This is a guest column by Marcy Winograd and Jackie Hirtz. Every week, these two veteran teachers will answer your questions on everything from homework strategies to learning math to organization. Submit your questions to email@example.com with Dear Marcy and Jackie in the subject line.
Q. My 8th grade son insists on using slang like “cool” and “lol” in his essays. I keep telling him that it’s an essay, not a text or an email, but abbreviations like 24/7 continue to creep into his assignments. Why doesn’t he get it? What can I do to help him?
A. In this age of rapid-fire texting and endless apps, it’s not surprising your son is using informal language in a formal school assignment. Habits are hard to break, so if he’s on his cell phone a lot or glued to his computer he’s receiving constant reinforcement for his lack of formality. He needs to understand the concept of writing for a specific audience. Words we use with friends are not the same words we use in a letter to the Principal. Perhaps he would be more likely to grasp this concept in a real-world assignment – a letter to a software executive a glitch in a program or a desired product – even a possible school internship in high school. Another suggestion is to play a game with him. Tell him, “I’m writing a letter to my boss. Thumbs up if I should use the word in the letter. Thumbs down if the word is inappropriate. Ready?”
Q. My high school daughter is gifted but has ADHD and can never remember to turn in her homework. It’s not that she forgets to do it, only that she forgets to turn it in to her teacher. Sometimes I find her homework on the couch, long after my daughter’s left for school. To make sure my daughter passes her English class, I’ve gotten into the habit of being the messenger – physically delivering my daughter’s homework to a counselor at school. Am I doing the right thing? I don’t’ want my daughter to fail.
A. Your concerns about failure are understandable, particularly because repeated failures come at great psychic cost and can become a never ending cycle. Eventually students who only know failure opt for fight or flight – act out and get into trouble or drop out altogether. That being said, it’s counter-productive to enable your daughter to be disorganized and irresponsible. Plus, she must feel ashamed on some level to know that her mother is delivering her homework. If a parent is continuously rescuing her child, intervening before the child learns the consequences of her actions, then the parent is setting her child up for more devastating failures later – either in college or careers. We recommend you work out a reward plan with your child, so that she takes responsibility for delivering her homework. Rather than offering a tangible reward, consider using praise.
Formerly an English teacher, Marcy Winograd now teaches government at a public LAUSD high school in South Los Angeles. Jackie Hirtz, MS Ed., a writer and writing coach, taught elementary school for seven years. Together, Marcy and Jackie have written for children’s television, print, and new media. Their most recent project is the tween novel Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush available on Amazon. You can follow Marcy and Jackie @tweenorama and learn more about Lola Zola at their blog www.lolazola.com