Sunday, November 16, 2014

Just went to conferences... Now what???

After conferences, parents often ask me how to better support their child’s learning.  There are many additional things families can do to keep skills moving forward.  It is important to be mindful of students' interest levels while supporting youngsters’ intrinsic desires to continue learning.  A multitude of learning opportunities take place during the school day, with many teachers giving homework or practice to support learning each night.  We need to be careful not to overwhelm students or turn them off of learning.  We don’t want to force; we want to empower!  Empowering students to assume the responsibility for learning should be our goal!  With that said, below are some ideas to encourage learning outside the school day, on weekends, or even during winter break.  Enjoy!

Creating family reading time is one of the most important things we can do for early learners.  Reading is the “foundation of success” and is essential for all subjects.  Good readers activate background knowledge and are able to predict, infer, and question while reading.  Fluent readers can put themselves into the text, making self-to-text connections.  When reading stories together we should stop and ask questions, predict, place ourselves into the story, and ask, “What would you do?”

Sample Questions:

·                Describe the main character.  Where does the story take place?  When does it take place?
·                Name the supporting characters.
·                What do you think the characters are feeling?  Why do they feel that way?
·                What is the problem in the story?  How does the character deal w/problem?
·                Could the character do something different to solve the problem?
·                What is your favorite part of the story?  Why?
·                Have you ever read a story that is similar to this story?
·                Does this story remind you of anything in your life?
·                If you could come up with a new title for the story then what would it be?
·                How did the story end?  Would you change the ending?  Why/How?
·                What is the most interesting part of the story?  Why?
·                Did you learn something new?  Give 3 new facts?  How can you apply this lesson to your life?
·                What are the main character's traits?  How is the character like you/different from you?
·                What do you think will happen next?
·                Tell an opinion you have about the story.  Tell a fact from the story.

Set a purpose or objective for reading, and allow time to make connections, such as:  text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world.   It is important to have conversations to enhance comprehension skills and understanding of the material being read.  Simple “making connection starters” could include:

·         This story reminds me when I went swimming because…
·         This story reminds me of when (character from different story/chapter/etc.) made a new friend  because…
·         This story reminds me when my teacher did ______ because…
·         This story reminds me of when we went on vacation because…
·         This character reminds me of my neighbor because…

I am sure you can think of additional questions or connection starters.  Understand that it is not necessary to use every question or connection starter during your family reading.  Pick three or four that will enhance the reading experience.  The goal for family reading, besides great family bonding, is to support a natural transfer of skills into the child’s independent reading activities, enhancing comprehension, reading fluency and fostering a love of books. 

Spelling and Vocabulary:

Driving vocabulary - Attach three to five vocabulary words on the back of the driver/passenger seat in your car.  While driving, have your child read, spell, and tell the meaning of each word, using them in a sentence.  Change the words every week or two, but don’t tell them when.  Anticipation will increase excitement for new vocabulary words.  Have children keep a driving journal, keeping track of the new words they are learning.  Make sure the words are grade level appropriate and keep it fun.  You can also use this strategy to practice new spelling words.

Vocabulary practice/sentence building – Place words on index cards in two different piles – mix them up and see who can make a sentence.  Make a game out of this activity, creating a point system and the first one to 50 points wins! 

Label the house – Label some items in your house with index cards.  Environmental print supports immediate recall and enhances reading fluency.

Word of the week – Take a higher level vocabulary word and make it the “word of the week” in your house.  Use it in sentences, post it in the house, spell it together, and encourage them to incorporate the word into their writing at school.  Try to make it fun!

Spelling City - Practicing spelling was a challenging event in our household until we were introduced to Spelling City, which is a game-based program that provides spelling, vocabulary, and other language arts activities for K-12 cross-curricular word study.  The site offers a free or affordable premium membership that allows children to use their classroom generated spelling list within the program for motivational practice while providing immediate feedback to learners.   My children no longer complain when we ask them to practice their spelling words.  Give it a try; it might help your family as much as it has helped ours. 


Sports journal – While watching a game, keep a journal of your favorite plays so that you can go back and try it on the field.   We are well into the football season (Go Lions!) and your favorite team or players can provide many writing opportunities.  Simple sports writing prompts could include:

·         Have you ever dreamed about being a sports star?  What team would you play for? 
·         What is your favorite sports team and why?
·         Who is your favorite player and why? 
·         What are the 5 top plays from yesterday’s game?

Connecting to a child’s interest level will enhance likelihood that practice will be meaningful and empowering.

Family time capsule journal or scrap book journal – Keeping track of movies, family vacations, major news stories, special sporting events, birthdays, etc. in a family journal will make writing exciting.  You can add pictures and make it into a scrap book of memories and thoughts that can be remembered for years to come.

Writing for a purpose – Write a letter to a company that makes the best chocolate, game, toy, golf club, etc.  Maybe they will send you some free goodies as a thank you!  Write a letter if you are not impressed with a product.  I wonder if the CEO of the company will respond.

Popplet – Used as a mind-map, Popplet helps students think and learn visually.  Students can capture facts, thoughts, and images while learning to create relationships between them.  Check out a previous post – Popplet: Supporting son's writing homework - he loves to build!


As an elementary teacher, I focused on the students’ ability to understand math concepts and think mathematically. Unfortunately, some of my students had a difficult time because they lacked the ability to recall basic facts. They understood the process; however, they scored low on assessments due to simple computation mistakes throughout the problem.  I always encouraged my students to practice math facts for five minutes a day when they were at home.  Five extra minutes of intense practice per school day might not seem like much, but it adds up quickly. By the end of the year they will do over 900 minutes of extra basic facts practice!  Check out Edutopia - 10 apps for math fluency

Think Through Math - For the past couple of years, our building has been utilizing Think Through Math (TTM) as a supplemental tool for fourth and fifth grade students in conjunction with our district math curriculum.  We have found it to be extremely beneficial.  Think Through Math does exactly what its name suggests.  It provides students with opportunity to understand mathematical concepts rather than just getting to a final answer.   The uniqueness of TTM is that students can connect with a LIVE certified teacher when they are unable to solve a problem on their own.   They can also access the program from home!  TTM understands the importance of immediate support when a student is struggling with a new concept.  Connecting and interacting with a live teacher enhances the likelihood of student success, while taking their mathematical skills to the next level.  Check out a previous post for more detail about TTM. 

These are some of the additional learning opportunities I have used with my children or suggested to parents.  Please remember the importance of keeping things fun and enjoyable while empowering children’s intrinsic belief to be life-long learners.  Most importantly, don’t forget the need for family time, playing board games, making a snowman (yes, snow is just around the corner), putting together a puzzle and having rich conversations with your children, enhancing family relationships.

Enjoy your week as great parents and teachers!  


  1. Keith, enjoyed your post. It got me thinking a lot about the differences between early grades and high schools. As a high school educator, we often get away from the "basics" and focus so much on content at the expense of reading and writing. For students who struggle, we place them in remedial classes at the expense of electives that they may find interesting. It's important that we, as HS teachers, don't lose our focus on reading and writing and student interest. Thanks for the reminder (although I know this wasn't the premise of your post).

    1. Reed, I am glad that the post was a "reminder" for you at the HS level. I enjoy reading your blog and learning from a secondary perspective. Enjoy the week!

  2. Thanks for the post. As the father of a young child, I admit there is a lot of lost time in the car where my family could utilize many of your vocabulary strategies.

    1. Brian,
      Thank you for reading and making a comment. I am glad that you found the information helpful. Have a great week!

  3. I agree with Brian - we do a lot of driving our kids around, and the time could be spent having some fun while learning. Great post, Keith, to get the wheels turning. Follow up is probably the most important part of the conferences!

    1. Jennifer,
      Conferences are a great time to showcase the great things happening with our students. Thank you for commenting and always providing support to the #compelledtribe. I enjoy learning from you and so many others. Enjoy the week!