Book offers sound advice to ease parents' concerns



Kids have their own suggestions on how to improve their school experience.
By DEBBIE CAFAZZO
SCRIPPS HOWARD
Education for children should be a messy, active, joyful thing, says author and former high-school teacher Cynthia Ulrich Tobias.
Instead, adults too often run schools for their own convenience. And then "we wonder why they don't want to come back."
Tobias' newest book is titled "I Hate School: How to Help Your Child Love Learning" ($12.99, Zondervan). She is the mother of twin seventh-grade boys and says most of her best ideas over the years have come from talking to kids. Educators need to think of them as "customers," she says.
When parents encounter teachers who don't think that way, she said, they need to take action -- gently. It's not a good idea to elbow your way in and start making demands, she advises.
"Start a lot of sentences with the same four words: 'What can I do?' Let the teacher know you really know your child," Tobias said. "You're not asking for favors. You are asking the professional for some strategies."
Both parents and teachers can learn what works for kids by taking time to listen, Tobias said.
"We spend thousands of dollars trying to find out what motivates kids," she said. "But if you ask them, they'll tell you for free."
Kids' ideas
Her book is peppered with small boxes of kid wisdom:
U"Something that would help school make a lot more sense to me would be not to have to sit and listen to the teacher. Why not stand up?" suggests a sixth-grader named Jennifer.
U"If I don't understand something after hearing it the first time, I really need to make a dance or song out of it or talk about it with my friends," says a fourth-grader named Sally.
U"Something that would help school make a lot more sense to me would be to work every detail out bit by bit," offers another fourth-grader, Mike.
Those statements offer insight into one of Tobias' favorite themes: differences in learning styles. Some pupils (and adults) are big-picture thinkers, Tobias said; others like to start with minute details and build up.
Some pupils are auditory learners, who need to talk over what they learn. These are pupils every teacher or parent will recognize: They blurt out answers and interrupt incessantly.
Tobias' suggested solution: Give these pupils a few minutes to talk it out. Keep an egg timer on the desk and tell pupils to take some time to discuss what they've just learned.
"Teachers are amazed at what happens," she said. If these pupils can just talk it out for a minute or two, "Then they'll remember."
Stretch breaks can help fidgety kids; quiet times can work for pupils who need to read and absorb knowledge.
A kid who can't sit still during class might learn better while perched on a rocking chair or exercise ball instead of an uncomfortable school desk.
Pupils' responsibility
Teaching English, speech and drama in high school, Tobias learned that rather than trying to teach to every individual style, it was more productive for her to engage pupils and let them figure out their individual learning styles.
"That shifts the responsibility to the student," she said. "Then you've got a lifelong learner."
It's up to the pupils to prove whether snacks or a pillow on the floor will boost learning power, she said.
"If I don't see your grades going up or your test scores getting better, I assume it isn't working," she said.
The key, she said, is having the teacher guide pupils carefully and teach them coping skills. The teacher needs to tell pupils that some times won't be comfortable, and that other times "it will be your turn."
"That teaches them that for the rest of their life, they're going to have to get along with a lot of people," she said. "It's not always going to be your way."
In the end, she said, kids should also learn that some of the world's best entrepreneurs and leaders were frustrated in school.
"Human-resources departments are looking for independent-thinking skills and social skills," she said.

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