Monday, April 27, 2015

More good books

Radio Commentary

We know that no single book has all the answers when it comes to good parenting. Even experts disagree on the best practices. Still, we know it can be helpful to read the parenting classics, so here are some bestsellers to consider.

Two competing books offer some good insights on sleep issues.

Dr. Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems became famous for “Ferber-izing” your baby. This is also known as the “Cry It Out Method.” Dr. Ferber gives step-by-step instructions, and this book is still considered one of the gold standards when it comes to getting a child to sleep through the night and nap during the day.

Taking a counter-approach is The No-Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley. 
It is set up like a workbook, allowing parents to review options and put together a customized sleep plan unique to their baby’s needs.

For those who want to gather information at an earlier point, there is the bestselling series, What to Expect When you’re Expecting, by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel.

Nearly 90 percent of pregnant women read these books, and more than 34 million copies have been sold in the last 30 years. The books in this series are revised to provide up-to-date advice, including information about every stage of pregnancy.

Remember, it’s best to trust your own heart and your own judgment. No one knows your body or your children better than you do. You may not feel like the ultimate expert, but when it comes to your children, you truly are.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Charting success

Radio Commentary

It can be fun for children to create a “success chart” by designing a bar graph or a line graph to show progress on various tasks.

Be sure to keep the goals realistic. You might want to coordinate the plan with your child’s teacher, factoring in school effort or improvement.

Start out with smaller goals so your child can gain some positive momentum that can lead to larger successes. Talk with your child to increase their understanding and buy-in.

Building in incentives can be an important part of this activity.

Figure out what types of items work best in your family.

Rewards like a family activity, movie, or a computer game rental might be the right way to go.

Monetary rewards for reaching a goal might be appropriate if children learn to save it for something they really want, or use it to support an important cause.

Though positive reinforcement is an effective tool in changing behavior, everyone reacts differently. What is right for one child might not work well for another, so work with each child individually.

Allowing your children to chart their own progress is a great way for them to see and experience results.

And seeing improvement in such a graphic fashion can show them that their efforts do actually pay off. The hope is that they will see that hard work yields graphic results. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Common Core explained — What, why, and how we measure student success

News column

Few things excite the passions of concerned parents more than substantive changes to the ways in which their children are taught and their progress is measured. The new “Common Core” set of standards for teaching and learning being enacted nationwide has a lot of parents and teachers very excited, though there are some who are understandably concerned about what Common Core is, what it does, and how it will affect their school-age children. While not exhaustive, this article will provide a brief overview of Common Core, as well as address some of the apprehensions parents have about Common Core that have evolved over the several years since the new standards were announced.
Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, were developed by educators, adopted by 43 states, and implemented voluntarily by communities and districts to help prepare students for a complex and unpredictable future. The motivation for these new standards was the overwhelming consensus that “No Child Left Behind” requirements were actually impeding learning and the development of critical thinking skills in students. Further, they were hamstringing teachers by forcing them to “teach to the test” — or face dire consequences. Common Core seeks to move away from a “Test-and-Punish” policy, and move towards a “Build-and-Support” approach, says former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig. Honig also served as the Chair of the Instructional Quality Commission, an advisory body to the California State Board of Education.

While states like New York and Kentucky have seen considerable consternation surrounding Common Core — due to what many argue was a “too much, too soon” approach — California’s approach has been more measured. There has been less reliance on testing, while local districts have been empowered and provided more autonomy and resources necessary to improve. While there is not — and never will be — unanimous support for Common Core, even among educators, the majority have embraced these new expectations embedded in CCSS, and feel they will make an important difference in how children learn and how we measure our classroom outcomes. 

In the past, testing was largely relegated to one end-of-year assessment, called “summative” because it ostensibly summed up the year’s work. The first major shift, then, is that there will now be three components to assessment, rather than one single end-of-year assessment. Summative tests will be retained as an important means of identifying progress that has been made. In addition, there will be interim assessments in the middle of the year, for teachers and districts to gauge how and what students are learning, and to make adjustments if they are not. The third component involves process. A digital library will be available to teachers year-long, providing strategies, tools, and resources for determining how students are learning as the year progresses.

The second major shift involves test targets — what are the goals? Instead of having students merely accumulate knowledge, the Common Core targets are now designed to measure how well students understand the material and can use their new learning. Along with reading to follow a story, for example, students will learn to read in order to cite evidence and draw logical conclusions. They will use math to solve real-world challenges, rather than merely picking out the correct multiple-choice answer.

The new tests are not just harder versions of the old tests; they are truly testing new things — ways of thinking and analyzing information. A fourth grade math question, for example, will have students select and use the right tools to solve a problem and interpret the results in a given context. If you or your child is interested in seeing what kinds of questions will be on the California Common Core tests, you can take a sample test here (

These new tests are made possible by newer technology involving computer adaptation. Students take the tests on computers that enable them to highlight passages, drag and drop a series of symbols that answer a question, and even react to a correct or incorrect answer by changing the type of question that follows. Rather than requiring five to ten questions to see if a student has mastered a given concept, the new computer adaptation enables students to move ahead to higher levels of questions if they answer the first levels correctly, or step back to a slightly easier version of the same question if they are incorrect.

Why make these changes? “The standards are seen both to embody the kind of education we have long desired for our students,” Honig says, “as well as providing a tremendous opportunity to stimulate much-needed discussions on how best to improve practice at each school and district and develop the collaborative capacity to support such efforts.” In Santa Barbara County, we encourage that collaboration to continue — in the form of a robust, meaningful conversation amongst parents, teachers, and students — as we move forward with Common Core. 

Math teacher thank you

Radio Commentary

A math teacher in a Dallas High School received a wonderful present recently, in the form of a thank-you note that was reprinted in the Dallas Morning News.

The letter reads, in part: “Before school even started, I dreaded your class. I honestly hate math and I didn’t want to repeat Algebra One again.

“Over the year, you’ve shown me what it’s like to have a teacher that truly cares. I walk into your class every other day willing to learn and do my work, not because I enjoy school or math. I do it because you deserve it.

“I see the effort you put into you job. I don’t know much about you and you don’t know much about me … I don’t talk in your class but I do sit back and learn from you every day.

“It was not only coincidence that I was placed into your class, but a great learning opportunity. I am thankful I was placed in your class.
“Thank you for teaching me what no other teacher has.”

It’s easy to see why teacher Jennifer Davis considers this one of the best gifts of all time.  How nice for all of us to see a teacher acknowledged so movingly for her skills and her caring.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Preventing power struggles

Radio Commentary

Parents may be relieved to know that there are positive alternatives to struggling with teens. The situation is never hopeless!

First, be sure to use friendly actions whenever possible. Young people are very tuned in to negativity and they react to it very badly. Sarcasm, for example, is never a good idea.

Second, use one-word messages whenever possible. It may be hard to focus your thoughts into a single word but it is well worth the effort to try.

Once you are focused, it is easier to get your child to focus appropriately as well.

Next, set clear limits and stick to them. It’s hard, but effective, to do this.

Teach students that when they say “no” they can do it in a respectful way. Remind them it’s not the “no” that can be a problem, but rather how it is delivered and what it seems to signify. Give them alternatives, and try to negotiate win/win outcomes.

Focus on priorities. Nothing gets communication off track more quickly than bogging down in trivial matters.

Give students appropriate ways to feel powerful. No one likes to feel powerless. It can be frustrating and it can lead to more challenges.

Finally, if a major blowup occurs, a cooling off period can often place many things into perspective for young and old alike. All these actions can help you and your struggling teen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Not just workers

Radio Commentary

Respected author Jonathan Kozol, who is an outspoken supporter of public education, takes issue with the idea that the primary purpose of education should be to create the next workforce.

He wrote: “The notion of kids as workers raises a question: Is future productivity the only rationale for their existence?”

“A lot of the things that make existence wonderful are locked out of the lives of children seen primarily as future clerical assistants or as potential recruits to office pools.”

Certainly education must prepare young people to be productive adults. But there is danger in focusing exclusively on the employment aspect of their lives, he wrote.

We can’t overlook that they will also need to be consumers, voters, audience members, and participants in our entire culture.

They may well be parents or volunteers, and may have a hand in running a household or a committee.

They may coach, they may tutor, they may recycle. After they work, they will likely retire and have more years to contribute and enjoy life well beyond the activities of the workforce.

Kozol argues passionately that we must remember all these roles that citizens fill in our democratic society.

We must absolutely acknowledge that most will be workers and must be prepared for those roles. But we must also keep that goal firmly rooted in the context of an overall productive existence.

Otherwise, he warns, we remove the joy that connects young people to their communities and gives meaning to their lives.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Talk to your child

Radio Commentary

Books, magazines, and talk show hosts all bombard parents with advice on how best to raise their children. But there is simply no substitute for a caring adult who spends quality time with a child.
Children pick up language skills and knowledge about the world around them during interesting conversations with responsible adults in their lives.

In daily life, parents can help by pointing out and reading printed words that appear in a child’s environment — signs on storefronts, labels on jars, and titles of television shows.
Even toddlers can share in making grocery lists and checking them off at the store as each item is found.
Above all, talk to your child whenever possible. There is no substitute for a focused, interactive conversation between children and trusted adults.

Parents can sing songs and tell stories whenever the opportunity arises. The rhythms and sounds of language fascinate children and lead to future learning.

That’s why children love nursery rhymes, though the actual words can seem to make little sense to adults.

It’s the sounds of the language and the word-play that children find so appealing, and it gets imbedded in their consciousness. In a very real sense, language is like music to a child’s ears. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Working hard

Radio Commentary

It is one of life’s great truths that success in almost any arena comes from effort, not just ability.

We must make sure our children know that “smart” is not something you simply are. “Smart” is something everyone must work hard to achieve.

Too many people believe that success in school is mostly a factor of inborn intelligence and aptitude. But the fact is that children who work hard at a subject often learn more than very bright students who don’t put in the effort.

The message carries over to the rest of a child’s life as well.

Certainly all students are born with different aptitudes and abilities. But the true key to success is how they use the strengths they have, and how they work to overcome any shortfalls.

Even the most gifted athlete can’t be a winner without training hard every day. Even the greatest artists need to study their craft.

The highest achievers, inside and outside the classroom, are those who work the hardest and do the most with the gifts they have.

Parents can help motivate children by telling them that success in school really is something everyone can achieve. It is not beyond anyone’s grasp.

But it requires effort, attention, and hard work. It requires listening carefully in the classroom, asking questions, completing all assignments, and studying hard. It also requires an honest awareness of where weaknesses lie, and a determination to overcome those weaknesses.

Students who take this approach are truly smart.