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Friday, February 29, 2008

Just Improve Your Studying Skills!!!

Source: Campus Health

Above all, Review Regularly and Plan To Study Ahead, so that the night before an exam, All You Do Is Review Material. Avoid All-Nighters!

Along with guidance from the therapists at CWS, students who want to improve their study skills may contact a Learning Specialist at The Learning Center 962-3782.

Good Study Habits
  • Decide what to study (reasonable task) and how long or how many (chapters, pages, problems, etc.). Set and stick to deadlines.
  • Do difficult tasks first. For procrastination, start off with an easy, interesting aspect of the project.
  • Have special places to study. Take into consideration lighting, temperature, and availability of materials.
  • Study 50 minutes, and then take a 10 minute break. Stretch, relax, have an energy snack.
  • Allow longer, "massed" time periods for organizing relationships and concepts, outlining, and writing papers. Use shorter, "spaced" time intervals for rote memorization, review, and self-testing. Use odd moments for recall/review.
  • If you get tired or bored, switch task/activity, subject, or environment. Stop studying when you are no longer being productive.
  • Do rote memory tasks and review, especially details, just before you fall asleep.
  • Study with a friend. Quiz each other, compare notes and predicted test questions.

Preparing for Exams

When the Exam is Announced:
  • Find out what the exam will or won't cover.
  • Find out what kind of exam it will be: objective, short essay, long essay, or a combination.

  • Exam Study:

    • Prepare summary sheets for large amounts of lecture and textbook notes.
    • Spend several nights before an exam making a final review of notes.
    • Stress the following areas in your review: Points emphasized in class or in the text; Areas the professor has advised for study; Questions in study guides, past quizzes, and reviews at the end of textbook chapters.

    Preparation by Type of Exam:
      Objective exams: Study as if it were an essay exam. Stress specifics; Definitions of key terms and examples; Lists of items; For True/False, write some false statements.
      Essay Exams: Stress concepts. List probable questions. Prepare a good outline answer and practice it.
      Problem Exams: Memorize formulas if needed. Practice problems.

    How to Teach Well

    by Mary McKinney, Ph.D

    Many of us have become academics because we want to teach, and to teach well. Most academics I work with were inspired by a particularly brilliant teacher at some point in their education. And many went into academia because of an inspiring role model.

    Yet the tenure track tends to reward avid researchers and prolific writers before rewarding good teachers.

    How can we teach well while remaining productive in other areas of our career?

    Are you teaching this semester?
    If so, start by SETTING BOUNDARIES.

    Setting boundaries is a way of protecting yourself from the small percentage of students who will suck up your time and emotional energy

    The 90/10 Ratio of Troublesome Students

    In most areas of life the 80/20 rule prevails. This rule reminds us that that 80 percent of life's hassles come from 20 percent of our problems.

    However, in the classroom, the 80/20 ratio shifts to 90/10. In other words, when we are teaching, 90 percent of our headaches come from 10 percent of our students. Every semester there are a few needy, or defiant, or obnoxious, or pathetic, or complaining students who cause the vast majority of our problems.

    Prepare yourself in advance for these difficult students by preparing in advance.

    Setting Boundaries

    1) Know when and how to refer students to other campus resources.
    Be aware of all the helpful campus resources available for problem students. Keep cards with the phone numbers and locations of the resources to hand out when needed. Be ready to refer students who ask you to solve problems beyond your area of expertise or responsibility. These resources include: Counseling and Psychological Services; Health Services; Writing Centers; Academic Services; Learning Disabilities Centers; Deans and Department Chairs. Don't become your students' counselor or writing teacher.

    2) Establish clear policies about how you handle email.
    Have clear policies for yourself about when and how frequently you will respond to your students' email messages. You would not allow your students to call you at home at 11pm, would you? Then why do you open and respond to their emails late in the evening?
    You are not required to be available to students 24/7!
    I recommend waiting to read and respond to all student email messages until pre-set email "office hours" - and no more than 2 or 3 times per week. If you can refrain from reading their e-queries, great. If this restraint is impossible for you, then at least keep from answering the messages. Don't train your students to expect email replies from you within minutes or hours. Treat email more like your in-person office hours: a teaching responsibility that is scheduled for specific times of the week. Beware of emails that take a long time to reply to: if a student asks you a question that will take more than 3 minutes to write a response, reply by asking the student to come to your office hours. Decide on your policy regarding email in advance and outline it in the course syllabus. Go over your email policy in the first class and as needed over the course of the semester.

    3) Set limits on how much of your time to devote to specific students.
    All of us have had a few students who became regulars at our office hours, showing up each week with one problem or another. Let these students know that it is unfair to their peers to take so much of your time. Suggest that they find a way to deal with their problems more independently by: seeking out other campus resources; working with other students in the class; or withdrawing from the course. Check with other professors in your department to find out whether they have had problems with the same students - often, particular students become notorious because they wreak havoc in all of their classes. Find out how other professors have dealt with the person who is giving you problems, or how they have handled similar issues.

    4) Establish clear and consistent policies on late papers and missed exams.
    Talk with other professors in your department about how they handle late and missed assignments. Establish clear and specific policies and state it in your syllabus and early class lectures. Try to avoid becoming the judge of your students excuses. For example, you may want to set a policy that requires a note from health services if students miss exams or deadlines because of illness. If students know about this policy in advance, they can get the required doctor's note and you will never be asked to diagnose flu symptoms again. Beware of making your policies too rigid or punitive: each semester their will be excellent and honest students who face true life crises or serious illnesses and your policies need to account for legitimate excuses in a compassionate and reasonable way.

    5) Learn respectful, professional ways of managing student incivilities.
    Robert Boice, in his book Advice for New Faculty Members does an excellent job of talking about how to prevent and manage "student incivilities" such as late arrivals to class, obnoxious verbal challenges, etc.,. Many books about teaching give tips for keeping discussions for straying on unproductive tangents and for managing students who talk too much. Develop personal strategies for coping with these common difficulties.
    No matter how rude a student is to you, always remain calm and respectful. Growing visibly angry in class will undermine your authority. Never be afraid to give yourself time to think about a situation. When a rude student makes a complaint or a demand in class, avoid giving an answer or making a decision in the heat of the moment. Let's say that several students loudly proclaim that your mid-term was unfair and that the class grade average should be raised significantly. Rather than making a hasty response that you may later regret, say that you'd like time to consider their request carefully. Then get back to the planned class content. Learn to gracefully cut off unproductive class discussions. Never put down or disparage your students. Sarcasm in the classroom will always get you in trouble.

    6) Don't over-prepare.
    Decide on how much time you should devote to class preparation, keeping in mind your other academic responsibilities and priorities. Then schedule specific hours for preparing lectures and try to keep within your budget. If you consistently find yourself "overspending your budget" for class prep time, then carefully assess the problem. Are you being a perfectionist? No class is ever perfect and no class is superb the first semester it is taught. Realize that you will do well to provide an adequate educational experience the first semester you teach a new class. It takes time to develop an optimum curriculum and teaching methods. Don't expect to be wonderful at first. Allow yourself to teach a "good enough" class.

    7) Avoid trying to cover too much.
    Most new teachers try to cover about twice as much material as they should. It is much more important to cover the essentials well than to try to squeeze in everything. There are several quick ways of deciding whether you are being over ambitious in the amount of content you hope to cover. If you consistently run overtime in your class lectures you are trying to cover too much. Students resent teachers who run late. Always try to end five minutes early. Leaving a few minutes at the end of class for questions is an easy way to increase your popularity. If you fall behind on your syllabus then you are trying to cover too much. Don't be afraid to revise your syllabus and cut out sections of material if you find yourself running behind. Go through your notes and cull all but the essential points.

    8) Request student feedback on a regular basis.
    Don't wait until the end of the semester to find out what your students think of you and your class. Instead of relying on final, official evaluation forms, sample your students opinions throughout the semester. There are many ways of getting feedback. Perhaps the easiest is to ask students to write one minute evaluations throughout the semester. Pause during the class, or reserve time at the end of a class, and ask your students to write about what they've learned, or what they think of the particular class, or what they think you are doing well, or how you might improve. There are many benefits of "taking the class temperature" on a regular basis. You'll get many great ideas for improving the course by asking your students for feedback. You'll become more popular because your students will feel like their needs are heard and considered. You'll catch dissatisfactions early and keep small problems from becoming large. You'll get a treasure chest of positive quotes from students that you can use in a teaching portfolio for your tenure review or a job application. You'll find out what the quiet students think - and not allow your course to be hijacked by the loud and demanding minority.

    Wednesday, February 27, 2008

    Best Practices for Educating Students about Non-Academic Jobs

    The APS Council in its Statement on Current Employment Opportunities for Physicists (Statement 94.2) noted that students with degrees in physics have succeeded in a wide range of academic and non-academic careers. It urged academic physics departments to reexamine their programs in light of the wide range of possible careers for physics graduates.

    To help departments in this endeavor, the APS Committee on Careers and Professional Development (CCPD) prepared this document, Best Practices for Departments of Physics, grouped under the two headings “Assisting Graduates to Find Non-Academic Jobs” and “Changing the Educational Experience to Prepare Students for Non-Academic Jobs.” Examples of each are provided, but only those based on actual successful practice. More information about a particular example can be obtained by emailing the person who prepared the description.

    This is a draft document, and CCPD urges readers to send comments and additional examples to Arlene Modeste Knowles.

    I. Assisting Graduates to Find Non-Academic Jobs

    1. Invite physicists employed in non-academic jobs to campus to meet with students informally, make a formal presentation to them, or both. These visitors provide students and faculty with examples of employment opportunities, how to find them, and how to succeed in these jobs. Alumni of the department, particularly recent graduates, provide an excellent pool of speakers. The audience can be undergraduate majors, graduate students, and postdocs. Grad students must have input in the planning, and in fact these events can be organized by the graduate student association. These talks are often presented as an undergraduate course.
      See examples from Carleton College and University of Washington

    2. Compile an alumni database that contains the place of employment, job title, areas of expertise, year of graduation, as well as contact information. This database provides a list of prospective speakers. Make the information available to students and faculty, in paper format, via email, or on the departmental website, to facilitate networking and enable all members of the department to become familiar with employment opportunities available to graduates. Also, an alumni group can give good advice on the academic program and how to best prepare students for non-academic employment. While compiling this database and keeping it current is indeed difficult, even an incomplete database of recent graduates has proved useful. In many institutions, alumni development offices can work with the department to provide useful assistance in creating and maintaining the database.
      See an example from Sonoma State University

    3. Provide networking contacts for students seeking non-academic employment and educate students on the importance of informational interviews and how to conduct them. For PhD graduates, networking opportunities can be provided on an individual basis by advisors who have contacts with physicists in non-academic positions, including alumni. Valuable resources include faculty with corporate connections and adjunct faculty who are employed in industry. Lists of alumni, their place of employment, their responsibilities, and contact information provide networking assistance to both students and faculty. These resources should be made known to all students in the department.
      See an example from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    4. Provide students information on how to explore what kinds of jobs they would find interesting, how to search for a job, how to network, how to prepare a vitae or a resume, how to conduct an informational interview, how to interview effectively, etc. For undergraduate students, some of this may be provided by an institutional placement or career office. However, many of these offices fail to appreciate the array of skills possessed by a physics major and the diversity of career options that might be suitable. The department must monitor the services of the central office and provide additional information as necessary. The central career office often does not serve graduate students. The department, not just the individual advisor, must provide such information.

    5. Show students the resources provided by the AIP and the APS. This includes:

    II. Changing the Educational Experience to Prepare Students for Non-Academic Jobs

    1. Consider introducing several tracks at the baccalaureate level to enable students to mold their studies in physics to their career aspirations. This usually includes a track for those intending to attend graduate school, those wanting to find employment in a technical field immediately upon graduation, and those with an interest in pursuing a physics degree to augment other career goals, including law, medicine, and teaching physics at the high school level. Formulate carefully the curriculum of each track. Solicit feedback from alumni.
      See an example from Rutgers University

    2. Introduce the option of internships in industry or in government labs for undergraduates, a very useful way to expose students to the real working life of physicists. Encourage research experiences for undergraduates, not only for learning physics techniques and appreciating the joy of research, but also for improving communication skills and teamwork.

    3. Offer students the opportunity to pursue research in applied areas or interdisciplinary fields or to take courses or internships that might point towards a career in industry.
      See an example from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    4. Consider initiating professional masters’ programs that recruit students wanting more training in physics, but not wanting a research degree. These could be interdisciplinary programs with a track in physics. These not only serve students in the professional masters’ program to achieve career goals, but also help faculty and students in the department appreciate the breadth of opportunities available to students trained in physics. The visiting committee and the speaker series usually connected to such programs also serve to provide information about alternative careers.

    5. Give students opportunities to improve their writing and speaking skills and provide them feedback on their efforts. (APS-Pysics)

    Monday, February 25, 2008

    Standards for School Leaders Get New Thumbs Up

    By Lynn Olson

    A coalition of education groups came together in the mid-1990s to draft model standards for school leaders that would refocus the profession on student learning.

    Since then, the resulting Interstate School Leaders Licensure ConsortiumRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader standards have been used or adapted by more than 40 states to guide their own preparation, licensure, and evaluation programs for principals and superintendents.

    Now, the standards have been revised for the first time since they were initially adopted in 1996. And the big news is how little has changed.

    “Basically, the general footprint—the standards that were in place, with some wording changes—were pretty good, as far as creating a policy framework,” said Lois Adams-Rodgers, the deputy executive director of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers. The council received a two-year, $300,000 grant from the Wallace Foundation to update the ISLLC Standards for School Leaders.

    “We made the investment because there’s a lot more known now from the research in terms of understanding what leaders do to impact teaching and learning, and that needed to be embedded in the standards,” said Richard D. Laine, the director of education programs for the New York City-based foundation, which also underwrites coverage of leadership issues in Education Week.

    Research Base

    To revise the standards, the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, the coalition that first developed the standards with CCSSO playing a lead role, convened an expert panel to examine the research base for the standards. It also solicited advice from its members, representing 10 national education organizations, ranging from the National Association of Secondary School Principals to the National School Boards Association. And it worked with state education agencies to review current state standards and leadership policies.

    See Also
    For more stories on this topic see Colleges and Careers.

    The NPBEA board approved the revised standards in December.

    One change to the standards, now renamed the Educational Leadership Policy Standards, is the detailed guidance underneath each one. When the standards were first adopted, they included a long list of indicators to suggest the types of knowledge and behaviors that school leaders who met the standards might exhibit.

    “Those were initially only intended as examples to illustrate the standards,” said Richard A. Flanary, the director of professional-development services for the Reston, Va.-based secondary school principals’ group, who co-chaired the NPBEA steering committee that oversaw the revisions. “But they became the de facto standards, and that was never intended.”

    Those indicators have now been replaced with a much shorter list of “functions” that help clarify the standards based on the research, but that do not resemble a checklist.

    Setting Priorities

    Ann Duffy, the director of policy development for Georgia’s Leadership Institute for School Improvement, said the initial list of indicators was “overwhelming in application.”

    Focus on Instruction

    The Educational Leadership Policy Standards include six standards, followed by “functions” that provide detailed guidance on what the standards mean. Here is an example:

    STANDARD 2: An education leader promotes the success of every student by advocating, nurturing, and sustaining a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth.

    A. Nurture and sustain a culture of collaboration, trust, learning, and high expectations.
    B. Create a comprehensive, rigorous, and coherent curricular program.
    C. Create a personalized and motivating learning environment for students.
    D. Supervise instruction. E. Develop assessment and accountability systems to monitor student progress.
    F. Develop the instructional and leadership capacity of staff.
    G. Maximize time spent on quality instruction.
    H. Promote the use of the most effective and appropriate technologies to support teaching and learning.
    I. Monitor and evaluate the impact of the instructional program.

    The standards “can’t be all things to all people,” she said. “So one of the challenges for a state is to figure out how you’re going to prioritize inside those standards to drive change.”

    Georgia, for example, has focused on how administrators can actually lead change; create a performance-management system that holds adults, as well as students, accountable for results; and develop competence in leading curriculum, instruction, and assessment within their schools.

    “In Georgia,” Ms. Duffy said, “ISLLC has been the basis of state certification for years, and many school districts created evaluation protocols aligned to the ISLLC standards.”

    A majority of administrator-preparation programs in Georgia are also accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education based on standards informed by ISLLC.

    “What ISLLC has done is given some alignment between what’s happened in district and state policy,” Ms. Duffy added, “and given some way to have a national conversation.”

    In Iowa, the standards have had a “huge impact,” said Troyce L. Fisher, the director of a Wallace Foundation leadership grant for the School Administrators of Iowa. In November, the state board of education adopted the standards, along with 35 criteria for meeting them, as the basis for state licensure. And all principals and superintendents are evaluated based on the standards and criteria.

    “Our mentoring and induction program that we offer at the state level is linked to those standards,” Mr. Fisher said. “So is the principal-leadership academy. So we’re hoping to get coherence; it’s just foundational now.”

    ‘Laundry List’?

    But not everyone is as positive about the standards’ impact.

    “In the abstract, the notion of these standards is fine,” said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education-policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. “The problem is when you try to systematize it into some kind of licensure or testing system for what you need to be able to lead.”

    Mr. Hess, who has written several studies critical of principal-preparation programs, said the skills that principals need might vary by context.

    “The idea that we can come up, bureaucratically, with a laundry list that’s going to fit small schools and big schools is the problem,” he said. “There’s a tendency to go to the kitchen sink on this, and there aren’t 90,000 principals with kitchen-sink attributes, so it might make it hard to find the right fit for the job.”

    Others question whether the standards are driving principals’ behavior.

    A qualitative study of seven randomly selected elementary school principals in Illinois, conducted by education professor Susan Stratton of Northern Illinois University and Susan Seabright-Smith, the superintendent of the Lostant, Ill., community school district, found that while the principals were familiar with the standards, they “were so preoccupied by immediate problems of diversity, special education, discipline, changing demographics in the community, state mandates, and accountability that their actions depended on those needs and how best to handle the existing situations irrespective of the ISLLC standards.”

    Joseph F. Murphy, a professor of education at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., who chaired the research panel that informed the ISLLC revisions, said there’s much more to be done to ensure people have a deep understanding of the standards.

    “What the standards did was to push us onto the right path,” he argued. “Now, we’ve only come a short distance, but every step we move, at least we’re on the path of learning and teaching, which is not where we were 10 years ago.”

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    Sunday, February 24, 2008

    Searching for Scholarships

    Janet Harris, College/Career Coordinator at Rockville High School in Rockville, Maryland

    Parents have been dreaming of this time since they walked out the maternity ward holding their little bundle of joy in their arms. The proud dad talks about his son going off to Harvard, Yale or Duke, while his mom beams with delight as she stands their dreaming of him becoming a doctor, lawyer or politician. We watch them as they grow so quickly and wonder where did the time go. It's like the commercials we watch everyday. One minute we are rocking them and kissing away their "boo boos" and the next thing we know they are asking for the keys to the car and money for gas. Everyone is so excited. This is a great time in everyone's lives. Seniors are getting ready for senior pictures, getting that class ring, preparing for their last Home Coming Dance and Senior Prom and finally Graduation Day. And then, all of a sudden, a lightening bolt strikes and everyone is scrambling. His parents are asking each other "What is happening?" "How are we going to pay for this"? How are we going to pay for the next four years for Johnny to attend Duke? He has his heart sat on meeting Coach K, with the other freshmen during midnight madness. He wants to camp out in Krzyzewskiville and get tickets and be a part of the Cameron Crazies as they cheer on the Blue Devils. It’s a tradition he has heard about for so many years and he can hardly wait to get there.

    But lets back this dream up a little. When Johnny was in elementary school did mom and dad make sure he was mastering those math drills and learning his phonics? Did they help him memorize his vocabulary list for the week and listen to the new sentences he was now learning to create from his new word bank? Did mom and dad sit down with him and see to it that homework was done every night? Did they read to him and then have him read to them? Did mom and dad stress the importance of a solid education in order for him to secure his future? Were mom and dad active with his teachers to make sure he was being challenged, and not just being given " busy work"? Did they search and find summer study programs to help enrich his education. Did Johnny participate in all of the special programs and tutorials that were being offered at his school, at church or in the community outreach programs? Did Johnny's parents surround him with the foundation he would need to prepare himself to take full advantage of the opportunities a college degree would afford him? His parents are asking did they do enough? But lets look at what Johnny is thinking. Now the reality sits in and he realizes that he is now an official Blue Devil. But will he and his family be able to meet their financial obligation? What will he be offered in his financial aid package? Has he taken full advantage of his educational opportunities over the years? He still had not received the results from his 11th grade PSAT exam but is hoping that he may have scored high enough to receive national recognition. But just in case he doesn't, he isn't worried because he knows he is certainly eligible for financial aid in some form. So he chooses to begin plan B. He begins his own scholarship searches. He knows that scholarships never have to be repaid. He knew that the Career Center was the place to begin his search. The Career Center would have up to date Scholarship books, scholarship announcements and applications, not just locally but nationally as well. Johnny now starts to review his unofficial transcript and evaluates his GPA and current SAT test scores. He was so happy that he had been able to take advantage of an SAT tutorial to prep him for his second SAT exam. That tutorial helped him raise his score by several hundred points. He compares his GPA, test scores, community service, if requested, with the scholarship criteria that he has discovered on registered scholarship websites, books and announcements. He has now discovered a wealth of financial opportunities. He is now beginning to understand why his parents, counselors and teachers had been urging him to always do his best, study hard and always be sure to give something back to the community, in way of service, because it will pay off in the end. He knows there are hundreds of scholarships available not only as a result of his GPA, test scores, but also based on his extra curricular activities. Johnny knows that he can select and apply to each scholarship that fits his profile.

    But many of Johnny's classmates have said that it is too exhausting to sit there and start applying for the vast number of scholarships that are available. Many of his friends won't apply which means the odds will shift in his favor, depending on the population that the scholarship is targeting. However he remembered reading an article in the Career Center about a young man that had applied and received so many scholarships that basically all of his financial needs were met. As a result of remembering that story Johnny decided that he was going to apply for every scholarship for which he met the criteria. He knew that as a result of his academic achievements, hard work, extra curricular activities, and dedication he would have a good chance to be the recipient of numerous scholarships. He also reminded his parents that they would need to have their FAFSA filled out and ready to be submitted as soon as possible beginning January 1 at 12:01am. He did not want to take any chances and find out that they had missed the FREE financial aid that they were entitled to receiving.

    Students should remember that scholarships vary from small amounts such as $100 to hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout their college career. These scholarships are there to help defray the enormous cost students are facing when choosing their college. There are numerous philanthropic organizations, companies, employers, donors, etc. who want to make a difference in their lives. A $100 scholarship could pay for that math book. you need for calculus. If you collect enough $100 scholarships, your total will be in the thousands. Scholarships will provide monies for tuition, books and fees, and never have to be repaid. There are numerous criteria when selecting students for scholarships. Depending on the type of scholarship the student is applying for will depend on who can apply. Foe example, there are scholarships for students who are first time generation to attend college; scholarships based on ethnicity; religion; financial hardships; strictly merit based; merit based and need; and strictly need; scholarships based on your major; scholarships specific to a career; just to name a few. There are also athletic scholarships (and some of these also require a certain GPA or SAT score). Many times the student will have to write an essay. They can usually use one of the essays that had been prepared for their college application. With some minor adjustments, it will usually be more than adequate. (After all, you know you've written a brilliant essay to accompany your College Application). Then there are the scholarships that the college or university is offering to outstanding students who meet their required GPA's, SAT scores, and in some cases PSAT scores. You may also receive a scholarship based on being related to a graduate of that school. The criteria will vary depending on the scholarship.

    Students need to know that there is money available. You don't have to be the #1 student in your class or have received a perfect score on your SAT. (Although that doesn't hurt) But you need to prepare yourself to be marketable. Make sure you have decent grades; test scores; community service and extracurricular activities. And by all means don't forget to list in your section for activities, your involvement with your Church, Temple and Synagogue. Do your research to see what is available for you. There are Scholarship Websites, Scholarship Books, Scholarship Announcements and Applications that the College/Career Coordinators provide to the students and are available in their Career Centers as well as in the Counselors Offices. There is NO EXCUSE for a student not to be able to get any information on any advertised scholarship. However if any student is ever asked to provide a FEE for a scholarship service, they need to RUN, NOT WALK, AWAY. Just as you researched and sought out the perfect college for your perfect match…. you also have to search out the perfect scholarship for your perfect match.

    Friday, February 22, 2008

    A Partial Defense of the Five-Paragraph Theme as a Model for Student Writing

    by Tina Blue

    Almost anyone who has taken an English class in junior high or high school is familiar with the formulaic five-paragraph theme. Although most college instructors loathe the five-paragraph theme, I believe that it has its uses. In fact, I like to think of it as a set of training wheels for novice writers.

    Like training wheels, the five-paragraph theme needs to be abandoned once it has served its purpose. Unfortunately, too many English teachers don't allow their students to "put away childish things" so their writing can mature. Then, when they show up in our college writing classes, we have a devil of a time teaching them to go beyond the mechanical structure that has been relentlessly imposed on them for so many years.
    The five-paragraph theme is the standard model for student writing at an elementary level, and its elements have been incorporated into the rubrics that are used to judge student writing in the state-mandated assessment tests that are common now throughout the United Sates. I know this because I used to work part time for a company that scores those writing tests, and I have seen and applied the rubrics used by several states.
    The five-paragraph theme consists of an introduction, three developmental paragraphs, and a conclusion, and the content and structure of each part is also defined by formula.

    The typical introduction of the standard theme is what I call a roadmap or outline introduction. In it, the student states a clearly defined purpose or thesis and then presents the three main points he will develop in the body of his essay. Here is an example:
    There are many ways to create jewelry, accessories, and works of art with beads. The three best-known beading techniques are stringing, looming, and bead-weaving.
    This sort of introductory paragraph is obviously formulaic, and it does not point toward a high level of complexity in the essay that will be developed from it. Yet for an inexperienced writer, having to identify precisely what his main point is and what its main developmental subpoints are can serve as excellent practice in clear, organized thinking. A simple formulaic structure is better than no structure at all, and it provides a base that more sophisticated patterns can be built on later--provided of course that neither the teacher nor the student makes a fetish of the formula.
    A more awkward version of the roadmap introduction is the "announcement" introduction:
    There are many ways to create jewelry, accessories, and works of art with beads. In this paper I will describe the three best-known beading techniques, which are stringing, looming, and bead-weaving.
    No teacher should allow, much less encourage or require, his students to form the habit of writing in this awkward and self-conscious way. Not only is it jarringly ugly, but it is also a habit that the student will have to unlearn when he has to write at the college or professional level. In the real world, no one writes like that.

    The next step in the five-paragraph theme is to write a paragraph developing each of the three main points outlined in the introduction. Each of these paragraphs is supposed to have a topic sentence, which states the main point of the paragraph, and each topic sentence is supposed to come at or near the beginning of the paragraph:
    (1) Stringing is the simplest method for creating beaded jewelry.
    (2) Looming allows the beader to create much more complex objects and designs than she can achieve by simply stringing beads together.
    (3) Bead-weaving is an advanced stringing technique that can produce objects and designs as complex as those achieved by looming, but without the use of the loom.

    In the five-paragraph theme each of these topic sentences would govern a single paragraph.
    One obvious problem with this requirement is that some topic sentences seem to need more than a single paragraph's worth of development. The antipathy most college instructors feel toward five-paragraph themes is at least partly caused by the fact that the pattern encourages students to oversimplify their topics and to remain at the most general and superficial level of development.
    The obvious cure for such oversimplification is to permit the use of paragraph blocs. A paragraph bloc is a series of two or more paragraphs developing a single topic sentence that is too complex to be handled in a single paragraph of reasonable length.
    For example, the second topic sentence (about bead-looming) seems to call for at least two points of extended development. First, the loom itself needs to be described; second, the kinds of objects and designs one can produce on a loom must be described.
    The other two topic sentences don't have the added complication of referring to a tool that needs to be explained at some length, so one paragraph would probably work, unless the essayist plans to go into a lot of detail. But the loom seems to demand its own separate paragraph, even though it is clearly part of the point about bead-looming.
    A simple outline for that second paragraph might look like this:
    (2) Looming allows the beader to create much more complex objects and designs than she can achieve by simply stringing beads together.
    a. Description of the loom and how it is used
    b. Description of the sorts of objects and designs that can
    be produced on the loom

    The same sort of oversimplification that is caused by adhering too rigidly to the formula at the paragraph level can also occur at the level of the essay as a whole. What if your topic calls for two or four main points rather than three? Should you leave out something important to fit the topic into the required mold? Believe it or not, some students will do just that (and some knuckle-headed teachers will require it!), not understanding that the nature of the subject is more important than rigidly following the exact specifications of the formula.
    Similarly, a subject with only two main points may be artificially and even foolishly padded by the addition of an extraneous and anomalous point, which is about as useful and as aesthetically pleasing as attaching a fifth leg to a horse.

    The only other thing that hurts the reputation of the five-paragraph theme as much as such illogically rigid adherence to obviously inappropriate aspects of the structure is the fact that so many teachers make their students tack on a pointless summary conclusion.
    The typical summary conclusion looks like this:
    As you can see, stringing, looming, and bead-weaving are three different ways to use beads to create jewelry, accessories, and works of art.
    Do you see what I mean? A conclusion like that is just plain ridiculous, and it is appalling that students are actually required to write such stuff.
    The supposed objective of this sort of conclusion is to make sure the student ties up the loose ends and achieves a sense of closure at the end of the essay, rather than leaving the reader feeling as though something is still hanging in the air. But if the essay is so ill-conceived that it doesn't feel finished when it gets to the end, then tacking on a silly conclusion like that won't improve it one bit.

    A Defense of the Five-Paragraph Theme Against the Knee-Jerk Revulsion of the Typical College Instructor
    In my department we have what are called grade-norming sessions. We all get together to critique and grade sample sets of actual student writing, to try to keep our grading standards equitable.
    I often hear my colleagues sneer in disgust over a paper they have given a "D" or an "F" to, "I hate this. It has twelve paragraphs, but it reads just like a five-paragraph theme!"
    But the essays they are so incensed over are often quite competent, and sometimes even well-written. I always argue that there is nothing wrong with an essay that establishes a clear main point and then systematically analyzes or explains each of the important aspects of that main point. Unless the formula is handled mindlessly or clumsily (as, of course, it all too often is), an extended version of the five-paragraph theme will serve nicely to discuss many kinds of topics.
    The reason the five-paragraph theme exists at all is that it is a highly simplified model of logical analysis: identify a topic; break the topic into its component parts; examine each part in turn; and then pull the whole thing back together into a unified whole.
    It is not a bad thing for students to learn such a model. It is only bad when the oversimplified model becomes the end rather than the means, which happens, unfortunately, all too often in high school and junior high school English classes.

    The five paragraph theme is a useful model for essay writing at the elementary level. We should not try to prevent teachers from using this model with beginning writers. On the other hand, students do need to move beyond this formulaic, limited model, and they certainly should not be shackled to the five-paragraph theme by the time they get to college.

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Why Should We Do Anything Different for Mathematically Gifted Students?

    Gifted students differ from their classmates in three key areas that are especially important in mathematics. These are summarized below.

    How Gifted Learners Differ from Classmates:
    1. Pace at which they learn
    2. Depth of their understanding
    3. Interests that they hold (Maker, 1982)
    Relationship to Mathematics Learning
    1. The sequential nature of math content makes pacing an issue.
    2. Deeper levels of understanding and abstraction are possible for most mathematical topics, so differentiation becomes important.
    3. If the interest is snuffed out early, the talent may not be developed.

    Mathematically gifted students differ from the general group of students studying math in the following abilities: spontaneous formation of problems, flexibility in handling data, mental agility of fluency of ideas, data organization ability, originality of interpretation, ability to transfer ideas, and ability to generalize (Greenes, 1981). No list of characteristics of the mathematically gifted includes "computational proficiency," and yet at levels prior to Algebra I, this is commonly used as the criterion that determines who gets to move on to more interesting material. Furthermore, there is a myth that gifted students don't need special attention since it is easy for them to learn what they need to know. On the contrary, their needs dictate curriculum that is deeper, broader, and faster than what is delivered to other students.

    Mathematics can be the gatekeeper for many areas of advanced study. In particular, few gifted girls recognize that most college majors leading to high level careers and professions require four years of high school math and science (Kerr, 1997). Students may drop out of math courses or turn toward other fields of interest if they experience too much repetition, not enough depth, or boredom due to slow pacing.

    An Agenda for Action: Recommendations for School Mathematics of the 1980s (NCTM, 1989, p. 18) says, "the student most neglected, in terms of realizing full potential, is the gifted student of mathematics. Outstanding mathematical ability is a precious societal resource, sorely needed to maintain leadership in a technological world." By 1995, when the NCTM created a Task Force on the Mathematically Promising, not much had changed (Sheffield et al., 1995).

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    What makes a good teacher?

    By Mike Baker

    "Sometimes the simplest questions in life are the hardest to answer."

    For all of the millions of pounds invested in researching school effectiveness, and the thousands of hours spent by policy-makers reforming education systems, do we yet have a unanimous answer to this most important of questions: "what makes a good teacher?"

    The short answer is "no".

    But this week saw a significant move towards an evidence-based view that might yet influence the politicians.

    At the invitation of the Cambridge Assessment agency, a group of experts gathered at Westminster to pool their research knowledge and grapple towards a definition of a "good teacher".

    The timing was excellent since the House of Commons Schools and Families select committee is about to start an inquiry into teacher training.

    And it was encouraging that its chairman, Barry Sheerman, who chaired this seminar, said his committee preferred to be informed by evidence based on thorough research rather than on opinion.

    Teachers with the highest qualifications are not automatically the "best" teachers in the classroom

    The timing was good in another way too.

    Ofsted has just issued a report praising the innovative teacher-training programme, Teach First.

    This scheme places high-quality graduates straight into challenging secondary schools for two years.

    In this way it offers practical and hands-on training much earlier than in a traditional teacher training course.

    According to Ofsted, the Teach First scheme is both producing a very high proportion of "outstanding" teachers and is also helping to transform the inner-city schools where they are being trained.

    It also attracted graduates who might not otherwise have considered teaching.

    So this is a good moment to reassess what it is that produces good teachers.

    This question also relates to some of the reaction to last week's column, when I wrote about research that found independent schools were recruiting a disproportionate number of the "best" teachers, as defined by those with higher degrees.

    A number of respondents took issue with this definition of what makes the "best" teachers.

    I should say here, in defence of the researchers, that they used this measure because it was the only one that they could quantify for statistical analysis.

    'Soft and fluffy'

    They would agree, as would I, that teachers with the highest qualifications are not automatically the "best" teachers in the classroom.

    Having got that off our chests, let's turn to what the experts were saying.

    Professor Patricia Broadfoot, a former Professor of Education and now vice-chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire, argued persuasively that the evidence from international studies showed that "the highest quality teaching and learning comes when we have the greatest autonomy for the teacher and the learner".

    The good teacher, she went on, was someone who was "left to get on with what they think their students need".

    This certainly sounded like a rejection of the prescriptive approach of the national curriculum and the numeracy and literacy strategies. Professor Broadfoot went on to propose a much more child-centred approach.

    While insisting she was not advocating a "soft and fluffy" style of teaching, she argued that research showed that a good teacher had to engage with "the powerfully charged emotional relationship between teacher and pupil".

    So, for Professor Broadfoot, the key ingredients of good teaching included: creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and fairness in the classroom, providing opportunities for "active learning" and humour to encourage pupil engagement, making learning interesting, and explaining things clearly.

    'Creative subversion'

    Professor Debra Myhill, from Exeter University, took a similar line. She argued that while good subject knowledge and intellectual ability were both important, they were not "sufficient" to be a good teacher.

    The crucial ingredient, she argued, was a teacher's ability to reflect on his or her own performance and then to change it.

    She too argued for a healthy scepticism towards national policy initiatives.

    Indeed she advocated that a good teacher should go in for "creative subversion".

    By this, she meant that teachers should neither passively comply with government initiatives, nor should they point blank refuse to implement them.

    Instead they should "adapt them creatively".

    The third expert, Professor Mary James, from the Institute of Education drew on the massive, 10-year long teaching and learning research programme for her recipe for good teachers.

    Maybe the wheel is turning?

    One of her top 10 requirements was that the teacher should "promote the active engagement of the learner".

    Citing studies that showed the academic gains from children working collaboratively in groups, she argued: "If learners are not involved in their learning, they do not learn".

    She noted that teachers liked to be given practical guidance on how to improve their teaching, yet what they really needed to develop was their own judgment of what works and what does not work in their own teaching.

    This emphasis on engaging pupils and self-reflective teaching might horrify those who support a more traditional subject-based, discipline-oriented approach.

    Indeed, for those with long memories, it was the politicians' loss of confidence in child-centred learning that led to the creation of the national curriculum and, with it, a system of national testing to handcuff teachers to a framework of required knowledge.

    But maybe the wheel is turning?

    Teacher in front of class
    Self-improvement is a key weapon in a teacher's armoury

    The new curriculum for 11-14 year olds, due to start in September, puts much greater emphasis on teacher innovation and local adaptability to pupils' needs.

    The big question now is whether - after 20 years of being told exactly what and how to teach - there are enough teachers ready to be "creatively subversive"?

    Also, after years of being told in precise detail how to teach, will teachers feel ready both to devise their own way of teaching and engaging students and also constantly to evaluate and adapt their own teaching methods.

    We might also ask whether it is too much to ask teachers to do this when, for some, just asserting crowd control requires all their energies.

    Finally, although no-one explicitly said a "good teacher" needed to like children, I think this was implicit in their definitions.

    However, Professor Myhill did say that "a teacher who hates children may be very good at class management but they are unlikely to be very good at encouraging learning". (BBC News)

    Quizzes and Learning: An Inseparable Duo

    by. ProPropft

    How, though, do we go about testing our students? The traditional long test format has been shown to be updated. Long tests tend to drain students, create more exam stress, and emphasize studying “for the test” rather than to learn material.

    As an alternative to tests, short quizzes, or shorter-length tests, allow for students to focus more on concentrated subject areas. The interactive method of correcting the quizzes immediately upon the completion of the assessment receives favorable input from students and teachers alike. Furthermore, quizzes can be re-taken in order to ensure that a student learns the required material rather than studies for the big test.

    Moreover, as we move further into our "computer age," we are increasingly dependent on technology as a learning tool. Even notable research universities such as Harvard have online courseware. And, just like classroom-based learning, online learning also requires the assessment of student progress. In fact, online learning actually lends itself to the use of the kinds of smaller quizzes that many find to be quite successful.

    By reinforcing key ideas presented in a lesson or lecture, short online quizzes can help a student to individually understand the points that were possibly presented unclearly by the course instructor or courseware. The understanding and knowledge gained by taking a quiz should be individual to the student who attempts to comprehend material. Most education researchers agree that learning is best accomplished when the subject matter is closest to the student; for this reason, traveling to a foreign country is often preferred to the classroom when a student attempts to learn a foreign language. In a foreign setting, the student quickly learns and corrects errors. Similarly, online courseware supported by quiz software can pinpoint a student’s individual errors and that allows a student to take the quizzes that would most benefit his learning. This makes for an undeniably personal learning experience.

    To this end, online learning software can also provide customized feedback and support for a student. Questions that are marked incorrect are given “explanations,” or customized feedback to the student about the question and the correct answer. For example, if a student missed several questions in his practice quiz, his instructor could require that he reads the explanations for the incorrect questions and then re-take the quiz to earn a higher score. Such feedback is a unique feature of online quizzing.

    Of course, we’ve been overlooking the most obvious advantage of online quizzing : the convenience and flexibility that it offers. Online quizzes can be given at anytime and virtually anywhere that has an Internet connection. In addition, quiz questions can contain media that would be difficult to pursue in a “traditional,” classroom context, such as high-resolution imagery, sound, and video. The ability to employ media lends itself to teaching real-world, applied learning questions rather than the dull objective test items that you would come to expect from a classroom environment.

    Long tests still have their place in education; for example, many instructors use them during mid-terms or finals. However, short quizzes are a good tool to use in ensuring that a student understands material and rather than just preparing for the big test. While quizzes are not the only answer to the educator’s woes, they can be employed to ensure a personalized, responsive, and interactive learning environment for the student.

    Monday, February 18, 2008

    How to Sell Your Online MBA Degree to Prospective Employers

    By Jennifer Williamson, Columnist

    If you’re considering an online MBA program, you’ve probably given a lot of thought to how employers will react to your degree. Going the online route isn’t the usual choice for everyone—and you may face extra questions about your degree during interviews.

    But selling your prospective employer on your online degree takes simple marketing skills. It’s all about stating the benefits you offer as a result of getting an online degree instead of a traditional MBA. Here are some of the reasons an online degree makes you better qualified for the business world.

    1. You’re a self-starter

    Those who take online degrees have to be independent workers. With no professor looking over your shoulder, study partner to copy notes from, and peer group to push you along, you have to be exceptionally self-motivated to succeed. Businesses value employees who can get things done without a lot of hand-holding and supervision. With an online degree, you can prove you have the skills and know-how to work independently.

    2. You have solid self-discipline

    An online degree is a lot of work. Most programs require participation in online discussions, and plenty of reading and written work—just like you’ll find at a traditional school.

    But because of the flexibility of an online degree, you often have to set your own goals and get your work done with a minimum of imposed structure. You must discipline yourself to get your work done without the structure of a traditional college, and keep yourself motivated outside of a supportive peer group. Not everybody can handle that. But someone with an online degree has the discipline to get the job done.

    3. You have great time management skills

    Many people choose online degrees because their other responsibilities make it impossible to conform to a traditional college schedule. As an online student, you may have a full-time job and family responsibilities to juggle as well. But an online degree gives employers a clue that while you may have other things in your life besides your job, you have the time management skills to handle competing responsibilities. That’s a valuable trait for any business employee to have.

    4. You’re determined and resourceful.

    Most online students choose distance-learning programs because something has prevented them from attending a traditional college. It may be the cost; it may be family responsibilities; or it may be a full-time job. Whatever the reason, online students often face more challenges than traditional students.

    If you hold an online degree, it shows that you didn’t let these barriers stand in the way of your education. It shows you’re a problem-solver: you can think creatively, work around obstacles, and achieve despite adversity. Most companies would kill to have a work force with those qualities.

    5. You’re tech-savvy

    It’s a given that to take online courses, you have to be comfortable with computers. You need to know your way around the Internet, be comfortable with uploading papers to your professors, and be proficient with e-mail and online discussions. You also need to be able to handle minor technical glitches that might prevent you from getting a paper in on time or participating in an online discussion. Your online degree shows that you’re comfortable with technology—and it’s tough to get a job without these basic skills in today’s business environment.

    You communicate well in a global business environment. Getting an online degree involves hours of chatting with classmates and professors via IM and email. You quickly learn the ropes of communicating in a global, digitized business environment.

    This is good news for your job search. Globalization is a big trend in business—and you may find yourself web conferencing with a virtual team halfway around the world from your own office. An online MBA means you can handle digital communication with clients and co-workers anywhere the world—no hand-holding necessary.

    6. You’re better prepared for the workplace

    Your online degree shows that you’re independent and resourceful. You manage your time well, and you’re at least reasonably proficient with technology. Most importantly, you’re likely to have more life experience than the typical college graduate: you’ve achieved a degree despite extra challenges most traditional students don’t face. In all, an online degree indicates a level of maturity and preparedness not always found in the typical college graduate.

    With all the selling points of an online degree, it’s tough to see why more people don’t get their MBA online. If you talk about your online MBA the right way, it will stand out as a strength—and it will separate you from more traditional applicants. Market your online degree the right way, and you’re sure to get a good response from employers.

    Choosing Online Classes Based on Your Learning Style: What to Look For

    By Jennifer Williamson, Columnist

    There are many different types, formats, and delivery methods for online learning. You have a lot of options, and before you choose a class, it can help to know your learning style.

    Your learning style is the way you learn best. To determine yours, think about the ways you’ve learned in the past. Do you tend to understand something better after you’ve written it down, or you understand concepts better when someone explains them to you verbally? Some people prefer to learn by physically doing something or seeing it done, while others learn by talking about ideas with a group. Most people learn in a variety of ways, but some methods come easier for them than others. Here are some common learning styles—and what to look for in choosing an online class for each.

    Reading and writing. Some people learn best by reading a lot and writing it down. If that’s you, it should be easy to find a class that caters to your learning style. Most online classes involve at least some reading and written assignments. You’ll also be writing when you participate in online discussions. Look for a class that involves essay assignments, textbooks, articles, and a threaded discussion forum for talking about classroom topics with your peers and instructors.

    Listening. If you learn best by hearing information spoken aloud, you may be most comfortable in a lecture environment. Most people associate these types of classes with traditional schools, but you can also get them in online learning. Some online classes offer streaming video recordings that allow you to watch and listen to lectures on your computer. Podcasts are also common; these are audio recordings of lectures and lessons. Some classes include short sound bytes to explain concepts, so you can listen as you read.

    Watching. Some people learn best by watching. If you need to see it done before you can do it yourself, look for online classes with a strong emphasis on visual learning. These might include streaming video so you can watch lectures on your computer; video and web conferences that allow you to interact directly with teachers; animated sequences that demonstrate the concepts you’re learning in class; and a heavy reliance on charts, graphs, and other graphics.

    Talking and interacting with others. Some students learn by talking things over with peers and instructors. It’s a common misconception that you don’t get much peer or instructor interaction with an online class; in fact, it’s usually an important part of the curriculum. If you learn best by working and discussing with others, look for a class with a strong discussion component. The right class for you will have a threaded forum or chat room and will require or strongly encourage discussion as part of your grade; instructors who are easily accessible via email or chat; and group assignments that will allow you to work in partnership with your peers.

    Hands-on. If you learn best by doing, you can find online classes that cater to your style. Look for online classes that involve hands-on assignments. These may include designing your own website in a web design class; researching and creating your own business plan for a business course; or clinical hours at a local medical facility for a nursing course. Some classes involve simulated environments where you can practice the skills you learn online, hands-on assignments that involve real-world application; or an in-person lab component.

    With online education, you have more options than you think. While reading and writing is common in a distance education setting, you’ll also have the opportunity to learn material through video and web conferences, podcasts, chats and discussions, visuals, and hands-on assignments. When choosing a class, do some research into the delivery methods the class uses to teach students the material. If you know how you learn best, you’ll know which classes are right for you.

    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    How to Make Your Child Learn to Write Well

    American children must be ready to learn from the first day of school. And of course, preparing children for school is a historic responsibility of parents.

    Should you help your child with writing?

    Yes, if you want your child to:

    • Do well in school
    • Enjoy self-expression
    • Become more self-reliant

    You know how important writing will be to your child's life. It will be important from first-grade through college and throughout adulthood.

    Writing is:

    Practical. Most of us make lists, jot down reminders, and write notes and instructions at least occasionally.

    Job-Related. Professional and white-collar workers write frequently--preparing memos, letters, briefing papers, sales reports, articles, research reports, proposals, and the like. Most workers do "some" writing on the job.

    Stimulating. Writing helps to provoke thoughts and to organize them logically and concisely.

    Social. Most of us write thank-you notes and letters to friends at least now and then.

    Therapeutic. It can be helpful to express feelings in writing that cannot be expressed so easily by speaking.

    Unfortunately, "many schools are unable to give children sufficient instruction in writing." There are various reasons: teachers aren't trained to teach writing skills, writing classes may be too large, it's often difficult to measure writing skills, etc.

    Study after study shows that students' writing lacks clarity, coherence, and organization. Only a few students can write persuasive essays or competent business letters. As many as one out of four have serious writing difficulties. And students say they like writing less and less as they go through school.

    That's why the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) suggests that you help your child with writing. OERI believes you, a parent, can make a big difference. You can use helping strategies that are simple and fun. You can use them to help your child learn to write well--and to enjoy doing it! This leaflet tells you how.

    Things to Know

    Writing is more than putting words on paper. It's a final stage in the complex process of communicating that begins with "thinking." Writing is an especially important stage in communication, the intent being to leave no room for doubt. Has any country ratified a verbal treaty?

    One of the first means of communication for your child is through drawing. Do encourage the child to draw and to discuss his/her drawings. Ask questions: What is the boy doing? Does the house look like ours? Can you tell a story about this picture?

    Most children's basic speech patterns are formed by the time they enter school. By that time children speak clearly, recognize most letters of the alphabet, and may try to write. Show an interest in, and ask questions about, the things your child says, draws, and may try to write.

    Writing well requires:

    • CLEAR THINKING. Sometimes the child needs to have his/her memory refreshed about a past event in order to write about it.

    • SUFFICIENT TIME. Children may have `stories in their heads' but need time to think them through and write them down. School class periods are often not long enough.

    • READING. Reading can stimulate a child to write about his/her own family or school life. If your child reads good books, (s)he will be a better writer.

    • A MEANINGFUL TASK. A child needs meaningful, not artificial writing tasks. You'll find suggestions for such tasks in the section, "Things To Do."

    • INTEREST. All the time in the world won't help if there is nothing to write, nothing to say. Some of the reasons for writing include: sending messages, keeping records, expressing feelings, or relaying information.

    • PRACTICE. And more practice.

    • REVISING. Students need experience in revising their work-- i.e, seeing what they can do to make it clearer, more descriptive, more concise, etc.

    Pointers For Parents

    In helping your child to learn to write well, remember that your goal is to make writing easier and more enjoyable.

    Provide A Place. It's important for a child to have a good place to write--a desk or table with a smooth, flat surface and good lighting.

    Have the Materials. Provide plenty of paper--lined and unlined--and things to write with, including pencils, pens, and crayons.

    Allow Time. Help your child spend time thinking about a writing project or exercise. Good writers do a great deal of thinking. Your child may dawdle, sharpen a pencil, get papers ready, or look up the spelling of a word. Be patient--your child may be thinking.

    Respond. Do respond to the ideas your child expresses verbally or in writing. Make it clear that you are interested in the true function of writing which is to convey ideas. This means focusing on "what" the child has written, not "how" it was written. It's usually wise to ignore minor errors, particularly at the stage when your child is just getting ideas together.

    Don't You Write It! Don't write a paper for your child that will be turned in as his/her work. Never rewrite a child's work. Meeting a writing deadline, taking responsibility for the finished product, and feeling ownership of it are important parts of writing well.

    Praise. Take a positive approach and say something good about your child's writing. Is it accurate? Descriptive? Thoughtful? Interesting? Does it say something?

    Things To Do

    Make It Real. Your child needs to do real writing. It's more important for the child to write a letter to a relative than it is to write a one-line note on a greeting card. Encourage the child to write to relatives and friends. Perhaps your child would enjoy corresponding with a pen pal.

    Suggest Note-Taking. Encourage your child to take notes on trips or outings and to describe what (s)he saw. This could include a description of nature walks, a boat ride, a car trip, or other events that lend themselves to note-taking.

    Brainstorm. Talk with your child as much as possible about his/her impressions and encourage the child to describe people and events to you. If the child's description is especially accurate and colorful, say so.

    Encourage Keeping A Journal. This is excellent writing practice as well as a good outlet for venting feelings. Encourage your child to write about things that happen at home and school, about people (s)he likes or dislikes and why, things to remember or things the child wants to do. Especially encourage your child to write about personal feelings--pleasures as well as disappointments. If the child wants to share the journal with you, read the entries and discuss them--especially the child's ideas and perceptions.

    Write Together. Have your child help you with letters, even such routine ones as ordering items from an advertisment or writing to a business firm. This helps the child to see firsthand that writing is important to adults and truly useful.

    Use Games. There are numerous games and puzzles that help a child to increase vocabulary and make the child more fluent in speaking and writing. Remember, building a vocabulary builds confidence. Try crossword puzzles, word games, anagrams and cryptograms de- signed especially for children. Flash cards are good, too, and they're easy to make at home.

    Suggest Making Lists. Most children like to make lists just as they like to count. Encourage this. Making lists is good practice and helps a child to become more organized. Boys and girls might make lists of their records, tapes, baseball cards, dolls, furniture in a room, etc. They could include items they want. It's also good practice to make lists of things to do, schoolwork, dates for tests, social events, and other reminders.

    Encourage Copying. If a child likes a particular song, suggest learning the words by writing them down--replaying the song on your stereo/tape player or jotting down the words whenever the song is played on a radio program. Also encourage copying favorite poems or quotations from books and plays. (Source; U.S. Department of Education)