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Archive for Sunday, September 30, 2001

Teachers offer tips to boost children’s learning skills

September 30, 2001

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If Charlotte Prosser could wave a magic wand over Lawrence, she'd instill in all parents a desire to stay on top of their child's school work.

"You need to ask a lot of questions," said Prosser, a journalism and learning strategy teacher at Central Junior High School. "Be persistent and don't back off."

In 10 interviews of Lawrence public school district teachers with a combined 130 years of classroom experience, suggestions for how parents could help their children find success at school poured out.

Linda Marshall, a first-grade teacher at Langston Hughes School, said the foundation for achievement at school was built in the home.

It's common sense, she said, but nothing beats regular, casual dialogue with children. The evening meal is as good a place as any, she said.

"Kids with higher vocabulary had dinner-time conversations," she said.

Reading to a child and listening to a child read is a time-honored method of boosting a young student's academic prowess, said Wayne Kruse, Quail Run School sixth-grade teacher.

"Read," he said. "Read with your child and talk about books."

Socialization is another valuable trait that has implications for making school click for kids.

"There seems to be a lot of difficulties with students getting along, sharing and communicating what they want," said Chris Marshall, a physical education instructor at Cordley School. "Students need to be made aware of good socialization skills in the home. It's not just up to the teachers to teach those communication skills."

Indeed, keeping communication channels open between parent and child is meaningful throughout a student's academic career.

Mark Robinson, music teacher at South Junior High School, said children may say they don't want their parents to know about their school life but the truth is most feel more secure if their folks are consistently involved.

"The thing I preach to my kids is communication, communication and communication," Robinson said. "Parents are more supportive and helpful if they know what their kids are doing."

He requires school memos sent home with students to be signed by a parent or guardian. He feels strong enough about this form of information exchange to give students class credit for compliance with the signature rule.

Kathi Firns-Hubert, who teaches English as a second language at Hillcrest School, said students benefited from a structured homework environment. A study "hot spot" needs to be designated in the home where children keep school materials and study each day.

She offered another bit of wisdom: "You can't play video games or watch TV until homework is finished."

Suzan Smith, family and consumer science teacher at Lawrence High School, said parents ought to play hardball by make it clear students were ultimately responsible for their academic performance. This is especially relevant in junior high and high school, she said.

"Make them accountable for their actions," Smith said. "If there are clear consequences, they'll do better. It's not the teacher's grade. It's the student's."

Carol Armstrong, a sixth-grade teacher at Schwegler School, said parents should make a habit of attending parent-teacher conferences.

Educators also welcome contact with parents by letter, telephone, e-mail or by appointment, she said.

"Teachers want to see parents as partners," Armstrong said. "If kids know parents are working to support teachers, that can only benefit students. Kids are the winners when that happens."

Al Gyles, math teacher at Free State High School, said many parents could assist their kids more by brushing up on advanced math skills.

"When you get in the upper-level classes," he said, "they often don't have the knowledge to help."

Encouraging children to set goals and remaining a positive influence while children strive to reach higher are underappreciated pieces of the academic puzzle, said Mark Grosdidier, who teaches industrial arts at West Junior High School.

"Give children positive reinforcement," he said. "Say, 'Yes. You can do it.' Let them know that people are behind them. Being successful in school, getting an education, is important to being successful in life."

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