Opinion: Try these six strategies to help young learners

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In “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” the Queen says to Alice, “Why do I sometimes believe six things before breakfast?” As academics crunch data, mourn post-Covid test scores, and politicians grumble about the future of education, solutions are scarce. However, parents, grandparents, and other caregivers can provide “more than just an empty spoon” by helping teachers use six low-tech active learning strategies.

First, help children overcome vocabulary poverty by developing their vocabulary. Use synonyms to expand communication in conversations. Recently, a father told his son, “Yes, it’s brown, but that shade is skin; It is also called khaki,” I heard. Another mother told her daughter, “We were full and dirty with that rain.”

Reading expert Keith Stanovich talks about the “Matthew Effect” (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer), meaning that early word knowledge develops stronger and more fluent readers. Clearly, word play and rich conversations help children overcome vocabulary poverty and develop the automaticity that leads to fluent reading.

That goal of automation becomes the result of repeated repetition. The second strategy is “minute pictures”. Fold a paper in fourth lengthwise. In the first folded column (the one that bends to the right), have the student write the word or concept that is being remembered. A challenge could be a sight word or a multiplication problem or a science formula. In the second column at the back, have the student draw a picture to represent the first. In the third column, repeat the word or concept, then repeat the picture. Writing and drawing these quickly and repeating them creates a new neural pathway.

A third strategy involves using Play-Doh for students who need hands-on experience. Encourage students to study for details, whether a fourth-grader is learning to identify large rivers on a state map or a middle-grade student is examining the section of a volcano.

A fourth strategy helps students who are hard of hearing and need to hear material. Create songs and “calls” to reinforce lists. For example, “I don’t know but I’m told/The Parthenon is really old/Athens, Greece, it’s the place/447 BC. It’s the day.

Next, teach your child to cut the “stuff”. Instead of forcing frustrated high school students to write an entire essay or complete countless math problems at once, suggest that they write a paragraph or complete five problems and remind them of the power of the word “yet.” When learning doesn’t come fast enough, and students are on the verge of saying, “I can’t,” they can say, “yet.”

Also, tell your child, “You have to be there to win.” Absenteeism poses great challenges for teachers. Many years ago, a former school board member declared that students who can learn without being in the classroom should not be punished. But that man was a scientist, not a teacher, so he didn’t realize the important role the student plays in the student community. Tell your child to ask and/or answer one question in each section, and give that child another strategy to focus on. Attending class and paying attention are keys to being a successful student, so it also provides a rich learning experience for their classmates.

Finally, parents and grandparents and all caregivers can participate in teaching students in our community. While academics and politicians debate what education should be, members of our community can support educators by guiding their students to become active learners.

The Newport News Susan Pongratz is a retired teacher and author of a three-book vocabulary series.

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