Now that I’m the oh-so lucky parent of teenagers, that is a memory I plan to keep a memory, not to be repeated. On that same link, you’ll find some events specifically for teenagers if you can lure them from their bedroom lairs.
This year, I plan to avoid all child-related activities by attending only the author sessions with the rest of the grumpy, sometimes content, mostly reclusive adults–just the way I like it.
The beauty of the book fair is really that there’s something for everyone, even kids. My problem, at least that first time around, was that I didn’t even look at the schedule. Go to the guide below for more information.
The authors who will be reading and discussing books at the Miami Book Fair consists of a vibrant array of talent and wisdom matched with intensity and humor.
One of my favorite authors will be reading there, so I’m going to attend for that brief moment of bliss.
Leonard Pitts Jr.
When I first read an article by Leonard Pitts, Jr., I felt more a little more alive. His ability to play words like a master pianist left me reading his thoughts as if I were dancing across a pond without touching the water.
A Pulitzer Prize winning author and a columnist, Pitts has offered insights into current events that challenge even the most liberal thinker to think again.
We sat outside, surrounding our fire pit, and roasting marshmallows on sticks. Each of us listening to the next scary story as if a monster might jump right out of the storyteller’s mouth.
It was as simple as that. We forgot the horror of early morning carpools and catching colds as well as the burden of too much homework.
Halloween seems to creep up at just the right time. I wish I could say that I meditate everyday in order to maintain a peaceful and tranquil life, but I don’t. And, frankly, I really enjoy the strange worlds we can create around this time of year.
Think Creepy Thoughts
You can do something as simple as sitting around a fire or even on the couch with only candles lighting the room and telling stories to really enjoying the crazy American commercialism of anything Halloween. In fact, while I was browsing Amazon for inexpensive decor, candy, and costumes, I thought I’d share some of what I found.
Using Halloween horror to take the edge off often imbues a sense of freedom and creativity into our lives. It also gives our kids some relief without the drama of a “vacation.”
So many people might head to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, and there’s always something to do wherever you live. Enjoying pumpkin patches for young kids or going to Halloween parties for older kids might be a good distraction.
But, often, staying home and simply enjoying the season is the best choice when trying to save your sanity.
Start with Decorations.
Decorations are cheap and fun. I found glittery black branches and put them in a purple vase that I already had. Then, I used the leftover branches to make crowns.
I also found a pack of black glittery birds, crows if you will, that I hung from the chandelier and placed throughout the house.
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Then, I hung a glittery black wreath inside our Christmas wreath. Essentially, you can make the wreath out of the branches. It’s cheaper that way.
If the wreath is too tame, you can always get a bit more elaborate with door decor. The black glittery wreath branches worked nicely with our Winter holiday wreath.
When our kids were small we used a skeleton head with a microphone to scare the trick or treaters on Halloween, but it was also a lot of fun to mess around with whenever anyone visited. However, you can get the one above on Amazon and it’s a lot easier to use because we ended up breaking the cord for the microphone and damaging the skeleton head.
Walking into our house feels different now and different is good when the stresses of life start to take over.
Weekends are a great time to head to the theaters or visit nearby haunted houses or themed activities. However, sometimes you just want to hibernate.
With all the technology and resources available and if you’ve taken the time to decorate even a little, you can kick back and enjoy Halloween at home.
Just get some food, drinks, and movies or watch a series. If you have Netflix, the latter shouldn’t be too difficult to manage. Because I’m like a five year old when it comes to scary shows, I still haven’t gotten through the first episode of American Horror Story, but there are other movies and shows to binge watch.
Food and Drinks
And, binging on favorite foods also keeps stress at bay during the Halloween season. You don’t need to eat tons of candy, although that’s a great past time. All you need is some favorite comfort foods and plenty of cushions and couches to curl up on.
Food really isn’t that difficult to manage. Not everything has to be theme centric. Order a pizza or make one. Pop some popcorn and get some sodas for simplicity’s sake. But, if you want to add some themed accents, there are a lot of easy ways to do that.
Plop some eyeball ice cubes into the drinks.
The jello brain mold is great also because it’s easy to use and makes a great centerpiece on the coffee table or counter. And, gross Halloween snacks such as Edible Insects in a bag really help take the edge off.
But, if that’s too disgusting for you, fun candy pops remind us to enjoy life and take a second to laugh. Bottom line, sugar helps sometimes. There’s a reason why kids love it so much.
Great Halloween/Horror Movies or Series
Entertainment all depends on you, especially when it comes to viewing choices.
IMPORTANT NOTE: A lot of these films are books, so this is a great way to jumpstart reading skills. The Goosebumps series is a weird little series that kids start reading around third grade. Roald Dahl, well, need I say more. His books are pure entertainment. There’s also a collection of Campfire stories to help you along if you decide to roast marshmallows.
Now, my kids watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline when they were younger then later told me Coraline really freaked them out because of the hidden door and the button eyes. You need to make a decision based on age and exposure to past content. If your kids get scared after watching Monsters Inc. then you might want to hold off on Coraline.
For older kids, especially teenagers, let them choose. Really, I’m usually the one who’s scared of the movies they watch. Some great classic movies to watch are Beetlejuice, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, and Jaws.
If you want psychological thrillers, Signs and the Sixth Sense may be good choices to start. For more intense stories, there’s always films adapted from Stephen King novels. The Shining always delivers, and the more recent version of IT will definitely scare everyone watching.
It really doesn’t matter how you work it as much as to just forget about school long enough to destress and have fun.
Between getting up before the sun even rises and just thinking about homework, all teenagers feel at least a tinge of anxiety when the school year begins. Overachievers might find themselves biting their cuticles. Underachievers might dread the teachers who will ridicule them for not trying. Social butterflies might obsess over a pimple, their hair, and their clothing. For all of them, there’s the general fear of ridicule or failure but often they fear both.
Sometimes they don’t even feel the anxiety until they’re actually walking through the hallway.
On the fourth day of school last week, a girl was walking through the hall to get to her next class. She was alone and minding her own business. Her hair was parted in the middle like most of the girls. Her head was down just enough to allow the hair to cloak her and then a boy stomped at her.
“You’re ugly. Get out of here!” he yelled as he lunged forward.
With students now staring at her, she kept walking, faster this time, not looking back at his friends laughing and patting him on the back.
Some students watched and some even shook their heads but no one said anything. They, too, kept walking, grateful that it wasn’t them.
You know she cried at some point. She might’ve had to choke back the tears until the end of the day or she cried in the bathroom if she wasn’t too scared to go there, but she hurt a lot.
And, that hurt lasts. Teenagers carry it around with them.
Support is Key
So, as parents and educators, what do you do when they experience this kind of pain? The worst thing we could do is to call attention to the incident, but we can care for the teenager by offering support in multiple ways.
Open your eyes. Teenagers will hide things from you so you need to keep your eyes open in more ways than one. When you pick them up from school or talk to them later in the day, make sure you look at their body language. If they’re always hanging their head or feeling sad, they probably need to talk even if they claim nothing’s wrong. If they lash out at you for no reason, they definitely need to talk. Give them some space, then approach them when they appear calmer.
Make them talk. This is often difficult given that they usually have mastered the art of hibernation, in their rooms, doors often locked in the name of privacy. You’ll have to entice them with food, excursions to their favorite places, and even ask them for help with anything from understanding how to use a new app or finding something you lost in the house. Experiment with their changing interests and get them talking. Don’t let them isolate themselves even more than they already may have done.
Listen to them. No matter how tempting it might be to tell them like it is, just listen. And, don’t respond with a fake remark about being positive when you know that you wouldn’t feel positive if you were in that situation. Sometimes you just need to say you’re so sorry for this and that you’re here to listen. Sometimes you need to offer a shoulder to cry on and ask if they want advice before you give it because it’s so easy to lose them if they think you’re not being genuine.
Accept them. Teenagers are looking for acceptance in more ways than one. When they see that a parent accepts them fully, especially their flaws, they will feel loved and hopeful. This works for bad behavior and bad grades alike. You haven’t seen love in their eyes until you’ve seen them look at you after you tell them the bad grade doesn’t matter or that the curse word hurled your way is forgotten.
Be their Rock. Yes, another word for this is patience. You will need to be patient. Another way of putting this is to say that you need to be their rock. You have to stay steady and be there to cushion their fall. They will fall time and time again and you will need to help them up, brush them off, then send them off… again.
Logically, this all makes sense and you’re probably even patting yourself on the back for already practicing the majority of these suggestions. However, you must think longterm. It’s exhausting to care for children in general and it’s a different exhausting to care for a teen. Much of the time, both parents are working and often enough there’s more than one child to deal within the household. So, your persistence and resilience come into play when considering how to handle your relationship with your child.
Bottom line, if you relentlessly follow these five points, teenagers will feel safe and loved enough to eventually find a glimmer of hope even when their anxiety feels unbearable. That girl had to go to school the next day no matter how painful it was. Knowing that she was loved would make it somewhat easier. And, how did she know she was loved? At least one parent or guardian followed through with some or all of the above–over and over again.
If you feel that any situation or problem isn’t improving no matter how hard you try, it’s very important to seek help. Depending on the severity of the situation, contact the school counselor, the school administration, and/or any authority who may be able to help. All of us have been teenagers and all of us have experienced difficulties, so no one should ever be afraid to seek help, especially a parent experiencing hardship with a child.
Oftentimes when reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee in the classroom, students giggle when stumbling upon the first “inappropriate” word.
By ages 10 and 11 nowadays, students have heard and said all of those words at some point. In fact, a lot of those kids have heard their parents shouting those words while driving through morning and afternoon traffic.
Because I teach in Miami, many of the students volunteer during class discussions that their parents say very colorful words in a couple different languages.
Just a side note: If you’ve ever had the pleasure of driving in Miami, you would probably say them too.
So, when students giggle about those words, it’s because for one, they’re in school. And, for another they know it’s wrong to say them. Their parents (guardians) and teachers have told them this.
For the most part, when students’ eyes run across the “N-word,” they stop, stutter, and say “N-word” or skip to the next word. Some students say the word and just keep going.
It’s not too far into the book that we have a Socratic Circle on the topic of censorship.
It gives them a sense of enlightenment to be given the opportunity to take control of their education and decide what they think is right or wrong.
The students boldly talk about the importance of using those words in this book and to remember how terrible the word really is. These young students, who hear all types of inappropriate words on YouTube and when they’re playing video games, speak about censorship intelligently and almost sound like little parents.
I, as their teacher, never interfere with their viewpoints. I only offer questions about it.
Why do you think people would want to censor “inappropriate” language from books?
Who decides what’s “appropriate” or “inappropriate” for whom?
Why do we feel the need to censor anything, in any type of media?
These questions are difficult to answer. We adults know that we go to great lengths to protect our children from any number of situations let alone what may or may not be “inappropriate” language in a book. What about the content of the book itself?
Banned Books Week ended already, but there are other issues involving the internet that leave us all stumped in one way or another, especially those with children or those who are teaching children.
How do we solve these issues? Do we look to our history of banning books and censoring art to guide us into the future?
Any teacher worth their salt will tell you straight up that she’s learned as much from her students as they have from her.
But, every teacher will concede that learning has become more than just a challenge.
I have two children and I’ve taught thousands.
So, when I began teaching, I wanted to be the teacher that I’d want for my own children. I wanted to be someone who cares about students and who will ensure students learn as much as possible about the subject matter.
I so naively thought, How hard could it be?
I found out.
It’s never as simple as it could be.
Looking at the world we live in today, education feels more like a battleground for a teacher than the simple act of opening a book.
For students, it’s no longer an avenue to learning as much as a road block.
Students can’t sit still and, when they do, they lose focus so quickly that a vigilant teacher hammers out questions within a minute of reading a paragraph let alone a passage.
And, if the problem was only with the students, it might be easier to turn around, but the difficulties are compounded by overworked parents who are just as addicted to electronics as their children are and oftentimes clueless about the damage electronic devices do to students who have to go to school and read mountains of information in order to graduate.
It would be nice.
It would be nice to be able to take a usb and insert it into students’ hard drives (if they had one in their brain) in order to transfer the information so that they could then take that and create or perform new tasks from that point on.
We aren’t there yet. And, really, do we want that? I don’t know.
I do know that I tell students that I can’t do that. They have to open the book, open the document, visit the website, and read.
I’m their least favorite teacher.
I know this.
I’m fine with it.
But, it is a challenge. So, I take them to the movies.
Take them to the movies.
Of course, these movies are inside their heads. I use the information already uploaded to their limitless hard drives and give them something to connect to.
No, it doesn’t work right away. I reconnect at the beginning of each week, especially after long weekends like this one and forget about how hard it is to connect after winter break and then spring break.
I do it anyway.
We talk about where movies come from. We talk about how they begin.
From books, from a written word, from an idea, from an education.
But, it’s still not that simple.
Students get excited. They fantasize. They proclaim. They set goals. Then, they go home.
At home they are met with iPhones, iPads, desktops, laptops, televisions, movies, YouTube, apps, apps, and more apps.
Parents are tired and stare at the same thing.
So, who educates whom?
To meet teachers just introduces parents to someone who will attempt to use technology in order to bypass the distractions that every student must face this year.
Teachers from all backgrounds and ethnicities will plunge full-force into the curriculum deemed correct by the state and departments.
Will students teach teachers or will teachers teach students?
It really is a conundrum if there’s no exchange of power. At the core of learning is the ability to ingest information but not to just regurgitate it. If the teacher can truly spark the desire to learn in any student, then the student needs to be able to return the spark with a fire that can’t be put out the minute he or she enters a home.
The learning needs to continue, whether that’s answering questions about science, mathematics, or about a novel or an article read online. The student then needs to be able to then create something new, write an essay, a story, or create a robotic arm.
All of this requires focus and inevitably demands freedom from distractions.
So what can teachers learn from students?
They are smarter than anyone gives them credit for.
They actually have access to way too much information.
So, knowing just these two things, makes teachers the perfect avenue to guide them. And, if parents and teacher actually worked together, they could influence children more than they ever imagined.
Who holds the power?
Students will teach parents and teachers by default. The interaction makes it so. However, instead of raging on about the damn electronics, how about giving them power over their devices.
Teach them that the devices are just tools to get what they want. But, then, they would need to know what they want.
That’s where teachers find their power. Our job really is that simple and, yet, more difficult than ever.
Our power lies in showing students their own power.
You see, they think it’s in their devices. Many students don’t really think about the fact that humans made these devices. They don’t think about why they made them.
So, when it comes right down to it, teachers need to understand that empowering students through conversations full of questions and debate in every subject in every grade level is the key to conquering what feels like a black hole of endless distractions.
Changing the way your child thinks about school is already a daunting task, so don’t expect miracles or overnight success.
It is school after all.
This isn’t a checklist or advice that works on cue. These are segments of living that should be worked into conversations and issues and built upon as you move throughout the school year.
Because I’ve spent the last week preparing my classroom for the school year, I’ve been thinking not just about curriculum but about the little human beings who will walk through the door come Monday. If you’ve been reading my posts, then you know I have a gift. And, like all gifts or anything powerful for that matter, there are good and bad sides to it.
The gift I’m talking about is the ability to see things from a teacher’s point of view and a parent’s point of view. You see why I say it has a good and bad side?
So, when I tell you how to change the way your child thinks about school, I’m considering both the teacher’s and the parent’s perspectives in a very realistic, practical view.
Now, when you read through the following points, the emphasis is on SHOW and Tell not just tell.
Show and tell your child that he or she is smart.
Don’t say this in a condescending way, you know, with that high pitched voice that makes your child feel even more uncomfortable with what you’re about to say. I just got into a fight with one of my own about intelligence. I more often than not do the same with my students.
Parent: “You are so smart and you know this.”
Child: No I’m not. So many kids are smarter than I am.
Parent: What are you talking about? Since when have you used that excuse?
Child: Excuse for what?
Parent: For not believing in yourself….
Child: (Rolls eyes.) God, give me a break. YOU only think I’m smart.
Parent: (Rolls eyes.) Give ME a break. I tell you when I think you’re doing something stupid don’t I? I’m talking about what I see, really. I see you create incredible work. I hear you answer questions with such unique answers, I sometimes wonder if you’re part alien. And, if I’m stuck on a problem, I know that if I talk to you that you’ll help me turn it into a solution.
Child: (Half-smiles as the conversation continues.)
Kids are smarter than ever, contrary to what popular statistics often emphasize. I remember asking my six-year-old nephew how to find several different things on my cell phone. He was quicker and more pleasant to talk to than any IT guy I’ve tried to communicate with.
Show and tell your child you’ll help him or her through difficulties.
Whether in elementary, middle, or high school, your child needs to know that you’re there to help no matter what, that you’ll help them through anything especially if they ask you.
Parent: How was your day?
Child: Mm, long.
Parent: Funniest thing that happened?
Parent: Listen, even if you don’t want to talk right now, I’m here for you, okay kid? You hear me?
Child: Yeah, thanks.
Kids, especially teenagers, might not want to talk right away, but they do need to know that you’re available. You need to make it clear sometimes, especially when you can tell they haven’t had such a good day.
Show it by going out of your way to pick them up and ask questions about their day. Play a game with them. Ask them questions. Pay attention to them.
Show your child that you listen.
Sometimes, every once in awhile, parents just don’t want to listen. I get it. But, listening to your child express his or her anger, grief, drudgery in life, and happiness, among other things, gives him or her a chance to not only vent but to realize that age-old line, “I’m here for you kid.”
In other words, you need to prove that you really are there for him or her on a daily basis, no matter how tired or stressed you are.
The chatter can be endless, but those of you with moody teenagers know that when the chatter starts, you listen.
If you can’t get them to talk, take them to a restaurant or do something with them that they really like to do. In the process, you might hear something like the following.
Child: I had the longest most irritating day. You know that girl I told you about? Mean girls, you know. She tore me down little by little and had everyone ignore me all day. Can you believe what followers they are? Really! What a bunch of losers. I feel like….
Parent listens. Child texts.
Child: Oh my God, Kathy just texted me that she hates her. Ha! I can’t believe she hates her.
Parent says nothing for now.
Child: Thanks for taking me to get those shoes I wanted.
Parent: You’re very welcome.
Your own excursion might take longer and the chatter may not make much sense, but the time that your child spends with you does matter. He or she will remember it even if you think it didn’t make a difference.
Show and tell stories to make a point.
Please please please don’t start it with, “When I was a kid….”
Do start with something like, “This kid with super straight blond hair used to point and laugh at me all the time. I really hated that kid. I ignored him all the time but he never stopped pointing and laughing at me. I don’t know what I did to him but apparently I was really funny to him. Then halfway into the school year he fell on his face in front of everyone. I saw the whole thing happen. He tripped over nothing. Everyone laughed at him and I actually felt bad for him as a little girl tried to help him get up.”
There are so many opportunities to insert really great stories into the simplest conversations. Yes, I know, most of us don’t want to even think about our school days, but when you have children, that’s all you do if you care even just a little bit about helping them get through some of the tougher obstacles in life.
Depending on the grade level, you can think of many times when you had to overcome similar difficulties.
Ultimately, be real with your children.
No, please don’t always tell them the truth. Sometimes, the truth is just depressing, but be real. After you’ve been listening to them, you know how to be realistic while still motivating them.
Child: God, I hate school.
Parent: Why, what happened?
Child: The stupid teacher yelled at me then made fun of me in front of the whole class.
Parent: Which class?
Parent: What’d she do?
Child: She freakin’ saw me talking to this kid, but I was just telling the kid to leave me alone ‘cause he wouldn’t stop asking me how to do problems. She just assumed it was my fault. God, I hate her.
Parent: Did you talk to her?
Child: NO! Really?! God!
Parent: That stinks. I’m so sorry that happened. I’ll talk to the teacher for you.
Child: NO! I’ll do it.
Parent: Okay, okay, I understand. You can also ask to be moved.
Parent: I know teachers can be unfair but if you give them a chance…you know, kinda like when you give me a chance, like when I just assume the fights with your brother are your fault…
Now, you’ve got the attention of your child. You give them something realistic to latch onto and there’s a willingness to listen and change where there wasn’t that before.
Successful communication between parents and children changes daily and by the minute. Sometimes the best communication means not saying one word, not even giving them a hug, but allowing them to be alone and telling them when they’re ready to talk you’ll be there for them.
I can finally hear the trees speaking to me again. It’s been a while.
After a school year that seemed relentlessly long, there’s nothing I’d hate more than to talk about this school year. I don’t want to give any advice about reading, questions types, testing, and, please, don’t ask about writing, in particular, essays.
I’m looking up.
I’m disconnecting from what supposedly defines me. Not from my phone, computer, or TV, although that’s some of it, not from electricity in any way, but I’m disconnecting from school.
So I’m going to give myself a break from thinking about reading assignments, reading comprehension, required reading, homework, grading, everything in connection with traditional, structured, life-draining education.
What a relief!
I woke up last week and it was 6 a.m. Normally I’m up at 5:30 getting ready to take my daughter to school then returning to get ready for teaching and take my son to school.
But I didn’t have to, so I looked at the time and went back to sleep.
After I woke and became instinctively lazier, I took a walk.
I noticed the trees and how many brilliant flowers were blooming. I’m physically looking up, up, seeing the branches sway and the petals drop. My neck pain is at a minimum because I’m not hunching over a computer or over stacks of papers.
The trees spoke to me. They waved and winked as I approached them. Orange petals floated over my pathway, welcoming me to life, the best kind of life.
My heart opened.
Now when I look around me, I see my children relaxed, smiling more, looking healthier and happier than, well, than in the last several months.
I see my house, messy, but home just the same.
I breathe a whole lot slower, deeper, calmer.
My feet don’t hurt.
No students to reprimand. No screeching noises. No nothing.
The first time my son heard the word “Homework” he screamed, ran to his bedroom, slammed the door and locked it.
He was three years old and his older sister decided it was time he got some homework too so she told him she was going to give him homework. That’s when the screaming began.
What does it really mean when schools, teachers, and advocates cry, no homework?
We’ve all either been there or seen it. Seemingly endless hours of homework awaiting you. The desire to turn away from it burns so fiercely that you actually shove it to the side and watch TV instead. Maybe you just go outside and play games or just lie there on the ground thinking of creative ways to get out of ever having to do it at all.
As a parent and a teacher, I always feel conflicted about any subject involving homework.
On the one hand, I’ve been up until midnight, helping my child finish homework because the teacher never even taught the lesson assigned for homework. I know this because the teacher admitted it as if it was perfectly acceptable to do such a thing.
On the other, I’ve considered the whole idea of assigning nothing for homework and I do that but only sometimes. However, the bottom line remains that there isn’t enough time in the classroom to reinforce and cover everything. The other problem that now exists involves social media and electronics.
You see, savvy parents and teachers know something very important about homework. Without it, our children won’t read books, and they certainly won’t relinquish the highly addictive realm of electronics. In fact, most children become so lost in this world that it’s almost a losing battle to try and take it away from them.
Homework fixes that fast.
Parents and teachers who are truly honest with themselves know this.
So when I look at all the books and arguments that pundits such as Andy Khon make against homework, I really do sympathize with the argument for no homework, but I can’t agree.
The real problem is teachers who don’t support children or give them a chance to make up work. The real problem is an educational system that doesn’t understand a child’s life may be very difficult so too much homework won’t help them.
Andy Khon makes some good points about just how disconcerting the system is.
However, without homework, children lose too much.
So, what then is homework for?
They need to read and not just in school. Without reading assignments, many parents just won’t encourage children to read. They’re too busy and tired, so it’s very easy to just allow them to play video games or play on their iPad—where they watch endless hours of YouTube, which can be valuable and can also be a bottomless pit of nonsense, some of it shocking depending on the perspective.
They need reinforcement. There are a few ways teachers know how well their students understood the material taught in class. One very valuable tool is homework. Through that, I can help them better understand vocabulary or concepts that I thought they understood but didn’t.
They need training. They are growing so fast that soon they will need to set aside time to study for quizzes and tests. How do they learn to do this? By getting bad grades? Or, by doing some homework? It’s the same thing.
They need opportunities. If handled the right way, students use homework to raise their grades and learn creatively through projects and guided assignments that help them flourish.
Social media has a way of making us believe ideas are great momentarily. We like it. We share it. We reblog it. We repeat it. We follow it.
When, in reality, all these naysayers had to do homework to be able to write and speak the way they do. Many of them don’t have to grapple with the day-to-day problems parents, who work until late at night and can’t spend time with their children, have to deal with.
If teachers and parents work together, homework actually benefits children and helps them grow and become better in every subject, which in turn helps them find their purpose in life, whatever that may be.
Watching students test has become an obsession for me, as a teacher and as a mom. I first began studying The Test about 10 years ago.
I had always held a deep disdain for even the mention of the word “test” while plowing through my school years. I hated tests because I’d shut down and perform poorly on tests. This happened after an encounter with a terrible test at a young age. So, I began to loathe testing.
It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I felt compelled to study and ultimately understand the process of taking a test. After all, teachers have to create tests so I needed to know exactly how I should start, so I searched different websites dedicated to teaching educators how to create tests.
I began with multiple choice questions and answers because those were the kinds of test items that made no sense to me. I rarely understood why my answer was wrong when teachers reviewed answers with my classes.
The reviews usually consisted of teachers ticking off the right answers and only explaining one or two in a very matter of fact way, as if to say, “Don’t you dare question the logic of the test.”
So, I never did. I only questioned my intelligence, which meant I thought I was an idiot. Until now.
The first question I had
was why in the hell am I creating a multiple choice test anyway? Where did the damn thing come from?
According to The Washington Post, an educator named Frederick J. Kelly, the Dean of Education at the University of Kansas, created the first multiple-choice test in 1914. From that point on, that style of testing mushroomed into what we find students struggling over throughout their educational life.
So when I sat down to research the very idea of creating the multiple choice tests, I found a mountain of information on the subject. So much information, that I really had to sift through it quickly or I could’ve been reading for months nonstop.
The most surprising and most valuable information was the method of using a distractor in the multiple-choice answers.
Ironically enough, the word “distraction” has become the 21st century go-to word to describe everything associated with everything electronic and has young students drowning in schools.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a student test nowadays, you’d see very quickly how and why students often struggle with standardized tests. First, they see a paper with words on it and cringe. If it’s on the computer, they won’t cringe but that doesn’t mean they’ll concentrate on the material being presented to them, especially if it requires reading.
Most unsuccessful students seem to skim or scan whatever they’re reading and answer the questions by returning to the text to search for answers, which means that they’ve most likely missed the main point of the passage, which then throws off their answers to just about everything.
They end up with low scores and are left feeling stupid, anxious, and defeated.
They go home and become more addicted to the distractions that help them to feel confident, happy, and friendly—gaming and social media.
These are the distractions that reward them. The test drains them. And, we, parents and teachers, feel twice as frustrated and confused.
However, by observing this, every year I don’t begin my multiple choice creations with distractors. I begin my journey with my own brand of distractions.
And it works.
Written by Lisa Chesser
This post and others to follow will focus on teaching and helping children succeed in school. I’m working on a book that will have more details on sifting through the minds of children in order to help them find success in a system that often destroys their ability to succeed.
He jumped back. He was so startled that I thought I had a bug on my face when I went into my son’s room at 11 a.m. to wake him.
“Wait, what day is it? Is there school today?” he asked. I shook my head and laughed nervously because I had been thinking that I needed to start waking him up earlier to prepare him for the coming school hours.
“Uuugggh, I thought you were waking me to tell me it was time to go to school,” he said and breathed a sigh of relief then buried his head in his pillow. He proceeded to describe a horrific dream where his teacher gave the class an assignment and he got an F.
I felt terrible because I know how much he hates getting bad grades and how generous some teachers are about giving them. I’m especially fond of the teachers who hand the papers back with an imaginary pair of bifocals hanging on the end of their noses as if to remind students that they just aren’t good enough.
Do teachers really need to give kids F’s?
It might’ve already started for you: The nightmares, the rising tension, the fear that you’re missing something, the sting of an impending headache…. It started in our house about a week ago.
The mere mention of school shot the hairs up on the backs of our necks.
And, it ultimately seems to amount to judgment. How will you be judged by other kids, parents, teachers, principals, administrators and so forth? You just aren’t good enough seems to vibrate in our collective subconscious.
But, what kills me and my kids, are the F’s. I don’t understand that need to give F’s, especially with no second chance. Granted, some students seem to live for the F.
I’ve been there. As a teacher, you’re this short of moving the pencil for the student because you’re trying every technique in the book to get the kid to learn and the student refuses.
Most of the time, however, those students who get those F’s just need a second chance. They need to take the test again. They need to hear the lesson one more time. And, it’s not just about percentages such as 50 percent of the class failed; therefore, the teacher must reteach and retest. No, let’s say 5 percent failed. The rest aced it. Why wouldn’t a teacher try to offer that student a second chance? Most likely, it’s too much work and the teacher doesn’t feel like administering another test and definitely not re-teaching an entire lesson to one or two students.
But, what if it was easier than that? What if it was a matter of spending one or two lunch periods with them and chatting about what they didn’t understand? Ask them what went wrong. Even if they’re brutally honest and say they just don’t care or they didn’t bother to study, what if you said well, then, study here and I’ll give you a second chance.
Would the student succeed?
And, then, how would that affect that student’s future?
Would the student try harder next time, especially if they found success the second time around?
Yep, that’s right, I’ll tell you. That student will succeed because you’ll have connected with him or her in a deeper way than most teachers. Contrary to the way we judge the kid who gets the F, that child simply doesn’t want it even if he or she vehemently claims to want it, even to deserve it.
A highly intelligent and insightful gifted student once told me that he got F’s because he had gotten so many that he finally just got used to it and didn’t care anymore. He was one of the first students I ever taught and those kids taught me more about teaching than I’ve ever learned before. I asked them everything and he was one who I felt so sad about but even more so, I was infuriated with him. He was so freakin’ smart so when he got F’s, I felt like he just did it on purpose. And, judging from his observations, he kinda did do it on purpose.
However, there was one other very important insight. He said he hated seeing an “F” anyway. That’s why he just gave up and gave in to so many teachers’ labels like that he just didn’t care or that he refused to learn, that he was wasting his talents. That was exactly what I was thinking as I was talking to him.
But, it still didn’t register right away. I still didn’t get it. Give him a second chance? What?!
Then, I did, by accident almost. I experiment a lot when I’m teaching, which is why I hold myself at least partially accountable for every performance estimation that I inflict on my students. I give them second, third, and fourth chances so that I can average scores and teach and reteach. Does it make for a crazy exhausting school year? Yeah, but then, I couldn’t call myself a teacher at all if I didn’t do that.
I asked him if he wanted to take a test again. Different questions. Same subject matter.
He accepted. That acceptance in itself taught me a lot. He actually did want to try. So the label that “he didn’t care” made no sense.
Reset the Mind
Before he took the second test though, I talked to him during lunch and asked why he chose some of the wrong answers. I saw where he went wrong and then helped him adjust his logic. It felt like magic when I scored his second exam. He went from an F to a high B. Plus, the questions on the second exam were much more difficult and somewhat more confusing.
When I gave it to him, he held it as if it was a rare piece of parchment paper. Then he smiled and laughed a little. He blamed his success on the questions being too easy, but I insisted that the questions were harder. I had thrown them out because they were too confusing.
After that success, he never got anything lower than a B. Most of the time, he got A’s.
So, what of it? I think the story speaks clearly.
F’s are like viruses. They spread quickly and they’re hard to get rid of. But, you can wipe them out with a little love. And, that just takes a lunch or two.
Don’t get me wrong. My students who don’t like me will tell you I’m the detention teacher. And, I would have to agree. But, guess when I give detentions? Yep, during lunch. Some students, especially in middle school, don’t think it’s so cool to have lunch with a teacher, hence the detentions (and second chances), but that’s another story.
Stumbling, Tripping, Falling, Brushing Off, Standing Up