How to Help Middle School Parents Shop for Common Core Learning Aids

As if physical and social changes aren’t enough of a challenge for middle school students, they also have to deal with academic issues like meatier classes and Common Core requirements. Some parents of middle schoolers suffer almost as much as their kids, particularly when they’re trying to support in the home what you’re teaching at school.

There’s so much out there in terms of Common Core learning materials and test prep guides, all sorted by subject and grade level. “Parents are very quick to purchase materials that are advertised on TV or the Internet without checking their reliability and validity,” says Laura Staal, a professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and a veteran K–12 teacher.

As an educator, you can help parents shop smart for Common Core study guides and test prep materials by giving them guidelines to consider. For example:

  • Alignment with the Most Current Standards: Many parents may not realize that some tests and standards change dramatically every few years and from state to state. Be sure they know what to look for when selecting test prep guides.
  • Timed Practice Exercises and Tests: Remind parents of the importance of good time management during tests. Having students practice at home builds stamina and teaches kids about time limits in a low-risk environment.
  • Explanations of Answers and Models of Calculations and Formulae: It’s not always possible for parents to help kids evaluate their answers, so encourage them to choose learning materials with contextual information.

Additionally, remind middle school parents to “look for materials that encourage problem-solving skills, independent and open-ended inquiry, and that make math fun,” suggests Nicole Zdeb, senior manager of academic services for the Northwest Evaluation Association, a global not-for-profit educational services organization in Portland, OR. “Middle school is an important time to reinforce that for both boys and girls. So many career paths are closed off to students who lose their mojo for math — and that often happens during the middle school years.”

The best preparation includes having your child engage in authentic reading and writing tasks — writing letters to friends and family members, for instance, or reading nonfiction, such as guidebooks or instruction manuals. Buy reading and writing materials that include authentic exercises. “Like anything, in order to get really good, you have to practice — in this case, by reading and writing as much as possible,” Staal says.

Keeping Worries in Check

Many adolescents and their parents are anxious about the Common Core standards, especially for math. Ease parents’ worries over the new standards to help them keep their worries — and those of their children — in check.

“The Common Core gets more attention than most sets of learning standards for a number of reasons, but in reality, the Common Core is about increased student learning and preparedness for life outside of K–12,” Zdeb says.

Trusted instructors can ease the stress for adolescents and their parents by offering sage advice on how to choose the best test preparation and supplemental study materials. “Teachers can address this issue in a back to school night or email newsletter to provide thoughtful guidance on what kinds of materials would be of value,” Staal says. Other ways of sharing helpful information include publishing tips on your classroom blog, Web site or wiki; sharing tips at open houses; and, of course, addressing specific concerns at parent–teacher conferences.

Margot Carmichael Lester is owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. The granddaughter of schoolteachers, she’s a frequent guest instructor, leading K–12 workshops on persuasive, opinion and argumentative writing. She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on Google+.

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