Thursday, August 29, 2013

Jump-Starting Boys: Brains and Hormones

"Everyone knows boys are falling behind girls in education. And that has lots of people, especially educators and politicians, busy pointing fingers and engaging in loud discussions. But what about the average guilt-ridden, frustrated mother or father of an underachieving boy? Someone who wants to know in plain language what’s behind this trend and what they can do about it?

What about readers who crave positive support, not political shrillness? Most existing books on “the boy problem” make parent readers feel even more helpless than the school system and their job demands have made them feel already.

Jump-starting Boys is the first book on the market that empowers parent readers, give them a sense of being able to reclaim the duty and rewards of raising their children and assuring them they really can mitigate and/or work with the influences of school, media and more." [reprinted with permission from Viva Editions press information]

The following is an excerpt from Chapter Four of Jump-Starting Boys: What Hold Smart Kids Back?
Brains and Hormones 
Physical Issues
If boys and girls are different, is that how they’re born, or the way we raise them? We can’t emphasize enough what a silly question this is, because the answer is obviously some of each. Experts will never agree on exactly how much is nature versus nurture, nor exactly which types of behaviors align with which.
And that’s okay, because parents don’t need to get into the murky debate over how differently wired brains and hormones can affect language and learning, to get the information they need to raise their sons well. They just need to stay open-minded to the fact that there are differences, both physical and cultural, and that their parenting style will have only limited influence against these. While a degree of skepticism is healthy, it is counterproductive to ignore all the science. If women are particularly wary of the nature-versus-nurture debate, that’s understandable, given that they’ve been the ones most hurt in the past by misinformation and manipulations.
As Christina Hoff Sommers says in The War Against Boys, “It wasn’t all that long ago that intelligent men were deploying the idea of innate differences to justify keeping women down socially, legally, and politically. The corrective to that shameful history is not more bad science and rancorous philosophy; it is good science and clear thinking about the rights of all individuals, however they may differ.”
In recent years, key developments in many areas of science (neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, genetics, and neuroendocrinology) confirm the many differences with which boys and girls are born; in other words, differences that scientists pretty much agree can be chalked up to nature, not nurture.
Here’s the key one: Girls’ brains tend to mature earlier than boys’. That’s why girls develop faster than boys in many ways, but especially as regards reading, speaking, and writing. The gap shows up at around age three, and closes about the time boys hit seventeen. 
Most people accept this in the preschool years; it seems everyone knows about it and alters their expectations accordingly. But by kindergarten, parents and teachers are wary of treating kids differently, or allowing for different sets of expectations based on gender. Add to that the trend toward kindergartens focusing on academics over activities that kids initiate (which favors girls over boys), larger class sizes (leading to “crowd control” measures to which girls adapt more easily than boys), and the lack of male teachers in elementary schools (allowing for inadvertent biases, like a lack of tolerance for squirming boys).
Now add the next key factor: Boys tend to be more impulsive and need to move around more than girls. Not a problem as long as parents and teachers accept this. But as the number of male teachers (and principals) has decreased in elementary schools, class sizes have expanded and energy-absorbing activities like art, gym, drama, and recess have been cut back, boys’ natural energy is often seen as unnatural. Hence, the skyrocketing number of boys referred to those who would prescribe drugs to calm them. Have parents and teachers begun to see boys as faulty girls?
As they progress through elementary grades, boys feel the ever-heavier weight of disapproval. What parent isn’t distressed when phoned by the principal or given a negative report at a parent- teacher conference? Imagine being told your son is not reading well (compared with whom?), not reading the “right” things (determined largely by female teachers and female librarians), and not settling into writing exercises (which may be heavily skewed to what females like as we discuss in Chapter Nine).

Any tolerance adults have for boys’ language lag in preschool disappears by the time boys reach puberty, likely a major contributing factor to boys developing a negative view of their own language skills and beginning to tune out. The exceptions, as we’ve pointed out before, are the “elites,” typically blessed with strict time limits on screen time at home, ample literary encouragement from their families, positive reinforcement at home for what reading and writing they are doing, and positive male role models in their lives.

Basically, differences in brain structure, hormone levels, and speed of maturing work against boys when it comes to reading, writing, and impulse control. But the existence of “elite boys” proves that those who get encouragement and support can thrive.

As Michael Sullivan puts it in Connecting Boys with Books 2, “The reading gap can be explained largely in terms of brain development lag, making it much less frightening, because boys’ brains eventually catch up, presumably along with their ability to handle language. What then becomes the issue is how we treat children while this brain lag exists, because the development lag really disappears only during the last stages of high school, and by then we have little opportunity to make up for any ground lost.”
The trick for parents is to give boys a more physical learning environment (let them be antsy, handle materials, illustrate or act out stories), give them more frequent breaks, and do whatever it takes to keep them supported and motivated until the gender gap starts to close so they won’t label themselves stupid or lazy and give up. In other words, patience is required when it comes to boys’ reading and writing. And starting them on reading by themselves before they’re ready (age five or so) can backfire.
Read the full review of Jump-Starting Boys.


Withers, Pan and Gill, Cynthia. Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Reader Find Success in School and Life. Viva Editions. 2013. Excerpt of pages 74-77 reprinted with permission from Viva Editions.

Copyright 2013 Irene Taylor. This excerpt is reprinted here with the authors' permission. Permission to republish this blog in part or in full in any format must be granted by the author of this book in writing.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Reader Find Success in School and Life

While parents may "feel" that their sons are falling behind in school, and teachers may have evidence of the shift in boys' academic performance, the reasons why this is occurring and what to do about it are not as clear. This issue, and ways parents and teachers can help boys to achieve and do well in school, is the topic of the newly released book, Jump-Starting Boys by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill.

This easy-to-read handbook sets the stage for readers by discussing the reasons why somewhere around fourth grade, bright, eager, and up until then, engaged boys begin to fail in school, and become discouraged reluctant learners.

At the heart of the solution Withers and Gill offer is an emphasis on helping boys to become better readers - they see success in reading as the key to academic success and success in life beyond school. In the Introduction to Jump-Starting Boys, they say, "We firmly believe that reading confidence is a keystone to educational success, which in turn increases one's chances of a more stable, satisfying life."

The "Boy" Problem

This book presents a great discussion of the "problem" and offers a multitude of solutions that can be used in both school and home. This is an engaging read filled with hands-on ideas and tips in plain language - not "academic-speak" as the authors call it.

The authors begin with a short discussion of the seven reasons why boys are underachieving: Physical, Reading/writing gap, Home structure, School structure, fear-based backlash, Morals and Parenting styles, followed by seven tips for ways to turn boys around. There is an excellent chapter on what holds boys back, including learning disabilities, learning styles, developmental issues and how parents can help with those issues.

The topics of the influence of Dads and mentors are discussed, as well as ways to encourage boys to become better readers and to writers.

Hands-On Ways to Help Boys Succeed

The book contains to in-depth discussions of over 200 hands-on approaches that parents can adopt and use at home right away - and ideas that can be used in school as well. There are also many success stories describing the effects of these ideas on real-life boys and their achievement. Subject-specific ideas and advice fill this book - with emphasis on reading and writing especially. The research is well cited and there is a full and very user-friendly appendix of sources, recommended readings and useful websites.

In this book, Withers and Gill teach parents and teachers to:
  • "Determine their son’s learning style and how best to help him learn.
  • Encourage a reluctant reader via book clubs, graphic novels, and kinesthetic activities related to reading.
  • Emphasize on one-on-one interaction during reading time.
  • Limit screen time without coming across as a tyrant.
  • Use their son’s interest in technology to foster excitement about learning and forming good reading habits.
  • Teach their son to be a self-motivated, lifelong reader." [Viva Editions]
About the Authors

Pam Withers is a former business journalist and the bestselling, award-nominated author of more than a dozen adventure novels particularly popular with teen boys. She is also co-author with John Izzo of the highly acclaimed Values Shift: The New Work Ethic and What It Means for Business (Prentice Hall Canada 2000). Her magazine writing credits include McCalls, Working Woman, Profit and numerous inflight magazines. Withers travels North America extensively, speaking at schools, librarians’ and writers’ conferences. She’s a dual U.S./Canadian citizen. The second of six siblings, she spent her growing-up years trying to measure up to her smarter, better-looking older sister, Cynthia. (She has just about outgrown that.) Withers and her husband, a university professor, live in Vancouver, Canada, where they recently completed raising a high-energy son who spent his adolescence as the official teen editor of her teen adventure novels.

During her thirty-year career as a high school teacher, Cynthia Gill, M.A., L.M.F.T. worked on innovative curricula development and served as an academic dean, while winning acclaim for her work in the classroom. She completed her master's degree in Adlerian psychotherapy and counseling in 2006, and has since worked with adolescents, children and families as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Gill has taught as an adjunct faculty member at Globe University and enjoys public speaking, particularly on parent education. She has led numerous groups of students on educational and service trips to Russia, Germany and Latin America. A former homeschooling mom, she also served as a consultant to homeschooling families with an accrediting organization. She and her husband live in Minneapolis and like to travel in between visits from their three grown sons, two daughters-in-law and three grandchildren.

A Great Resource for Parents and Teachers

Jump-Starting Boys is a great resource for parents and teachers of reluctant learners - especially boys. It is a must-read for anyone dealing with an underachieving boy - and contains a wealth of advice that can be instrumental in helping that learner find success in school - and in life!

Readers may enjoy an reading an excerpt from Chapter Four of Jump-Starting Boys: What Hold Smart Kids Back?


Withers, Pam and Gill, Cynthia. Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Reader Find Success in School and Life. Viva Editions. 2013.

Author bios courtesy of Viva Editions.

Copyright 2013 Irene Taylor. Permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author of this blog in writing.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Common Core Standards: Do Kids Need to Learn Math Facts?

Image courtesy of Melinda Kolk

Math facts! Some kids love 'em, most hate 'em! But one thing is for sure. Success with these facts will help to insure success in future mathematics studies.

Back in the "olden days" teachers and parents used to drill kids in their number facts. This idea fell out of favor in the late 1980s and 1990s in favor of a more concept-oriented approach. Some of us still expected mastery of those facts, but with the advent of calculators and computers, proficiency in math facts wasn't as highly emphasized. Turns out - knowing those facts IS important, and "math fact fluency" is now part of the Common Core Standards that have been adopted by the education departments of 45 states.

What are the Common Core Standards?

A complete discussion of the Common Core would take volumes. The Common Core State Standards Initiative says, "The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce."

Standards have been developed for mathematics and English/Language Arts and there are detailed standards for each grade level, kindergarten through grade 12. If you live in a Common Core state, you probably have already heard of the standards. The question is - how can parents and teachers help children meet these standards?

Do Kids Need to Learn Math Facts?

First, some background. According to the The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, "Computational proficiency with whole number operations is dependent on sufficient and appropriate practice to develop automatic recall of addition and related subtraction facts, and of multiplication and related division facts."

The Common Core emphasizes learning on many levels, but, building on the findings of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, it does call for "fluency" in addition and subtraction for second graders and fluency in multiplication and division for third graders - and learning those number facts is a way to gain fluency.
  • 2.OA.2. Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies. By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.
  • 3.OA.7. Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.
Knowing those facts is important! So, how can teachers help their students at school? How can you help your child at home?

You can help by giving your child some strategies for learning important math facts. Strategies for Learning Math Facts has a few "tricks" I use at school, which you can share with your child at home. After your child has mastered these strategies, he can apply them in everyday math work.


Common Core Standards Initiative. About the Standards. (2012). Accessed August 1, 2013.

US Department of Education. The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Accessed August 1, 2013.

Common Core Standards Initiative.  Common Core Math Scope & Sequence.(2010). Accessed August 1, 2013.

Lewin, Tamar. "Panel Proposes Streamlining Math." New York Times. (2008). Accessed August 1, 2013.

Taylor, Irene. Study Skills and Learning Games. (2012).

Taylor, Irene. Homework Help: A Success Guide for Teachers and Parents. (2012).

Laura Candler's Mastering Math Facts - Multiplication & Division: Aligned with the Common Core. (2013).

Copyright 2013 Irene Taylor. Permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author of this blog in writing.

Strategies for Learning Math Facts - Addition and Subtraction Facts

Image courtesy of Dave.

Math facts are a fact of school life - given new emphasis in the Common Core Standards adopted by 45 states. How can you help your children learn these facts so that they can move on to more advanced mathematical concepts?

General Strategies for Learning Math Facts

Learning facts in families is a good way to increase mastery. Always have your child learn facts in related groups. 2+3, 3+2, 5-3, and 5-2 are all related facts. So are 4x6, 6x4, 24 divided by 4, and 24 divided by 6. If a child learns facts in groups, it will actually lower the number of "new" facts to be learned. For a good way to practice (here's an oldie but goodie!), make flash cards with two related facts together on the same card (for example, both 4+5 and 5+4 on the front of the same card with 9 on the back as the answer to both problems).

Have your students learn all of the "doubles" first. These are easy ones to remember, and there are only two related facts for each double: 4+4 and 8-4, for example.

No matter which facts your child is learning, it is a good idea to mark off the facts that have already been mastered on a fact chart. This helps to track progress, and also is a good visual for seeing how few facts there are left to learn. For example, by the time your child gets to the 6 times table, she already should know:

  • 1x6
  • 2x6
  • 3x6
  • 4x6
  • 5x6
  • and 6x6 

from the previous times tables and the doubles. That only leaves three new facts: 7x6, 8x6,and 9x6 to be learned. Looking at the few new ones is much more encouraging than looking at the whole table, and students will be happy to see how many they already knows.

Addition and Subtraction Fact Strategies

Doubles Plus One - Once your student has mastered the doubles, teach the "doubles plus one" strategy. For all facts that are one away from a "double" - for example, 4+5 , it is easy to remember the double fact, 4+4, and just add one to the answer. So if 4+4=8, then 4+5 is 9, one more than 8. This will also work as a "doubles minus one" strategy. In the above example, if the student knows 5+5 better, then 4+5 is one LESS than 10.

Counting On - For addition facts that involve a larger number plus 2, 3, or 4, teach students to "count on" to find the answer. For example, in 3+8, have students start with the 8 and count on three more - "nine, ten, eleven" to find the answer.

Strategies for learning multiplication and division facts will be the topic of a related article.

Learn those Basic Number Facts

Number facts are the building blocks of all other computation. According to the Common Core, by the end of Grade 2, children should be proficient in addition and subtraction of single digit numbers. One children have learned the basics, they are then free to apply those to the range of mathematical concepts that the standards encompass.

Working with your child at home is important, and will help him to memorize these basic facts to that he will be free to move on to higher and more complex mathematical learning. Make learning them fun for your child. Encourage success, and he or she will continue to be successful in all math endeavors. Have some fun with those facts, and your child will learn them in no time!


Common Core Standards Initiative. About the Standards. (2012). Accessed August 1, 2013.

US Department of Education. The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Accessed August 1, 2013.

Candler, Laura. Math Fact Mastery and the Common Core. (2013). Accessed August 1, 2013.

Expert Corner: Math Fact Fluency and the Common Core. (2012). Accessed August 1, 2013.

Common Core Standards Initiative.  Common Core Math Scope & Sequence.(2010). Accessed August 1, 2013.

Shenendahowa Central School. Math Facts. (2010). Accessed August 1, 2013.

Lewin, Tamar. "Panel Proposes Streamlining Math." New York Times. (2008). Accessed August 1, 2013.

Taylor, Irene. Common Core Standards: Do Kids need to Learn Math Facts? (2013).

Taylor, Irene. Study Skills and Learning Games. (2012).

Taylor, Irene. Helping with Homework: A Success Guide for Teachers and Parents. (2012).

Copyright 2013 Irene Taylor. Permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author of this blog in writing.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Organizing the Classroom: Keeping Track of Journals

Heart Notebook by Midnight A

Do your students use journals in class? Many schools use journals for kids, and keeping track of them can be a difficult task, both for the new teacher and the veteran. Here’s a tip for dealing with this organization problem.

If you are like most new teachers, you have great plans to read every child’s journal and make your own comments on a daily basis. That sounds wonderful in theory, but have you often found yourself facing a pile of 25 or more student journals – all waiting for you to read and comment in? It is easy to let the pressures of day to day teaching, testing, record keeping and discipline put your great plans for reading those journals on the back burner, and before you know it, you have that ominous pile facing you – and no time to really sit and read each and every one.

Here is a tip for new teachers to help manage this situation.

  • Begin by dividing the number of students you have in class by four. That will give you a group of students for each day of the week, Monday through Thursday, with no one scheduled on Friday, for reasons that will be explained below.
  • Next, assign a different color to each of the four days of the week – Monday through Thursday. So, for example, Monday’s color is blue, Tuesday’s is red, and so on.
  • Now, using those “daily” colors and your student groups formed above, mark a large star, circle or other symbol on the cover of each student’s journal in the corresponding color. You may use colored markers, or you might want to use colored stickers or other symbols for this. In fact, you can choose any “grouping” that you want – perhaps using favorite fairy tale characters, meal items, whatever your students will enjoy.

Whatever symbol or color you use, you will now have the journals divided into four groups – be they the red-blue-green-orange grouping or the cookie-candy-ice cream-cake grouping.

Now it is easy to manage those journals. Each day, just collect one group – the red group for example – and you will have a much easier number to read and respond to. In a class of 24, that will be only 6 a day to read – a much more manageable task than trying to do all 24 at once.

So – why only 4 groups? The extra day, presumably Friday, gives you a chance to get caught up with any students who were absent on the day their journal was collected, or if you happen to miss one or two for some other reason. So on your “unassigned” day – just collect and read those you missed during the week. Using this method, you have an easy way to organize these classroom materials and make reading and responding to journals a snap!

Original copyright 2007 +Irene Taylor.  Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author of this blog in writing.