A prescription for making the most of your parent-teacher conference.
When the school year begins, teachers generally encounter a new group of students, and have to spend some time getting to know each one. There are often 20 or more eager individuals with unique faces and learning needs. For the most part, some information is provided by last year’s teachers, administrators, parents and records, but aside from the fact that they all are around the same age, this year’s teachers need to assess their children’s learning styles in order to get started and have a successful year. There are several terms in getting to know children’s individual needs, and they are sometimes borrowed by educators from the medical profession. These include the term “diagnosis,” which in the medical field includes determining if there are any problems and carefully examining and studying by observation and test performance the strengths and weaknesses of each child in particular academic areas. Another term borrowed by educators from medicine is “prescription,” which is a specific direction of actions that are recommended following a diagnosis. The prescription follows in the form of the teacher taking actions such as providing individualized materials, utilizing school team efforts and perhaps making modifications to the assignments. Of course teachers are not physicians and teaching is not the same as treating the flu; however, there is a necessity to use an organized procedure to obtain diagnostic information and then prepare appropriate instruction. Another aspect of diagnostic prescriptive teaching is accountability. Parents are concerned about their child’s abilities in the classroom and teachers must perform continuous analysis of how a child is “doing” by maintaining notes and records to gather information. Observation is key, as are functional assessments, informal inventories, notes on the child’s attitude, attention span and interest, and his or her responses during large and small group as well as individual instruction.
Parents are often the first to notice that “something doesn’t seem right,” but are apprehensive about approaching the school or feel they may be overreacting. In reality, educating a child is a process that involves both the school and parents when they want to help a child feel successful in school and life. As a state-certified learning disabilities specialist, I feel that there are a few facts that everyone should know before the terms “learning disability” or “ADHD” are used or mis-used. Since you as a parent are one of the best observers of your child’s development, you will not be content until you bring your concerns to your child’s teacher. It’s most important that you also talk about your child’s strengths and give this year’s teacher a chance to recognize what your child can do successfully and encourage his strengths with praise.
The year has started with a few days of school in September and lots of holidays, and transitioning back to school is not always easy for everyone, teachers and students included. Soon you will be meeting with your child’s teacher or want him/her to know your child very well to have a “prescription” for success.
Useful Tips for Meetings With Your Child’s Teacher
- Collect information on your child’s performance—keep notes, copies of your child’s assignments, correspondence from the school regarding strengths, weaknesses, performance. Work together with the school to discuss and make changes if you note patterns of performance are not on grade level.
- Learn as much as you can about your child’s study habits and difficulties doing homework, both with you and independently. Mention these to your teacher and ask for suggestions: Perhaps cut down the assignment or modify it if it is taking too much time at night.
- Also, don’t be afraid to have your child go to afterschool activities. Children need to feel happy and successful and often art, music, gymnastics etc. help them feel confident in subjects outside of the classroom. Let your teacher know about these activities so they can talk and write about them in the learning environment.
- Ask your child’s teacher if your child has consistent reading and spelling concerns, problems learning math concepts, takes a long time to complete an assignment or has trouble remembering facts. Discuss what you do at home and ask for suggestions.
- For older students ask about misreading information, reading comprehension in all subjects, keeping up with assignments, turning them in on time, handwriting, time management and understanding oral discussions and expressing his/her thoughts aloud. Inquire about after school help or tutoring.
- Most importantly, write down any questions you have before entering the meeting and if you run out of time, ask for additional time to talk on the phone at a later time. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you do not understand something that was said.
Additional Parent Teacher Questions to Consider Asking
- Is my child keeping up with the curriculum?
- How often do you schedule tests and how are they graded?
- What can I do at home to reinforce what my child is learning?
- Does my child have problems just on tests or with schoolwork in general?
- Can you recommend some enrichment activities to support my child’s learning?
- What opportunities does my child have for independent, student learning?
- Might my child have a learning disability? Before asking your teacher, first make sure you know what this term means and don’t jump to conclusions without a proper diagnosis by certified personnel including child study teams from your district.
- Does my child need a professional certified learning disabilities tutor who understands and can remediate learning differences?
By Patricia London, M.Ed.
Patricia London is a state-certified LDTC (learning disabilities teacher consultant), school psychologist, resource teacher and counselor. Her tutoring practice, The London Learning Center, is located in Englewood to provide diagnostic prescriptive tutoring for students in grades pre-K through college. She uses research-based multisensory methods for tutoring children with learning disabilities, ADHD and anxiety, and those who need short- and long-term support in subject mastery. She is an expert in helping with executive-functioning problems and specializes in tutoring academic skills in reading, writing, study skills, spelling and vocabulary, as well as middle and high school test prep in all subjects. For more than 25 years she worked in the Blue Ribbon-winning Ridgewood public schools as a special education teacher, administrator and member of the Child Study Team, testing, consulting and advising teachers and parents. She can be reached for consultation services and tutoring through email at [email protected] or 201-871-1248.