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Dear Teacher


Busy classroom walls, electronic reading, assignment books, and test-taking tips



dear_teach
September 2012

Can Classroom Walls Be too Busy for Students?

Question: Our daughter's fourth grade teacher scarcely has a free space on her walls. She has hung up all kinds of charts, pictures and examples of the children's work. The doors and even the blinds have stuff on them. Is so much on the walls visual overload? Does it affect students' ability to concentrate? – Curious

Answer: Teachers are usually encouraged to have bright colorful displays on their classroom walls. When a classroom takes on the appearance of a supermarket, some educators now believe that it can make it difficult for children to concentrate. They believe that when teachers are presenting a lesson, students need to pay close attention to the teacher rather than looking at all the things on the walls.

On the other hand, more educators think this is a ridiculous view and that students need to be stimulated. There is no solid research on this subject. Why don't you ask your daughter if she finds all the things on the wall bother her concentration? If so, you might ask the teacher to evaluate how other students regard the classroom walls.

One area in which some research has been done is on papers (worksheets, handouts, and tests) that are crowded. Students will look at a math test with 10 problems and think that they can handle it. Seeing 50 problems on a page can completely overwhelm and discourage them – making them believe the task is impossible to accomplish. This is a situation of visual overload. Teachers should be aware that too small print size and little spacing between letters do slow down the students' reading rate. This is especially true for those with dyslexia.

Is Text Messaging Considered Reading?

Question: I am really puzzled about what counts as reading nowadays. My children feel that they are reading when they read text messages or comments on social-networking sites. Are they correct? And how can we get children to read more? – Electronic Reading

Answer: Reading on electronic devices is reading. Your children are right about this. However, a survey by Scholastic and the Harrison Group points out one big downside to this view. They found that from age 6 to 17, the time children spend reading books for fun declines, while the time they spend going online for fun and using a cell phone to text or talk increases. Incidentally, most parents do not consider reading on social-networking sites reading.

The good news about technology is that the survey found it could be a positive motivator to get kids reading. Fifty-seven percent of the children in the survey said they were interested in reading an e-book, and a third of the children said they would read more books for fun if they had access to e-books on an electronic device.

This year the sale of e-books has dramatically increased – especially in the children/young adult category. So more and more younger readers are likely to be reading e-books.

While parents understandably have concerns about the amount of time their kids are spending on electronic or digital devices, e-books do offer a way to get more kids to read more. The survey also found that the more time struggling readers spend reading e-books for fun, the more proficient readers they become.

Should Children Use Assignment Books?

Question: You often mention that children should have assignment books. Maybe they work for some children. However, in my experience, children fail to use them regularly. Or, if they do, they invariably lose them. Fortunately for our children, all the teachers in their school put all their assignments on the school website. The children never have the excuse of not knowing what their assignments are, and parents always know if their children have homework. – Handling Assignments

Answer: We'll admit that it is handy to have assignments put up on websites. It is decidedly helpful for parents, children who are absent and those who may or may not have written the assignment down accurately.

But there is a big negative to not having to write down assignments: It doesn't prepare students for high school or college, where the responsibility for knowing what the assignments are is usually the responsibility of the students.

Ways to Make Test Taking Easier

Question: My children do well in school – even on most tests. Are there any tricks that they can use that will help them do even better? – Wondering

Answer: The book, The Simple Way to an A, lists three steps that can make test taking easier. You might suggest that your children try them. (1) Plan: find the questions with the highest point value and do them first. (2) Prioritize: If children are unsure on an answer, they can use a number system to show level of confidence in an answer and go back and check the answer again. (3) Strategize: For example, when matching answers, read the longer column first as it will give more clues to the answer. Then look for the correct answer in the shorter column.

To these steps, we would add the necessity of reading the directions more than once.

Parents should send questions and comments to dearteacher@dearteacher.com or ask them on the columnists' website at www.dearteacher.com.


Tags: Education, In This Issue

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