedly changed the answers on tests. Administrators received bonuses, teachers retained, and awards given based on the fraudulent test results.

Noted educational policy analyst, Diane Ravitch, states, “…policies and practices that are based on distrust of teachers and disrespect for them will fail. Why? ‘The fate of the reforms ultimately depends on those who are the object of distrust. ‘In other words, educational reforms need teachers’ buy-in, trust, and cooperation to succeed; “reforms” that kick teachers in the teeth are never going to succeed.”

Those who developed the Common Core Standards (CCS) largely excluded teachers in the development, yet they must depend on teachers to implement CCS and ensure children do well on the standardized tests that follow.
And since many schools now include scores on standardized testing as a portion of determining whether or not a teacher is retained, the goal has necessarily changed from learning to scoring.

My poor simple mind believes that if a teacher has the time to teach, then the children will learn and do well on tests. The children who have learning problems will not do well. The teacher will note this and make necessary adjustments.

In a predetermined curriculum that the Common Core Standards is generating, teachers have fewer and fewer opportunities to make those adjustments.

The New York parents determined that 25% of the school year was dedicated to preparing for and taking standardized tests. 25%!!! Add to that the approximately two months of skills that students can lose over the summer, and that leaves about 65% of the school year to master new skills – on which they will be tested.

How can there be enough time in that remaining 65% of the school year to adjust instruction to meet the needs/ weaknesses of all students? The teacher must continue with the predetermined curriculum or be judged poorly and possibly lose her job.

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Standardized Tests

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

First a correction – the network for whom the lady worked  who stated that we had to get over thinking that our children belonged to us was MSNBC, not CNN. I apologize for the error.

Where to begin? Do you know how many standardized tests your children take each school year?

I checked a local school corporation website to get an idea of the number of standardized tests, or common assessments, given annually. A district wide writing assessment is given at the beginning and the end of the year; math assessments are given every nine weeks. The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Fluency Skills (DIBELS) is given to students K through grade two; Terra Nova is given to second graders each year; the InView test is given to third and fourth graders each year; and finally the annual ISTEP exam. And these are just for K through grade four!

If you read the rationalization for these tests, they will tell you that the tests are measuring cognitive skills, verbal reasoning, skills assessment, etc. (I really wanted to write blah, blah, blah here, but I did not want to be impolite!)

This all sounds very good and we all want our children to acquire these important skills. How on earth did generations of Americans learn and manage to get to the moon and back – several times – without all these tests to assure us that the youngsters of the 19th and 20th centuries were learning?

I wonder where the teachers find the time to actually instruct. Although many years have passed since I was in elementary school, I also recall numerous tests, but they were prepared and given by the teacher! They tested us to determine if we had learned what was taught. What a concept!! If we did not do well, the teacher knew what needed to be repeated or reinforced.

Based on the justification for all of these “common” tests, apparently teachers are no longer capable of determining what their students need to learn. The explanations state that the test lets the teacher know what skills are lacking; where additional instruction is needed.  Really? Call me crazy, but I thought that was the purpose of having a teacher in the classroom.

No wonder there is a move to allow professional people who have never taken a course in education, methods or psychology to teach! If all the standardized tests indicate what the instructors need to teach, why do we need professional teachers who have the expertise to determine this? There are many people who have subject expertise, but that does not mean they have a clue how to impart this knowledge to students.

I formerly worked for national tutoring franchise. There was a young man with a master’s degree in math also working as a tutor. One would think that he would be perfect for high school students taking advanced math. Not long after he started, we noticed that several of the advanced math students were not attending their sessions. Why? Because although he had subject matter knowledge, he did not have a clue how to explain math concepts!

I’m just getting started on the subject of standardized/common testing.

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Education’s Three-Legged Stool

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

 While walking Bentley, my ruggedly handsome miniature schnauzer, a thought came to me regarding current education. (These walks are a great time to think!)

Current educational discussion is like a three – legged stool. One leg is Common Core Standards; the second is the push to provide universal pre-K for four-year-olds; and finally standardized tests balance the stool.

Common Core Standards are already generating “Common Core” compliant curricula. If universal four year old pre-K is implemented, standards for that year won’t be far behind. Add to that standardized testing, which of course, aligns with Common Core, and what you have is a very common education.

Many school systems use DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) to measure literacy skills for grades K through six. Today I received an email newsletter from DIBELS assuring me that they were working to align DIBELS with Common Core.

Every person and group supporting Common Core will tell you that these tough standards are necessary to compete in the global economy. As I have said previously, local people are not stupid. They know this is a global economy. Secondly, several states already had standards in place that exceeded Common Core.

So why have 46 states agreed to implement Common Core?

Because business persons and academics have determined that their way is the only way to improve American education. The stool is balanced and everyone receives the same education which, of course, will generate a nation of well-educated students! Right?

For some reason as I envisioned my little educational stool, all the children surrounding it were dressed exactly the same! From there my thought processes went wild. Nice walks with Bentley tend to spur my imagination.

Our children are being programmed, not educated! Okay, maybe I’ve gone off the deep end here, but let’s review together what is happening.

One – Common Core Standards supposedly ensures that all children learn the same skills at the same time. Remember that children do not develop at the same time or rate. Everything I have ever learned about the psychology and development of children flies in the face of expecting them to learn the same things at the same time.

Two – universal four-year-old pre-K which is being pushed under the guise of providing preschool for disadvantaged children. Although educating disadvantaged children is a true concern, using it as a justification of formal schooling for all four-year-olds is disingenuous at best.

And three – the ever increasing number of standardized tests, said to be needed to ensure that the children are learning. The sheer number of tests has given rise to the phrase “teaching to the test.” Here’s a conundrum for you – if the teachers actually had the time and freedom to teach, would they even have to worry about “the tests?”

I am not faulting teachers. They are being backed into a corner.

I have a lot more to add on this, but will save it until the next post. Educating our children is so important! If you and your friends are not following educational issues, time is wasting.

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Who Is Making the Decisions?

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

 Since we know that a lot of people are no longer reading newspapers, I wonder how influential they are. I realize that many read online, but I suspect that is for sports scores or similar items.

When I log on, which I do several times a day, the headlines of the day always pop right up. The majority of the headlines are not about issues that affect our daily lives. Out of curiosity, I just logged on to my email account. Six of the ten “trending” items as of 2:40 pm on Friday, April 26, 2013 involved celebrities!

My local paper this morning printed an editorial supporting the Common Core Standards, and a letter to the editor from the president of the state chamber of commerce espousing the same. The editorial suggested “dire” consequences if they were not implemented. Additionally the people or groups who have dared to suggest that we pause and do further research before implementation were called very derogatory names.

Both TV and radio now broadcast ads urging listeners to support Common Core. If the Common Core Standards are so great, why is it necessary to spend so much money convincing people?

My concern with these examples is that I wonder who is paying attention? If you get the majority of your news from the Internet, then you probably won’t even know what changes are being implemented in your local schools until after the fact.

If you do pay attention to the main stream media, then you will get the idea that only those people who want schools to fail our children would be against these new standards or any other new idea.

Some in our nation have assumed an odd posture when promoting a new idea. Anyone who is against it is automatically labeled with the most vile, printable adjectives imagined! These labels are often offered before any opposition is stated.

Isn’t this what bullies do? They challenge you, challenge your character, and call you names to prevent you from opposing them. And none of us want to be perceived as not “caring.”

In the meantime academics hundreds of miles away are making curriculum decisions that will determine what your child learns in school, and when they are supposed to learn it.

Last week j&R Tutoring Academy sponsored a vendor table at a “Just Between Friends” consignment sale. In my numerous conversations with parents I did not talk to one who thinks all the standardized tests and the required standards are a good idea!! (Stay tuned – much more about tests to come!)

About two weeks ago a CNN anchor was featured in a weekend spot about educational funding. She said that parents needed to get over the idea that children belonged only to them! She went on to say that the children belonged to everyone. I have paraphrased her comments, but I have not changed what she said.

If you are not paying attention to educational issues, then decisions about your child’s future are being made by people you do not know and will never meet.

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When Must They Know?

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

In my last post I suggested that what we follow online controls what we know, what we do not know and most importantly, can shape our opinions. I would like to take that thought a step further.

Unless you are employed in education, you probably do not closely follow it. However, if you have children or plan to have them, I would like to recommend that you do. I have noted that the Common Core Standards, among other things, essentially removes local (parents, teachers, school boards) curricula control from the schools.

The other program currently being strongly pushed is required preschool for all four year olds. This is another idea that on its face seems like a no-brainer. We know that children entering kindergarten who have not attended a preschool lag (not stay) behind.

In an article I read recently the author commented that “we” needed to begin developing the cognitive learning of children earlier. His reasoning was the importance of not losing potential abilities so that we could successfully compete in the world.

People! Somehow we have managed to build the greatest nation in the world – ever – in a relatively short period of time! Until just a few years ago, we did not think we had to control a child’s education practically from birth in order to be successful! Secondly, local school officials do not live in a vacuum. They know we now live in a global economy.

I hate to keep repeating myself, but I must. Young children develop at vastly different rates. Children in the same family, with the same parents, develop at vastly different rates. Not all children follow the normal patterns. Normal patterns are averages. That means there are a lot of children who are, by definition not normal.

Childhood is one long education. I was watching my two year old grandson build a tower with Jenga® blocks. If you are not familiar with them, they are not square, but thin and rectangular. It is difficult to build with them. He had figured out that he needed to be careful when adding a block. He had not yet figured out that at a certain point the tower was not going to sustain itself.

One day he will figure out either how to build a higher tower, or he will move on to another activity. This is education. The first four years of life, especially, are a time for discovering, experiencing, learning, making mistakes, and experiencing successes. SO MUCH happens in those years!

Children will naturally gravitate to those areas that interest them and ignore those they do not. Pushing formal education – required formal education – down to younger and younger children, in my opinion, is not in their best interests!

Some children may be ready for pre-school at age four, some not. One of my children, the youngest, was ready at three, but he was the only one.

The rest of life is full of limitations and requirements. Let’s allow children to develop at their own rate!

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What Are You Following?

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

Since the Internet became part of our daily lives, almost nothing is private. Anyone can learn about anything, any time. Obscure people and acts morph into overnight international sensations.

The events in Boston this past week are a prime example of good that can come from this exposure. Once the pictures were posted, the terrorists were as good as caught.

However with the dearth of information available, what we select to follow can shape our beliefs – whether we know it or not.

There was a time, not that many years ago, when information primarily came from the daily newspaper and the three major networks. I currently live in a condo with a common front door to eight units. I am the only one who takes the daily paper, and I am not the oldest occupant!

I have always loved to read, and breakfast just doesn’t taste as good unless I have a paper to read. Granted, I may already know about some of the news, but the paper gives me details.

The casualty with information overload is that none of us can possibly stay informed about everything. Consequently, we tend to learn about those items that are posted on the Internet sites we follow. This gives the site the ability to control what we learn.

During the recent election I was saddened by numerous “man on the street” interviews about the upcoming election conducted by talk show hosts. So many young adults had no clue about who was running, who the current government leaders were, what the most basic issues were.

Lack of education allows those with less than pure intentions to control our lives.

How does this affect the education of your children?

Are you following the discussion on Common Core Standards? My prior three posts on this subject generated scant comments so I assume (I know the dangers of assuming) that they are not a hot topic.

Most parents want to be assured that their kindergartners are ready for school; that each child does their best; that they are not bullied; that they do their homework; that the teacher is fair. Parents don’t usually notice curriculum unless something offensive pops up.

If Common Core is accepted and implemented, it won’t matter if a parent finds anything offensive or lacking. Local control of curriculum will have been ceded to the federal government. If Common Core is just standards, how can the government control curriculum? Because curriculum is already being written and widely available that conforms to the standards. The logic is difficult to argue. If the school must conform to the standards, then shouldn’t the curriculum also conform to the standards?

And don’t forget that at least 10% of the local school budget comes from the federal government with strings securely attached to the Common Core Standards.

Another educational blog that I follow recently wrote about a “new” trend in local curriculum. His example referred to the requirement of the Chicago Public Schools to teach black history. This makes sense in Chicago, but would not make sense in Palm Beach.

His new idea is actually a very old idea making a return. The Founders believed that education should be local. Many would argue that the world has changed and that education can no longer afford to be local. I would argue that local people realize that the world has changed and know that a restricted curriculum would not serve students.

But what will the Chicago schools have to shorten or eliminate in order to have time to teach black history?

So what does all of this mean? Your children only get one chance for a quality education. If you are not staying abreast of what is being taught – and not taught – to them, who is?

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Fair Share

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>By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

I got a little behind on my posts this week. Seems like every year I plan to get those pesky taxes done early, but the middle of April shows up and I wonder how it happened!

For some reason taxes make me think about fairness.

Are you as tired of hearing about “fair share” and “fair shake” as I am? Then there is oft repeated comment, “Life isn’t fair,” usually spoken when someone has just lost their job or experienced a similar life altering situation.

The pursuit of fairness has invaded childhood as well. Teams give everyone trophies. Holiday parties that were enjoyed by school children for decades have either been relabeled or eliminated – to be fair.

There is even concern that institutes of higher learning are giving grades, rather than expecting students to earn them. Why? Because the students paid for the class, so it’s only fair!

How should parents handle this constant push for fairness?

Parents are not perfect and neither are children. Chances are that if you have more than one child, your parenting skills have improved. With improvement comes change, thus inconsistency, and possibly in the eyes of the older child, a lack of fairness.

When my older son was in college, he commented to me that his younger brother got away with everything! He proceeded to list numerous things for which he had been disciplined that now barely caused a blip on the radar.

My honest answer was that I hadn’t known any better! Even though I had been able to convince my husband that his brand of discipline was excessive, we still ran a pretty tight ship. As my experience and the number of children grew, I eventually learned that it was okay to let some things go.

The other issue that frequently raises its ugly little head is when one child is allowed to do something or have something that a sibling cannot. I’ve known parents who insist that each of their children be treated exactly the same. This isn’t fair to either child!

Parenting is a never-ending learning curve. What worked with one child may not be effective with another. As I have often commented, children develop at different rates. Additionally, each child has different strengths and weaknesses. To treat them all the same is a disservice to the child.

It’s okay to let one child do or have something that a sibling cannot. To do otherwise stifles growth and tramples individual differences.

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Perfection!

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

When I got married, oh, so many years ago, my husband had custody of his two small children from his prior marriage. Consequently, at the tender age of 23, I became a full time mother! I was also teaching school at the time.

In my innocence I thought I could handle the situation with no problem! I had completed college a year earlier and studied child psychology, education, etc. (I could veer into the at-the-time uncharted territory of full time step-parenting, but that is not what this installment is about!)

My husband, Ed, God rest his soul, carried enormous guilt from the divorce and was determined to be the best dad he could be. In his mind that meant the kids should be perfect. If they were perfect, then that meant he was a good dad.

What I am about to share is rather personal, but Ed won’t mind. Our greatest disagreements over the years were not about money, or jobs, or where to go on vacation. Our greatest disagreements were about discipline!

In his mind a good father raised good children, who were, in turn, always good. As a result his discipline was rigid. As the newcomer to the family, I was hesitant to contradict his methods. However even before we tied the knot, I was having real concerns.

Now I was not raised in a free-for-all environment. My parents were quite strict, but what I was witnessing was not realistic. When I finally built enough courage to speak up and suggested that some of the behaviors he was expecting were beyond what young children could do, he would tell me that they had to learn some time.

Yes, I agreed, but now was not the time! He was literally expecting them, a three and a five year old, to behave like miniature adults. As the about-to-be stepmother, I was in a precarious position trying to tell my future husband how to discipline his children! But I did.

Ironically a few years later, after we had added two more children to the mix, my four-year-old son’s best friend, told me I was the “meanest mother on Mulberry!” I laughed then and still do every time I remember.

Although children need boundaries and discipline, they should be age appropriate. As children grow and learn, their natural curiosity hopefully leads them to try to new things, to challenge the status quo. Parents constantly walk a fine line between encouraging growth and preventing disaster!

Perfection is just not possible and neither too much permissiveness nor too much discipline will achieve it!

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Is Self-Esteem Over-rated?

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J&R_Logo_seal_Background3By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana
When do you enjoy the sunshine most? After it has been shining for days or just after a long rain?

Which victory is sweeter? The one in which there was never any doubt or the one that was in doubt until the final second?

My guess is that in both instances the vast majority of us would select the second option. Why? Because we don’t truly appreciate the fantastic moments of life if we have not known the crummy ones. Life is a series of ups and downs, positives and negatives.

Yet one of the most popular philosophies in child rearing of the past several years is the insistence on ensuring that every child has positive self-esteem. And how is this accomplished? We “award” trophies to every child who participates. We don’t keep score in athletic events so the “losing” side won’t feel bad. We tell our children that their smallest, most insignificant, accomplishment is awesome.

We over load them with protective gear when they ride a bike or participate in other potentially injurious activities. And if there is trouble at school, many threaten the school – because to accept that our child may have misbehaved could harm their self-esteem. One of my favorites is the recent decision by many schools not to use red when correcting papers because red offends.

And parents assure themselves that this is the way to make certain that their children will feel good about themselves.

I wonder how prior generations ever survived?

If your child is rarely reprimanded, how will he or she know where the boundaries are? Children who are led to believe that everything they do is great are not ones that I want to sit next to on an airplane!

At the other end of the praise spectrum – when your child truly does something spectacular, how will he know? Praise, constantly given, becomes little more than words. Don’t you want your child’s face to light up when you praise them for doing something truly fantastic? Then praise cannot be something that is given regularly or it loses its meaning.

As parents, we want to protect our children. Shield them from pain. Assure them that their every action is okay. And when they grow up and discover what the real world is like, are they going to be equipped to handle it?

Childhood is the training ground for adulthood. Please don’t send your children into the fray unprepared to handle disappointment or adversity.

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Common Core Standards – III

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>By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

Although this will be my last commentary on the CCS for the time being, the discussion will continue in the media. Everyone needs to monitor the discussion.

Our children must be educated. We must have quality teachers. We also must have educational benchmarks. But do we really want a country where every school teaches the same thing at the same time to meet the same standards in order to pass the same test? Does this plan celebrate the diversity that has always been a hallmark of the United States?

When standardized tests were first introduced, the purpose was to gauge the individual student’s knowledge. Teachers used the results to determine strengths and weaknesses so they could adjust their instruction accordingly. Teachers and schools were actually prohibited from using the results to compare students or schools.

This policy changed following the creation of the U. S. Dept. of Education. Now the results of the standardized tests appear to mean more than the education itself.

Not only do the tests not take into account that young students learn new skills at varying rates, but teachers’ job security is on the line. This is not to say that teachers’ skills are all the same. Every profession has members who are better at their craft than others. Teachers who do not do a quality job should be replaced.

We have all heard the lament that teachers are teaching to the test. Unfortunately our schools are now administering so many standardized tests that teaching time is being eaten away. Since their jobs and the standing of their schools may depend on the results of the tests, what choice do they have?

Another aspect of CCS that is not discussed as much is how it undermines the ability of the local school board to respond to the concerns of the parents and general community. 10% of the state and local school budgets comes from the federal government, and the government has tied that money to implementing CCS. Not many entities can afford to lose 10% of their money.

The implementation of CCS is also affecting home schooling. Regardless of one’s opinion regarding home schooling, do we really want the federal government inside homes dictating what to teach and when to teach it? As a group, home schooled children regularly score higher than formally schooled children. Why the intrusion?

We all need to take a step back and consider the purpose of schooling. If one child takes longer to learn a skill than the norm, the world will not come to an end. Those citizens who matriculated through the school system before the onslaught of standardized tests made this country great! The “fear” of standardized tests has pushed the start of formal education to the prenatal environment. Baby Einstein, anyone? Parents are stressed. Children are stressed and there are indications that some are experiencing burnout in the middle school years.

From where will creativity and inspiration come if ALL education is the same?

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Common Core Standards – II

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

Do we need standards? Yes, we do. There has to be continuity in what is taught in kindergarten and each year following – at least until the ninth grade. Additionally there are valid reasons to teach the alphabet before reading; numbers before math, etc. Some of these steps fall into the “no brainer” category.

The problems enter when we establish rigid time frames to teach each skill. Not to belabor the point, but young children develop and mature at different rates. One child may learn numbers easily and struggle with the alphabet, or vice-versa. Some learn both quickly and easily and some have trouble learning anything.

Many of these differences may not become apparent until a child has completed a year or two of formal schooling. Some children are less mature than others and do just need a year or two to catch up.

Children who attend a pre-school may have an early advantage over those who have not.

A child who turns five just before the beginning of kindergarten is 60 months old. That child could easily be in class with a child who turns six the first week after school begins. The second child is 72 months old. The second child is nearly 20% (.16666666+) older than the first! In the early years the differences in age and maturity are so much more significant.

And these only scratch the surface of areas where young children differ!

One of the more popular comparisons in recent years is to compare a difficult job to herding cats. I think we might be able to consider early elementary teachers cat herders!

In a room full of five and six-year-old kindergartners, there are likely as many different stages of development as there are children. Yet, by the end of the year the teacher is expected to educate each child to meet the standards as detailed in the Common Core. In many states failure to accomplish this now reflects on the teacher.

Although we want the best educators teaching our children, there are many elements over which even the best teacher has no control. Simple things like getting enough sleep or eating breakfast are crucial to learning.

And let us not underestimate the stress these mandated learning standards have on the children. Kindergarten used to be that year when kids learned the basics of education and socialization. Now if the child has not been able to attend a pre-school, kindergarten is a huge shock!

Are we ruining childhood? To what end?

Still more to come . . .
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Common Core Standards – I

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J&R_logo_seal_color_2.25inchBy Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana
I really did not want to venture into the churning waters of the Common Core Standards debate, but the discussion has become such a hot topic that I can no longer avoid it.

Our local paper publishes an article, letter to the editor, op-ed, or all three every week. The Internet is replete with commentary, and now there are television ads in support.

I first became aware of the CCS while studying for my Master of Arts degree in education. The members of my classes were about evenly split regarding them. What I did not realize was that my state (Indiana) had already adopted CCS for gradual implementation beginning with the early elementary grades.

Since Indiana’s own standards had been lauded by educators nationwide, this change to CCS did not make sense. Of course, the Superintendent of Public Instruction who pushed them through without input from educators had to find a new job following the 2012 election.

Now the public debate is ongoing.

At first glance these national standards would appear to be a great idea. What could possibly be wrong with having all states require the same knowledge from all students at the same point in their education? I completed my MA through an online course of study, and was privileged to have people from all over the country in my classes. Many of these teachers regularly complained that when new students moved into their classes, the students were behind.

They believed that the CCS would fix this problem. My problem with those complaints was that none of the teachers ever stated that a new student was ahead! Now I just do not accept that all move-in students regardless of location were behind. I posed this observation in an online discussion, and no one responded!

The other undeniable fact regarding elementary students is that their development is very irregular! No two students develop the same skills at the same rate or time. My very pragmatic brain could not marry the facts that 1) maturity and learning develop at different rates, and 2) the CCS expect all students to learn the same things at the same time.

In a perfect world these so-called national standards would be fine. We do not have a perfect world nor will we. And quite frankly, that world would be quite boring!

Not only do young children develop at differing rates, but potential learning difficulties may not have been discovered! Additionally remember that everyone has a preferred learning style. This, too, very likely has not yet been discovered.

So what we have is a room full of young children just learning how to learn, each developing at their own rate and style, being expected to have accomplished the SAME THINGS by the end of the year!

More on this to come . . .

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Are Your Children Ready for School?

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By Renée Smith | j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

And no, I don’t mean do they know the alphabet or numbers from one to ten. Are they rested, fed, dressed, have their books and/or homework, coats, hats, gloves, and any number of other items that may be necessary?

I have previously mentioned the importance of establishing discipline and rules of behavior at an early age. When formal schooling begins, the smart parent implements more standard procedures.

Children who have attended a preschool do have some advantage because they have already learned several behaviors like hanging up their coats and putting their items in a specific place. However, once they enter the world of public or private school, the requirements multiply.

Parents need to be sensitive to the additional responsibilities and stresses school presents. Your child should have one place where the backpack – or similar item – belongs. Then everyone knows where to look for assignments or completed papers. There will not be mad chaos looking for the backpack the following morning when it is time to leave.

Having dinner about the same time each evening is also quite helpful for both children and parents.

A quality breakfast that is not eaten on the run is a must! You wouldn’t set out on a trip unless there was gas in the car. Don’t send your children to school unless they are “gassed up!” And this does not mean a doughnut! The teacher does not need a room full of children on a sugar high! And unfortunately, the sugar high is followed by a “low.”

Set bedtimes and stick to them. We all have those situations when circumstances necessitate an exception, but your children will be more successful in school when these exceptions are rare.

Do you have a child who makes the selection of the daily wardrobe high drama? Choose two outfits and lay them out the night before. Then the following morning the child can select the one to wear. The child still gets to pick, but hopefully the drama is eliminated.

Allowing a child to control any situation diminishes mom and dad’s ability to parent! I have heard so many parents lament that their child “pitches a fit” if one or another behavior is curtailed.

Mom, Dad, if you haven’t figured it out . . . your child has outsmarted you. They know all they have to do to get their way is to pitch a fit.

Children who arrive at school well rested, well fed, and for whom there was no chaos at home (looking for the backpack or selecting the outfit) will be much better prepared for the day.

Adults don’t like to begin the day stressed and neither do children!

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Parent or Friend?

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by Renée Smith, j&R Tutoring Academy

Many parents today like to boast that they are their child’s best friend. They view this relationship as a way to be a part of their child’s friendship circle, and (hopefully) privy to all their concerns, actions and inner-most thoughts.

Many of these parents are products of our current culture that encourages everyone to be tolerant, that we should not judge; and who support the policy that gives all children a trophy. These are likely the same parents who threaten to sue the school when anything untoward involves their child.

Webster defines “friend” as a close acquaintance, a person on the same side of a struggle, a supporter or sympathizer. “Parent” is defined as a father or mother, progenitor, any “thing” from which other things are derived.

In addition to love, critical roles of parents are to set boundaries, create rules, administer discipline, and yes, judge their children. How can parents properly function in these roles if they are sympathizers or supporters?

Yes, I know how difficult it is to discipline a small child. I have children, step-children and grandchildren. And how many times have you heard someone say, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Of course, the kid doesn’t think so until they become a parent!

Do you give in to your five-year-old who does not want to go to bed, or throws a fit in the grocery store because he wants that Matchbox car so strategically placed in the check-out lane? We all do these things once in a while, but if this is regular behavior, what are you teaching your child?

Going to bed in a timely manner is one of the first lessons of schooling. So very much learning occurs in the early elementary grades. Children who arrive at school sleepy or hungry are already behind! Parents reluctant to enforce bed times are not making friends; they are creating behavioral problems for the teacher.

Free-wheeling parents who do not believe in following a schedule or enforcing behaviors will find it very challenging to convince a five-year-old that now schedules and behaviors need to be enforced. Proper behavioral training begins very early. Then when school begins the child understands there are boundaries.

Parents must understand that children who know their boundaries are much happier than those who do not. Yes, they may protest – they are children and that’s what children do – but overall, they are comforted in the knowledge of knowing the limits.

Be a parent and save the friendships for your contemporaries. Your children will be much better for it.

http://www.jnrtutoring.com

So . . . When to Worry?

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by Renée Smith, j&R Tutoring Academy

Hopefully, you have been able to pick up a few pointers to determine if your child needs additional or alternate instruction. In this posting I will add a few general ideas that hopefully will help you make a sound decision.

The elementary grades have changed quite a bit over the past twenty years. Kindergarten is essentially what first grade used to be. Children who have not attended a pre-school and/or do not have parents engaged in early learning are very likely going to struggle. Additionally the shift from third to fourth grade is quite dramatic.

One phrase often repeated regarding elementary school is, “Children learn to read until the third grade, then they read to learn.” A child who has not mastered reading by the end of the third grade is going to be very challenged going forward.

I suspect most everyone has overheard a conversation of a family whose native language is not English. The parents may speak to their children in a native tongue, but the children respond quickly and easily in English. These children have learned two languages as a part of their natural development.

There is a lot of truth to the old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Although it is not impossible, it is far more difficult. So much like the small child who easily learns two languages, the younger the brain, the more likely retraining will be successful. A young child’s brain is a very malleable organ.

As parents we don’t want to hear that our child is “behind” or “not keeping up.” We all want our children to do well, to not have to struggle. But we do them a greater disservice if we ignore problems.

Children develop at very different rates. A child may be ahead in math but behind in reading or vice-versa. However, if after one or two years of formal education, your child’s teacher is expressing concern, the time has come to act.

More homework or additional worksheets will not resolve a true learning problem. Waiting another year or two “to see if your child can catch up” will likely result in disappointment. All learning builds upon what was learned previously. The teacher and the class cannot wait until those who have fallen behind can “catch up.”

The website greatschools.org has a treasure trove of great information that lists and then goes into greater detail about what a child should be able to do at each grade level. Remember that these lists are general and your child may not meet all of the listed criteria. However, if there are several items on the list that are lacking in your child, action needs to be taken.

I belong to several LinkedIn tutoring discussion groups. Recently one discussion has focused on the term “tutor.” Some believe it has a negative connotation; others believe that it correctly states the task. However a lady in Great Britain noted that in her country, having a tutor was a privilege, and she was confused by the entire discussion!

If your child needs additional instruction to help achieve grade level norms, then give the privilege of allowing a tutor to help!

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http://www.jnrtutoring.com

Here We Go Again!

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by Renée Smith/j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana
The public schools’ PC police were at it again last week! Two little boys were suspended from their respective schools – one for nibbling a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun, and the other for putting little plastic army men on cupcakes! His mother made the cupcakes for his class and he put the men on them. Of course, the school dumped the sweet treats in the garbage!

In one situation the school made counselors available for the children who may have been traumatized by the act! As much as I have tried, I cannot take either situation seriously. (Okay, I didn’t try that hard!) With all the real concerns in our public schools, why are teachers, counselors and administrators wasting time on totally innocuous situations?

I wonder if the men now serving in Afghanistan or the veterans who stormed Normandy would have needed counselors because of cupcake or Pop-Tart trauma?

Would either boy garner as much attention (by the school) if he were struggling in reading or math? Perhaps . . . but I doubt it.

I had planned to add the final piece in my “when to be concerned” series of blogs today, but these two episodes just blew my mind! I feel the need to vent!

If a second grade boy is suspended from school for two days for his Pop-Tart crime, what are they going to do if he actually does something harmful? How are our children going to learn the difference between good and bad acts when schools adhere to these inane policies?

I watched an interview with the Pop-Tart criminal, who was about seven. He was quite well spoken and genuinely perplexed by what had happened! How does a parent make sense of the school’s action? Do we really want our schools making value judgments about our children based on how they bite into foods?

Suspending seven-year-olds will not prevent a shooting rampage down the road. Our schools should be encouraging our children to develop the skills that will help them make sound decisions. I wonder what discipline the school enacts if a seven-year old intentionally hits and injures another student?

Schools are social institutions and there must be rules of behavior; however, “the punishment should fit the crime!”

Parents, please check the discipline procedure at your child’s school. If it does not differentiate among various acts of misbehavior, work with them to bring about change. Children should not be victimized by a system unwilling – or afraid – to make distinctions in less than stellar behavior!

I feel better! Back to the final installment of “when to be concerned” next time!

http://www.jnrtutoring.com

Is Your Child NOT Paying Attention . . .

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by Renée Smith/j&R Tutoring Academy

. . . or is there a learning problem? Can you read the short passage that follows?

7H15 M3554G3
53RV35 7O PR0V3
H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N
D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5!

This is a portion of an email I received this week. These types of emails regularly make the rounds, and I have also seen them in magazines. The intent is to demonstrate how one’s mind can “read” words not spelled correctly.

The passage says, “This message serves to prove how our minds can do amazing things!”

Reading these types of exercises is often recommended for aging minds. What if this is what your child sees every day?

No amount of regular instruction is going to help children who have one of the many forms of dyslexia. They can look at a word and be able to read the letters, yet just a few minutes later are completely unable to recall the word. Their mind has not developed the ability to recognize and retain the letters and/or the sounds that accompany the letters.

Can you imagine how frustrating it is for a child who does not understand why he can’t “see” what the other children are seeing? Then the teacher may become annoyed, mom and dad want to know why the child is not learning how to spell, and pretty soon the child’s confidence begins to erode.

When I was employed by one of the national franchise tutoring concerns, I tutored a second grade girl whose mother was overly concerned about her poor penmanship. After a few sessions, I noticed that she was not able to retain simple knowledge from one tutoring session to the next – a span of 48 hours. Both of these are indicators of dyslexia.

These are also the kinds of problems that can be missed in the classroom. Penmanship is not a high priority skill and failure to remember “something” from one day to the next can easily be overlooked. I noticed it because I was working directly with her twice a week. I became alarmed enough to suggest to the mother that she be tested. Unfortunately my suggestion offended the mother.

Look at the passage above again. For children with some forms of dyslexia, words always appear confusing, and they do not even “look” the same from one time to the next. With proper instruction the situation can be greatly improved. The earlier the problem is identified and addressed, the easier it is to correct.

Although there are many types of learning problems, I am focusing on reading because the ability to read is fundamental to all learning.

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If the child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.
-Igancio Estrada

 

http://www.jnrtutoring.com

The Definition of Insanity

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by Renée Smith/j&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results – has been applied to numerous situations. Could it also be applied to education?

In a prior blog I noted some possible signs that your child may be having trouble in school: reluctance to get ready for school, hides papers, feels “sick” a little too often, or your formerly outgoing child has begun to withdraw. Other possible indicators are poor homework, waning self-esteem, test anxiety, and/or declining grades. Perhaps your child has hit a plateau.

If you or your child’s teacher have noted any of these, what action was taken? Did the teacher assure you that your child would “catch up” or that it was too early to worry? Teachers have 20 to 30 students to monitor. They do a masterful job, but the reality is that the students who struggle the most are the ones who garner the most attention.

A child who is slowly slipping may get lost in the everyday activities of the classroom.

According to Peg Tyre, education journalist and the author of The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids The Education They Deserve, “Kids who are not reading at grade level in first grade almost invariably remain poor fourth grade readers. Seventy four percent of struggling third grade readers still struggle in ninth grade …”

Ms. Tyre’s statement should be a wake-up call to parents. As soon as a parent feels something is not right, action should be taken. Potential learning problems can be everything from a simple personality conflict between student and teacher to some type of learning disability.

Ms. Tyre recommends the first action is to meet with the teacher and/or specialist. Here is where the insanity definition comes into play. If your child is having trouble in school, doubling down on him or her to “pay attention” or “do extra worksheets” or anything similar to what is already happening in school, will not change anything!

The early school years are so critical to learning. The early elementary years are your child’s foundation for all learning. Problems not addressed do not improve on their own. Better to find out early than wait until there is no question (about the existence of a problem).

Of course, I’m going to suggest tutoring. A tutor has more time to focus on the child as an individual. At j&R Tutoring Academy we do a very thorough diagnostic that generates a nine to eleven page report, depending on the child and the potential problems. We also screen for preferred learning style. Sometimes the solution may be as simple as rebuilding self-esteem.

Just because there is a problem does not mean it will be difficult to resolve. The key is to recognize the situation and act upon it. Stop the insanity!!!

http://www.jnrtutoring.com


Upcoming Events | Springtime in Indiana, Art, Craft and Gift Showcase
Please visit our J&R Tutoring Academy booth at the Hamilton County 4-H Fairgrounds in Noblesville, IN
Saturday March 16 – Sunday March 17
Admission to the show is only $3.50 and includes ample free parking. Children 12 and under are free.

 

Does Your Child Need Additional Help?

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Renee_blog-photo_72dpiby Renée Smith/j&R Tutoring Academy

How do parents know if their child needs extra help? Anyone with access to the Internet – and that is just about all of us – can research learning problems. The good news is that there is a lot of information on the Internet. The bad news is that there is a lot of information on the Internet!

Then there are the inevitable opinions from friends, relatives, pediatricians, teachers, neighbors, and just about everyone else! How does a parent know what to believe?

The next few blogs will discuss when to be concerned. One common mistake parents make is to compare one child to another, whether their own or a playmate. No two children develop at the same rate, nor do they develop the same skills at the same time.

The charts in the doctors’ offices and the books are based on averages. Although most children fall in the stated ranges, nothing is 100%. My youngest child was a very late talker. I was really beginning to worry when paragraphs suddenly began coming out of his mouth! As the youngest of four, he had no reason to talk. There was always someone there to interpret what he wanted! He may not have needed to talk, but he certainly had been learning a lot!

This does not mean that nothing is wrong if a child has not begun talking when expected. I have a close friend whose son was not talking by age three. He had a profound hearing loss. Unfortunately she had to be very persistent with doctors and specialists before it was discovered.

Parents do need to pay attention to their children’s development. They do not need to panic about it. Although I have shared two examples that represent opposite ends of the learning continuum, the majority of children fall in between.

Education.com notes that children about to enter kindergarten should at least have the following ten skills:

1. Read their name
2. Recite the alphabet
3. Recognize some or all of the letters in the alphabet
4. Correspond some or all letters with their correct sound
5. Make rhymes
6. Hold a book right side up with the spine on the left, front cover showing
7. Recognize that the progression of text is left to right, top to bottom
8. Echo simple text that is read to them
9. Recognize that text holds meaning
10. Re-tell a favorite story

If you have a child who will enter kindergarten this fall, and some of these skills have not developed, then a summer program may be in order.

http://www.jnrtutoring.com

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Teacher or Tutor?

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by Renée Smith/j&R Tutoring Academy

I am a tutor. In a former life I was a teacher. Are these two professions the same? Yes and no. Confused yet? Read on . . .

Both professions instruct children, but the manner of instruction determines whether teaching or tutoring is happening. The most obvious difference is that a teacher instructs a room of 20 to 30 children for several hours. A tutor instructs one, two or maybe three children at a time for 30 to 60 minutes a couple of times a week.

A tutor has the time to provide personalized attention that a classroom teacher does not have. The tutor can ask as many follow-up questions as needed. The classroom teacher has a prepared plan and time frame that must be followed. Although the teacher has time for some follow-up, only so much time for this activity can be taken.

The teacher determines what is taught. The tutor’s subject matter and direction is determined by what is taught in the classroom. Some tutors primarily help with homework. At j&R Tutoring Academy we administer a diagnostic test to determine the weak areas in each child’s learning experience. The instructional program is designed to strengthen these areas.

Teachers adjust their instruction to meet the needs of as many students as they can. However the sheer number of students as well as the variety of developmental stages makes this a daunting task. A tutor can go as fast or as slow as the student’s ability and development allow. The teacher must continue to move through scheduled lesson plans.

In addition to basic instruction, j&R Tutoring Academy identifies each child’s preferred learning style by administering a simple one page assessment. That assessment and the student profile each parent completes, reveal the preferred learning style. We then tailor the instruction to better meet that preferred style.

Although many of the national franchises employ “certified” teachers, the certification is by the franchise. When we founded j&R Tutoring Academy, our first decision was to only hire licensed, experienced teachers. Teachers with classroom experience recognize when a child is having trouble and know how to ask questions. Our goal is to fill in the learning gaps.

Our belief is that a tutor is a teacher’s best friend! Perhaps we can be your child’s best friend, too!
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What Is It Worth?

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by Renée Smith/jnR Tutoring Academy of Indiana

Our world has never been more connected. And we have never been more bombarded with news, products, and advertisements! Children start asking for specific foods and toys almost at the same time they begin talking!

What does this have to do with education? Other than the obvious impressions that television and the Internet have on children, all of this advertising affects every family’s wallet.

How much do you spend on Starbucks or mani/pedis? How much is each round of golf or the membership to the health club? What is your child’s education worth?

When the teacher shares that your child is struggling or falling behind, what is your reaction? Do you hope the situation will improve? Do you promise to help at home?

How much time are you willing to let pass by before action is taken? Why are parents reluctant to get help for their children? If your child fell and his wrist was broken, would you wait to see if it improved? No, you would head right for the emergency room!

Yet so many parents wait to see if the situation will improve when the teacher indicates that the learning process is not 100%! Why is that? We will spend $5.00 on coffee every morning on the way to work which adds up to about $200/month. Yet the same amount of money for tutoring seems too expensive.

As a tutor, I have heard so many reasons why parents can’t afford tutoring. I have tested students who were two or three years behind in some domains, yet the parents prefer to pay for and attend two or three different sports each week. Dad can’t give up one or two golf outings and Mom needs her special coffee every morning.

The NCAA has an advertisement that begins by showing several athletes competing, and then continues by stating that the majority of these athletes will “go pro” in something other than their sport. What is the message? Sports is fun! It provides great exercise! Kids learn life lessons. But for the overwhelming majority of students, sports is not going to be their “meal ticket.”

Sure I want parents to consider tutoring for their child if he or she is behind, but more importantly I want parents to realize that the most important years of education are the first ones!  The elementary years provide the foundation for everything that is to come.

A builder, who uses the best materials for everything but the foundation blocks, will soon have a crumbling house! Parents who convince themselves that “it will get better” may be using defective blocks.

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Pay Attention!

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By Renee Smith | J&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

Renee_blog-photo_72dpiDo you have a dog? I have a miniature schnauzer. He is the fourth one and the third male our family – and now just me – has had.

If you have ever had a dog, you know that they are creatures of habit. Whether a puppy or an adult dog, they don’t have to be in your house long before they have figured out the family patterns. Mine can tell whether I’m putting on a coat to leave or to take him for a walk. He knows when it is 3:00pm – even if he has been napping – because that is when he gets an afternoon treat!

Dogs are very good at training their humans. You may not want to go for a walk, but the dog will let you know that a walk is going to happen. When I don’t begin my dog’s supper preparations in a timely manner, he begins to pace. If that doesn’t work, he will sit in front of me and growl very quietly. If I’m still holding out, the rear goes up in the air and he begins jumping back and forth. If all else fails, he barks at me.

Bottom line – we know what our pets need and we react to their needs.

Are we as attentive to the needs of our children?

Young children, especially those in the first few years of school, may need something but they don’t know how to express that need. Often they don’t even realize help is needed.

Maybe they become reluctant to get ready for school. Or they hide papers – either graded ones or ones that are supposed to be done at home. Do they feel “sick” a little too often? Perhaps your formerly outgoing child has begun to withdraw.

Chances are your child may be having some difficulty at school. S/he doesn’t know why, but knows something is amiss. No two children are going to react the same way to school or to a problem.

The earlier a parent can address learning problems, the better the outcome. My daughter had a learning problem. I knew something was wrong and kept asking questions, but for several years the response was that she was not paying attention. Finally in the sixth grade when everything seemed to come apart, I demanded that she be tested. The test revealed that she could not process information auditorily. This is a very common type of dyslexia.

By that time her self-esteem was at ground level. Although she ultimately graduated from college, the time lost and the damage to her self-confidence could have been avoided.

Your dog knows how to tell you when a walk is needed. Your young child cannot express his problems as easily. As the parent, the responsibility to pay attention is yours.

I am sure there are many stories about discovering a potential learning problem and how it was resolved. Please share your story and help a parent who might be experiencing a similar situation.

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Boys Will Be Boys

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By Renee Smith/j&R Tutoring Academy

I have two sons and two grandsons. There is a difference of eight years between my sons and three years between my grandsons.

When my boys were youngsters, green plastic army men were one of their favorite “toys.” I think we must have had hundreds of these. For years whenever I’d plant a bush or flowers, I would find pieces of green army men in the dirt. This happened long after both boys had left for college and beyond.

They used to have wars with these green men and quite often firecrackers were involved. When I would find these pieces long after the boys had left home, I smiled at the memory. I often wonder if the family in our former home still unearths pieces of green army men.

Last week I was playing with my two grandsons. The older one is a big Star Wars fan, and we spent a great deal of time “in battle.” He, of course, was always Luke Skywalker. I played a variety of characters including Darth Vader. However, the greater variety was what we used for weapons.

There were Nerf guns, plastic rods meant to form an indoor tent, a toy guitar, a toy power tool as well as some other items. My grandson did not care what either of us was using as long as we were playing!

Both of my sons are college graduates and professional young men. They are not violent, nor inclined to shoot people. One is a hunter. Their war games as children did not concern either my husband or me, nor did it adversely affect their development.

However, I worry about the atmosphere my grandsons may find when they go to school.

Are they going to be the next headline for being suspended because they “shot” someone with a finger on the playground?

The world has gone mad!! Common sense seems to be a thing of the past.

Little boys like to play “at war.” It seems to be in their DNA. No one told my grandson to pretend that plastic tent supports could be used as guns. He did that himself. His two year old brother then copied the behavior and both of them had lots of fun!!

Ten minutes later they were building with Lincoln logs!

The “no tolerance” policy that many schools have adopted contradicts the very nature of most boys. Although “no tolerance” sounds like a good idea because it is fair, I’d like to suggest that the policy actually prevents a learning opportunity.

There is a huge difference between play and violence. Isn’t it better to teach that at a young age? How confusing for a little boy to be punished for playing!!

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Have You Stopped Reading to Your Elementary Aged Child?

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By Renee Smith | J&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

Renee_blog-photo_72dpiAlthough most of us love to read to our pre-school children, that practice often slows down or ceases altogether when the child learns to read. But should it?

As I noted in an earlier post, children learn in different ways. The learning skills do not develop at the same rate, nor do all the skills ultimately achieve the same level of competency. As adults, some of us prefer to read; some prefer to listen; some prefer the big picture; others like all the little details.

Reading is a more advanced skill than listening. Children begin listening almost at the moment of birth. Reading takes a bit longer. Most of you can identify a favorite book that your child knows word for word even though he/she cannot read.

The power of listening!

Although your child may no longer be interested in listening to the formerly read story books, what are current interests? Or what might future interests be?

In today’s world of instant connectivity both children and adults are hooked up, tuned in or logged on so much of the time, but are we connecting with one another?

Sunday afternoons or just before bed (regardless of the age – every child likes to stay up just a little bit longer!) are perfect times to begin a new tradition.

Select a book that may be a year or two ahead of your child’s chronological age. If you are unsure what that might be, consult the teacher or the librarian. Don’t let them talk you out of selecting that older book!  Remember listening skills outpace reading skills.

This reading/listening session provides multiple opportunities for you and your child.  You can discuss the reading. This process will improve vocabulary and comprehension skills. Children may also begin to learn about potential careers. You just may learn something about your growing child that you did not know!

Do any of you already share a reading time with your older children?

What do you read?

When do you read?

What books do you recommend?
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Should Your Five-Year-Old Go to College??

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By Renee Smith | J&R Tutoring Academy of Indiana

Renee_blog-photo_72dpiShould Your Five-Year-Old Go To College?

Well, of course not!  Five-year-olds are just learning how to read, write and count!  But this is a question with which parents begin wrestling long before age five.

But should we?

The articles about the necessity of a college education compete on an almost daily basis with the articles on the pros and cons of the Common Core Standards.

I am not an advocate for a position. I have a Master of Arts degree in Education. I always knew I was going to college. My parents did. My children did and the conversation of college for my grandchildren began some time ago.

However – not every child is college material!! I tend to be a bit of rebel. While pursuing my MA, I often took a position on a paper that did not follow conventional wisdom. In one of those papers I posited that all of the changes made in public education since the 1983 publishing of A Nation at Risk have not improved the system.

Although the most recent statistics reflect a small increase in graduation rates, the drop-out rate continues to remain above 20%.

I interviewed for a position to teach English at one of the seemingly endless “new colleges.” The students were all high school graduates, and I was told their English equivalency was eighth grade!!!

Over the past 30 years graduation requirements have increased significantly. This, we are told, is to prepare our future leaders for the high-tech, world-wide economy.  Okay. How many of the current high school students are going to be those leaders?  Five percent? Ten percent? One percent?

Let me restate – not every child is college material! This is not the end of the world. The list is long of very famous people who are not college graduates. The two most frequently mentioned today are Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. History is littered with many other great men and women who possessed great talent, but lacked a college education!

So, go ahead and plan for your five-year-old to go to college, but if he or she balks along the way, don’t panic. Who knows? The next Steve – or Stephanie – Jobs may be living in your house!!
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Words Have Meaning

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… and consequences.

My bachelor’s degree is in English and my minor was French. I have always been very interested in language and originally wanted to be an interpreter at the United Nations. (Considering how useless that body has become, I’m glad I changed my mind!)

As a result, I pay a lot (maybe too much) of attention to the words used by the media.

I don’t even know where to begin to assess the words used by the main stream media over the past 20 years or so. One thing I can be certain of is that “fake news” is not a new phenomenon!

I find it humorous that every element of the media is suddenly so exorcised about this. Friends, the media have been leading us around by the nose for years!

Journalism is supposed to be non-partisan. NOT bipartisan! NON-partisan! But a skilled journalist can select words that appear to be neutral; when in fact, they are quite slanted. The slant ultimately generates whatever opinion the writer wants the reader to have.

The First Amendment gives the press nearly unfettered freedom to go, see, do, and write whatever they want. We have been subjected to the news that the media wants us to read, not necessarily the news as it is.

Why is this important?

Oh, where to start????

Just look at the daily news! Whether the old-fashioned ways by newspaper and TV news or the multiple social media outlets, we are bombarded with the news that each writer wants us to read or hear. The truth seems to be arbitrary.

Without truth, what do we have?

We teach our children that they must be honest. They are to be polite; to be nice to other children; to be respectful of adults; to mind their manners; and a myriad of other directives.

As adults, we expect to read and hear the truth about our world. Because we were all assured as school children that the media was non-partisan, we believe whatever media outlet from which we get our news. We find it very hard to believe that the news outlet(s) we have trusted for most of our lives is dishonest.

And the result is we are all at each others’ throats.

No one wants to accept that what they have trusted and believed in could be wrong.

Too many people believe that because they didn’t get what they wanted in the recent election, they have the right to say whatever they want, to protest, to destroy personal property, etc.

I cannot remember a time in my life when so many people have called so many other people so many nasty, vicious, anti-American, vulgar – you get the idea – names! The worst part of this is that much of this is done on national television and all over the Internet! Just what I want my grandchildren to see and hear!

What is to be gained by doing this? What happened to United in these United States?

United does not mean that we all must agree. How boring would that be?! But we should think twice before making sweeping statements and declaring – demanding – that everyone agree with us.

Just think how combative a family would be if every member demanded that every other member agree with everything they said? Talk about dysfunction!

So, where do we go from here? If you are one of those people who feel the need to “make a statement” on one social media site or another, think twice. If you become overly angry because you read or hear something with which you disagree, stop reading or listening. Given all the incorrect information out there, I don’t believe 10% of what I hear or read.

Finally, how does this affect our children? All of them are “plugged in” on a daily basis. There is no way they can escape the daily vitriol. I worry about what the current discourse portends for the future.

Ultimately, we are going to sink or swim together. I’d rather swim.

For more information about our tutoring academy please visit our website. http://www.jnrtutoring.com

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How and When Your Child Learns

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A large portion of this post was first published in January 2013. Two facts surprise me about that:  1) I was stunned to realize I had been writing this blog – albeit on and off – for four years; and 2) Everything said here is just as relevant as it was when I first posted it.

According to my younger grandson’s kindergarten teacher, he is not performing at needed levels in all areas. When this was first shared with my son and daughter-in-law, I tested him to see if some extra work, with me as his tutor was needed.

He tested better than any other kindergartner I had ever tested! And I was probably a little tougher on him!

Naturally I check in to see how he is doing, and apparently his teacher still has some concerns.

Here is my concern – he’s doing just fine, but does not fall into the exact paradigm that the standards have determined that he should. He also has an older brother with a different, more outgoing personality.

As I have said so many times, children are all different. They are stronger in some areas than they are in others; they learn skills at their own pace; some things are more important to them than others. I could go on, but you get the idea.

As we watch our children grow, play, and learn, we realize that they are different. Why does one daughter love to help you bake cookies, but the other wants no part of that activity? How can your son spend hours creating with Legos© but cannot sit still long enough to eat dinner?

Parents likely attribute these differences to personality and move on; however, the real explanation is more complex.

Children – and adults – learn differently. There are four primary ways that a child learns: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic.

The visual learner prefers to see and memorize the visual aspects. The auditory learner listens and follows instructions. The reading/writing learner focuses on reading, referencing, and later writing down what they learn. The kinesthetic learner views the world as a huge playground to explore.

The visual learner will be drawn to arts, paintings, and crafts and will be able to recall where items are, while the kinesthetic learner may leave a trail of toys, some in pieces!

The auditory learner may be the one who embarrasses you in front of the grandparents when s/he repeats verbatim some of your more colorful comments to the dinner guests! The read-write preferential learner likes to read and is drawn to detailed objects.

Obviously learning modalities will impact the way, the sequence, and the time necessary for a child to learn a skill or task. Why was it easier to teach your first born to put their toys away than the second? The first born is a verbal learner who follows directions and responds well to verbal commands.

The second child may be a read/write preferential learner who enjoys activities that require detailed attention. Putting toys away is boring. This child may enjoy a game that requires several steps in order to put the toys away. For example, buy this child two or three baskets of different shapes, and tell the child to put the round toys in the round basket, etc.

The result will be the same. One method will just take more time than the other.

The parent who can recognize these differences and interact with their children in each child’s preferred learning method will encourage positive behavior.

Children want to please. As parents and teachers we just need to learn how we can help them accomplish that.

I am not critical of my grandson’s teacher, only critical of a system that causes her to be “concerned” that he has not mastered something at a predetermined point in time.

This causes concern where there should be none.

For more information about our tutoring academy please visit our website. http://www.jnrtutoring.com

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Every Four Years

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This Friday, January 20 at noon, America will have a new President. Now unless you’ve been in a cave or under a rock for the past year, year-and-a-half, you know that opinions are quite divided about the new President.

Aren’t we lucky to live in a country where we can have such diverse opinions and still function?!

There is not, nor has there ever been, a country where everyone is not only allowed, but encouraged to disagree. There are still many places where similar disagreements can end your life.

The Presidential election provides our schools with the unique opportunity to give students a front row seat on how our democratic republic functions.

I wonder how many take advantage of the opportunity? Given some of the blank faces I get when I have referred to the electoral process with my tutoring students, I fear the opportunity is lost to many.

Each day I hear words and phrases used – and abused – on television, radio and the Internet that confirm far too many students have reached maturity with a total lack of understanding about how their country works.

One theme that I have heard repeatedly is that we are a democracy and every vote is supposed to count as much as every other vote.

Well, no, we are not. The United States is a representative democracy, or more specifically a constitutional republic. We elect individuals to write and pass laws. By the same token, we elect representatives who proportionally represent us to elect a President and Vice President.

I have been saddened by the many uninformed persons who have claimed that the President-elect was, in fact, not elected. No, he did not win the popular vote, but he did win 30 of the 50 states.

The difference in popular vote total could be attributed to just a couple of counties in southern California.

But this is not about who won or did not win the Presidential election. It is about educating our children.

There is no other country on Earth where the transfer of power happens so peacefully as it does in the United States. And we know that does not necessarily mean those passing or receiving are thrilled about it!

What is important about the transfer is that we understand how and why it happens.

This brings me to my concern.

If my students’ reactions and the outcry of many Americans are representative of the level of understanding of the electoral process, then we are in a lot of trouble!

Have you discussed the election with your children who are old enough to understand the process? Are you complaining about it when you may not really understand it?

There’s an old saying that if one doesn’t learn from history, they are doomed to repeat it.

I would hate to think that we have one or more generations that do not understand how our government, nor our elections work.

For more information about our tutoring academy please visit our website. http://www.jnrtutoring.com

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New Year – Same Testing

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School is back in session after the holidays. Football season is coming to an end. Basketball is in high gear. And testing season is just around the corner!

Testing season!?

Yes, testing season. Sadly, that is what the early part of the year has become for students. I already have had both students and parents express concern regarding the upcoming tests.

I can remember taking a – and I mean “a” as one standardized test each year when I was in elementary school. The purpose of the test was to determine what we had mastered that year so that our teachers would know what to address the following year.

Unfortunately, the purpose of standardized testing has been terribly and quite possibly forever turned on its head. Rather than being a test for students, they have become a test for teachers.

Further, not only are the teachers “graded” on the success of their students, but so are the schools and the districts.

We never “studied” for the standardized test. We worked all year and took the test when it was time.

Now the teachers prepare the students for the testing by giving them similar questions and activities. Full disclosure – we do the same thing at j&R to help our clients prepare.

We do it because we have discovered that many third graders in particular really do not know how to take a test. They may know the subject matter, but the testing format can be confusing and frustrating.

But back to the schools . . . I thought the purpose of tests was to measure what a student has learned, not how well the teacher has done!

The schools and their staff get really serious about test preparation. I have seen otherwise good students become overly stressed and panicky in the two or three months preceding the spring tests.

Makes me nuts! The kids are in school to learn, not to make the teachers and/or the school look good! The kids can feel the stress and often, it causes them to actually do poorer.

There has been a major movement over the past thirty – forty years to operate schools more like a business. Unfortunately, the business model does not have a convenient way to accommodate children who just don’t happen to all be the same.

All children develop at their own pace. No two of them are the same. Yet public schools have deemed that ALL of them are to learn specific things at specific times. This provides NO allowance for the natural differences in children.

Talk about the square peg/round hole situation!

As long as we have a federal department of education that controls the purse strings, nothing is going to change. The worst thing we, as a nation, ever did to public education, was allow the Department of Education to be created.

It is no wonder that home schooling is rapidly growing.

So as we enter the Testing Season, I sincerely hope for the best for young students everywhere.

For more information about our tutoring academy please visit our website. http://www.jnrtutoring.com

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It’s Here!

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For those of us who live in Indiana, we know summer is upon us because there are race cars making lots of noise rounding the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And this year the race is even more special as it is the 100th running!

Although the first 500 was in 1911, races were not held five of the years that our nation was fighting a world war. Befitting an event that has lasted more than a century, many elements have remained the same. However, also befitting an event that has lasted more than 100 years, many elements have changed.

The key has been to determine which ones to keep and which ones to dump.

This key could also be applied to education.

I have discussed many of the changes over the past months. Far too many of them have been made to level the playing field or eliminate the potential for failure.

How those types of actions are going to help a child learn is a mystery to me?

When nine-year-old children come to tutoring in tears because they are afraid they might fail a (standardized) test, then I think there is too much stress on these children! When parents become stressed because their four-year-old does not know their letters, I believe we are robbing children of their childhood.

When school systems nationwide adopt a set of standards (Common Core) for the stated purpose of making sure all children of a specific age are learning the same thing at the same time, then I wonder why we even need teachers!?

Education has been turned upside down. The testing has become the most important activity. The testing is taking up more and more school time. The testing now is used not only to measure, but compare students. Additionally, they are used to evaluate and compare teachers, schools and school systems. Why?

Wasn’t education supposed to be for the children? Testing was a sometimes event just to make sure progress was being made and needy areas addressed. We did not need to know if the children at school Y were at the same level as those at school X.

Let’s apply the same thought process to the Indianapolis 500. Sadly, some of these ideas have affected the race. There was a time when an Indy race car could be built in a garage and have a really good chance of winning. Now the “tubs,” the major part of the car, are built in Italy and finished here – all at the same place.

When the concept of the race track and the race was first envisioned, the idea was to use it as a place to develop cars. Cars were a very new idea in 1911. For many years new ideas for cars often came via the Indianapolis 500, including but not limited to rear view mirrors, rear engine cars and turbine cars. (If you have never seen or “heard” a turbine car, go find a film clip. They were SO cool!)

Much like education the powers that be in the world of auto racing became concerned that some were doing too much better than others. Gradually, rules were implemented that dictated how the cars were to be built and by whom.

Now they all look and sound pretty much alike. Of course, we are told that having the cars alike – that really tests the skill of the driver. Maybe so, but wouldn’t it be even more exciting if the driver and the car were made just for each other? Just imagine what creative minds computer programs could develop!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  by

For several hundred years individuals and later individual schools educated America’s children. Then the U.S.’s powers that be – you know, all the super smart people in DC – determined that we were just not smart enough to educate our children. No matter that we had been doing it successfully for a long time! We had to have a U.S. Department of Education to take over.

It’s been just over 30 years since the U.S Department of Education was created. Are we smarter, doing better, graduating more? If you want to bury yourself in reports and statistics, there are multiple on-line by many reputable educationally based reporting groups. Overall . . . some improvement.

Some areas are better, some are not. What I find sadly humorous is that the lowest graduation rates in the nation are in the District of Columbia. We all know that these are not the children of our elected officials. They all go to private schools.

Sadly, our schools, much like the venerable Indianapolis 500, have become less innovative and less competitive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Education

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Can you remember the names of your elementary teachers? I may be a bit weird, but I do. I even use some of them on occasion for passwords to online accounts. Although I remember some from high school, those elementary teachers have really stuck.

Why is that? I suspect it is because they had/have such an impact on my life.

Grades One – Six

My first grade teacher was so very nice; the second grade teacher was very strict, and many did not like her (I did); the third grade teacher was the quintessential “old maid” school teacher who was dedicated to her students; the fourth grade teacher – you may remember her – I mentioned her once before because she sent me to the principal; she was young and after my super third grade teacher, a real let down. Fifth grade was another single career lady, who just happened to be my neighbor!

I cannot remember my sixth grade teacher – either of them. I think, because for me it was a traumatic year. For the first time in forever, our school system built a new elementary school. Sadly, I lived in the area that was assigned to the new school. They transferred us during the Christmas break. I doubt any of us had ever gone to a different school. To this day I can’t imagine what they were thinking – moving us at that juncture!

Comments by Will Richardson

But back to the topic – power of education. A few weeks ago I read an article by Will Richardson that he posted on his blog, willrichardson.com, “Is there a more apt example of ‘doing the wrong thing right’ than in our schools?”

In my short blogging career, I have touched upon several of the points that Richardson made in his article. Also during my masters’ pursuit, I had discussed several of the topics with my classmates. In most instances I was a majority of one who held the belief.

For those of you who have been with me from the beginning of my little venture into the blogosphere, you know I have commented frequently on formal education being pushed down upon younger and younger children. This is a decision I personally question. Early education is so important and it should leave a long, positive impression.

Richardson on Drucker

However, as with so many things if one doesn’t adapt, they (or their children) get left behind. In his article Richardson quoted Peter Drucker, “Peter Drucker said, ‘There’s a difference between doing things right and doing the right thing’.”

Richardson went on to explain, “Doing the right thing is wisdom, and effectiveness. Doing things right is efficiency. The curious thing is the righter you do the wrong thing the wronger you become. If you’re doing the wrong thing and you make a mistake and correct it you become wronger. So it’s better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. Almost every major social problem that confronts us today is a consequence of trying to do the wrong.”

(You may need to read that quote a few times to really understand it. I did!)

Pulling It Together

In education “we” have been trying to do the “right thing.” When I refer to “we”, I’m talking about those in charge of formal public education. “We” feared not being first in the world. So “we” decided that educating children at a younger age, imposing one standardized test after another to measure learning and later expanding that to include determining how well a teacher was doing was the correct path.

“We” also decided that the local school boards and state education departments were no longer smart enough to educate their children, so the U.S. Department of Education was founded.

“We” changed the physical structure of school buildings, and when that didn’t work, “we” changed them back ($$$$$). “We” brought in business to run schools because if business is successful, then naturally they can make education successful.

The Result

A mess! And a growing population of children who are home-schooled and generally have proven to be better educated than their public school counterparts. More non-credit courses at the college level to prepare students for college than ever. And that, of course, just adds to the ever increasing college debt.

This is not the fault of the teachers. They are at the mercy of the administrators, who are at the mercy of the politicians who are controlled by money.

What Now?

I wish I had an answer. I don’t, but I do know that to continue on the current path is not the way to go.

 

Good Grief!

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This is the third time I have begun a blog post for this week, and hopefully I will finish and actually post this one!

Every time I think I’m done, I see, read or hear something else that piques my interest, and off I go again.

This morning, being primary day in Indiana, was full of interesting – and disturbing – news. We Hoosiers have been touted in the past week or so as being the most important people on the planet. Hopefully we all realize that this is just more news hype.

But in the never ending pursuit of “news,” some images I saw this morning were quite disturbing. Children were protesting one of the presidential candidates alongside their parents. These children were giving the famous single finger salute, bearing their backsides and saying things and holding signs no child should say or read. Did you notice that I stated they were doing this alongside their parents?

I do not understand what these parents were thinking! When did it become good parenting to encourage and stand beside one’s children while they misbehave? Oh, wait! These parents are not thinking!

Sadly, I suspect this is the current “Fairness Doctrine” run amuck. Schools are eliminating valedictorian and salutatorian designations because others might get their feelings hurt. Some parents treat their children like miniature adults. They discuss behavior rather than applying appropriate discipline – and punishment.

In schools this results in classes about feelings, political correctness and in some situations the denigration of the United States. After all, some would have us believe, that we should not be proud of our country.

I have to ask myself – which I seem to do more frequently – why do these people want to trash the greatest country on Earth?!

This is not to say that there are not other great countries, but the fact is that no other country has accomplished so much in so short a time. We should be proud of this. Have we become afraid to teach pride and respect for our country?

The image of the protest was still on my mind when I went to cast my vote. For the first time since voting in my current location – and I think this was the fourth time – I had to wait in line! Yeah!! Posted out front were the voting laws. One in English and one in Spanish.

I am probably going to receive some nasty comments about this, but if you are eligible to vote in the United States, shouldn’t you be able read and understand English? If you can’t, then how did you earn the right to vote in our election?

One’s vote is truly sacred. If one cannot read the laws in the language of the country where they live, how invested in the success of that country can they be? The many who came through Ellis Island in the early 20th century learned English. Although many chose to live close to one another, they learned the language and became citizens.

Now we seem to encourage others not to become true Americans. How can this be good for our nation?

We are not all equal, and we will never be. That belief goes against every law of nature. As a country we excel when each of us is allowed and encouraged to pursue those areas where we do best. The current fairness push diminishes all of us. The “equality” of encouraging children to misbehave alongside their parents – in my opinion – is a form of child abuse.

I wonder what George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and even Dwight Eisenhower would think seeing children behave in such a manner or finding the election laws of the USA written in Spanish posted at voting locations?

Next week the people of Indiana will be a memory as far as the national media is concerned, but the behavior of those children will not. For those who may want to blame one candidate or another for their behavior, don’t! Candidates do not cause this. Parents allow it and in some situations, encourage it.

We need to stop allowing political correctness to undermine our basic values.

We need to be proud Americans and rebuff efforts to undermine our American way of life – and language.

 

 

Warning! Read at Your Own Risk!

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I am so fed up with those who want to dictate every moment of a – your – child’s life that I have about had it!

This past week I read in the newspaper – you remember those things – they come in the morning and get your hands dirty! Anyway the local paper discussed the newest educational endeavor was to begin “teaching” STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) concepts to three and four year olds!

This is the same movement that decided high school students should all take chemistry, physics, advanced algebra, etc. and eliminate woodworking, engine, shop, etc. type classes.

As I have noted previously, young children vary dramatically in their level of development. By the same measure not all older students are geared to excel or even enjoy STEM subjects. I took what I had to in order to get into my college of choice, and took what I had to in college. (Couldn’t tell you a whole lot about any of it!)

We are already robbing our young children of their childhood!! I was reading an article a few weeks ago where the author observed that children today have a difficult time resolving conflicts with playmates – on their own.

Thirty/forty years ago playground or backyard problems were resolved by the children themselves. Neither parents nor other caregivers were routinely called in to make peace. Children learned amongst themselves how to fix a problem. As a result, the children learned who the “bullies” were; who could be counted on to make peace; who were the followers, and who were the leaders.

The same article noted that today we have few young children who have developed leadership skills on their own. EVERYTHING is planned. When suddenly faced with a problem, rather than being able to draw on their own experience (regardless of how small it may be), they look for an adult to tell them what to do.

With STEM intruding upon the already over scheduled lives of pre-school aged children, how will they ever learn what they are truly capable of? I can’t think of anything more horrible than activities that could potentially separate the haves from the have nots at such a young age!

I know I keep repeating this – but please remember that in Finland children do not begin organized schooling until age seven. And Finland always ranks high in those “important” world rankings.

Young children need time to find out who they are before one or more institutions begin organizing what they need!

Now one of my other very favorite whipping points – the federalization of education. The reason we continue to have these blanketing programs is because local education has disappeared. The federal government – in violation of the Constitution – controls local education.

The Founders in their unparalleled wisdom knew that the key to quality education was to encourage individuality in both character and talent. That naturally creates competition which in turn generates new ideas and builds a strong populace.

We have allowed the federal government to take over. Those who speak out are denigrated and called names. Everything must be fair. By the very definition of the word “fair,” that means that nothing will be outstanding; nothing will be better and no one will be smarter than anyone else.

Introducing STEM to three and four year olds is just another way for the federal government to control what we do. And they will try to make you feel guilty if you don’t agree with them.

A,B,C or Aa, Bb, Cc

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The longer I teach or tutor, the more I learn! I attended a workshop for pre-k’s on Friday presented by GET SET FOR SCHOOL©. I will be using the materials and skills in two of j&R Tutoring Academy’s summer sessions, Kindergarten Readiness and Cursive Writing.

One piece of knowledge that I took from the workshop is that it is more difficult for young children to learn both upper and lower case letters at the same time. Unfortunately, this is common practice today.

The GET SET FOR SCHOOL© program teaches the child how to hold a pencil or crayon correctly and presents the letters in an order that facilitates learning. The method also prevents children from reversing letters!

If what I have experienced with my tutoring students is representative of all students, then correct or proper writing is nearly a lost art! Additionally, the public schools no longer teach cursive writing, and as a result, children are not developing much needed fine motor skills.

In the GET SET FOR SCHOOL© program A is not the first letter taught. Why? Very young children are able to draw straight lines, both horizontal and vertical. Three and four year olds can draw circles and make crosses. Five and six year olds can draw a square and a triangle. The triangle is usually the last figure a child can draw correctly.

Drawing lines on the diagonal is the most difficult of the skills. Yet, the first letter a child is usually expected to be able to make is the capital A! I can confirm that very young children struggle to write the capital A.

Not only have I been frustrated by the poor writing skills of many of my tutoring students, but their grip on a writing instrument is shocking! I even had one student who would change grips four or five times – all different – while doing one exercise!

Sadly, I suspect this lack of attention to writing skills is a result of the over testing so prevalent in elementary schools today. There is just not enough time to address writing skills.

The other element that has impacted writing generally is the computer and the accompanying hi-tech products. Even two year olds can operate an IPad! So conventional wisdom says we don’t need to know how to write because keyboards are the future.

What has been lost in the rush to high tech are the skills learned that are the result of learning how to write. According to Dr. Carol Christensen, “printing and typing do not stimulate the synchronicity between the brain’s right and left hemisphere, but cursive does.”

The quote by Dr. Christensen was included in the online version of The Federalist in an article by Jennifer Doverspike. She also noted that cursive “activates parts of the brain that lead to increased language fluency.” The same article went on to say that cursive writing keeps the brain busy and lowers the rate of cognitive decline.

I think we can safely conclude that cursive writing is good for children and for older folks as well!

Today college students (high school too) take a computer to class, thereby eliminating the need to take notes. What has been forgotten is that the act of writing/taking notes is one of the best ways we imprint information on our brain. We study notes, outline them, highlight them, perhaps even rewrite them. Guess what all of this does? Makes us smarter and better able to retain the information.

When the information is on the computer, we may read over it a few times. That is not nearly as effective as the “old way.”

And we wonder why high school graduation rates have not improved; why the number of non-credit, remedial college courses has skyrocketed.

I learned so many useful skills Friday that I wish our summer classes were starting this Monday!

 

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