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 firstname.lastname@example.org with Dear Marcy and Jackie in the subject line. In this second column Marcy and Jackie address some frequently asked questions by parents concerned about cheating and anxiety.
Q. A few weeks ago, we found out that our ten year-old son copied another student’s story and submitted it as his own. When we asked him why he was dishonest, he said he couldn’t think of anything to write about and didn’t want to fail. What should we do?
A. At least he was honest about his dishonesty. Tell him, however, it’s not okay to lie, cheat, and steal other people’s words. That’s called plagiarism and it can get him kicked out of college. How does he conquer writer’s block? With writer’s exercises like making lists: five problems kids have in school; seven ways to become famous; ten things you can’t live without; three strange people I know. Suggest he pick an item on one of the lists and write for two minutes without stopping, fleshing out a main character with a problem. If he resists the list route, you can try another approach. Help him create a character by asking key questions, like, “How old is your character?” or “What’s in his closet?” or “What’s his or her secret wish?” Once Josh knows what his character wants, he can create obstacles to overcome and conflicts to resolve.
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Q. Now that our daughter is in fifth grade, she is expected to write essays. But she’s still having trouble organizing a paragraph. Worse yet, she can’t sit still. Whenever I try to help her, she becomes fidgety and complains she’s bored. I feel insulted. Do you have any suggestions on how I can engage her?
A. Your daughter’s impulse to goof-off is what educators call the anxiety filter. When the challenge is too great, the urge to play, distract, deflect, becomes even greater. So the key is to lower her filter or anxiety, and give her a chance to feel successful.
One way to lower her anxiety is to use a beach ball as a prop. Toss it back and forth as you brainstorm and create paragraphs in the air. First, experiment with topics, seeing how many different topics you can brainstorm – pets, homework, Saturdays, parties – as you toss the ball back and forth. Then see if you can come up with a topic sentence – “Pets are fun” or “Teachers should not give homework on weekends” and ask her to support the topic sentence. Continue tossing the ball back and forth as you develop reasons and examples to support the topic sentence. After you’ve shouted two or three reasons, help her develop a conclusion in the air by yelling, “So what? So if pets are fun, then what?” and see if she can tell you the bottom line – “Then everyone should adopt a pet.” Fantastic! She’s got a conclusion.
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 Crushfollowavailable on Amazon.