Monday, April 22, 2013

Summer Slide by Mikey Smith, M. Ed

Each year around the end of May, the school year ends and a countdown of sorts begins as parents wait for their children to utter those two little words: “I’m BORED!” While it can be annoying to hear your child complain about boredom incessantly, enrolling him or her in some sort of summer program or camp might not only save your sanity, it could also help your child avoid something researchers have termed “Summer Slide.” 

Although it sounds like a cool ride at a water park, Summer Slide is no fun at all -- the term refers to the learning loss the average student suffers each summer. Research shows that many students, particularly those not involved in some sort of engaging, constructive summer activity, start the next school year a month behind where they should be. For students who are on grade level, the idea of losing a month or more of learning is alarming, but for those students who might not be performing at grade level in the first place, Summer Slide can be catastrophic.  As students get older, the subject material covered in every subject each school year becomes more and more complex, making it harder and harder to re-learn topics at the beginning of each year. Moreover, many concepts build on one another because courses are vertically aligned, meaning that if a student lacks the basic concepts, it is impossible for them to move forward in their learning. 

While Summer Slide clearly affects individual students each year, teachers also suffer the consequences as they must start each new school year not with new material, but with in-depth reviews of material that was learned the prior year. Bertha Bishop, who teaches multiple grade levels, has a unique perspective on Summer Slide. Since she teaches Spanish to students in many different grades, she is able to chart the progress of students from one year to the next. She also knows exactly what she teaches from year to year, and where students should be upon entering the next grade level. In her experience, however, most students do not start the year ready for new material, and Bishop, like most teachers, must review for the first few weeks of school. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Test Anxiety- How to Help Your Student Cope by Mikey Smith, M. Ed

It's human nature to feel nervous and stressed out before a test, especially a high-stakes test that might determine whether or not you get into a program or a school or get a certain grade. Just about everyone knows the feeling of having butterflies in the stomach before a big test.

For some students, though, stress brought on by testing goes far further than simple nervous stomach and sweaty palms. An estimated 20% -- 30% of students have 'test anxiety,' which can manifest in a variety of ways. Some students get physically ill before tests, experiencing symptoms like dry mouth, rapid heart beat, and even vomiting or fainting. Others might not really feel ill, but might fabricate illnesses or other conditions to avoid a stressful situation altogether. A third group of students simply freeze up when required to take tests, seemingly forgetting all information they have learned in preparation for the exam. 

I was a member of the last group of students for most of my academic life. Although I did not become physically ill when faced with a testing scenario, on math tests I would completely freeze up, even though I always studied and could do the homework. It was like I had never seen the material before. My grades suffered, and so did my confidence. My teachers (and parents) were mystified by my behavior, until one teacher named it: test anxiety. This teacher devoted hours of her own time to helping me, even writing entire math tests on the chalkboards in her room and having me work each problem as she scrutinized each step to see where I was making mistakes.