Each week Marcy Winograd and Jackie Hirtz, educators with over 20 years of experience working with students from elementary to high school, will answer your questions regarding reading strategies, essay writing, homework habits and math challenges. Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and include "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" creep into his assignments. His teacher writes "Audience?" in the margin, but my son still doesn't get it. What can I do to help him understand that LOL is not cool?!
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 about a glitch in a program or a desired product or 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 has 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 psychological cost. 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 up her child for more devastating failures later -- either in college or career. Heap warranted praise on your child for each success, from writing down the assignment to completing it to putting the homework in her backpack to turning in the assignment herself. Well-deserved praise can be one of the most powerful motivators.
Credentialed in both English and social science, Marcy Winograd now teaches special education students at Venice High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. 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. They also blog at lolazola.com and tweet @tweenorama.
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