Monday, September 28, 2015

Communication and Education: Questions to Ask Your Child's Teacher

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It's been about a month now since my son started his new school, and I can't be happier about his experience. Our curriculum night is coming up, and I am excited to hear what his teacher has to say about learning in her classroom. I'm not worried that my kiddo isn't adjusting. He is thriving both academically and socially, and it all started with a few simple questions.

I didn't ask his teacher all of these questions, some were asked to the principal prior to enrolling him into the school, and there are a few more questions that I will ask his teacher later. But your child's teacher should be able to answer all of these questions in a way that will give you a good idea what to expect in the classroom, how your child can have a successful learning experience, and how you can supplement your child's learning at home.

Five Very Important Questions

Here are five very important questions you need to ask right away, at least by your school's curriculum night. These questions will determine how much effort you and your child will need to put into the school year.
  1. How is class time structured? If you have a kinesthetic learner like I do, and most of the class learning is done seated at a desk, you and your child are going to be in for a world of trouble. It isn't enough to simply break students up in groups to work on a subject. Class time should utilize different "zones" where students can move around for different subjects or activities, such as a reading corner, a math table, or some other study area. There should also be a set routine that is a clear way for students to know when a change is coming so they can prepare - mentally and physically - for the next activity.

    Even in middle and high school, teachers should have a clear set of guidelines as to what will happen in the classroom. Having a routine is important for students so they can be mentally prepared to switch gears once they enter the classroom. Consistency helps every student be prepared and ready to learn.
    Copyright Pense, Katelyn.
    Pics4Learning. 28 Sep 2015

  2. What are the teacher's classroom policies? Also called rules, norms, or expectations, most parents can expect things like show respect, turn homework in on time, and be an active listener. But you want to dig a little deeper for the hidden policies. How will the teacher handle conflict - by a standard set of strategies that students will be taught and expected to use, or a swift visit to the hallway or principal's office? Are there both positive and negative consequences for following (or not following) the policies? Will the teacher communicate frequently with parents, or only when there's a problem?
  3. How will the teacher handle challenges in the classroom? You will want to know specifically how the teacher handles challenges brought on by any number of factors. Your child will have a very specific learning style, and it is up to you to determine what angle you want to clarify. Perhaps your child is shy, or doesn't speak English well, has anxiety or a learning disability.  How will the teacher use the classroom to create an inclusive atmosphere? How much experience does the teacher have with teaching students with disabilities? How is discipline handled in the classroom? Nothing creates trouble like students who feel they are being treated differently or, worse, being ignored. You need to know how prepared your child's teacher is for handling a variety of challenges in the classroom and what supports are available (for example a school councilor, after-school tutoring, or teacher's assistants).

    Don't be defensive or combative when you ask this question, especially if you choose to ask it during an open session like curriculum night when other parents are present. Remember that your child's teacher is committed to every child's academic and social success, there is no need to put him or her on the hot seat. Simply ask the question specifically to your child's needs.
  4. How is technology used in the classroom? We are living in a wired world where learning can be
    Copyright Moran, Susannah
    Pics4Learning. 28 Sep 2015
    just a click away. Knowing how technology is used in the classroom can help you supplement that learning at home, or at least be up to speed on how your child is learning. Are most of the projects done using programs such as Word or Power Point? Will your child have a school-supplied email account or blog? Is there an internet use policy in place and will the students be explicitly taught "netiquette?" Will students have access to web-based resources at home? How is online privacy addressed?

    Ask about adaptive learning technology, which is software that personalizes the learning environment based on the individual's initial assessment, and then "adapts" to the learner's pace by selecting easier or harder activities based on input. If the answer is yes, the teacher does use adaptive learning technology, then ask how the teacher integrates it into the overall learning goals.
  5. How much homework should my child expect? This may seem like a silly question to ask, especially in high school where students tend to get homework for every subject they take. But the time it takes to do homework will affect any after-school or family activities your child might have or want to have. If your child is expected to do more than an hour of homework, especially at the elementary level, you need to see the teacher individually and have a serious discussion as to what the homework is supposed to accomplish.

Five MORE Very Important Questions

These next questions need to be asked after your child has settled into the classroom and school routine, most likely during your first parent-teacher conference. Once your child's teacher has had a chance to get to know your child, you will want to know the answers to the following questions to make sure your child is on the fast track to success.

  1. What do you see as my child's strengths and weaknesses? You want general here. Is my child a very active group participant but tends to overpower other classmates' input? Does he do better with work that uses his hands but can't stay focused when he has to read? Is she super organized and can find all her work and supplies but needs to constantly get up and walk around the classroom? The teacher's insights to your child's strengths and weaknesses will help you pinpoint problems that you can address at home as well. Follow up by asking the teacher what strategies are used to encourage the strengths and improve upon the weaknesses.
  2. Is my child struggling in any academic areas? Here is where you want to get specific. Your child may be an avid reader, but is unable to find the main idea of a non-fiction text. She may be good at solving multiplication problems but does terrible with fractions. Or he is a natural at understanding math concepts but struggles with reading comprehension.Whether it's a difficulty within a subject area, or problems with the entire subject, your teacher will tell you exactly where the problems are and how you can help your child make the connection.
  3. Is my child thriving emotionally and socially? An unhappy child is a poorly performing student. Children who are not emotionally thriving because of issues like anxiety, depression, bullying, or low self-esteem do not want to be in school. They stop trying to succeed. Your child may be able to fake a smile when he or she comes home from school, but your teacher knows when something is wrong because it shows in the quality of work or a change in behavior. You need to know that your child is truly having a successful experience, and if not you need to find the source of the problem and find a solution.
  4. From Camden County Library
    (EBSCO/ NoveList Photo)
  5. How can I support my child's learning at home? Learning from the answers to question 4 about technology, one way you might be able to support your child's learning at home is by finding out what online programs he or she has access to and ask if these programs can be accessed at home. But other ways that can be helpful are implementing suggestions from your teacher to address social and academic weaknesses your child may have. Some suggestions might be to read with your child at home, practice multiplication and/or division every day, check off his homework planner, or give her extra magazine articles to read about topics discussed in class. Whatever your teacher suggests, seriously consider following through.
  6. What can I do to help you? Every teacher needs help. It takes a lot out of teachers to give the kind of individualized learning to every student in the class. You may think this question isn't needed because you are already helping by supporting your child's social and academic learning outside of the classroom. But if you have any spare time, consider volunteering to help. Your child's teacher may not need help in the classroom, but maybe he needs help setting up a class website to communicate with parents and you happen to be a web developer. Or maybe she doesn't have time to coordinate class-specific events but you have time in the evenings to send out an email once or twice a month and wrangle a few volunteers for her.
Teachers are often underpaid and overworked, but their goal is always to provide the best experiences for their students.They may sometimes miss the mark, but with help from parents and other vested individuals they always continue to improve. By asking these ten questions, you help open a line of communication with your child's teacher and increase your child's chances of success.

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