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Dear Teacher


Grades for effort, improving spelling, and trouble with phonics



November 2012

Grades for Effort Do Matter

Question: My son receives a grade for both achievement and effort in every one of his subjects. I am not sure which grade I should be most concerned with. Is it important to receive both grades for each subject? – Puzzled

Answer: The grades measure different things. The achievement grade reflects how well your son has mastered the subject material. The effort grade is less precise. It shows how hard your child is working including doing classwork, participating in class discussion, and completing homework assignments.

You should be most concerned about the relationship between the two grades. A good grade in effort should ideally be linked to a good grade in achievement. On the other hand, a poor grade in effort can often explain a low achievement grade. And a high achievement grade coupled with a low effort grade may indicate that a child needs more challenging work. Whenever there is a significant difference between the two grades, a discussion with a teacher should be arranged.

Research has shown that students' beliefs about effort are very important. If students believe that the effort they put into learning an academic subject will lead to achieving a better academic grade, the students are more likely to put forth the necessary effort to obtain the results they want to achieve.

Ways to Improve a 4th Grader's Spelling

Question: My fourth grader will ace the weekly spelling test; however, he misspells a lot of words when doing other work. How can he improve his spelling? – Misspeller

Answer: Part of the answer lies in how he learns the spelling test words. He may not be working with them enough to really learn them. He needs to write the words on a home spelling pre-test as soon as he gets them, self-correct the misspelled words and write them correctly and then be tested on the missed words following the same steps until he can write them correctly. If he misses too many words, limit the number of words (5-7) that he works with in one evening. The night before the test, re-test him on all the words and follow the same correction steps for any missed words.

There is a good possibility that the spelling test words are not the ones that he is misspelling in his everyday work. A good way to deal with this is to look over his work and make a list of the words that he frequently misspells. Then you can follow the steps above and teach him five of these words along with the weekly spelling list. Review these words frequently in separate spelling tests until you see that he really can spell them. It could take a month for him to learn as many as ten words.

To reinforce the learning of the misspelled words, play Hangman with your son using the words that he frequently misspells. If he can word process, he could type some of his homework. By using spell check, he'll immediately see spelling errors and be able to correct them.

No Phonics a Problem for 5th Grader

Question: My daughter was never taught much phonics. Now when she meets a new word, she can't sound it out. She's in fifth grade, and this is becoming quite a problem in her social studies and science classes. Where do we get help for her? – No Phonics

Answer: When children get to your daughter's age, they really aren't using much phonics beyond the sound of the first syllable. After this, they are decoding words by dividing them into syllables and identifying familiar prefixes and suffixes as well as using the context.

Admittedly, new words in social studies and science can be difficult to decode. You can help your child by working with her on each chapter's new vocabulary. In most social studies and science books, these words are usually displayed prominently at the beginning or end of a chapter. If you can't work with your child, consider a tutor.

Don't expect her to learn all the new vocabulary in one session. Start with the ones in the current reading assignment. Introduce these words over several days, and review them frequently. Work on only a few words at a time. First, spend time on the definitions of each word until your daughter can easily define them. Then take a word and show her how to divide the word into syllables. If she is having trouble with initial consonants, find simple words that she knows using that consonant. For example, if the word is "society," relate it to the word "so." Be sure to identify and teach the common prefixes and suffixes used in the social studies and science words

It could also be helpful if you and your daughter were to read aloud together sections of the textbook using the new words. If your or a tutor's work with the child is not enough, ask the school to investigate your daughter's reading difficulties and to provide the help that she needs.

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, Parenting, Preschool

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