Friday, September 28, 2012

Handy Sites for Homework Help

Now that you are back in school and in the land of homework, you may need a little help. Here are several sites:

Topics covered: Research, Practice, Write, Organize, Prepare, plus other tools.

A searchable database for many school subjects.

A wide-ranging site, broken down by elementary, middle school and high school (see sidebars).

This looks great – can’t wait to try it!

For help with all topics in math.

Over 50 sites about a wide range of topics.

These sites are worth checking out for the fun information and activities they have.

I hope all your homework is fun and do-able this year!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Homework: Smoothing the Road at School

In last week’s Homework: Smoothing the Road at Home, I wrote about strategies you can try at home to help make homework go more smoothly. Often, one or more of these strategies will do the trick. However, they might not and then you need to work with your child’s teacher(s) to come up with better solutions.

Teachers almost always want to hear the concerns of their students’ parents. Don’t assume they already know that there’s an issue. Keeping track of a class full of students and their homework performance can be challenging.

Ways to communicate
The first thing you need to do is communicate your concerns with school. Here are some options for doing this:
  • Email is good because often you can more clearly communicate your concerns. Plus, it’s easy to keep track of your communications because your computer will do it for you.
  • written note works as well but is sometimes a victim of a child’s forgetfulness.
  • telephone call is another way to communicate concerns. I suggest that you make a short list of your concerns so you can bring up each one. It’s sometimes best to start the call with, “I have 3 concerns about my son’s homework.” That way, if the discussion gets off track, you can say something like, “This brings me to my second concern…”
  • Set up a meeting if you think a face-to-face discussion would be the best way. Again, a list is a good way to clarify your concerns.
  • Be sure to attend all parent-teacher conferences. If you can’t make it during conference hours, reschedule. But if a problem comes up before then, don’t wait; communicate your concerns when they happen.

Ways you can help communicate your concerns
  • Be respectful – assume the teacher wants to help.
  • Keep track of the time that your child spends on homework for several nights and what issues arise.
  • Keep track of things you’ve tried and the outcomes.

Ways teachers can help
  • There are many strategies teachers can use to support a student and his family around homework issues. Here are a few:
  • Monitor recording of assignments and your child’s understanding of them
  • Help him organize his papers.
  • Send home assignments early so he can work on them ahead of time when possible.
  • Reduce/adjust assignments. Some students get quite overwhelmed by a whole sheet of problems. Would it be possible to do just the even-numbered problems?
  • Clearly say how parents can best support a particular assignment. Read a chapter aloud? Let the student dictate his answers? Help make flashcards?
  • Prioritize assignments – What assignments are absolutely essential? Are there any that could be given less attention?
  • Break down longer assignments – When those dreaded long-term assignments come up, could the teacher break down the work into manageable pieces?
  • Give an answer sheet if homework is something that’s unfamiliar. You won’t use it to supply answers but you can check whether you are on the right track.

Reinforcing positive homework behavior
In an ideal world, kids would do their homework out of joy of learning. But joy of learning comes from many things – sports, dramatics, play, reading, video games (to name a few). Homework often comes in last place. This is when it doesn’t hurt to sweeten the pot. Consider setting up a list of reinforcements that your child is willing to work for. A simple cumulative plan is best. My suggested procedure:
  • Ask your child to list 5-10 things she is willing to work toward by completing homework. These can be things, activities, lack of chores…
  • Determine what these things are worth. They may be worth all the same, but some may warrant more work to earn.
  • Write a simple cumulative plan. For example: For each completed homework assignment, I get 1 point (or sticker). When I get __ points, I get (thing) / can do (activity) / don’t have to do (chore).
  • Strong suggestion: avoid plans that expect certain performance in a certain time. For example, avoid plans such as If I do all my homework this week, I get ____. Such plans have a built-in punishment system. In a cumulative plan, like above, the child gets to keep on working towards a reward. It’s much more motivating.

Other people
Occasionally, teachers just don’t get your child’s homework struggles. If this is the case, consider enlisting the support of others, such as
  • principal
  • school counselor
  • guidance counselor
  • pediatrician
  • social worker

As I researched this topic, I came across several books that had tips and strategies for helping out with homework challenges.  

 Same Homework, New Plan by Sally G. Hoyle, PhD

 Research Ate My Brain: The Panic-Proof Guide to Surviving Homework by Toronto Public Library

 Homework Talk: the art of effective communication about your child's homework by Cheli Cerra, M.Ed. and Ruth Jacoby Ed.D.

 Homework Heroes by Drew and Cynthia Johnson
This series has 3 books, each covering a different grade span.
Volume 1: Grades K-2
Volume 2: Grades 3-5
Volume 3: Grades 6-8

Home Sweet Homework by Sharon Marshall Lockett (sorry, no link)

If homework is a problem at your house, please know that you are not alone! However, some simple changes may improve the situation considerably. Good luck!

Monday, September 24, 2012

American History in Picture Books

How much do you know about our American history? However much you know, today's books will likely add to your knowledge. Some of the books are nonfiction, serving up facts with terrific illustrations. Others are historical fiction. Historical fiction tells stories that could be true and use real happenings from history, but the main characters are fictional. Both give us important looks into our past.

 A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar by Candace Fleming, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
At the time when Thomas Jefferson was president, the people of Cheshire, Massachusetts wanted Mr. Jefferson to serve their cheese at the White House. They decided to make  the biggest cheese ever made and sent it to Washington, DC for the president. It weighed 1,235 pounds!

  Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco
Say Curtis is a white boy in his teens. He describes meeting Pink Aylee, a black soldier, during the Civil War. They stay with Pink's mother and she cares for their wounds. This book is based on a true story about the author's great-great-grandfather. It is one of Patricia Polacco's finest books.

 Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards
A barefoot runaway slave is persued by men in heavy boots. As he flees, he is helped by a frog, a mouse a deer and other forest animals, even a swarm of mosquitos. This is a new book for me and I am taken by its beauty and power.

 The Klondike Cat by Julie Lawson, illustrated by Paul Mombourquette
It's 1896 and gold has been discovered in the Yukon. Noah and his father join the travelers hoping to stake a claim. Noah is told to leave his cat behind. However, he smuggles his cat on the boat that is taking them to the Klondike. When he discovers the cat, Noah's father says the cat can stay but she must not be a problem. This proves to be tricky...

 Dandelions by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Greg Shed
Zoe and her family  have traveled by covered wagon from Illinois to the Nebraska Territory. Everything is different. Hardly any trees, tall grass everywhere and the closest neighbors are a 3-hour wagon ride away. Zoe, her dad and her sister are happy enough but her mother is very sad and misses her life in Illinois. Zoe hopes the dandelion plant she finds will help her mom feel a little happier. Eve Bunting never disappoints.

 You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer by Shana Corey, illustrated by Chesley McLaren
In the 1800s, American women had to wear heavy, long, uncomfortable dresses. Amelia Bloomer thought this was just silly. She started a new trend, wearing something called pantaloons, which were a little like pants. It caused all kinds of uproar but many women thought they were an excellent idea.

Shop Indie Bookstores All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel by Dan Yaccarino
Dan Yaccarino's great-grandfather traveled to the U.S. from Italy when he was a young man. He brought his dreams and a small shovel. This story follows his life in the US. It goes on to follow the lives of Yaccarino's grandfather, his father and Yaccarino himself. Each man used the small shovel in his work and passed it on to his son.

 The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter, illustrated by Julia Miner
John is faced with having to move - something he doesn't want to do. His grandfather, a Navajo, tells him about when he  once had to leave their home during World War II.  His grandfather joined hundreds of other Navajo men to create a secret code based on the Navajo language. This code prevented the Japanese from decoding secret radio messages.

 Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee
During World War II, Japanese American people were rounded up and sent to internment camps. They lived large groups, behind barbed wire fences. This story tells about one camp and the baseball field the inmates built and the games they played. If you like baseball, you'll appreciate the story and the illustrations. Clearly, the uthor and the illustrator are big fans.

 Aliens are Coming! by Meghan McCarthy
In 1938, Orson Wells decided it would be fun to create a radio drama from the H.G. Wells science fiction story, The War of the Worlds. Thing is, the people listening to the radio show didn't realise it was a play. People panicked because they thought Martians had landed and were starting a war. All sorts of chaos happened.

 The Wall by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler
A boy and his father visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This is a wall on which the names of all the people who died in the Vietnam War are listed. As the father searches for his own father's name, the boy observes the other visitors to the wall. This is another fine book by Eve Bunting.

Some great books answer our questions, others cause us to ask questions we'd never thought of. This list of books has some of both. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Homework: Smoothing the Road at Home

I have very mixed feelings about homework. As a parent, I hated it. It caused all kinds of problems for my son with attention difficulties and I often felt like the heavy. In fact, I thought the best part of summer vacation was the lack of homework.

I wasn’t all that fond of homework as a teacher, either. I knew it had some value but I also knew how stressful it was for my students and their families.
This is 2-part post (a condensation of last year’s 4-part series). In it, I’ve gathered several tips to help make homework go a little easier. Today’s post examines ways you can smooth the homework road at home. Next week’s post will address ways to work with school when more homework support is needed.

Good Homework
  • Encourages the development of organizational skills
  • Encourages the development of time management skills
  • Encourages the development of independent work habits
  • Is at the student’s independent level – not too hard and not too easy
  • Has a purpose that students understand
  • Reinforces what was learned in class
  • Gives practice to strengthen new skills
  • Informs teachers as to whether their teaching is effective
  • Informs parents as to what their children are learning
As a teacher, I can tell you that assigning homework that meets these criteria is not easy – especially if the students in the class represent a range of skills and abilities. And every class has students that represent a range of skills and abilities.

Issues that make homework challenging
  • The work is too hard.
  • The reading level is too hard.
  • The work seems too easy or lame.
  • The child dislikes school and doesn’t want to continue the misery at home.
  • The child doesn't understand what is expected.
  • The child sees no point in the assignment.
  • Attention issues interfere with listening during the lesson(s) when the skill/information was presented.
  • Attention issues make settling down and attending to homework close to impossible.
Kids often have very little power over what happens in their lives, especially school. They have to go to school for 6 hours a day. They have to do homework. However, it’s possible to give kids some control over how they go about doing their homework. Consider these variables:

Ideally, your child will just sit down and do his homework independently, with little or no prompting from you. However, as most parents will confirm, this is seldom the case.
If there is more than one person available to give homework supervision, choose the person who is most likely to remain encouraging. Someone who can see the positive in your child’s homework efforts and not get easily frustrated.

Developing organizational skills is one of the top ways homework can be beneficial. Some people are just born organized. Not me and not most people I know. You can really help your child by helping her learn how to approach homework in an organized way. Encourage her to consider these questions:
  • What would be the best order to do this homework?
  • Start with the hardest to get it over with?
  • Start with the easiest to get the ball rolling?
  • Arrange assignments to match the availability of adult help?
  • Do I have everything I need to complete each assignment?
    • pens
    • sharpened pencils
    • notebooks
    • textbooks
    • a good place to work (see next section)
    • dictionary
    • Also helpful: a calendar and/or dry-erase board to keep track of homework assignments and due dates.
  • Most important question: Do I understand each assignment? If I don’t, is there someone I can ask?

Work Space
The place where homework is most effectively done can be quite individual. Some factors to consider:
  • Close to other people/work alone
  • Closely supervised/loosely supervised/independent
  • Quiet/noisy/background music
A good study space is important. It needs:
  • Enough room to be comfortable
  • Proper supplies
  • Good lighting
  • Controlled distractions

  • Right after school?
  • After a break?
  • After dinner?
  • First thing in the morning?
  • A combination of these?
Consider letting your child choose when he works on his homework and then expect him to stick with what he says.

I hope these ideas will help your child’s homework time become more productive and less stressful. If problems continue, you may need to turn to your child’s teacher(s) for support. Next week’s post, Homework: Smoothing the Road at School, will have ideas for enlisting school help for homework issues.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Books on the Edge: Icky, Creepy and Bizarre

Are you looking for books that are kind of gross? Then you may be interested in a whole new set of books I've discovered. They are Edge Books from Capstone Press. Edge Books cover a really wide range of subjects.
Today's books are from 3 of their series: Horrible Things, Sanitation Investigation and Forensic Crime Solvers. Not for the faint-hearted!

 Terrifying, Bone-Chilling Rituals and Sacrifices by Kelly Regan Barnhill
Here are a few of the chapter headings, to give you a really good idea about what this book is all about: Self Mummification, Gladiators, Fire Walking, Human Sacrifices. Like I said, not for the faint-hearted!
Also in this series:
Bizarre, Creepy Hoaxes
Blood-Sucking, Man-Eating Monsters
Sick, Nasty Medical Practices

 Garbage, Waste, Dumps, and You: The Disgusting Story behind What We Leave Behind by Connie Colwell Miller
According to the author, most people in the U.S. produce about 4 pounds of garbage a day. That's an awful lot of trash. Read this book to find out about garbage, the history of dumps, the dangers of trash and more.
Also in this series:
Sewers and the Rats That Love Them: The Disgusting Story behind Where It All Goes 
Do You Know Where Your Water has Been? The Disgusting Story behind What You're Drinking
Getting to Know Your Toilet: The Disgusting Story behind Your Home's Strangest Feature

 Blood Evidence by Barbara B. Rollins
Do you watch detective-type shows on TV? Lots of them show how forensic evidence such as blood and fingerprints are used. Blood Evidence gives background on blood, bloodstain patterns, DNA and other things crime scene investigators look at when investigating a crime.
Also in this series:
Cause of Death
Fingerprint Evidence
Handwriting Evidence
Word Evidence
Earth Evidence
Insect Evidence

These books won't appeal to all readers but if icky, creepy and bizarre are your thing, you'll love them!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Promoting Literacy with Graphic Novels

Graphic novels offer an enticing way to show struggling and reluctant readers that reading can be fun. Struggling readers benefit because they offer less text and great support to comprehension. Reluctant readers benefit because they can be so much more attractive than the books they have been avoiding.

I have many arguments for offering graphic novels to all kids. Not as an exclusive diet, but as one of the types of books they can choose from.
A few reasons I’ve offered here are ones I have also used when promoting picture books. This makes sense, since picture books and graphic novels are such close cousins. I hope some of them entice you to give graphic novels a try.

They are fun. Graphic novel authors know how to deliver a great story in dialogue and lively graphics.
They are motivating. The graphics draw us in and make us want to read on.
They often introduce new vocabulary and expressions. Unless they are written for very young readers, graphic novels can use a wide range of vocabulary words, often supported by the graphics.
They support reading comprehension and visualization skills. Some kids (and adults) have difficulty visualizing as they read, which hampers reading comprehension. Graphics offer clues that text alone can’t.
They offer a wide variety. There is a lot of variety in graphic novels:
  • in complexity of plot and graphics
  • in reading level
  • in interest level
  • in balance of humor, drama and life lessons

Teachers can use them to teach. They offer a chance to analyze literary conventions, character development, dialogue, satire, and language structures.  
They can increase awareness of how an author communicates.
  • how color affects emotions
  • how the use of print in the speech bubbles conveys attitude and emotion
  • how the author shows attitude and emotion in how the characters are drawn
  • how various graphic styles affect the reader’s perceptions
  • how pictures can stereotype
  • how realism or the lack of it plays into the message of a work

They introduce a variety of writing styles, authors, and illustrators. This can provide models for young writers to try when writing their own stories. Encouraging your kids to write their own graphic novels is highly recommended!

Expanding Literacies through Graphic Novels  from National Council of Teachers of English

Do you already have experience with graphic novels? Please share in the Comments Box!

Monday, September 10, 2012

More Graphic Novels for All

As promised, here is the second bunch of graphic novels.They are also arranged roughly by reading and/or interest level. But check out the ones that look good to you. Outstanding stories and graphics are found on all levels. Click here for last week's graphic novels.

 Mo and Jo: Fighting Together Forever by Dean Haspiel and Jay Lynch
Mona and Joey are siblings who do not get along. When they become superheroes, their fighting gets in the way. Will Saw-Jaw ruin the day?

 Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss
Luke is a little boy on a mission. He must catch those pigeons. The graphics in this book are perfect. If you’ve ever been a kid driven to run, you’ll understand.

 Red Ted and the Lost Things by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Joel Stewart
Red Ted is a teddy bear who gets left on the seat of a train. He uses his thinking skills and some new friends to get back home. The graphics are quite clever, with a faded-out background and bright friends.

 Worm Gets a Job by Kathy Caple
There is an art contest and Worm is determined to earn money for a set of paints. His attempts to earn the money made me think of Curious George and the messes he always gets into. Ends up, Worm is quite a painter. There are at least 6 other Worm stories.

 Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith
Little Mouse’s mother tells him to get ready to go to the barn. Eagerly and carefully, Little Mouse gets dressed. But is that what his mother wanted him to do?

Shop Indie Bookstores      The Day Mom Finally Sna-pped by Bob Temple, illustrated by Steve Harpster
The kids in this family mean well, but… No wonder their mom snapped. This is part of the Stone Arch Graphic Novels series.

 Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
Emily, Navin and their mother move to their old family home. While cleaning the wreck of a house, their mother is kidnapped by a creature in the basement. This leads the children on a deadly chase into the magical world below their home. The story and graphics are dark and yet not too creepy. This is book 1 of the Amulet series.

 Otto’s Orange Day by Frank Cammuso and Jay Lynch
Otto loves orange so when a genie pops out of the lamp his aunt gives him, of course he wishes for an orange world. Be careful what you wish for!

 Bake Sale by Sara Varon
Cupcake owns his own bakery in New York City. His best friend Eggplant has invited him to Turkey to meet the famous baker Turkish Delight. This charming story made me forget all the characters are food.

 The Gingerbread Man: Loose in School  by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery
I don’t know how many versions of The Gingerbread Man I’ve read in my life, but this is by far the funniest. Kids make the Gingerbread Man in class and then abandon him for recess. So…"I’ll run and I’ll run as fast as I can. I can catch them! I’m their Gingerbread Man!” This made me smile but when I read his further adventures and later verses, I had to laugh. (My favorite starts, “I’ll limp, I’ll limp…)

 Adopt a Glurb! by Elise Gravel
Looking for a pet? How about one that hatches from a hairy and smelly egg, walks up walls and plays tricks on you? Consider a Glurb! When you are done reading this fun book, you can create your own pet to star in a graphic novel.

 Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventures by J. Torres and J. Bone
12-year-old Alison Dare is a girl with a flair for action and adventure. Her mother is a world famous archeologist and her father is a librarian and masked super hero. Plus, her uncle is an international spy and master of disguise. Alison lives in a girls' school but still manages to have adventures.

 Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman 9781596436206
Hakata Soy was once the leader of a futuristic super team. When he starts attending Astronaut Academy, he wants to keep quiet about his past . But things aren’t going all that well. How will he find time to study Anti-Gravity Gymnastics and Tactical Randomness when he's got a robot twin on its way to kill him?

  The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang by Amy Ignatow
Lydia and Julie are best friends who are in sixth grade. They have a plan: study the behavior of the popular girls at their elementary school so that by the time they get to middle school they too will be in the IN crowd. There’s a lot to like about this book. It’s funny, fun to read and insightful.

Have you discovered any good graphic novels that I missed? Please add them to the Comments Box!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Learn to Draw! Sites for Kids

Monday, I told you about some graphic novels I've enjoyed and this coming Monday, I'll have some more.

Today's Friday Fun post is all about drawing. Each site offers drawing lessons. Some are basic, some are not-so-basic. Check them out to see which ones look good to you.

I tried several lessons and they were great fun. I hope you think so too!