Teacher Talk: Avoiding Kindergarten Retention

Teacher Talk315

Q. At my daughter’s recent kindergarten conference, I got the surprise of a lifetime when her teacher said my child might be retained. At the fall conference, everything was OK, except for some behavior problems. Right now, according to the teacher, my daughter’s reading is satisfactory, but she is weak in identifying numbers to 30 and writing sentences. Plus, she doesn’t always follow directions or rules or pay attention. This class is very chaotic and noisy when I volunteer, but my daughter definitely is not among the worst-behaved students.

Unfortunately, my daughter was part of this conference and was told that if she didn’t straighten out, she would be in kindergarten for another year. This was so upsetting that she started to cry. The teacher relented a bit by saying that having a tutor or attending summer school might allow her to go to first grade. There’s no way she can attend summer school, so I guess we’ll have to go the tutoring route. What else should we do?

– Shocked

A. It is certainly very unprofessional for a teacher to threaten a young child with being held back unless she shapes up. We suggest you go back to this teacher and have her spell out exactly the areas in which your daughter must improve. You need to have a specific list of benchmarks your daughter must meet to be promoted. Then, find a tutor who can start working with her now and continue through the summer.

You also need to find out exactly when the final decision on retention will be made and who will make it. Because your child’s reading skills are on target, we suggest you lobby long and hard for your child to be promoted. Retention rarely benefits children.

Right now, you should be play-acting school situations with the goal of improving the your daughter’s classroom behavior in the few weeks remaining in the school year. This could be helpful if behavior issues truly are playing a role in the retention issue.

Q. Do you know of a way we can explain the placement of the decimal point in multiplication to our daughter so it is more than a mechanical operation?

– Concept Lacking

A. Find a set of multiplication problems involving decimals, like 34.7 x 12.38 in your child’s math textbook. Using a calculator, first have her find the product (answer) ignoring the decimal points. In this problem, she would get 429586.

Then, ask your child to locate the correct position of the decimal point in the answer. To do this, have her estimate the answer by rounding each factor to the nearest one and multiplying the new factors. For our example, 35 x 12 = 420. Suggest that the decimal be placed in 429586 to get as close as possible to 420 (product of 35 x 12). The decimal point is at 429.586.

After your child has worked through a number of similar problems, ask her to make up a rule for locating the decimal point in multiplication. It is placed so that the number of digits to the right of the point equals the number of places in the factors. For example, there are three decimal places in the problem 34.7 x 12.38, so she should place the decimal three places from the right of the product: 429.586. If your daughter still has difficulty understanding the rule for decimals in multiplication, have her work with smaller numbers.

This explanation is from our book “Helping Children with Mathematics” (Good Year Books, 1996). It has activities to help children in grades 3-5 learn basic math concepts, while enjoying working with their parents. The book is available online at Amazon.com and GoodYear.com.