Friday, January 17, 2014

Ideas for Boring Workbooks

Do you ever purchase curriculum with high hopes in the beginning of the year only to find out that it is not really a good match for your child a month later?  Well, I did that with Emmett's reading books this year.  I was so excited for him to do the traditional reading book!  Come to find out, he wasn't... 

I joke with him about how much I LOVED playing school as a child.  I mean, Legos?  Who cares??!! Let's do a workbook!! OK, so chances are Emmett won't become a teacher. :)

Rather than scrapping the whole reading program, I am making due and adjusting things a little bit so as to not give Emmett the notion that you can just toss something out if you don't like it.  I certainly will not order these reading books again, but it is not so bad that I have to throw the whole thing out.  Let me be clear that if I hadn't made changes to how we were doing things, this boy would HATE even the sight of a pencil! 
With that said, Emmett and I had a great time in school this week.  We were able to work one-on-one with few interruptions since we are in Richmond this week.  I have to say that my first born is really growing up.  It is hard to believe.  

When I taught kindergarten in public school, I wanted so badly to loop with my students.  Looping means that the teacher follows her students from grade K through grade 2 and then starts back again at kindergarten with a new class.  There are different variations of it, but click here for one teacher's explanation of the pros and cons of looping.  I tried to convince my principal that looping was a good idea.  I wanted to have a longer relationship with my students than one school year.  

Now here I am teaching my own children and I get to follow them all the way through their formative years of schooling.  I don't have to answer to a principal or teach to a test or follow a curriculum framework.  It is a dream!  To be able to watch them grow and learn and see light bulbs go on in those special moments is a gift to me as a professional educator.  Just today Emmett said to me with a "light bulb" look on his face, "You just taught me something new.  Now I won't spell words with a silent e wrong anymore."  

With exciting adventures in teaching and learning that take place every day, comes also the negative and boring pencil and paper work that boys so often despise.  Well, maybe "despise" is too gentle a word!  So, in working with Emmett, I have had an interesting time of changing things up and keeping things fresh.  With Emmett, in particular, I am focusing on spelling, grammar and writing this year.  Fun! Fun! Right?  Well, not so much!  It is so tough because he is such a young advanced reader, still only 6 years old.   Spelling is very much on a 6 year old level.  So when he sits down to do a workbook, his age really shows and his motivation and attention span decline.  What a deadly combination for a little guy!  

So my main idea in this blog post today is to encourage you to think outside the box when working with your student.  For example, pay attention to body language, age, maturity, interests, and personality.  All these factors play a significant role in whether or not the child is even growing in knowledge or just simply going through motions for whatever adult assigned the work.  Pay attention to what skills are being taught in a workbook.  Hone in on the ones your student needs.  By all means, DON'T make him do busy work for the sake of doing busy work.  

Ideas for making a boring workbook more fun:

  • Use a highlighter-  When the directions say to underline or circle something, use a highlighter instead.  Children LOVE using highlighters.  I have no idea why, they just do.  Today, Emmett used his highlighter in his workbook and he loved it. 
  • Use a timer-  sometimes I use the stopwatch on my phone or an egg timer.  Set it for 10 minutes and say something like, "Let's see how much you can get done in 10 minutes." No pressure, just a way to keep focused and on task.  Another idea along these lines is to say, "I am going to leave the room for a little while.  When I get back, you should be on number 5."  The point is to help them understand working independently and monitoring their work.
  • Skip some parts or change something altogether-  go on the wild side!!  If you are like me, then it is so hard to deviate from the directions.  After all, it is next to impossible to do that in a classroom full of students at various levels.  But what a luxury this is when working one-on-one with your student!  You are right there watching everything and constantly checking for understanding.  If there is already mastery of the skill evident in the first couple of problems, then put a big check mark on that section and move on.  It is very freeing for both teacher AND student!  In one case, with Emmett, I knew we were going to be writing sentences for his Martin Luther King, Jr. report, so I had him skip the sentence writing in his English book.  What a relief for him and what a great job his did on his little report.  I didn't overload him with mindless writing tasks just because they were in the the book.  The public school teacher in me has a difficult time with this concept!
  • Do some of the writing for him/her-  In Emmett's 1940s Rod and Staff book, there is the same vocabulary page at the beginning of every story.  Now there is no question that a book originally published in the 1940s is outdated!  However, some things just never get old.  I like the content and objectives.  I like that stories and the morals and the life lessons that can be taught while reading them together and having discussions.  However, I must keep in mind that all that writing in the workbook was designed for a teacher with many students in a class. The goal was to spare him/her from interruptions during the class period.  So keep your goals in mind and don't make your student write just because the book is formatted in that way.  This is a tricky concept because you in NO way want the child to manipulate YOU into doing the writing for him!  You must be savvy and in control at all times. :) 
  • Don't do boring workbooks!  There are so many resources out there.  Make sure you find the right one for you and your family or school.  The curriculum I put together for my children is a combination of new and old.  It is a bit eclectic all around.  I absolutely love designing their learning situation and then tweaking it here and there throughout the year. 
These are just a few of the the suggestions for working to improve motivation and diligence in your young learner.  Remember that once you see eyes roll, poor posture, or hear a loud sigh, chances are all the pencil and paper and pulling teeth will be for naught.  A content smile, a proud nod, and a hug go a much longer way!  Happy highlighting!  

Here is Emmett working at the library in Richmond.  He is using his little highlighter to identify consonant blends and digraphs.  Just using the highlighter rather than underlining and circling made the whole task so much less painful!

Here is a picture of Emmett after finishing his workbook pages.  I like his face much better than the face of that "wimpy kid" in the background! 

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