July 23, 2014

Blended what? 6 new education models all flying under the same banner.


By Jessica Kelmon, Senior Editor

Not sure what the heck "blended learning" means? Well no wonder — the meaning can range from a few students sometimes using a computer to all students basically teaching themselves online.

Here's the quick-'n'-dirty on the six variations of blended learning that you may see at your child's school – plus a great infographic courtesy of Dreambox Learning below.  One thing is for sure: blended learning now describes almost any situation that blends technology into the learning process. Take a look...

Type 1: Face-to-face driver
Looks like: Kids in class with a teacher. Some kids use a computer a little bit.
Typically, you'd see this… on a case-by-case basis. Teachers use face-to-face driver as an extra tool or boost for students who are struggling with one concept or in one subject.
Evidence of success: A 2009 study showed this model — specifically 3rd and 5th grade teachers using an interactive whiteboard to explain math and reading concepts — boosted the test scores of ELL students who were falling behind on certain concepts because of their language barrier.

Type 2: Rotation
Looks like: Kids rotating — independently or in small groups — between fixed learning stations. For example: one with the teacher, one using computers, one doing group work, etc.
Typically, you'd see this...most of the time. In fact, 80 percent of California elementary schools that use any sort of blended learning use the rotation model.
Motivation booster: At one group of Title 1 schools in Texas, the rotation model boosted achievement — and the math program they used online in tandem with their classroom learning made kids more active learners: the students worked harder and tried new math concepts before they were introduced by the teacher.

Type 3: Flex
Looks like: Kids sitting at computers, with teachers floating around the room to help. Teachers also lead group discussions (without computers). But the majority of time, kids' eyes are on the screen in front of them.
Typically you'd see this… at an alternative school or one geared toward at-risk students.
Happy customer: A parent review of the San Francisco-based Flex Academy from earlier this year explained, "The Flex model may not work for every student — but for kids who work well independently, who may not flourish within the super-heated social scene of most high schools, and [who] can cultivate the kind of discipline and focus required for college work, Flex can be a tremendously nurturing and successful environment!"

Type 4: The online lab
Looks like: A media lab full of kids, all working independently on different subjects. There are adults supervising, but these adults aren't necessarily teachers.
Typically you'd see this… at a school or district doing its best to counteract budget cuts and carry on without enough teachers. Students may spend their entire school day in an online lab, self-directing their way through all subjects — with minimal interaction with teachers unless they need help.
Studies show: Based on a case study of 56 participating middle and high schools in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Virtual Learning Lab pilot program, effective online labs seat 30-40 students and are staffed by (at least) one on-site facilitator.

Type 5: Self-blend
Looks like: Students (on their laptops) at home, in the library, or at a coffee shop who attend a traditional school and use their free periods or out-of-school time to take an additional online course or two.
Typically you'd see this… as a tactic for highly self-motivated high schoolers who want to take a course not offered on campus — like AP Stats.
Path to college: Many universities offer online courses for high schoolers who are eager to get started. The early college program at the University of Alabama, for example, is open to any sophomore, junior, or senior with at least a 3.0 GPA.

Type 6: Online driver
Looks like: Students working primarily independently on their own schedule through their course curriculum — which is completely online.
Typically you'd see… students who don't attend traditional school, but instead are trying a self-directed approach to education. Technically, they are likely homeschooling, attending a school like Fusion, or enrolled in an online school.
Growing popularity: Between online homeschooling options, MOOCs, and the like, this new model of education is gaining popularity — by about 15 percent a year.

Not seeing your school's approach? Despite this range of scenarios, some schools don't quite fit. Fusion, for instance, is a mix of 6 (online driver) and 4 (online lab) — but with intensive, in-person, one-on-one help from a teacher. Our recent profile of Unity High School's math program reveals a mix of 3 (flex) and 6 (online driver) — with a dash of the not-quite-flipped classroom model. (At Unity, students watch lectures online in the media lab and work on problems together in class.) Then there are the Rocketship charter schools in Silicon Valley, which may be a sort of 1-2-3 combo: face-to-face driver (but for all kids) — rotation (but with a lot of tech stations) — flex (but with kids working on the same subjects together).

The lines are blurry, the mix eclectic – and, in the future, likely to blend even more.

Guess that's why we call it blended learning.


Original Source: 6 Models of Blended Learning

July 10, 2014

For today's kids, achievement and happiness trumps caring for others


By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor

 Do you want your children to grow up to be kind and caring people?

Do they know it? 

A new study from Harvard University has uncovered a vast disconnect between the message parents think they are sending their children about the importance of caring for others and the messages their  kids are receiving about prioritizing achievement and their own happiness over caring for others.

The survey, conducted through the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, asked a broad range of more than 10,000 middle and high school students from 33 school districts across the country what they thought was more important: "caring for others," "achieving at a high level," or "being a happy person (feeling good most of the time)."

Only 20 percent of the students said that caring for others was the most essential. That left 80 percent of kids who ranked achievement and their personal happiness as top priorities.

In a moment when the country is engaged in a knockdown about education standards, the middle class is disappearing, and there’s a steady drumbeat about our children’s lack of global competitiveness, this news shouldn’t surprise us. There’s a lot of anxiety about our children’s ability to pay the bills – and academic achievement is perhaps the one avenue most parents can imagine their children treading to avoid the hazards of a treacherous economic future.

But the finding that should make parents sit up and pay close attention is what the study calls the "rhetoric/reality gap" between what parents believe they're communicating to their kids and what kids are hearing. The report, "The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults are Sending about Values," states that in a 2012 study, nearly all parents – 96 percent to be precise – say developing moral
character in kids is "very important, if not essential" and they highly valued their children being "honest, loving, and reliable."

The study is part of a multifaceted effort to raise awareness about the importance of cultivating social emotional skills and ethics in our children. GreatSchools recently participated in a workshop (where this report was presented by its author) about how to galvanize a cultural shift in the  messages parents send this generation of children.

In the study, Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd and his co-authors found that when the students were asked to imagine how their parents and peers rank achievement, happiness, and caring, two-thirds answered that both their parents and peers would rank achievement above caring for others.

Students were three times more likely to agree than disagree with the statement: "My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I'm a caring community member in class and school.” (The majority - 80 percent – of teachers, administrators, and school staff agreed with the kids, saying that they saw parents favoring achievement and happiness over caring for other people, too.) And the older the child, the less they focus on caring.

So what's going on? According to the study, it appears our nation is suffering from a caring crisis, which – despite parents’ best efforts to remind their children to play fair and be nice – is also telling our children to look out for number one to get the A, the top-ranking college, and the six-figure job.

The news isn't all bad. But if our goal really is to raise kind, ethical kids, the authors say it will take a shift in how we parent. Adults need to "walk the talk," since young people, with their "razor sharp alertness to hypocrisy," notice when their parents say one thing while prioritizing something else. The authors encourage parents to gut-check their messages around happiness and achievement in comparison to their messages around caring and fairness.

"Do we regularly tell our children, for example, 'the most important thing is that you're happy,' or do we say that 'the most important thing is that you act with integrity and are kind'? Do we insist that our children are not rude to us or never treat other people offhandedly? Do we insist that our children do the right thing even if it doesn't make them happy or successful? Do we remind our children of their obligations to their communities, for example their classroom and schools, their teams and school choirs, and their neighborhoods?"

While parents and educators might worry that we'll have to sacrifice achievement to emphasize caring, research suggests the opposite. In fact, good kids come out ahead, says Vicki Zakrzewski, a social emotional expert and the education director of the Greater Good Institute in Berkeley, California.

"Children who are taught social-emotional skills rise in academic achievement," says Zakrzewski, who notes that research has found that children who link their passions to something greater than themselves do better in school and in their careers years later. "Success and achievement doesn't mean you forego those around you. You can extend care and compassion to others and be successful."

June 13, 2014

What does teacher tenure mean for parents?


by Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

This week, when a California court ruled that California’s teacher tenure laws denied students their constitutional right to an equal education, I found myself poring over article after legal document after commentary, attempting to make sense of a lawsuit embroiled in controversy. The decision spells out the ruling and the three laws' flaws well, but nothing I read made it clear how any of this might affect my daughter’s education.

Judge Rolf M. Treu of the Los Angeles Superior Court struck down three provisions of the law: seniority rules when teachers are laid off — often referred to as LIFO “last in first out” — mandating that the most recently hired teachers are the first to be laid off; the granting of tenure after only a two-year probationary period, which in practice is less than two years; and the extensive due process required to fire an ineffective or abusive teacher. 

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of nine students, was financed by Silicon Valley millionaire Jack Welch, who has vowed to use the courts to reform teacher tenure laws in other states. Prior court cases have established that access to education must be equal — not different based on racial segregation (Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954), funding disparities (Serrano I in 1971 & Serrano II in 1976), or the length of the school year (Butt vs. State of California in 1992), but this is the first U.S. case considering the issue of equality when it comes to the quality of a child's education.

The decision has been heralded as a great victory by education reformers focused on curbing the power of teachers unions. It's also been decried as a miscarriage of justice by teachers union defenders, who regard it as yet another attempt to blame teachers for an education system shackled by societal problems far beyond their control.

The ruling – in a nutshell

But as fun as it is to pore over the endless riffs on the judge’s strongly worded 16-page decision, it only gets me so far. As a garden-variety parent with a child in a public school, I'm left with more questions than answers about how this affects the wide middle.

In fact, much of the evidence cited by the judge focuses on the extremes: really bad teachers, low-performing schools. There are an estimated 3,000-8,000 teachers who have been evaluated as “grossly ineffective,” but the due process for firing a single teacher can take as long as two to 10 years and cost in the neighborhood of $40-50K. The judge also cited a calculation that one bad teacher can cost his or her classroom $1.4 million dollars in lifetime earnings — and that schools with the most low-income and minority students have the highest numbers of low-performing teachers. 

What’s more, California tenure laws offer teachers more protections than those in other states. Unlike most states that take three to five years to consider teachers for tenure, California is one of five states that grant tenure in just two years. Surprisingly, because of a clause in this law requiring that teachers be notified of their tenure status for the coming fall by March 15, this two year period is really more like 16 to 18 months. Combine this with our emergency credentialing process, the irony is that teachers can be awarded tenure before they are finished getting their credential. California is one of only 10 states that require administrators to consider seniority as a factor when it comes to placement and layoffs.

If you have a child in a California public school with teachers who have been evaluated as grossly ineffective, abusive, or incompetent, this ruling may directly affect your child’s education – if the ruling is upheld on appeal, a process that some experts say will take years.  

But what about now, and what about the rest of us that don’t have children in classrooms of one of the 1 to 3 percent of teachers who have been officially labeled bad? How do teacher tenure laws like LIFO, extensive due process, and two-year tenure policies affect most kids’ education?

Now can we keep Mr. L?

Looking at how this case might affect one of my daughter’s most beloved teachers, the whole issue takes on more personal meaning.

Mr. L graduated from teachers' college a few years ago, when our district was handing out pink slips like a year-end ritual. Instead of seeking employment elsewhere, he signed up as a substitute, and lucky for us, he ended up at the top of our sub list just as one of the school’s veteran teachers had begun to call in sick – week after week.

Ms. W had recently come under fire by parents who accused her of vindictive and weird behavior, such as parading children who had broken the rules in a “walk of shame,” and not letting kids go to the bathroom. (Like the vast majority of teachers in the nation, she’d never received anything but a satisfactory evaluation, despite a decade of parent complaints.) 

While Ms. W was on a year’s sabbatical (She had admitted to me about how burned-out she was.), angry parents began organizing, putting pressure on the district, the union, and the principal to lay her off. But since this teacher had tenure, it meant any layoff would involve a multi-year — and probably unsuccessful — process. 

When Ms. W returned to school, her seniority allowed her to choose which grade she wanted to teach, even if it meant bumping a less-senior teacher who was doing a fantastic job. She picked an open 4/5 class, which was good in that it didn’t displace any other teachers, but it also meant that some of the children who had been traumatized by her in 2nd grade would now have her again. A month or so into the year, claiming that her work environment had become hostile (which no doubt it had), Ms. W went on “sick leave” and Mr. L was hired as a long-term sub/part-time co-teacher, offering a thread of continuity to the students.

As a teacher without seniority, Mr. L didn’t get a full-time position, but was hired as a half-time teacher to co-teach the 3rd grade with a wonderful veteran teacher who also serves as the reading specialist. Despite his limited work schedule, Mr. L spends extra time with the kids, eating lunch with a group of 4th and 5th grade boys twice a week to talk to them about the importance of staying serious about school, playing a mean game of four-square with the girls during recess, and helping out with the early morning newspaper club. He also spends one of his days off having lunch with his mentor, a master teacher who is helping him develop his teaching practice. Highly motivated, dedicated, and passionate about learning his craft, Mr. L is just the sort of professional that would rise through the ranks of any work environment. But at our school, though widely acknowledged to be a gem, Mr. L's reward is a part-time job that doesn’t pay a living wage and the awareness that if anyone is going to be laid off, it will be him.

Recently, the school drummed up an extra .25 position — about $10,000 — to help support the 4th and 5th grade teachers whose classes have ballooned as big as 35 students and are now expected to teach to a higher standard under Common Core. When parents suggested that Mr. L was the obvious choice to fill that position, the principal explained that she had little say in the matter, since she would have to open the job up based on seniority.

The story of Mr. L and Ms. W is just an anecdote, but it does show how irrational these tenure laws can be.

Next up: better incentives for teachers

Supporters of the current tenure protections argue that these laws help recruit and retain excellent teachers by promising them stability in return for high wages.  Maybe, but sometimes they may do just the opposite, by incentivizing teachers to hold on to jobs for all the wrong reasons. They also suggest that weakening these laws will lead to even more turnover and instability in low-performing schools – where the work is so hard that it chews up idealistic young teachers and spits them out in regular two-year cycles.  To them I say, there’s got to be a better way to attract teachers to these jobs than a tenure system that doesn’t allow schools to cultivate new talent and fire those who are not doing their job.

Behind all of this is a huge controversy about fair and reliable ways to evaluate teachers' effectiveness. It's a debate that hasn't been resolved — and needs to be studied and addressed.

Still, teachers deserve heaps of respect — and it would be a shame if this court case led to all of our qualified, caring, and strong teachers feeling unappreciated. Unfortunately, many of the ones I know — very good, hard-working teachers — are struggling with low morale, a lack of resources, little ongoing training and support, and a loud and critical national conversation about “grossly ineffective teachers.” Understandably, it makes them feel under attack — even, of course, if that’s far from the case. Reforming teacher tenure laws needs to go hand in hand with new initiatives to support a generation of teachers who deserve a living wage, who are well trained, and who feel the respect that accrues to every other professional.

Because we’re only as good as our teachers. They’re the gardeners of our civilization and both sides of this debate know this. It’s time we treat them as such.

May 30, 2014

When should you let your child fail?

by Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

Tales of failure!

Glitter and glue drip off the table. Paper, strewn across the room, marks a path of frustration leading to the crumpled figure of your third grade daughter.  The time is 9:00 pm, exactly 12 hours before she is supposed to turn in her first and only social studies project of the year.

What do you do? Rescue her? Lecture? Stand back and let your child experience the consequences of her own actions?

The virtues of failure

Every day as parents, we face this dilemma.  When should you let kids make their own mistakes, and when should you swoop in and protect them from their shortsightedness, immaturity, and, er, stupidity? 

In an era of tiger moms and helicopter dads, it’s easy to recognize the telltale signs of overprotectiveness in other parents while simply seeing your own nurturing urges as reasonable. But if all our impulses guide us to protect our kids, how do we know when it’s time to let our children experience failure? How do you teach them not to be afraid to make mistakes (and learn from them)?  And when is it better to do whatever you can to protect them from hurt?


This week, we're going to explore these questions and more with Today Show parenting expert Michele Borba and NBA star Adonal Foyle in our online parenting chat about the upsides to failure and what kids learn from the experience. This chat, called "Letting Kids Fail & Grow" is part of our ongoing Emotional Smarts series where we ask preeminent (and often divergent) experts to share their stories and actionable advice for parents to take home. 

So please join us June 4 at 11 am PST. But first, sign up and submit your questions. Then, on Wednesday, meet us online at the appointed time: 11 am PST.

Add your voice to this national conversation

Have a story about failure and kids? Is there a moment when you learned about the virtues of falling flat on your face? Or a time that you stepped back and let your child dive headlong into a serious mistake? We want to hear it. Share your experience or your child’s tale of triumph or woe on the Google+ Hangout page, submit it in a comment below, or write it up as an original blog and send it to us at emotionalsmarts@greatschools.org with the subject line: Letting kids fail.

We'll publish the best submissions and promote them in our newsletter!  Hope to see you on Wednesday!

April 11, 2014

Anger management comes home


by Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

There was a time when anger wasn’t really an issue in my life. At most there were misunderstandings that arose between well-meaning adults who treated each other with respect. People with “anger issues” seemed to inhabit a faraway planet with a landscape of inexplicable strife, screaming and stress.  

Then I became a parent. 

Suddenly, there were feelings, by the boatload, with tears, whines, whispered invectives and yes, yelling that pin-balled around our little house. Suddenly, I wasn’t a coolheaded professional smiling my way along a high road of meetings, work lunches and dinner parties. I was a red eyed, broken tongued monster mama of the lost temper and found weaknesses. Then I spoke to other parents and I discovered this humbling transformation wasn’t so much a revelation of my particular bodi-satva/cross-to-bear but just, well, normal.

As parents, we welcome our kids into the world embracing them with Love with a big L. Love will show the way, we whisper, cradling that tiny creature in the first days of their fragile lives. Then fragility grows into bumptious beings whose very development is predicated on pressing our buttons, pushing our limits, and giving us reasons to holler: Put your shoes on! We’re late! Don’t hit your sister! Don’t speak to me in that tone! and million other found objects in the junk heap of parenting bloopers that find themselves coming to life in our vocal chords. 

This is why I was so thrilled about our first Emotional Smarts Hangout last week – the first of our online live chats with parenting experts we've launched with Social Moms and If You.  For this first Emotional Smarts Hangout, I spoke about anger and parenting with Marc Brackett, director of Yale's Center for Emotional Intelligence and one of the foremost voices on the social emotional learning in the country and America’s Supernanny Deborah Tillman, whose Lifetime show goes into days of “lock-down” with families in crisis. 

They come from such distinct walks of life – Marc a researcher scientist at a New England Ivy League, Deborah a professional childcare center director and mother turned reality TV star – that I imagined that they might have very disparate approaches to the same topic. They might even disagree! 

But the real surprise was their shared understanding: turns out that anger management in the shadow of the Ivory Tower and the spotlight of cable TV are not so different after all. At the heart of both Marc and Deborah’s message is that parents need to be the role model for their children’s emotional learning and yes, it’s not easy, and no, no one’s perfect, but it is possible and hugely important.  

Both speakers abounded in insights, but each offered brilliant encapsulations of some simple principals that all parents can use when it comes to parenting and anger:

On being a role model:

Deborah Tillman offered an inspired motto for parenting when a child is acting up that refocuses the parent on what they should do: “Remember, you are teaching, training, and talking from 0-10 years old and listening, learning, and loving the 'new' people they are becoming from 10-20 years old. You want to lead by example and model the behavior that you want your child to exhibit.”

On being your best parent self:

Marc Brackett recommended thinking of five words that describe you as a parent at your very best. When you’re angry, go back to that image of your best self and let that person take ownership of the situation. By shifting attention away from the child’s behavior and onto your desire to be your “best self,” you can refocus your parenting strategies and quell your anger.

On children’s tantrums:

Tillman observed that children often don’t really know why they’re angry because it’s not what’s on the surface. She advised taking the time to communicate more about feelings – whether it means more conversation, singing, writing a letter, or anything else that allows for the expression of real emotion.

When you find yourself loosin’ it regularly:

Brackett advised that parents ask themselves: "Is that strategy working? If you're using that yelling and screaming, 'Get to your bedroom!' and that's not working [then you have to change it.]"  He acknowleged that "parents are very stressed. When their internal resources are depleted, burned from work, hungry, tired, that's when they're at their worst." And that of course is the time that parents' anger is triggered. "That's when you have to be your best self. You have to say: "I'm the most caring, empathic, loving mother on earth."

On sibling rivalry:

If a family is struggling with sibling rivalry, Deborah suggests that parents take a step back and include their own behavior in the picture: “If you go scream at two kids arguing and fighting and the kids look at you, "Well, that's how we handle the problem…" Take a step back look in the mirror. It's not about making this child, it's about raising this child. What do I need to do as a person to do that?”

Finally, there were a few great questions from parents during the chat that didn’t get answered and I wanted to make sure a few of them did. Deborah Tillman generously replied to some this week.


Michelle Filice: What if the parent was raised with a single parent that showed no emotion ,let alone didn't play with you to give you that imaginative mind. What should that parent do?

 We don’t always get the best examples growing up. Believing that your parent did the best they could will help you get past any form of resentment. However, I would suggest that since you recognize the lack of emotional connection was an issue, you have the opportunity to understand how that made you feel and don’t pass that along to your children. I encourage you to lead by example and make every effort to have an open line of communication between you and your children. Set aside some time each night to discuss your feelings. My family used to call it the “Lemon squeeze.” We went around the circle and each person got the chance to speak about what “soured” their day and what “sweetened” their day. Only by talking will you be able to open up a floodgate of emotions that you may have never experienced if you did not make a conscious effort. 

ConnieM: Is it ever justified or reasonable to blow up at your child?

It depends on what you mean by “blow up.” Certainly, it may be justified but certainly not the example we want to set as parents. You want to lead by example and model the behavior that you want your child to exhibit. Is it easy? Of course not. If it were, we would all be able to do it 100 percent of the time. For those times when you do yell or “blow up” this is a reminder that you are human and have the opportunity to go to your child and apologize. Continue to work on yourself and figure out the triggers that get you to the blowing up phase. Once you recognize you might be heading in that direction, you can walk away and take a few minutes to gather your thoughts and emotions BEFORE addressing your child. 

DanielleP: My teen daughter cries a lot and is very dramatic about everything. How do I calm her down without seeming like I'm being insensitive?

Your teen daughter is probably going through a lot of changes emotionally, physically, mentally, etc. Therefore, patience is the order of the day. Get her to journal write or spend more time talking to you. It is difficult to get a teen to calm down once they are already emotional. When she is not emotional is when you want to talk to her about her feelings and why she gets so upset over certain things. You also want her to come up with some emotionally healthy ways to express her emotions besides becoming so dramatic. Remember not to be judgmental or critical. 

Is aggression human nature? Most scientists would say yes. From the invention of the fork (instead of carrying a sharp knife) to laws against violence to cultural practices like lining up, our everyday lives are suffused with objects and behaviors designed to tame and curtail the dragon within.

But in the family – as a society – the dragon wrecks havoc. According to recent statistics, there’s nearly a million incidents of domestic violence every year and 25% of women have experienced domestic violence.  And there are heartbreakingly nearly 700,000  cases of child abuse per year. Children contribute to the national rage, too: one study found that 37% of children had committed at least one act of serious abuse during the previous year.

So if your family sometimes isn’t the peaceful sanctuary you’d like it to be, don’t beat yourself up. But also, say the experts, don’t ignore the issue. You have the power to switch the channel away from tantrums and tirades and toward real communication. It may not be easy – sometimes it may feel superhuman. But you won’t be alone. In fact,  millions of other parents including yours truly will be right there with you.

(Please join us on June 4 at 11:00 PT/2:00 ET for our second Emotional Smarts Hangout with Today Show's parenting expert Michele Borba and NBA star Adonal Foyle, who will be talking about learning to fail.)

March 28, 2014

Edu-tainment in a pinch


By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

Picking up BBQ supplies at the store on Sunday, I saw a mom perform one of the quickest tantrum turnarounds ever. Faced with a 3-year-old on the brink, the mom made a beeline for the card section. Squatting beside their cart full of groceries, mother and daughter enjoyed reading card after illustrated card. "Nice save," I said as I passed. The mom looked up and smiled.

This mom found the perfect bit of edu-tainment for when the going got rough – one of those benign tricks every parent needs in this chaotic world of traffic jams and grocery store meltdowns.

Funny birthday cards are good. But what I recently discovered – teed up on a smartphone – is better because all you need is something you're already carrying. Oh, and something your kid pretty much always wants to play with to boot. Turns out there are people – nice lovely people – who have posted videos of themselves on YouTube reading children’s books aloud and with expression, page by page.

I know this is no substitute for parents reading books to their children, cuddled on the couch or tucked in for bedtime. But in the car when the whining reaches a fever pitch or the day your child is home sick and your big work project is due or when you’ve got laryngitis, these digitally captured stories may be just the ticket. They're lifesavers when all heck has broken lose – and they support your child’s education. 

My first discovery: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs read aloud, page by page.


Here are some of my other finds, but there are plenty more!

The Day the Crayons Quit - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDBTwtEuY24

Pinkalicious- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeVr-xjGc7A

Purplicious - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERBgIvDylzk

Dragons Love Tacos - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rizHcQjektA

Green Eggs and Ham - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbeSIiN1R-M

Do you know of other quick, magical e-learning tricks or resources that have made your life easier while still helping your child? Please share and share alike! 


What does it take to raise kids who are kind, smart, resilient, persistent, and cooperative?


by Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

If my personal experience as a parent has taught me anything, the short answer is a lot.  The long answer is that learning how to raise emotionally intelligent kids usually means looking for the best advise from the onslaught of information out there – the writer you’ve come to trust, that smart mom or inspired teacher, whatever wisdom you can glean that will make sense for your family.

That’s why I’m so proud to announce Emotional Smarts: Conversations on Parenting, a Google+ Hangout On Air, in collaboration SocialMoms, and social emotional gaming company If You Can. This series will bring some of the most insightful voices in parenting and education together with influencers from other fields to talk about developing emotional intelligence in our kids – and ourselves.

Over the next few months, we'll pair experts with divergent views to explore a common parenting theme and offer practical wisdom and tactical advice.

For this first hangout, ivory tower meets reality TV when Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, speaks with America’s Supernanny Deborah Tillman – who, for her weekly Lifetime television show, goes into “lockdown” with families in crisis.

Tantrums and tirades

 Brackett and Tillman will share their ideas and tips on dealing with one of the most intractable of all parental pain points: anger in the family. Whether dealing with a child who is melting down or grappling with your own mounting frustration, every parent has struggled with this problem at some point. Should children be told to stay positive or express their anger? What are the best ways to deal with a child who has simply lost it?  How do you know if your own behavior is contributing to the problem? 

Join us Wednesday, April 2, 2 pm EST (11 am PST) for a spirited exploration of one of the most common – and difficult – issues in family life and jump in with your questions.

Just sign up via http://bit.ly/TantrumsAndTirades and log on at the appointed time to participate. In this unique forum, you’re invited to join the video conversation by contributing real-time questions and comments via the Google+ hangout page or Twitter via #emotionalsmarts  

If you can’t make the live event, no problem, you can watch it later on GreatSchools or SocialMoms.

March 11, 2014

Does smart TV make our kids smarter?


By Connie Matthiessen, Associate Editor

Like many parents, I’d much rather see my child read a book than watch TV, but lately I’ve had to question this assumption because TV has gotten so good.

When I was growing up, TV seldom explored moral ambiguity or questioned the status quo. The TV world back then was uncomplicated, largely white, and populated with wholesome families and heroes who always got the bad guys.

Golden age of television

TV has come a long way since then, of course, and many herald a golden age of television, citing series like The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, True Detectives, Madmen, Girls, and Game of Thrones.

As critic David Carr observed in the New York Times, “The three-camera sitcom with a laugh track has been replaced by television shows that are much more like books — intricate narratives full of text, subtext and clues... In the short span of five years, table talk has shifted, at least among the people I socialize with, from books and movies to television. The idiot box gained heft and intellectual credibility to the point where you seem dumb if you are not watching it.”

(It's also true that if TV is much better these days, it’s also much worse: consider the swarm of reality shows — from Date My Mom to Storage Wars to Virgin Diaries — that make the old shows seem refreshingly innocent and self-respecting in comparison.)

The new novel?

Most of the new shows Carr cites aren’t appropriate for young kids, of course, although friends tell me that TV for younger kids is also much better these days. But my boys are 19 and almost 18, and in recent years they’ve followed several different series that have sparked their imaginations. I wasn't thrilled about the screentime at first, but then I began noticing that my kids and their friends were having discussions about character and plot. After they started watching True Detectives, they tracked down and immediately read The King in Yellow, a turn-of-the-century collection of short stories that, in the show, helps the detectives crack the crime. True Detective is not the only show that got them reading, either: one of my sons devoured all the Game of Thrones books and then got hooked on the series; my other son started the series before tackling the books.

When I ask my kids why they like these shows so much, they talk about the engaging, often deeply troubled characters, the smart dialogue and plot twists, the complex relationships and suspense. They love the shows, in another words, not just because they tell a compelling story, but because they make them think and feel and experience life from a new perspective — the way a great book can do.  

What books do best

Is this a valid comparision? Are TV shows, as some insist, the novels of today? In The New York Times Book Review, critic and poet Adam Kirsch argues that novels are far more subtle and powerful than even the best TV show:  “Spectacle and melodrama remain at the heart of TV, as they do with all arts that must reach a large audience in order to be economically viable. But it is voice, tone, the sense of the author’s mind at work, that are the essence of literature, and they exist in language, not in images. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be grateful for our good TV shows; but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that they give us what only literature can.”

I’m with Kirsh — and I’d still prefer to see my kids reading than watching the tube — but it doesn't have to be a matter of either/or. When I asked one of my sons which he prefers, watching a fantastic TV show or reading a wonderful book, he told me, “I like both. Why do I have to choose between two good things?”

March 10, 2014

Is audiobook reading really reading?

By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor

It’s 10:48 p.m. on a Sunday night. I know because that’s the moment my teen son starts tapping on the door to wake me up. I squint one eye open long enough to examine my bedside clock.

“Mo-om! Audible's not working! I need help!”

If I weren’t so tired, I'd find this hilarious. My 16 year old asking me for any technological support is nothing short of ludicrous, since he does computer programming and, well, unlike some people around here, he wasn’t born somewhere in the middle of the past century when the single glowing thing in my childhood home was a clunky TV with only six channels that you had to stand up to change.

“Pl-ease! I’m going to fail the English quiz tomorrow if I can’t read it.”

This is also funny because my very smart son doesn’t intend to read The Grapes of Wrath. He’s going to listen to it on his phone, just the same way he listened to The Great Gatsby last month.

“Arghhhhh!” he yells, stretching out the word into a sentence out as only a teenager can. “Help me!”

I stumble out of bed and into his room where, what do you know, a vestige of times past is affably sitting on his nightstand: a paperback copy of Steinbeck's classic. 

“You have it right there!" I growl. "Just read the book!”

“You don't understand! I read books better by listening to them!”

There is no winning this fight, this attempt to have him hold the unwieldy foreign object in his hands and, as my people learned to do long ago, read left to right, turning pages from book's beginning to end. I log into my Amazon account and download the book. I’m just about launch into my, “When I was your age, we read actual books” speech but, in a rare moment of parental control, I stop myself. Moralizing about the superiority of consuming a book the right way will ring hollow and induce no end of eye-rolling.

In the morning, I whine to my husband why I’m so tired and he starts in with me, that I should just have made the kid read the book. “That’s not really reading," he says. "It kind of feels like he's cheating.”

And just like that, I’m on my son’s side. He has the technology to listen to books, I argue, why not use it if that’s how he “reads”? The truth is I know better: we've had too many years of me trying to foist books on him that remain defiantly shut. Despite the fact his two parents are writers and editors and have stacks of books littering the house, the majority of his entertainment and education is found primarily on screens, with some exception. Textbooks he’ll happily consume, and an occasional magazine article, especially if it’s about physics or biology, but otherwise, the whole lot of dusty old tomes could go the way of the great library at Alexandria, with nary a teen tear shed.  

"I'm not so sure," I respond. "As long as he's enjoying to and listening to the story, why does it matter if he uses his eyes or ears?"

My husband will have none of it. "He's not exercising a part of the brain that is essential to personhood."

Personhood?!! Geesh. Anyway, yes, arguably you may gain less language acquisition since there's something about seeing a curious new word pop out as you read it over to take it in. Or that you may not marvel in the same way at breathtaking passages that are the stuff of so many dog-eared books. Or that your neurons aren't making the same connections through listening, not looking. Finally, maybe your own imagination doesn't stretch quite as far since the narrator is interpreting the author's words for you, giving voice to the Heathcliff and Jane Eyre he imagines.

But if there are studies proving reading a book by listening to a book doesn't do as much for your brain or learning, I haven't found them. Can't a person hearing a story similarily follow the plot, feel for the characters, and derive the same pleasure from a great story artfullly told - thereby gaining what a recent study found are the brain-boosting benefits of reading fiction, including flexing the imagination and empathizing with others?

Certainly, a year or two ago, I would have stood passionately on the side of the - as my son puts it - "boring" book, but recently people like author and activist Ben Foss, who talks about how technology can help different kinds of learners get an incredible education in ways they couldn't in years past, has radically altered my view.

I've also been swayed by the likes of educator Jim Trelease, who argues that no matter what age, being read aloud to holds vast benefits for kids of all ages – even grown-up kids like me who now, confession time, listen to most of her books on her runs since it's near impossible with work and kids to find time to sit down and read one of the 10 books stacked next to my bedside, a towering symbol of false hope that one day I'll make time to read them.

And if in our too busy, digitally overloaded world, the only way to actually read a great book is my son's way, to that I say, get me my headphones. It's time to read.

Related articles

What's really going on in your school's computer lab?


by Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

Cool math games.

For years, when I asked my daughters what they did in their computer classes, I would get these three words. Didn’t sound revolutionary, but it sounded okay to me. Cool (a positive attitude), math (American’s academic Achilles heel), games (okay, better games than drills, especially when it comes to math).

It took me a while before I learned that I couldn’t hear some all-important element of her answer: the capitalization. It wasn’t cool math games, but Cool Math Games – a brilliantly titled web site that seems (according to my many conversations with other parents in my district) a favorite of local computer teachers. Cool Math Games sounds awesome. And to be fair, the free site does have math (as well as other academic topics) and it does have games, but many of the games are about as mathematical as ping pong.

What’s more, the kids at my children’s schools got to choose which games they played, and pursued them randomly with no rhyme or reason. According to my daughter, the “coolest,” i.e. most popular, games involved nary a number or problem to solve, but monsters, mazes, and other physical obstacle video games which can be cognitively challenging, but don’t teach your kid fractions.

Do you know what your child actually does in her computer lab? I recently surveyed a bunch of zealous and involved parents and not one of them were sure what was going on during that all-important elective that schools spend so much money funding and so much time extolling during tours for prospective parents.

Yesterday, I drilled my daughter again. What happens during computer class? "The younger kids play video games," she told me, "but we type." Her teacher gives the kids an assignment and they type it up. Now that Common Core is requiring elementary schoolers to learn to whip out pages of text at a single sitting and new computerized Common Core-aligned tests will expect kids to instantaneously craft essays on the computer, I can see why keyboard skills are a sudden and pressing priority.

But typing and only typing? Did we really need 20 brand new Apple computers to teach fourth and fifth graders to type on a word document and let the kindergarten to third graders play Feed Fribbit Colors?

At the heart of so much spending on technology is the promise of making education smarter about enriching kids’ education with more ideas, more facts, and more technical tools. But too often the reality falls short of the dream. What’s going on at your child’s school? How often does your child get a chance to work on a computer and what exactly do they learn? The answers might surprise you – for better or for worse. What’s guaranteed is that you don’t know simply by seeing those shiny computers all lined up so beautifully.


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