Throw Down a Challenge the First Week of School

The first week of school can be a letdown.  The kids so looked forward to it, but the reality is they’re mostly just learning procedure and playing getting-to-know-you games with same kids they’ve been stuck placed with for years.

I highly recommend that you actively teach on the first day of school.  I already wrote a blog entry about that, so here is a refinement on the concept.

Throw Down a Challenge!

Make it voluntary, and make it a stretch—but not too big of a stretch.  You want something in the class’s Zone of Proximal Development.  (The teacher word for the level that’s within reach but a little bit of a stretch.)

Memorizing a short poem, learning the names of the continents, mastering a times table, writing a story or essay, finishing a back-to-school review packet—these are just a few example of possible challenges.

You might consider discussing your challenge with teachers in the grade level below you to see if it is appropriate.

Give the students about 5 school days to do the challenge.  You can have some sort of small reward, or you can just have students who achieve the goal write their names on the board or put their names on a bulletin board.  Your call.

I like to give whole-class incentives for 100% attainment of a goal, but I wouldn’t do that with the first challenge.  You don’t know your students well enough, and the challenge might be way beyond some of them.

I hope you find that throwing down a challenge is a fun and educational experience for your class.

Posted in Back to School,Classroom Management by Corey Green @ Sep 9, 2011


Best Multiplication Workbook EVER! Wins Awards

Best Multiplication Workbook EVER!Great news!  My newest math learning product, Best Multiplication Workbook EVER! won two awards for 2011:  Dr. Toy’s Top 100 products and Dr. Toy’s Top 10 Educational Products.

“This innovative math workbook is useful for home or school, when multiplication is introduced or for remedial work in other grades. This workbook focuses on how kids think, how they learn, and how they have fun learning new material.”

Click here to learn more about the workbook and the FREE software you can download for addition and times tables practice.

Who is Dr. Toy?  Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, is one of the nation’s and world’s leading experts on play, toys, and children’s products.  Dr. Toy started her career as a teaching and reading specialist, helped establish the first childcare centers for federal employees, and founded the San Francisco International Toy Museum.  You have to love her for this: Dr. Auerbach was responsible for approving the first Department of Education grant to Sesame Street!

With 30 years of specialized experience, Dr. Auerbach evaluates educationally oriented, developmental and skill building products from the best large and small companies in four annual awards programs.  Parents, teachers and toy buyers rely on Dr. Toy’s guidance in selecting products for children.

Dr. Toy’s motto is “Let’s play!”  Best Multiplication Workbook EVER! perfectly fits Dr. Toy’s philosophy that play is educational, and education can be fun.  I totally agree with Dr. Toy that one of the best teaching techniques (EVER!) is helping kids discover that learning is fun!

Thank you, Dr. Toy!

Posted in Academics,Math by Corey Green @ Sep 6, 2011


How to Organize Supplies from Meet the Teacher Night

At many schools, families bring items from the school supplies list to Meet the Teacher Night.  Nowadays, most supplies are collected by the teacher to be used by the whole class.

I highly recommend that you implement a system for dealing with these goods.  If you don’t, you will spend hours dealing with school supplies.

Cubbies are ideal.  You can make quick labels saying things like “paper,” “Kleenex” or “pencils” and families will sort the supplies for you.  The kids really enjoy it, and parents are happy to help.  Set aside ample room for bulky supplies like tissue, reams of copy paper, and Clorox wipes.

If you don’t have cubbies, designate bins, countertops, bookshelves, student desks, tables, or just patches on the floor for various supplies.  You’ll be glad that the supplies are at least sorted.

You can put the supplies away before school starts—or not.  If school starts the day after Meet the Teacher Night, don’t deal with the supplies after families leave.  Just go home and get some sleep!  The kids can help you put them away.  It’s a fun team-building activity.  Really.

Veteran teachers: showing new teachers how to do this is probably the number one thing you can do to help short of assisting in actual classroom setup.  Last year I showed our new kindergarten teachers how to do this, and they all said I saved them hours.


Meet the Teacher Night: A Guide for Families

Many schools hold Meet the Teacher Night a day or two before school starts.  If your school offers this, be sure to attend.  The event can allay many back-to-school jitters for parents and for students.

Meet the Teacher Night is just that—a chance to meet the teacher.  Don’t plan on having a parent-teacher conference of any length.  The classroom will be full of other families and the teacher’s attention is divided.

If you have an important message that the teacher must know on Day 1, give it in two forms: oral and written.  Introduce yourself and your child, then give your important message.  Stress that it’s important.  It’s also a good idea to leave a short note on your child’s desk, or the teacher’s desk.  Only do this for something truly critical, like a health issue.

Don’t get too worked up about who is or isn’t in your child’s new class.  These things tend to work out.  One exception is if your child is placed with a student who bullied him or her last year.  Alert the teacher in private, but you really need to talk with the principal that night, and tell the teacher you are doing so.

Some schools have a tradition of families bringing in school supplies for Meet the Teacher Night.  If so, be sure to participate because you can lighten your child’s load on the first day of school.

Posted in Back to School by Corey Green @ Aug 25, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Write Something!

Assessments abound at back to school time, and one test your child will face is the “Writing Sample.” Shortly after spending a summer goofing off, your child will be tasked with spending several hours (over a few days) to write an essay.

It’s pretty obvious to most teachers that many students never even hold a pencil during summer break. Imagine your child dealing with that on top of the stress of having to write an essay. The results aren’t pretty.

You can help your child by encouraging him to write something—even a paragraph—before school starts. It will make a difference. By the way, this is a good time to have the “what is a paragraph?” talk with your child. I can’t tell you how many children ask me that question during the writing sample. It’s a good thing that last year’s teacher can’t hear them.

Note: I don’t want to cause stress to you and your child about these back-to-school assessments. I merely want to show you how to help your child brush up skills so her work reflects their actual ability, not the results of summer slide.

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents,Writing by Corey Green @ Aug 19, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Practice Reading Aloud

How is your child at reading aloud? Did you know that this one skill is the main reading diagnostic test for many schools?*

As you prepare for back to school, I strongly suggest that you have your child practice reading aloud. This skill often takes a big hit during summer slide; nevertheless, students usually are evaluated on reading aloud within the first week of school. Have your child practice with appropriate grade-level books if you can, but use easier books if your child is not a strong reader. Check for fluency: a natural cadence, automatic word decoding, good pronunciation and accuracy.

Ten minutes a day is plenty for a child who already reads at grade level (or did at the end of last school year.) If your child was just barely making it last school year, this summer practice is essential and should be longer. You’ll probably want to break it into two fifteen minute chunks a day, more if the child is motivated. For struggling readers, you might want to read the material aloud before the child reads it. Another trick is to read aloud with your child, pulling him along. This is better than having the child stumble through the text.

*One common test is DIBELS, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. It measures how many words your child accurately reads from a grade-level passage in a minute. Schools use this test to quickly identify struggling readers. Teachers often use it to form reading groups.

Note: I don’t want to cause stress to you and your child about these back-to-school assessments. I merely want to show you how to help your child brush up skills so her work reflects actual ability, not the effects of summer slide.

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Aug 16, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Read a Chapter Book

Many students have nervous jitters at back to school time. It helps to brush up on skills before returning to the classroom.

Ideally, you encouraged your child to read all summer. Regardless, reading a chapter book the week before school starts can make a difference. Besides the obvious benefits of improving skills, reading a chapter book puts your child back in an academic frame of mind. The experience of reading reawakens the child’s vocabulary, important for tests like Star Reading.

I think the most important benefit of reading a chapter book before school starts is extending the child’s attention span. Reading a chapter book (or listening to a parent read aloud) helps avoid this problem for your child.

I know a teacher who distributes a short chapter book to each entering sixth grader at Meet the Teacher Night, two days before school starts. Each child is given homework: finish the book and be ready to take an AR (Accelerated Reader) test on the first day of school. This exercise shows the students and families that sixth grade is serious and provides all the benefits I just described.

Note: I don’t want to cause stress to you and your child about these back-to-school assessments. I merely want to show you how to help your child brush up skills so her work reflects actual ability, not the effects of summer slide.

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Aug 11, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Review basic facts

Kids and teachers know: back to school is the real New Year. Kids are full of nervous jitters at this exciting time. You can really help by reviewing key concepts before the first day of school.

Ideally, you followed some sort of program to combat summer slide, that significant decline in skills over the prolonged time off. Regardless, a concerted effort the week before school starts can make a difference.

Review basic math facts! I can’t stress this enough. Your child needs to get the same (correct) answer every time. Quick test: ask your child what 5+8 is. If your child doesn’t answer immediately, she needs to study. If your child was super-slow to solve 5+8, back up with easier problems like 3+2, and, last ditch, 3+1. The results might horrify surprise you.

Use flash cards, math games, drill worksheets from Dad’s Worksheets, or my free software: Best Times Tables Practice EVER! and Best Addition Practice EVER!

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Aug 8, 2011