McClellan, Sue

Mrs. Sue McClellan teaches 3rd grade at The Academy.

Over the past year, I have been studying what kinds of things seem to yield the biggest gains in student education.

First, expectations have a huge impact on how our kids perform in school. My response to a child who doesn’t understand something is, “You will.” We either need to teach it differently or work harder.

Finland has been scoring at the top internationally on the PISA exam, and their approach to children not understanding math is very different than ours. They increase resources and instruction for kids who are behind until they catch up. In the US we tend to say, “Well, he must not be good at math.” The top countries teach math much like Singapore Math does (and as we at The Academy are now half a year into trying to do).

One of the things we as parents can do is talk about math problems every day. Let your kids buy groceries and think about how much change they would get. Add up in your heads the cost of the items in the cart together, and see if you come close to being right. Talk about how much it would cost to feed the elephants at the zoo. Bake with your kids and double the recipe. Try to incorporate word problems into your everyday life.

Second, the biggest parental factor for school performance is how much reading for pleasure is done at home. Kids whose parents read to them every day consistently out perform their peers. Read-alouds should be several years above the child’s reading level. These books give kids background knowledge, an ear for proper grammar, and an increased vocabulary. They should also be fun.

Another big impact on school performance is individual reading. Kids who read for pleasure every day perform better. It doesn’t matter at what level they read; the factor that matters most is volume. If we let kids self-select their books, they will move up to harder books on their own when they are ready.

I personally have limited screens at my house to 5 hours a week, and we regularly sit around as a family, each of us absorbed in our own books. We freely listen to each other’s funny parts as someone laughs at what they are reading. Kids will copy their parents if they read for pleasure.

The last kind of helpful reading is read-aloud. This is an important skill, but it is a different skill than reading to ourselves. We need to encourage our kids to read out loud to us several times a week. If your child struggles with a word, try giving the first consonant sound and first vowel sound, and have them decode the word from there. This teaches them that you will help them, but that they still need to think. You can have your child read parts of our literature books aloud to you. If they are struggling with that level, just have them read one page per home day. They can read the rest silently, or you can read the rest to them.

I hope these suggestions help you in how you think about the best way to impact your child’s education.