When I was a student, schools used tracking to instruct children at different levels of academic ability. By fourth grade, kids had all figured out whether they were gifted, on-grade-level or struggling according to the view of the school system. But this structure fell out of favor as educators worried it stigmatized children who were less prepared for school, having a disproportionate effect on minority and lower-income children. Now, the New York Times reports a resurgence of interest in ability grouping in today's classrooms.
However, the modern version of the practice seems to involve less pulling children out of the classroom for separate instruction or tracking them into entirely different classes. Instead, teachers are using dynamic grouping, in which they assess children at the beginning of each unit in order to put them into a reading or math group at their level. Then they continue to assess whether each child needs a more advanced or slower paced group, adjusting the group makeups accordingly.
Under this method, the overall classroom continues to contain children of all ability levels, which helps the slower-moving children because they can learn from more advanced peers. The children at the highest ability level benefit from helping instruct their classmates, which consolidates their knowledge and boosts self-esteem. It also presents quite a challenge for teachers who already have fewer resources and larger classrooms than before the Great Recession!
An article in Slate about this trend questions whether the reemergence of ability grouping is good for kids, noting that both gifted and struggling children often get short shrift in an undifferentiated system of instruction. What's your experience in your children's school? Do they ability group just for reading? Or also other subjects? And do you consider this a good or bad thing?
We all know the rock stars in our organization or field. How many times have you wondered how they really do it? In her new e-book, What the Most Successful People Do at Work, author Laura Vanderkam provides some compelling answers in a quick read that offers practical advice as well as inspiration for people who want to succeed in their careers.
Vanderkam, a friend and fellow journalist, delves into the works habits of successful professionals ranging from a children's book author to a race car driver and chief executive. She identifies seven common daily disciplines that help them prioritize their work and carefully choose how to spend their time for the maximum impact. Like her previous e-book, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, this one is dense with anecdotes and insight.
What do you admire about the most successful people in your work world? Can you tell how they do it, or does it seem a bit of a black box? Please share your thoughts on that question, or the book and its ideas.
When my youngest daughter was about three years old, she drained our parenting toolbox. Time outs, counting to three, sticker charts and other punishment-reward based methods didn't work on her as easily as they had with her older sisters. We needed new strategies for running an efficient household and leading a happy family.
Enter the Parent Encouragement Program, a local non-profit that teaches parents how to encourage children and win their cooperation. After a few lessons, we were hooked. The positive parenting philosophy fit well with our growing recognition of the limits to rewards and punishments in motivating children. And we quickly saw results in fewer tantrums, more cooperation and calmer parents!
One important new tool that we began to use -- and still employ many times a week -- is special time. That's a pre-designated period of time for one child and one parent to play together without interruption. You may protest, "I play with my kids all the time!" But think about how often you turn aside to check your phone, or answer a question from another family member, or become distracted.
Special time is different. Once you learn what special time is and how it can improve your family life, I hope you will agree that it truly is special. Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
Two friends of mine recently went back to work after staying home with their kids for years. One is working part-time while her children are in school and the other is working nights and weekends.
So it was only a matter of time before one heard the complaint, "You work too much, Mom!" It came when she was headed out to work one evening, leaving the kids with their father. (Not a bad arrangement.) This threw her for a loop and I think triggered a bit of guilt.
Fortunately, I'd been hearing some variation of that complaint since my kids could speak, so I had plenty of answers to the cry, "Don't Go to Work, Mom!". But I'm always open to new ideas. How do you respond when your kids ask you to stay home from work or complain that you work too much?
One of the dangers of being a journalist on a beat is that you start using the buzzwords and short hand phrases of your area of interest without remembering that readers may not be familiar with terms like "mommy track" or "motherhood penalty." I was reminded of this during a conversation last weekend with my parents and a couple of their friends.
My mom's friend was wondering aloud how we got to the state where families need two incomes just to get by, apparently assuming that returning to a "Father Knows Best" world would be preferable that our current gender-bending society. This is a woman who kept her own career while raising kids and whose husband was a very involved father. But the idea that a breadwinner husband and caregiver wife is the ideal scenario was so ingrained in her consciousness that she automatically went to that model.
We talked about the recent controversy over Lean In and I shared my own hope that we are moving closer to a world in which parents can choose to pursue a career or care for children regardless of their gender, and can build a strong, close family through strategic use of flexible work and budgeting. And it reminded me that it's important to define the words of working moms' lives in order for us to be understood.
What terms do you think are useful to include in a working mom's dictionary?
When my daughter started kindergarten, we had prepared her so thoroughly. We'd arranged playdates with other incoming kindergarteners at our local elementary school, drilled her on reading and math, taught her the home phone number and address, and reviewed the daily schedule ad nauseum. Is it any wonder that she jumped onto the school bus on the first day with nary a glance back?
Me, not so much. I was a wreck. So was her younger sister, by the way, who began to cry and reach for the bus as it drove her big sister away into this new world. As my immediate emotions over the kindergarten transition began to fade, I drew the conclusion that my daughter's confidence mean everything was going smoothly.
In retrospect, I shouldn't have been such a hands-off parent in kindergarten and the subsequent grades. By now, third grade, I've amassed quite a list of the things I wished I had known when my daughter started kindergarten. And today I'm sharing those tips for kindergarten parents with you!
What do you think is important for a parent of a kindergartener to know? Please add to my list or add your suggestions in the comments below.
Everywhere you turn these days, people seem to be talking about how to raise successful children, the topic of journalist Paul Tough's book How Children Succeed. Clicking through the channels the other day, I caught Ezekiel Emanuel speaking on MSNBC about his new book The Brothers Emanuel, which explores how the Emanuel family produced a high-powered Hollywood agent, a White House chief of staff and acclaimed doctor and bioethicist.
The bottom line for both authors seems roughly the same: persistence and resilience. Tough documents multiple researchers and education reformers finding that the best predictor of life and career success is not academic ability but the "non-cognitive" skills of grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. Emanuel seemed to second this by talking about his parents' emphasis on hard work and picking yourself up from failure and trying again. (Unfortunately, MSNBC show host Joe Scarborough seemed to interpret this as simply long hours -- bragging about his 15-hour work days -- which any regular reader of this blog knows has been shown NOT to correlate with stellar work performance.)
This is all in the context that without other intervention, those children who succeed tend to be those who have a secure early attachment with at least one parent, non-traumatic childhood, stable homes and at least middle-class roots. If you're curious to learn more, please read my book review of How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. And I see that the next book I need to review may be The Brothers Emanuel.
When I first heard about positive parenting, from a colleague of my husband's, it sounded like hippy nonsense. We had already adopted the preschool's discipline method of counting to three and expecting the children to modify their behavior during that count. Why did we need to use only positive, encouraging methods of parenting when punishment and threats seemed so effective?
Then the counting stopped working. And our children got older and developed their own ideas about how they'd like to be treated and what they wanted to accomplish on a given weekend day. Pretty soon, I understood the appeal of positive parenting and saw the drawbacks of a punishment-and-reward discipline method. Before long, I was a full-blown convert!
Whether you subscribe wholesale to the positive parenting philosophy, made popular by authors like Alfie Kohn, Adele Faber and Jane Nelsen, or simply pick and choose the parts that make sense to you, it's worthwhile to understand what positive parenting is in the first place. Don't be like I was, and dismiss the whole school of thought based on one casual conversation. In fact, I think I owe my husband's colleague an apology...
Spring break begins tonight, in our neck of the woods. But instead of jetting off to the mountains and the ocean tomorrow night, I've got exciting things planned here at home: laundry, spring cleaning and bike rides with the kids. That's right, folks, the staycation begins at 5 p.m. (Except for one last work task Monday morning.)
Normally, I would pack the spring break schedule full of activities, playdates and fun outings. But I've tried to keep the planning to a minimum this time around, so we can connect as a family and catch up on our sleep. The winter has been a bit draining, for some reason, and I want this staycation to be restorative.
What are your plans for spring break, Passover and Easter?
Years ago, a previous employer required every employee to write a self evaluation as part of the annual review process. We had to sum up our performance over the previous year, identify major accomplishments and explain any lapses or missed goals. I dreaded it with every fiber of my being.
Now, however, I recognize the value in regularly assessing your own performance and setting specific, targeted goals for improvement. Written well, a self evaluation can be the jumping off point for your boss to rave about the improvement in your job performance and to recommend you for a promotion. (Hey, a girl can dream!)
Does your employer require a self evaluation as part of the promotion and review process? Or do you complete these exercises as part of your own desire to improve?