Preventing Summer Slide

We are all familiar with the concept that students lose significant learning gains over the summer— the infamous Summer Slide.

One of the original studies on the subject from The American Educational Research Association states, “summer loss equaled about one month on a grade-level equivalent scale” and was found most detrimental for math. More recent studies, however, assert that the average student loses 17–34% of the prior year’s learning gains specifically in language arts.

Whichever study you follow, there is significant proof that children often lose some of the gains they made during the school year.

Younger children are particularly vulnerable because they’re at a crucial stage in their development. “In general, kids learn a lot more in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade than kids in middle school or high school, because learning follows a curve where it’s accelerated early in life and then plateaus,” says James Kim, Ed.D., an assistant professor of education at Harvard University. “Things like decoding, letter knowledge, and word reading skills are very susceptible to decay without frequent practice, as are math facts like addition and subtraction.”

While most people agree that children need a change of pace in summer from rigorous academics, there are ample ways to reinforce student learning by incorporating enriched exploration into everyday activities.

Cooking: Younger children, as well as older ones, often love to cook. Reading recipes and measuring ingredients can give tangible math lessons whether your child is learning to count or learning fractions. Advanced exploration: what makes a cake rise when it is baked?

Journaling: Buy a summer notebook and give your child a new question every day to write about. Or if very young, your child can tell you their thoughts and you can write them. Prompts can be as simple as, who is your friend and why. Or if older, what qualities make a good friend? Even more complex, what makes people happy? The practice of writing usually creates the desire to write more.

Reading: 15 minutes a day of quiet reading is a great start. Whether picture books or storybooks, the act of reading an actual print book is irreplaceable. Reading Comprehension is crucial to education: Learning to analyze. You might ask your child about the actual story, their favorite part, and how it made them feel. What would happen if perhaps some elements of the story were changed? How would the story then be different?

Labeling: When children are learning to read, a fun project might be to write the names of household objects on sticky notes, ie., clock, lamp, computer. Your child can sound the word out as well as see what the word looks like matched to the object. For older children, label things in a foreign language.

Screen time: There will be a need for quiet time and there are wonderful and interesting educational websites to explore. For example, check out Brain Pop, National Geographic Kids, PBS Kids Lab, and Nasa Kid.

Calendaring: Let your child make a calendar with months, days, and dates and fill it in with scheduled plans or fantasy agendas.

Write a Play: Planning, dialogue, characters, setting, story. Your child would be learning literary elements as well as exercising cooperative learning and group play. Of course, video the finished project for posterity.

Gardening: Watching how things grow is always fascinating. Planting a seed encourages patience. Your child can discover how and why a plant grows. You can also teach them about healthy eating.

Exercise: Learning how the body works to keep it strong and healthy. What exercise routine could your child create to work out each muscle group? They could lead the family in a simple exercise routine. Or they might jump rope to their multiplication tables.

Volunteering: Summer is the perfect time to explore what we can do to give back. Bring a bag to the beach and pick up trash. Start a community garden. Practice singing songs with friends and entertaining at an elderly home. Volunteering goes a long way toward keeping us aware of the world around us.

Whether you construct a full summer enrichment plan for your children or create a single project to explore and see where it goes, don’t let the summer just slide by. They are many ways to reinforce concepts learned in school and discover new ones.

Learning is a lifelong endeavor. It is sparked by curiosity and curiosity doesn’t stop because school lets out in June. In fact, that’s when it just might start.

Janis Adams is CEO/Founder of Academic Achievers Educational Services specializing in KinderPrep Camp, Homeschool, Test Prep, Subject Remediation, and Summer Enrichment. https://www.academicachievers.com

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Is Test-Optional Really Optional?

In response to the Covid crisis, many colleges have temporarily adopted a test-optional admissions policy. However, we are told the overwhelming majority of the top-tier US and International colleges evaluating college applications still prefer to see an SAT or ACT score.

What does the SAT or ACT actually measure and is it a fair assessment of a student’s ability?

The College Board states that the SAT is intended to measure literacy, numeracy and writing skills that are needed for academic success in college. They state that the SAT assesses how well the test-takers analyze and solve problems—skills they learned in school that they will need in college.

“Some parts of the SAT and ACT clearly measure what a student has learned. If that’s all they measured, they’d maybe be useful tools in the admission process. They also—to a greater or lesser degree—measure emotional control, speed processing, and formal preparation and practice, among other things,” says College Consultant, Jon Boeckenstedt.

Educational stalwart Edsource.org reaffirms that Standardized tests are the best predictor of a student’s first-year success, retention, and graduation. The value of admissions test scores in predicting college success has increased, while the value of grades has decreased, due in part to high school grade inflation and different grading standards.”

According to US News and World Reports, the SAT and ACT remain popular even as the coronavirus pandemic has prompted many colleges to go test-optional and temporarily deemphasize these exams in admissions considerations. In the class of 2020, nearly 2.2 million test-takers completed the SAT at least once while about 1.7 million students took the ACT. It is unclear how many students took both, but experts say it is common for test-takers to do so.

Whether your student decides to submit a standardized test score usually depends on what that score is. Many college counselors recommend benchmark practice tests for students and counsel from there.

In general, most students with profiles strong enough to apply for admission to the more competitive test-optional colleges should try to prep for and attain strong test scores to enhance their applications.

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Confidence and Academics

Many parents encourage high self-esteem in their children—and they should! Self-esteem is how favorably a person regards him or herself. However, studies show there is actually little to no correlation between self-esteem and academic performance. 

Boosting confidence, on the other hand, can make a lot of difference. When it comes to academic performance, confidence is a much stronger predictor of success than self-esteem. While general confidence refers to a person’s character or personality, academic confidence more closely resembles a perceived ability to accomplish a set of tasks.

Studies have found consistent and enduring evidence that academic self-confidence–confidence in one’s academic abilities–is a significant predictor of academic performance.

How do we boost our student’s academic self-confidence? According to Academic Coach, Rob Stone,  “Academic confidence, or developing an ‘academic identity,’ is all about advancing student growth through increasing degrees of self-reliance and self-discovery. The more we can give students both the tools and the encouragement to stretch beyond their current limitations, the more we empower them to thrive independently and find joy in learning.”

Students with high self-esteem may be overly sure of themselves but perhaps lacking in confidence. Students who commit to doing the work are usually confident of their abilities, independent thinkers, and self-reliant.

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Special Projects

Creating a Special Summer Project

It’s been a tough year and online learning may have taken its toll. Your children may be numb, zoomed out, and possibly dulled to learning. Now the summer stretches before us and we plan to fill the time with summer school, camps, maybe dance lessons. All great ideas. But the question remains: What will rekindle your child’s love of learning?

What will spark their curiosity? What might fire up their imagination? Well, what about a special summer project?  What if your child identified just one thing they are interested in, however tangentially, and pursued that to wherever it landed? A deep dive, so to speak, into one subject. For example, they may ask, How do things fly? Well, we have just opened up aerodynamics! Many things are now available for exploration, such as, What keeps up a regular balloon vs. a helium balloon? A kite? A plane? What animals fly that really shouldn’t be able to? Yes, there are fish that can fly. How? There are even birds that can fly backwards. Structurally, a bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly but it does. How? Can man fly? What are the considerations to lift the weight of a man? How high could he go? Did you ever dream you were flying? What would it feel like to fly? Draw a picture. Make a collage. Write a poem. 

Pick up any useful object and ask some questions. How can we drink out of a glass when its main ingredient is sand? Why is glass transparent? Which then leads to questions like, What is a chemical reaction? How does chemistry work?

Pick a topic. Any topic. WWII submarines. Roller Coasters. The Ecosystem. India. Your student could be in 1st grade or 12th but could follow one idea down the rabbit hole and come out an expert. I mean, why IS the sky blue? How do you make the color blue? You get the idea! Yes, it will take some guidance and patience on your part. Or you can hire a tutor, teacher, or educational specialist. However you help them, the results will be memorable!

Mother and daughter examining molecular model

Special Projects

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Special Projects

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10 Top Educational Studies in 2020

There were a lot of educational studies done this year —covering topics from virtual learning to the reading wars to the decline of the standardized test. Here are some of the top findings.

1.  If You Want Children to Learn Vocabulary, Encourage Them to Be Thespians
Researchers asked 8-year-old students to listen to words in another language and then use their hands and bodies to mimic the words—spreading their arms and pretending to fly, for example, when learning the German word flugzeug, which means “airplane.” After two months, these young actors were a remarkable 73 percent more likely to remember the new words than students who had listened without accompanying gestures.

2. Neuroscientists Defend the Value of Teaching Handwriting Again
Brain scans of preliterate children revealed crucial reading circuitry flickering to life when kids hand-printed letters and then tried to read them. The effect largely disappeared when the letters were typed or traced.
Studies of older children—seventh graders—while they handwrote, drew, and typed words, and concluded that handwriting and drawing produced telltale neural tracings indicative of deeper learning.

3. The ACT (and SAT) Just Got a Negative Score
ACT test scores, which are often a key factor in college admissions, showed a weak—or even negative—relationship when it came to predicting how successful students would be in college. Students with very high ACT scores—but indifferent high school grades—often flamed out in college, overmatched by the rigors of a university’s academic schedule. High school grades were stronger predictors.

4. A Rubric Reduces Racial Grading Bias
When grading criteria are vague, implicit stereotypes can insidiously “fill in the blanks,” explains the study’s author. But when teachers have an explicit set of criteria to evaluate the writing—asking whether the student “provides a well-elaborated recount of an event,” for example—the difference in grades is nearly eliminated.

5. What do Coal-Fired Power Plants Have to do with Learning? Plenty
When three coal-fired plants closed in the Chicago area, student absences in nearby schools dropped by 7 percent.The stunning finding underscores the role that often-overlooked environmental factors—like air quality, neighborhood crime, and noise pollution—have in keeping our children healthy and ready to learn.

6. Students Who Generate Good Questions Are Better Learners
Some of the most popular study strategies—highlighting passages, rereading notes, and underlining key sentences—are also among the least effective. A 2020 study highlighted a powerful alternative: Get students to generate questions about their learning, and gradually press them to ask more probing questions.

7. Did a 2020 Study Just End the ‘Reading Wars’?
A 2020 study sounded the death knell for practices that de-emphasize phonics in favor of having children use multiple sources of information—like story events or illustrations—to predict the meaning of unfamiliar words, an approach often associated with “balanced literacy.” Lucy Calkins seemed to concede the point, writing that “aspects of balanced literacy need some ‘rebalancing.’”

8. A Secret to High-Performing Virtual Classrooms
The report noted that logistical issues like accessing materials were often among the most significant obstacles to online learning. The study highlighted the crucial need to organize virtual classrooms even more intentionally than physical ones. Remote teachers should simplify communications and reminders by using one channel like email or text; and reduce visual clutter like hard-to-read fonts and unnecessary decorations throughout their virtual spaces.

9. Love to Learn Languages? Surprisingly, Coding Might Be Right for You
Learning how to code more closely resembles learning a language such as Chinese or Spanish than learning math, a 2020 study found—upending the conventional wisdom about what makes a good programmer.

10. Researchers Cast Doubt on Reading Tasks Like ‘Finding the Main Idea’
“Content is comprehension,” declared a 2020 Fordham Institute study, sounding a note of defiance as it staked out a position in the ongoing debate over the teaching of intrinsic reading skills versus the teaching of content knowledge. The researchers, focusing on the time spent in subject areas like math, social studies, and ELA, found that “social studies is the only subject with a clear, positive, and statistically significant effect on reading improvement.” In effect, exposing kids to rich content in civics, history, and law appeared to teach reading more effectively than our current methods of teaching reading.

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Do Your Child’s ISEE or SSAT Scores Really Matter?

Yes.

The results of a standardized admissions test indicate to the school what your child knows and doesn’t know academically. Essentially, it would serve no purpose to accept your child only to have her flounder academically. You would be unhappy. Your child would be miserable. The school also would be in the difficult position of not being able to deliver the kind of academic results it is capable of achieving. To avoid this losing situation, most private schools will insist on all applicants taking a standardized admissions test.

 “The most important advice any teacher will give your child is to start well in advance – like a year or so – assessing her strengths and weaknesses. Then remediate those weaknesses.”

After that, have her take as many practice tests as she can before the test date. If she has never taken a standardized admissions test and has no clue what’s expected of her, how can she possibly relax and do her best? 

Understand how the admissions tests work early on in the school search process. Do not leave test preparation until the last minute. Six to eight months before the test date is not too early to start. That will allow you time to fix any gaps in your child’s knowledge and skill base. Then, all that will be left is to practice, practice, practice.

–“The Private School Review”
Read full article here.

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The Characteristics of Grit

  • 5 Characteristics Of Grit — How Many Do You Have?

1) Courage

  • Hard to measure, but directly proportional to your level of grit.
  • Relates to your ability to manage fear of failure.
  • The supremely gritty are not afraid to tank, but rather embrace it as part of a process.
  • The supremely gritty understand that there are valuable lessons in defeat and that the vulnerability of perseverance is requisite for high achievement.

2) Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable

  • Five core character traits from which human personalities stem are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neurotic. Conscientiousness is most connected to GRIT.
  • The achievement-oriented individual is one who works tirelessly, tries to do a good job, and completes the task at hand.
  • The dependable person is more notably self-controlled and conventional.
  • Achievement orientated traits predicted job proficiency and educational success far better than dependability.
  • In the context of conscientious, grit, and success, it is important to commit to go for the gold rather than just show up for practice.

3) Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through

  • Long-term goals are achieved when practice has purpose. This is the difference between someone who succeeds and someone who is just spending a lot of time doing something.
  • Long-term goals provide the context and framework in which to find the meaning and value of your long-term efforts, which helps cultivate drive, sustainability, passion, courage, stamina…grit.

4) Resilience = Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity

  • A key component of grit is resilience.
  • Resilience is the powering mechanism that draws your head up, moves you forward, and helps you persevere despite whatever obstacles you face along the way.
  • Gritty people believe, “everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

5) Excellence (not perfection)

  • Excellence is an attitude.
  • The word excellence is derived from the Greek word Arête, which is bound with the notion of fulfilment of purpose or function and is closely associated with virtue.
  • Excellence is far more forgiving, allowing and embracing failure and vulnerability on the ongoing quest for improvement.
  • Excellence allows for disappointment, and prioritises progress over perfection.
  • Perfection is someone else’s perception of an ideal, and ultimately unattainable. Anxiety, low self-esteem, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse, and clinical depression are only a few of the conditions ascribed to “perfectionism.”
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9 Kindergarten Readiness Skills Your Child Needs

“I believe it’s important for pre-kindergarten children to be able to follow directions and to have the ability to express their feelings.” says K-12 principal Jolene Jackson. “Some of the reading and math skills I would like to see kids now coming into kindergarten are their letters and be able to describe some of the sounds, recognition of numbers 1-10, and be able to write and recognize their name and be able to cut with safety scissors,”

Here are 9 kindergarten readiness skills and how you can teach them to your child.

1. Shapes and Colors

  • Kids love colors. Help them learn different colors by adding a little food coloring to their milk.
  • Play games in which your child finds objects of particular colors and shapes around the house or in the neighborhood as you drive.
  • Teach difficult shapes such as pentagons and diamonds by showing them how to draw them on paper and then cutting them out.

2. Cutting

  • To begin teaching your child to cut, allow them to rip or tear little pieces and strips of paper
  • Purchase a good pair of child-safe scissors and let your child practice cutting/snipping along a straight line drawn on a piece of paper and progressing to cutting out different shapes.
  • Use old magazines and let your child practice cutting photos out and have them make a collage of their favorite pictures.
  • Cutting play dough is also fun for children.

3. Writing

  • Have your child practice writing the alphabet and pick out the letters that spell their name.
  • Teach them how to write their name and the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Use play dough and have them create different letters with it. This will not only help make reading and writing fun, but also improve their motor skills.

4. Letter Recognition

  • Purchase a large set of letter refrigerator magnets. This allows your child to make learning fun as they move letters around to make simple words.
  • Develop games and song rhymes to make learning letters and fun and engaging.
  • Write a series of words on a piece of paper, for example, box, ran, back, fan, boy. Ask your child to circle all the words that begin with the letter b.

5. Number Recognition and Counting

  • Grab two dice and a piece of paper with the numbers two through twelve written on it. Have your child roll the dice, count all the dots, and circle each number until you’ve rolled them all.
  • Make counting part of everything. Have them count how many spoons are on the dinner table, how many socks you are folding.
  • Use spare change and teach them the different amounts each coin represents. Then have them count out a specific amount like 55 cents.

6. Sounding out Letters

  • Teach your child that letters represent sounds and that each one makes a different sound.
  • Overemphasize the first sound in words to help your child hear the difference.
  • Find items around the house that begin with the same sound and have them identify the letter that makes that sound.

7. Reading Readiness

  • As you read to your child, run your finger under the words as you move through the sentence. This will teach them that words move left to right and top to bottom.
  • Clapping out syllables of words (example; Pu-ppy has two syllables, A-man-da has three syllables)
  • Playing a word game that separates the beginning and ending sound of a word. This allows them to put the sounds together to guess the word (example; say we are going to play a game. I am going to say the beginning and ending sound of a word, and you tell me what the word is. What is the word if I say b-all (ball), m-an (man), c-at (cat), com-pu-ter (computer)
  • Read to your children every day using tools like song books, picture books, rhyming books and alphabet books.

8. Following Directions & Paying Attention

  • Give your child a simple set of two and three step directions to follow. It could be something like; put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, and turn on your nightlight.
  • Play the classic “Simon Says” game with them. It’s a great game for following directions and paying attention to the changes in the words.

9. Develop Social Skills

  • Teach your child to express their feelings in a way that isn’t aggressive or involve crying.
  • Give your children the opportunity to interact with other children in early learning centers, church or at the park.
  • Talk about problems they might have, don’t just tell something is wrong, explain to them why it is.

As you probably already know, there’s no secret sauce when it comes to preparing your child for kindergarten. It takes consistent learning and challenging them. The points mentioned above highlight simple and effective strategies that are easy to modify for your child. Chances are you’re already practicing many of these skills with your preschoolers now. Remember to not to rush or stress them, keep learning casual and entertaining. With just a little fun practice, your child will be prepared for the step into their kindergarten career.

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The Gifted Learner

During infancy, the brain experiences a large amount of growth. There is an explosion of synapse formation between neurons during early brain development.

This rapid period of synaptic growth plays a vital role in learning, memory formation, and adaptation early in life. At about 2 to 3 years of age, the number of synapses hits a peak level. But then shortly after this period of synaptic growth, the brain starts to remove synapses that it no longer needs.

Once the brain forms a synapse, it can either be strengthened or weakened. This depends on how often the synapse is used. In other words, the process follows the “use it or lose it” principle: Synapses that are more active are strengthened, and synapses that are less active are weakened and ultimately pruned.

The gifted child seems to have an increased cell production that also increases synaptic activity and thought process. The neurons in the brain of the gifted child seem to be biochemically more abundant and, as a result, the brain patterns that develop are intrinsically able to process more complex thought.

To encourage higher order thinking, there is no substitute for stimulating curriculum and inspired instruction. Gifted learners need learning experiences that are rich. They need learning experiences that are organized by key concepts and principles of a discipline rather than by facts.  They need content that is relevant to their lives, activities that cause them to process important ideas at a high level, and projects that cause them to grapple with meaningful problems and pose defensible solutions.

The desire to provide optimal and appropriate educational challenges for the gifted child has prompted many parents to consider alternative forms of education. The choice to withdraw gifted learners from the traditional classroom for all or part of the school day is gaining popularity nationwide, as parents of gifted learners seek to find more personal solutions.

Academic Achievers Academy was created to answer the needs of the gifted learner. Master teachers plan and research diligently to tailor a curriculum to match each child’s unique strengths and interests, and implement careful, thoughtful educational approaches. Both short- and long-term educational goals are essential to your child’s educational success. If your child is not thriving in a traditional classroom, perhaps it is time to consider a more customized, hands-on alternative.

Posted in Early Elementary, Early Learners, gifted, homeschool, Kindergarten Prep, One-on-one Academy | Leave a comment

How to Be a Better Test-Taker

The Reality
Many capable, hard-working students perform poorly on exams because they’ve overtaxed their “working memory” – mental scratchpad on which we combine information from our long-term memory with the specific of the problem in front of us, in the service of finding a solution.

The Problem
“When students are anxious about how they’ll do on an exam,” says Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, “their worries use up some of their working memory capacity, leaving less of this cognitive horsepower to apply to the task at hand.”

How To
Dr. Beilock, the author of “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To,” offers two interventions that can free up working memory in students caught in the grip of test anxiety.

The first involves shifting how they interpret their bodies’ cues.  Faced with a high-stakes situation, almost everyone has some physical symptoms of stress: sweaty palms, racing heartbeat.  But people interpret these cues differently, with important consequences for their performance.

In a study published last year in the journal Emotion, Dr. Beilock and four coauthors found that with students anxious about math, the more stress hormone they produced, the worse they did on a test; students with low math anxiety did better the more cortisol they produced.  “The first group,” she said “felt the rising anxiety in their bodies and reacted by thinking, ‘I’m really nervous about this test.  I’m afraid I’ll fail.’”  They choked.  “The second group told themselves something like, ‘I’m really psyched up for this test!  I’m ready to go!’”  Dr. Beilock recommends consciously adopting positive self-talk.  Remind yourself that damp palms and a pounding heart accompany all kinds of enjoyable experiences: riding a roller coaster, winning a sports match, talking to someone you have a crush on.

A second approach involves a simple exercise just before a test.  For 10 minutes, write about your feelings regarding the exam to clear your mind of test-related concerns, freeing working memory that can be applied to the exam.  In a study published last year in the journal Science, Dr. Beilock and her co-author, Gerardo Ramirez, said the technique worked both in the lab and in classrooms.  Used by a group of ninth graders facing a biology final, the expressive writing test effectively eliminated the relationship between test anxiety and poor test performance: even highly anxious students performed just as well as non anxious classmates.

Plan B
Cognitive scientists have not yet settled on how to expand working memory, but there are ways to make it more efficient.  We can hold only four facts or ideas at a time in working memory, but we can pack more information into those four slots by engaging in chunking: linking multiple pieces of information into a few meaningful groups.

More room can also be created in working memory by making mental operations automatic.  Practicing a necessary skill until it’s second nature – say, memorizing a set of basic equations – relives the working memory of the need to perform yet one more task during testing. Of course, the more you practice, the better you will do.

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