Parent involvement doesn’t help much

Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework, writes Dana Goldstein in The Atlantic. And, if you do, don’t expect it to make much difference.

“Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire — regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education,” writes Goldstein, citing research by Keith Robinson, a University of Texas sociology professor,  Angel L. Harris, a Duke sociology professor.

The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools.

“No clear connection exists between parental involvement and improved student performance,” they conclude in The Broken Compass.

Helping your kids with homework won’t raise their test scores, the study concluded. “Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down,” writes Goldstein.

What does help: Requesting a teacher with a good reputation, “reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans.” 

Robinson asked UT statistics undergrads  how their parents contributed to their achievements.

He found that most had few or no memories of their parents pushing or prodding them or getting involved at school in formal ways. Instead, students described mothers and fathers who set high expectations and then stepped back.

I suspect the parent involvement that really matters happens at home. My husband’s mother told him to “be the best,” he said in her eulogy. She didn’t say, “try.” Like Yoda, she told him to do it.

If parents teach certain values — set goals and work to achieve them, take responsibility for the consequences of your actions, do your own damn homework — their children are likely to do well in school and in life. It doesn’t matter if Mom volunteers for the PTA bake sale or not. 

Latinas learn to be ‘first teachers’

In an immigrant neighborhood in Chicago, Latina mothers are learning to be their children’s “first teachers,” reports Sara Neufeld in the Hechinger Report. Then they’re expected to spread the word about early learning by organizing playgroups and classes for their friends, relatives and neighbors.

Laura Barrios (left), leading activities for babies during an educational playgroup with Lorenza Pascual. (Kim Palmer / Hechinger Report)Many Latino immigrants think “their role is to keep their babies safe, clean, well-fed and loved,” say researchers. Parents think learning doesn’t start till kindergarten and happens at school. 

In a 2012 survey, 26 percent of young Latino children had been read to in the previous week, compared with 41 percent of African-Americans and 58 percent of whites.  

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association is training “early childhood ambassadors.” Most are stay-at-home mothers with limited formal education.

Trainers from Countdown to Kindergarten ran a “two-day workshop focused on easy and affordable activities, from turning toilet paper rolls into imaginary binoculars to helping children write their addresses on a drawing of a house to observing nature and the outdoors.”

Over the summer, the women began weekly playgroups outside their neighborhood YMCA.

One sticky August Tuesday, the playgroup attracted about 40 parents and children. Some embarked on a “wonder walk” around the building, looking for plastic animal and plant figurines placed strategically in the grass and visiting trees they had “adopted” by placing ribbons on them. Others practiced learning shapes and colors by painting potatoes cut into triangles, squares, circles and rectangles. Babies explored puzzles and books spread out on a blanket while older kids worked in a garden. 

Isidra Mena, 31, there with her 2-year-old nephew and 5-year-old daughter, said the children were starting to recognize real vegetables at home because of what the playgroups were teaching them. Rosa Tafoya, 22, who had been coming all summer with her 3- and 5-year-old daughters, said the girls were doing better taking turns with each other, and sometimes they were choosing to draw with chalk on the sidewalk instead of playing video games.

Over the winter, the ambassadors helped to run a 10-week class for families with children 5 and under called Abriendo Puertas or “Opening Doors.”

If I ran a foundation, I’d fund the creation of a TV show — maybe a soap opera or telenovela — that would show people parenting well and coping with family problems. How do you read a book aloud to a small child? Not everyone knows. Show ‘em.

Toddlers turn from TV to tech

Toddlers are using technology but turning away from TV, according to a national survey. Thirty-eight percent of children under age 2 have used a mobile device, up from 11 percent two years ago, according to Common Sense Media, reports the San Jose Mercury News. At the same, young children are spending less time watching TV.

Three-quarters of children ages 0 to 8 have access to mobile devices such as smart phones, tablet computers and iPod Touches, the survey found. The proportion of young children using the devices nearly doubled, from 38 percent two years ago to 72 percent, and average duration of use tripled from 5 minutes to 15 minutes daily.

Children up to age 8 average nearly two hours a day in front of video screens. That’s 21 minutes less than they did two years ago, according to Common Sense Media.

Half, or 57 minutes, of screen time is spent watching TV, a drop of 9 minutes a day from two years ago. Of TV time, one-third is spent watching prerecorded programs on a DVR. Ten minutes a day is spent playing video games, down by 4 minutes from two years ago.

Children are more likely to watch educational programs on TV than on smart phones, the survey found.

A third of children have televisions in their bedrooms. Lower-income families were more likely to have a TV on all the time compared to than higher-income and better-educated families.

Where there is still a gap between the rich and poor in ownership of mobile devices, it is narrowing. Among poor families — those earning less than $30,000 a year — access to smart phones increased from 27 percent to 51 percent in two years, while tablet ownership went from 2 percent to 20 percent.

Yet Common Sense pointed out an “app gap,” partly because only 46 percent of lower-income families have access to high-speed Internet, and therefore have less access to downloadable educational programs.

There’s also a huge reading gap. About half of parents said they read to their children under 2 ever day; a quarter read every week. One fifth never read to their children under 2.

‘I’m tired of reading aloud to my son’

Experts say 20 minutes of read-aloud time is the “magical number” for young children, writes Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic in a New York Times parenting blog. “It does all kinds of crazy-good things for kids — develops their vocabulary, makes them love books and stimulates them to ask sometimes-impossible-to-answer questions about life.” But, she’s tired of reading aloud to her 3-year-old son.

Take Richard Scarry’s books, which I adored growing up. (Please. They’re on the floor behind the bookshelf.)

In Richard Scarry’s world, there is a lot to look at, but not a lot to read, and when there’s not a lot to read, you have to make up things. I could go that route, and I probably should go that route, but since I am a writer by profession, having to write aloud someone else’s book to my kid at the end of a long day kind of ticks me off.

My math professor husband, who loves a good counting book, has his own Richard Scarry gripe: “The Best Counting Book Ever” is not a good counting book. “The first 40 pages are devoted to the numbers 1 to 20,” he says. “Even if you just count up to each number once and turn the page, by the time you get to the number 10, you’ve really counted to 55! Getting to 20 roughly quadruples the number we’ve effectively counted to — in general, it’s a quadratic growth function. When he’s older, I’ll explain that we didn’t always have time to count to 1,050.”

Curious George is “dull and insipid,” she writes.

A friend can’t stand Goodnight Moon.

In The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease, advises: “Don’t read stories that you don’t enjoy yourself. Your dislike will show in the reading, and that defeats your purpose.”

I read my daughter Goodnight Moon — or recited it from memory — every night for years. It’s supposed to put you to sleep.

We also read a second book of her choice. I unfondly remember a Strawberry Shortcake book. And I probably could recite Big Dog, Little Dog from memory too. “Fred and Ted were friends. Fred was big. Ted was little.” And it went on.

Allison was reading fluently before she started kindergarten. When did I stop reading aloud to her? When did we give up Goodnight Moon?

Old school: Teach word roots, math facts and …

Kids Should Learn Cursive (and Math Facts, and Word Roots), writes Annie Murphy Paul in Time. New researchsupports the effectiveness of “old school” methods such as “memorizing math facts, reading aloud, practicing handwriting, and teaching argumentation,” she writes.

Suzanne Kail, an English teacher at an Ohio high school was required to teach Latin and Greek word roots, she writes in English Journal, though she abhorred “rote memorization.”

Students learned that “sta” means “put in place or stand,” as in “statue” or “station.”  They learned that “cess” means “to move or withdraw,” which let them understand “recess.”

Her three classes competed against each other to come up with the longest list of words derived from the roots they were learning. Kail’s students started using these terms in their writing, and many of them told her that their study of word roots helped them answer questions on the SAT and on Ohio’s state graduation exam. (Research confirms that instruction in word roots allows students to learn new vocabulary and figure out the meaning of words in context more easily.)

For her part, Kail reports that she no longer sees rote memorization as “inherently evil.” Although committing the word roots to memory was a necessary first step, she notes, “the key was taking that old-school method and encouraging students to use their knowledge to practice higher-level thinking skills.”

I learned Latin and Greek word roots in seventh grade. It was lots of fun.

Drilling math facts, like the multiplication table, “is a prerequisite for doing more complex, and more interesting, kinds of math,” Paul writes.

Other valuable old-school skills:

 Handwriting. Research shows that forming letters by hand, as opposed to typing them into a computer, not only helps young children develop their fine motor skills but also improves their ability to recognize letters — a capacity that, in turn, predicts reading ability at age five. . . .

Argumentation. In a public sphere filled with vehemently expressed opinion, the ability to make a reasoned argument is more important than ever. . . .

Reading aloud. Many studies have shown that when students are read to frequently by a teacher, their vocabulary and their grasp of syntax and sentence structure improves.

I’d add memorizing and reciting poetry as a valuable old-school skill. What are some others?

Must-read-aloud books for little kids and parents

Mike Petrilli suggests the kindergarten canon, must-read-aloud books for little kids.

One of the great joys of parenthood is reading to my two young sons. Partly it’s the visceral experience: Little guys curled up on my lap, in their PJ’s, soft light overhead, the day winding down, sleep coming (well, one can hope). But it’s also about the books: An endless treasure trove of stories to share, pictures to enjoy, traditions to pass along.

Here’s his full list, which includes some of my old favorites: Goodnight Moon (I read this every night or recited it from memory), Corduroy and, from my childhood, Caps for Sale and Blueberries for Sal. And lots of others, of course.

A push for 'slow reading'

While schools push students to read fluently and quickly, some argue for “slow reading,” including reading aloud and memorization, reports AP.

The 2004 book In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Changing the Cult of Speed sprang from author Carl Honore’s realization that his “rushaholism” had gotten out of hand when he considered buying a collection of “one-minute bedtime stories” for his children.

We need a “revolution in reading,” wrote Lindsay Waters, a Harvard University Press editor, in a 2007 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Instead of rushing by works so fast that we don’t even muss up our hair, we should tarry, attend to the sensuousness of reading, allow ourselves to enter the experience of words.”

Elementary schools are starting to encourage close reading, says John Miedema, author of  Slow Reading.

Mary Ellen Webb, a third-grade teacher at Mast Way Elementary School in Durham, N.H., has her students memorize poems upward of 40 lines long and then perform them for their peers and parents. She does it more for the sense of pride her students feel but said the technique does transfer to other kinds of reading — the children remember how re-reading and memorizing their poems helped them understand tricky text.

“Memorization is one of those lost things, it hasn’t been the ‘in’ thing for a while,” she said. “There’s a big focus on fluency. Some people think because you can read quickly … that’s a judge of what a great reader they are. I think fluency is important, but I think we can err too much on that side.”

I like memorizing, especially poetry, but I hate reading aloud. It’s too slow.