Author: TCR Staff

Five Tips for Standards-Based Learning at Home

The beginning of this school year probably looks a lot different than what you imagined, whether your children are starting remotely, going back in the classroom, or a hybrid of the two. Yet, regardless of how the actual school day looks, both teachers and students are still being held to the normal grade-level standards of your district. That’s why it’s important to make sure your students are performing at grade level and using products that are standards based to keep them on track and prepare them for the next year.

What exactly is standards-based learning? The term refers to instruction, grading, and assessment based on students demonstrating an understanding of the skills and knowledge they are expected to learn in each grade. Schools and districts determine goals of each grade level and subject at that grade level, (often based on state standards), and teachers determine how to teach students so they achieve those goals and expectations.

For parents, we understand that you may be concerned about keeping your child up to grade level given the unusual circumstances of the school year. That’s why we put together Learning Together sets. They include products that focus on essential standards-based, grade-level skills and provide daily practice to supplement classroom instruction. Plus, they are easy to use and require very little supervision, allowing children to learn and review independently. Below are five tips to help you incorporate these kits into your child’s learning day without making more work for you.

  1. You may wish to start with a grade level below the one your student is starting this fall. Summer learning loss is real, and given that the end of the last school year was so chaotic, it’s a great idea to review skills to bolster your child’s confidence as well as reinforce the building blocks needed for their new grade level. Plus, since this will most likely be review, children can probably do most of the activities on their own.
  2. Check your child’s coursework, (either online or what they bring home from school) and see what topics they are being introduced to in each subject. (Often the teacher will address which standards are being taught and list them somewhere in the classroom or online.) You can then peruse the activities in the various books of the Learning Together set and find some to match/reinforce what is being taught in class.
  3. You can also check the school’s or district’s website to see the standards for your child’s grade level and find activities in the Learning Together set that reinforce the standards. If you’re unsure of whether the standard has been addressed yet, check with your child’s teacher.
  4. Encourage your child to peruse the activities during their independent-work time, especially if they are learning remotely for now. They might finish their classwork early, and the activities in the books from the Learning Together set will keep them on task as well as reinforce what the teacher is demonstrating.
  5. Get to know your children as learners. These materials can help you see areas in which your child shines and conversely, where they need more help. You can also monitor how they approach the activities; do they need more time for reflection? Do they like one format better than another? Do they need to take an academic break before finishing and come back later in order to better process the activity? This is valuable information for when they are required to do classwork on their own. You can discuss their learning methods with them and help them self-regulate according to their own academic styles and needs.

    Bonus tip: Go easy on yourself and remind yourself that you are doing your best. You and your children are navigating this unfamiliar territory as well as you can. Not only will you get through this, but you’ll also have a better understanding of standards-based education as well as your individual children’s learning styles. By giving you and your children grace for a gigantic learning curve, you are also helping them stay calmer and more focused, and they’ll know you’ll be proud of them for piloting this learning journey to the best of their ability.

Cooped Up With Kids During COVID-19

These are uncertain and unprecedented times. You’re doing your best to adhere to all the rules and regulations. You’re following all the safety and health precautions. You’re staying home and hunkering down. You’re also about to lose your mind. It’s only a few days into “homeschooling”; you’re out of (energy and) novel ideas, you’re ready to pull your hair out, and you have a sneaking suspicion that your kids are secretly plotting a mutiny.

We’re here to help. While we can’t take your children off your hands or speed up the search for a cure, we can offer you some activities to do with your kids to keep everyone from going absolutely bonkers while you’re isolating.

Here’s our current list of sanity-savers. We hope to add to it regularly to keep you and your family engaged and occupied.

Go Outside
Yes, really. As of now, doctors, health professionals, and the World Health Organization are still encouraging people to go outside for mental as well as physical health. Even if it’s just a walk around the block to break up the monotony of being stuck inside. It’s also okay to ride bikes, walk the dog, and go to the park. (Just remember to keep a safe distance from others.)

How about an outdoor scavenger hunt? Write down some objects to find and have your children check them off as they find them. Easy things to search for are
– a bird
– a mammal
– animal tracks
– a nest
– animal hole in the ground
– a pinecone
– litter
– a flower
– a pebble
– a feather
– a flying insect
– a person riding a bicycle
– a person wearing a hat
– a person walking a dog

Indoor Physical Activities
Bad weather? Try some of these physical activities that can be done inside.
Yoga: (Just search for “yoga videos for kids.”) Yoga is a great physical activity and stress reliever. There are also a ton of other videos with different workouts for kids. Pick a new one for each day of the week!
Freeze dancing: Play music and have everyone dance, then stop it randomly. When the music stops, have children freeze in their pose and hold it until the music begins again.
Obstacle Courses: Half the fun is creating them! Help children make one and then time them as they go through. See if they can beat their best time!
Follow the leader: Pick someone to be the leader and then have everyone copy all their moves. Encourage lots of energetic movements such as jumping, stomping, bending, and squatting.
Building: Forts, domino mazes, block towers, a contraption for getting a ball from Point A to Point B.
Chores (Ugh, we know.) Designate a specific time for getting them done and then blast some fun music while everyone pitches in. Set a timer so kids know that this torture won’t last forever.

Check on Your Neighbors (from a safe distance)
Some neighbors might not be able to go to the store to pick up necessities. It’s a great time to offer to help shop for elderly neighbors, single parents, or immunocompromised folks. Drop the goods off on their doorstep so there’s no worry about transmitting anything. Have your children include handwritten notes of encouragement.

Cooking
We all have to eat. Look up fun and easy recipes online that your kids can help make. There are some fun, gross ideas that are usually reserved for Halloween but might elicit some interest from even your most reluctant sous chef.

Science Experiments
Yes, this is the perfect time to study germs and all things disease-related. But it’s also a great time to engage in some hands-on STEM activities. Gather household materials and start a list of what to make next. Some popular online STEM searches:
– egg drop
– balloon car/rocket
– cloud in a jar
– catapult
– bridge building
– tower challenge
– marble maze
– simple machines (pulley, winch)

And of course, you can never go wrong with the good old baking soda and vinegar volcano.

Board Games
Get on your step stool and pull down those dusty board games from the top shelf of the closet. Need some buy-in from older kids? Create a tournament using a few different games and have prizes for the winners.

Online Story Time
Many children’s authors are live streaming the reading of their books. Check your favorite author’s website, or your library website for lots of online activities.

Write a Letter To Grandparents
Elderly persons are at greater risk of getting sick, so many families are not able to currently spend time face-to-face with grandparents. While you may already have your children video conferencing with them, a good writing activity would be to have children write to people they are separated from.

Write in a Journal
These are historical times. Children writing about the current situation is a wonderful way to keep a record of this monumental time in their lives. Journaling can also help children express their feelings, some of which might be frightening right now. Writing down thoughts and emotions is a great exercise in stress relief.

Movies
Try having your children watch movies with a critical eye. Ask them to think about a certain theme or certain imagery that reoccurs throughout. You can also have them read the book beforehand and have the movie as a treat when they’re done!

School Activities/Skills Practice
When you need some structured “school” time, we have lots of free activities you can use to help your children keep up with their academic skills. Reading comprehension, sight words, and math skills by grade level are just a few of the things you’ll find to keep your kids’ academic abilities up to date.

We’re sure you have some ideas, too. Share them in the comments!

Novel Instruction: Four Ways to Approach Plot and Structure in Literature—Part 2: An Important Scene

(Read the first installment of this series here.)

This week we are continuing our series of examining literary elements as you teach novels in your classroom. The article below describes an approach to using an important scene. Use the ideas to create classroom activities or to engage your students in whole-class or small-group discussions.

An Important Scene

Overview:  Novels are divided into chapters, but the building blocks of fiction are scenes.  A scene usually has a clear beginning and ending, though its seeds often are planted in earlier scenes and its tendrils extend into later scenes.  Scenes can revolve around major events, minor events, character interactions, internal monologues, or just about anything else.

The Basic Questions: 

  • What are the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where, and why) of the scene? 
  • In what ways is this scene caused by or foreshadowed in an earlier scene?
  • In what ways does this scene cause or foreshadow a later scene?

The Big Question: 

Why is this scene important to the novel as a whole?  Students should consider how this scene establishes or contributes to such literary elements as characterization, point of view, setting, genre, and theme.

Dig Deeper: 

  • What is the mood of the scene?  How do the author’s word choices and sentence structures add to or create this effect?
  • How could this scene have ended differently, and what effect would that different ending have had on the scenes that follow?

Get Graphic: 
Have students create a combination storyboard/flow chart of the scene by drawing 4–6 images from the scene and showing how each image leads to the next. 
Students should then explain how the author’s word choices or use of imagery help the reader create mental pictures of this scene’s individual moments.

Make a Connection: 
One type of important scene in a novel is when a character experiences a turning point. It is at this point that a decisive change occurs that dramatically affects the rest of the novel’s plot. Ask students to name their turning points as they read the novel. At what point did they decide that they were going to either really like or really dislike the novel? What led to this turning point?

Next week: Part 3—Sequence and Structure

Novel Instruction: Four Ways to Approach Plot and Structure in Literature

Our reading habits are changing. This has a lot to do with what we are reading. Tweets, posts, snaps, infographics, and other contemporary text types are ideal for communicating ideas quickly and visually. They have a place in our society — and in our classrooms, too — but they are not substitutes for actual literature.

There are important life and literacy skills students can gain from the kind of reading experience that novels provide. Great literature can spark imagination, foster empathy, and reward deeper analysis.

Successful novels are cooked up from such ingredients as plot and structure, characterization and point of view, setting and genre, main idea and theme, and author’s craft. The article below is part of series that offers ideas for examining these literary elements as you teach novels in your classroom.

Over the next four blog posts, we will describe four ways to approach the classroom analysis of plot and structure in just about any novel. The first approach is to use the opening scene. Use the ideas below to create classroom activities or to engage your students in whole-class or small-group discussions.

The Opening Scene

When we crack open a book and begin reading, it is as if a door to a new world has been opened.  The first few pages of the novel are our first glimpses into this world, and so authors want us to be intrigued by what we see.  Use this idea as a basis for examining a novel’s opening.

Basic Questions: 

  • What happens in this first scene? 
  • In what setting does this first scene take place? 
  • Who is the narrator?  Is this narrator a character in the book? 
  • Which characters do we meet?  What do we learn about the appearances, personalities, and backgrounds of these characters?

The Big Question:  What purpose (or purposes) does the opening scene serve?  Opening scenes can . . . 

  • introduce us to the novel’s narrator (e.g., The One and Only Ivan)
  • reveal a character or narrator’s defining trait (e.g., Wonder)
  • establish a relationship between characters (e.g., Because of Winn-Dixie)
  • describe a physical setting (e.g., Holes)
  • depict a life-altering event (e.g., Hatchet)
  • construct an alternate world (e.g., The Giver)
  • do all of the above
  • do something else entirely

Dig Deeper: 

  • How would you describe the voice of the narrator? 
  • What do you notice about the language the author/narrator uses?
  • How would you describe the mood of the opening scene? 
  • What effect does this opening scene have on the reader?  What did the author do to create this effect? 
  • What predictions about the book can you make based on this opening scene?

Get Graphic:  Consider creating an organizer based on the visual of a door or window.  For younger students, create a large door drawing that is divided into three panels (one each for plot, setting, and characters).  For older students, draw a set of doors or windows with questions on them.

Make a Connection:  Ask students to name a book or movie that they think has a very memorable opening scene. Student choices are their opinions. However, they must support those choices with reasons that are not just opinions. For example, they can’t simply say that an opening scene is “good” or “exciting.” Instead, they must explain what the author or filmmaker specifically did to make the opening scene good or exciting.

Next week: Part 2—An Important Scene