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Debbie O'Leary
School of Education

Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Learning Matters

News tips about education from Indiana University

Testing as well as the usual nuts and bolts of the first weeks of school makes it difficult for teachers to collaborate with other teachers and education professionals. According to Carol-Anne Hossler, clinical associate professor in curriculum and instruction and director of the Transition to Teaching program at the IU School of Education in Bloomington, these collegial, collaborative discussions are important as teachers prepare to lead their classrooms. "We talk about kids working together in cooperative learning groups and the importance of schools working with parents, business and community leaders, but teachers also appreciate working with colleagues," Hossler said. "School systems are challenged to find time for teachers to meet and discuss teaching, learning and professional practice as well as issues related to school improvement." Hossler said teachers value these conversations, but quite often they are only likely to happen outside school time. "State-mandated mentoring programs are designed to help beginning teachers improve their practice, but generally, experienced teachers are not as often provided the time for important discussions about teaching and learning," she said. "It's important for school corporations to provide time for teachers to engage in these professional conversations at the beginning as well as throughout the school year." For more information, contact Hossler at 812-856-8158 or

The standardized testing system encourages educators to teach rote math skills that are easily forgotten by students over summer break, said Peter Kloosterman, executive associate dean and professor of mathematics education in the IU School of Education in Bloomington. Kloosterman said the national tendency for learning isolated skills through memorization makes it difficult for students to remember what they learned the previous year. "The testing system pushes for short-term learning as opposed to seeing how all the pieces fit together through a variety of examples," he explained. "The students may get better results on the test coming up right away, but they will forget what they've learned. When enough time is spent to help students fully understand a mathematical idea, they are much more likely to remember it and apply it to new situations." Kloosterman can be reached at 812-856-8003 or

Asking questions and introducing children to the school environment reduces anxiety in first-time kindergarteners, said Professor Jacqueline Blackwell of the School of Education at IUPUI. "First-time students naturally wonder what will happen to them when they get to school, if they will have a friend and if the teacher will like them," said Blackwell, who also serves as president of the Association for Childhood Education International. "It's a good idea for parents to ask their children what they expect in kindergarten and what they would like to do. The answers can be eye-opening and should be shared with the teacher." She said children and their families should experience the beginning of school together, because many times it's the families who are feeling separation anxiety. "Many schools offer parents the opportunity to visit prior to the first day and to have an extended time to spend at the school or to say goodbye on the first day. If not, take time in the morning so the child doesn't feel rushed. The day should start on a calm note," she said. It's also important to take time at the end of the day to discuss how the child's expectations matched with the reality of school. "But don't be disappointed if your child has nothing to say," she said. "Your child just needs to know you care and are available." Blackwell can be reached at 317-274-6830 or

Summer learning loss is a problem for students in the bottom third of the class, said Professor Larry Mikulecky of the IU School of Education in Bloomington. Mikulecky, director of the IU Center for Innovation and Assessment, said data indicate that while the top third continues learning over the summer, the middle third remains stagnant and the bottom third actually loses much of what they learned the previous year. Mikulecky attributes learning loss to lack of practice. "Reading is the key. If kids don't read over the summer or participate in learning experiences, their reading is not going to get better, it is going to get worse," he said. That has been one of the concerns about fall testing, he explained. "Teachers have most of their students prepared by May, but when they are tested in the fall, teachers are held accountable for students' summer learning loss," he said. Part of the argument for testing in the fall is to find out a student's educational status so teachers and schools can remedy the situation as needed. "Whatever time you pick to test is going to have some advantages and some disadvantages. The key is to stay consistent so the data are easily comparable. But the fact is, if our education system is designed so we have kids who don't read for two to three months, there are going to be consequences to that decision," he said. Mikulecky can be reached at 812-856-8277 or

Family involvement in education is critical not only to the success of children, but to the success of schools as well. The data are clear, according to Carl B. Smith, director of the ERIC Clearinghouse for Reading, English and Communications at IU Bloomington. Parents who take time to work with their children most often have successful schools. The opposite is true for schools with parents who don't put in the time. Smith said there are five significant ways parents and other family members can improve the learning of their children and therefore the success of their schools. (1) Look for help in the school's family resource center. Most schools will have a bookshelf or an entire corner of their media center devoted to books, bulletins, activities, and games that adults can use to help their children. Don't be bashful. Ask how you can get your hands on those materials. (2) Learn together. Adopt the attitude that you and your children are learning together. That way you can hold conversations about what you see as you drive or what the issues are in a school task. (3) Ask questions as a way of leading your child to examine learning tasks. Don't tell them or preach at them. Ask them how you can come to an understanding of the issue. (4) Be willing to spend time by taking small steps. Be patient with the repetition that is needed for learning many of the basic skills, such as math facts and spelling. (5) Take an active role in your child's learning. Don't wait for your child to ask for help. Ask for a report every day on what your child learned or found confusing. Then volunteer to participate in that learning. Smith can be contacted at 812-855-5847 or