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  • Two school girls getting onto. a schoolbus
    • Young learners

    4 steps to make sure the transition back to school goes well

    By Donatella Fitzgerald

    As we start thinking about returning to school, the big question for teachers and parents is: How can we help our children get off to a smooth start?   

    After the long break, students might be keen to see their friends again. But it's not always easy to get back into the class routine. It's especially difficult when students are moving into a new class or are facing important exams. 

    So what can you do to support children in transitioning back to school at the beginning of the academic year? 

    Here are 4 steps to help them get off to a great start.  

    1. Be organized and create routines

    Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it's not all mixed up.  – A. A. Milne 

    Have a "family meeting" to brainstorm the routines for the school year, e.g., tidying room, getting school clothes/uniform/bag ready the evening before, homework routines, family meal times and exercise. Ensure each member of the family has input into the routine too. Create a chart with the routines so everyone can see what has been agreed upon and how they are being adhered to.

    2. Start bedtime routines early

    Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. – Benjamin Franklin 

    Agreeing on firm bedtimes during the school week is very important for everyone in the family.  

    If children and teenagers do not get enough sleep, it can negatively impact their health and academic achievement. It's important that they are aware of this too.  

    In an ideal world, we should ensure that adults and children are not exposed to any form of screen time for at least 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime. This will help everyone sleep better.  

    Start the back-to-school sleep transition gradually. To help your child adjust, move bedtime up by 30 to 60 minutes at a time over the course of a few days or a week before the start of school so the transition from a later bedtime to an earlier one is progressive. 

    3. Talk about homework and teach organizational skills 

    When it's obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps. – Confucius 

    Organization needs to be taught and practiced. As children get older, homework usually increases. Take an active interest in your child's homework.  

    Parents can be supportive by demonstrating organizational skills and helping children with time management. Assist them with creating a plan for their homework and encourage your child (whatever age) to have a study plan of some sort and to set goals for their homework which are SMART: 

    • Specific – Describe in detail what activities they are going to do. 
    • Measurable – How will they know when they are progressing/finished?  
    • Achievable – Do they have the skills and resources to get to their goal?  
    • Relevant – How does this goal connect to short and long-term targets? 
    • Time-bound – Set a concrete deadline.

    Teach them how to approach homework with a "strategy". How much homework do they have? How long will it take to do it? Prioritize urgent homework and do more difficult things when they are less tired.  

    Make sure there's adequate space in your house and set up a homework-friendly area that is well lit, and has a table with enough room to put their pens and books. Of course, this is preferably somewhere quiet.  

    Also, it's important that parents are motivators and monitors and that they try to make themselves available for advice. Always praise children for their work and efforts. If you spot any problems, try and address them. Keep distractions to a minimum at home while they are doing their homework.

    4. Make mealtimes quality family time: listen and share one good thing about each day 

    Kids who grow up having family dinners, when they're on their own, tend to eat more healthily.  – Anne Fishel  

    A meal around the table can bring lots of benefits to the entire family and be an important opportunity for daily interaction. Sitting down to eat as a family provides the opportunity to have an influence over both short and long-term family health, and can help children establish resilience and the ability to cope with the demands of life as we know it now and in the future. It can also be an opportunity to introduce mindful eating too – being more aware of what and how we are eating.

    Additionally, this time together allows for members to talk and share things about their day and also offers an opportunity to establish a strong and powerful bonding experience. How can we make sure family mealtimes are quality time?  

    • Be attentive and offer undivided attention during this time.  
    • Turn all modern technology off during the meal so everyone is focused on each other.  
    • Talk to each other about topics such as: What lessons do you have today (at breakfast)? What did you enjoy about today? What did you have for lunch (while sharing the evening meal). Tell me one thing you learned today. What made you laugh today? What made you happy today?  
    • Listen mindfully to your child's thoughts and worries (if any). 
    • Encourage each member to talk about one good thing that has happened to them that day. This lets them know you are there for them.  
    • Assign mealtime jobs to involve everyone, e.g.: setting and clearing the table and putting away the dishes.

    However, sometimes it's not possible to share meal times during the week so plan at least one on the weekend if possible. 

    The benefits of any small moment of time can have long-lasting positive influences on your child's mental and physical health. Children model adult behavior and if they see you eating and engaging positively with them and others, they will carry this into their own lives. 

    With a bit of preparation, the leadup and transition back to school can be smooth and enjoyable not only for children but also for the rest of the family.

  • A girl sat surroudned by bookshelves, she is leaning on one and reading a book
    • Language teaching
    • Teaching trends and techniques

    4 top tips to help you encourage teens to read

    By Donatella Fitzgerald

    Two big questions about reading

    Children who engage with reading are three times more likely to have high levels of mental well-being than those who do not - (National Literacy Trust).

    There are two big questions we need to consider to help our students succeed in today’s school environment and to improve their general well-being.

    Research points in one direction: that is reading for pleasure! Here are four tips to help your students read more - and enjoy it.

    Tip 1: Give them a choice of great graded reader

    Reading can help students escape into new worlds and switch off from the day, helping them cope with stress and worry. The outcomes of reading will occur more often and more strongly if reading is enjoyable in the first instance.

    The benefits of reading are more likely to be felt when reading takes place through free choice. Give your students a wide selection of graded readers of different genres and at the right level. Ask them what genres they know and then do a class survey to find out which they like reading most.

    Pearson English Graded Readers offer teenagers a large range of genres at all levels. The series offers world-renowned stories – fiction, non-fiction, biographies, cinematic readers, plays, short stories and classics – rewritten for English learners.

    Tip 2: Involve the students in a collaborative group activity

    A reading circle is a strategy where the teacher puts students into groups to read a whole book or one or more chapters. At the end of the project, each group creates a presentation to deliver to the class. Reading circles reinforce listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in a supportive and collaborative environment.

    What’s more, they encourage students to deepen their understanding of a chosen text, as students are encouraged to talk about the book they are reading with their classmates. They discuss plots, the specific language used, and personal experiences, think about the characters and make connections to the outside world and citizenship.

    Students work collaboratively and think about and discuss what they have read. At the same time, they are guided towards deeper comprehension and are encouraged through active learning to take an interest in other students’ ideas.

    This type of collaborative project works perfectly in a face-to-face or remote teaching situation. It can be a way of nudging reluctant readers to read. You can help your students deepen discussions about books, create lifelong readers and build a respectful classroom community.

    How to lead a reading circle

    Create your reading circles by forming groups of four to seven students. Learners should be at the same reading level and also have similar interests, where possible.

    The objective of each circle is to read the book and prepare a presentation to share with the whole class. Each group decides collaboratively which reader they would like to read together; however, ask each group to read a different book so you have a variety of presentations.

    Reading circles should be fully student led. Students are empowered and supported by their peers as they all have a specific and important role to play. Through the project and preparing the digital responses students learn digital skills and improve their digital literacy and critical thinking.

    Suggested reading circle roles:

    • Slides Wizard: Creates the slides for the presentation
    • Presentation Wizard: Helps with the presentation to the class
    • Artistic Wizard: Looks at the illustrations in the book (this could be good for students with dyslexia)
    • Film Wizard: Finds information about the film version if there is one
    • Word Wizard: Finds new or keywords
    • Summary Wizard: Writes/creates a summary/visual summary of the plot
    • Sentence Wizard: Finds important quotations, and sentences in the book
    • Character Wizard: List/description of characters
    • Places in the book Wizard: Finding out about symbolic locations in the book

    Students can present their reading circles project in several different ways. For example:

    • A PowerPoint presentation
    • A poster
    • A video
    • A Padlet (interactive notice board where they can post comments, files, pictures and audio and video recordings).

    While students are watching the presentations, they should give feedback to the groups presenting using a feedback form, giving praise and suggesting areas of improvement.

    Tip 3: Introduce your students to a class library

    Introduce a class library and engage students in reading during class time or outside the classroom. If you don’t have much space for physical books, eLibraries can also ensure students can read the books remotely and read the same book at the same time! As with the printed versions, there are readers for teenage and adult students who want to supplement standard English course materials and build their English competence.

    At the end of the year, students can organize a reading festival (either face-to-face or virtually) where they showcase their responses to reading e.g. videos, posters, lap books, dances…anything they like!

    Tip 4: Help struggling readers build their confidence

    Offering students a choice of readers at the right or slightly below their level can help boost their confidence. Ideally, guide them towards short stories so they can finish them.

    Audiobooks can be an alternative to reading a book for a student with dyslexia (and other SEN students). They can have the same experience and many of the same benefits from listening to the story in English.

    If they are reading it is important to scaffold their reading with pre-reading activities as they provide the necessary support before the reading starts and activate their background knowledge. It is also important to pre-teach vocabulary items and encourage them to predict what will happen in the story. Pair students up with a reading buddy so the student with dyslexia has another student who can help them.

  • A Parent reading to his two children from a book with all three of them laying on the floor
    • Young learners
    • Teaching trends and techniques

    How can teachers encourage parents to get kids reading at home?

    By Donatella Fitzgerald

    “Sharing a story with your child is one of the most incredible things you can do for them.” The Book Trust.

    Research shows that getting kids reading at home can increase their reading ability at school – and improve their overall well-being. Parents and guardians can make a big difference. But how can teachers encourage parents to get their children to read more at home? We explore some strategies you can use.

    Tell parents about the benefits

    Reading can give children a break from technology-centered activities. It can help them to relax and unwind; reading a book can make children laugh and feel happier! Through hearing stories, children are also exposed to a rich and broad vocabulary.

    “It is important for teachers to establish contact with parents as much as possible and give very clear guidelines on the benefits of reading, and how they can create a reading routine and help their children read at home,” says Kasia Janitz-De La Rue, Product Development Director at Pearson.

    So, encourage parents to find time for a reading routine. Just before bedtime is a great time, as a nightly reading routine is associated with improved sleep in children.

    Give parents practical ideas for reading strategies

    Encourage parents to read with and not to their child. It doesn’t matter how long they set aside to read – just 10 minutes of quality reading time can make a big difference.

    Here are a few tips concrete reading tips for teachers to share with parents:

    • Ask children lots of questions while reading.
    • Use encouragement and praise to keep children engaged. Saying things like “what fantastic ideas” or “you thought so carefully about that, what might happen now?" will keep their minds working.
    • Use their past experiences to talk about what’s being read. Things like “have you learnt about…at school?” or “do you remember when we watched…and found out about…?” are good conversation starters.
    • Tune in and listen to children, and be curious about their interests. “I didn’t know you knew so much about…” or “I love reading stories about…with you,” are good phrases to keep in mind.

    It’s also a great idea to share online resources with parents. You can also suggest that parents look up read-aloud YouTube videos featuring authors, teachers or librarians reading their favorite stories. This way, children can watch and listen as often as they like.

    Recommend graded readers

    Graded readers are books that use language in line with a child‘s learning level. They can help children build confidence, and help slowly expose them to authentic reading levels.

    Encourage parents to identify what genre their child is interested in and show them the readers available. Each time parents see their children move up a level, they’re sure to see their children’s love for reading grow.

    Suggest before, during, and after reading activities

    Before reading

    Parents can take turns with their children to predict what the story is about – or what will happen next. Here is an activity teachers may suggest they try:

    “Start with the cover of the book and the blurb on the back cover. Reveal the cover slowly to ask the child what they can see. Ask them to guess what is on the cover. Once they have seen the cover, ask them questions about the images on the cover – who, what, why, where and how?”

    While reading

    Remind parents to focus on their children’s reading comprehension by using strategies like prediction, questioning, clarifying, and summarising. Teachers can ask parents to:

    • check ideas and understanding as the child reads: ‘So, you think that….’ ‘Did you expect…to happen?’ ‘Why do you think that happened?’
    • use the pictures in the book to help with comprehension
    • describe what is happening and talk about the characters.

    After reading

    Don’t forget: parents can continue to explore the book’s topic once reading time is done! A few ideas to share with parents include:

    • organising a puppet show for family members and siblings after making puppets of the characters in the book
    • having children draw a picture of their favorite character or their favorite page in the story
    • encouraging children to express their opinion on the book.