Tag Archives: teach

When A Student Avoids School Work


Recently a client’s father was concerned. His child was avoiding schoolwork and becoming very anxious when it was time to complete school or homework. He was at a loss as to why this was happening.  So we had a chat about the patterns of behavior and ways to help.

When kids refuse to complete a school task there is always a reason. No, it is not because they are “lazy” or “bad”. It may take some digging, but finding out why this is happening can help you set up a plan to help your child.

Is there a trigger in the schoolwork?

Sometimes children are unable to complete a task because it is considered gross, scary, or has a topic/word they feel uncomfortable around. Adjust the assignment when possible. If writing about ducks triggers a child, change the topic to a different animal. If writing by hand is a trigger because it hurts or feels weird due to sensory issues, then allow typing or allow the child to speak the words instead.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Is executive functioning an issue?

Executive functioning skills must be strong in order for children to complete multi-step tasks, especially if they must figure out the steps to complete a task. If a child needs to write an essay, they will need to come up with a topic, outline the main idea and details, create sentences, edit the writing, then turn it in. This can be an overwhelming task if executive functioning skills are not yet strong. Help by sitting together to make a to do list, in order, for the activity. Break the task into different hours or days. Do something fun in between as well to have a break from the difficult task.

Is there anxiety because it is a new task?

Many times people become worried or anxious over a new task. This can occur for clear reasons or simply be a feeling with no clear reason. Either way, it is important to recognize the anxiety and how bad that feels. Ask how you can help. Offer alternatives when possible such as a different topic, different way to show understanding of the material, and offer a longer amount of time in which to complete each stage of the task.

Is there anxiety because someone is demanding the child complete the assignment?

When someone appears oppositional it may be due to anxiety, Pathological Demand Avoidance, or Oppositional Defiance Disorder, as well as other reasons such as feeling ill. Be a teammate rather than someone who demands immediate compliance. What steps can you take together to assist without doing the work for the child? Will taking short breaks in between every 3 sentences written help? Will drawing work more easily than cutting and gluing a project? Think outside of the box if possible. Give time between a task and the completion time for a task. Consider writing it down or using graphics and pictures to show what to do in steps, then give time to complete the task. Pressing the issue and repeating oneself to a child can build pressure in the child and trigger a feeling of unworthiness, anxiety, or even opposition in some kids.

Does the child not see the value in the activity?

Sometimes people need to see the link to everyday life or their goals before a task seems worthwhile. Consider using hands-on activities, creative presentation options, mentorships, real life experience through field trips, etc. These activities can help students see why topics such as division are necessary to their every day lives and motivate them to tolerate or willingly ask to practice life skills and academic activities. Sometimes a new perspective or having someone who is not mom or dad say that a topic is important can help as well. AN internship may be an additional step if a mentorship is working well for your child.

Is distraction happening even when the child is interested?

Distractions can cause a  lot of stress for teacher and student, parent and child, leaving everyone stressed and tired. Consider adding in a favorite type of music at a low volume if our child works better with background noise, but consider taking away sounds like tv or music if they distract. You may want to try using a white noise machine or headphones to block sounds, depending on if your child does better with or without background noise. Remember that becoming distracted easily is not usually something a child can control so punishment and anger will not solve this issue. Take a breath, or 10, then come back to the issue and help your child get back on task. If a task is taking a long time, consider completing the task in short bursts of time. Break down the task. You can also talk to your health care provider if you are concerned about a special need being present and request a referral for testing. If there is a special need, there may be medical and therapy alternatives available to assist your child. This is your choice and I cannot recommend that you do or do not. However, if concerned, consider this option.

Helping our children become life-long learners can be a challenge. Sometimes things do not go as planned, Instead of becoming agitated because our children are seemingly not listening, let’s consider why their tasks are not being completed and work with them to solve these issues. Alfie Kohn and Dr. Ross Green have fantastic books which address some of these issues.


For evaluations and consultations, contact Melissa, The Reading Coach!

Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed. Photograph by Alexandra Islas

Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed.
Photograph by Alexandra Islas


I earned my master’s degree in reading and literacy as well as an ESE graduate certificate. I hold a current teaching certificate and am working on my dissertation for my PHD in general psychology. As a consultant and reading coach, I focus on early childhood education, elementary education, reading and literacy, study skills, thematic units, and social skills. Additional services include public speaking, transcript preparation, and more. I look forward to putting my teaching experience and degrees to work for you.

Please contact me with questions or to request services.

You can also contact Melissa, The Reading Coach at 407-712-4368

Use Movies to Teach




I remember way back in school when the teacher would roll out that lovely tv on a cart. I

rarely knew exactly which video was on the roster that day, but it was often better than regular

classwork.  It’s always fun for kids to have variety so with the advent of streaming options (like

Amazon and Hulu) and DVD rental services (like Redbox and Netflix), there are plenty of options

for media use in schools and homeschools alike.



Any topic can be taught using movies. Documentaries are available for topics from poverty to

living in counties outside of the US to how to make things. On top of that, there are TV shows

about history, physics, and Earth.

If you find that a topic has not yet been covered, consider it a challenge and ask your

students to research and produce their own documentary. Consider creating a YouTube or

SchoolTube channel. Or, if you prefer, create a website where you can instantly post the movie

your students create.



To extend learning, ask students to consider what happens next, how they can help if a

topic requires action, or to retell the information. Allow for individualized or group projects.

Give options for presentations which are flexible such as songs, art, acting it out, etc.

Don’t be afraid to learn with your students. Nobody knows everything. Learning together is a

great way to show that you are human. Plus, learning with kids helps them understand that you

are a life-long learner, which shows them the pros of being a learner for life.



So, what are you waiting for? Teaching through movies is only a click or two away. ?


About Melissa, The Reading Coach

Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed. Photograph by Alexandra Islas

Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed.
Photograph by Alexandra Islas


I earned my master’s degree in reading and literacy as well as an ESE graduate certificate. I hold a current teaching certificate and am working on my PHD in general psychology. As a consultant and reading coach, I focus on early childhood education, elementary education, reading and literacy, study skills, thematic units, and social skills. Additional services include public speaking, transcript preparation, and more. I look forward to putting my teaching experience and degrees to work for you.

Please contact me with questions or to request services.

You can also contact Melissa, The Reading Coach at



7 Science Lesson Tips

Sometimes people ask how I deal with teaching so many different ages and grades when tutoring or homeschooling. They have a point. There are a lot of ways to make teaching easier, though. Lets talk about how to plan for science lessons and NOT give yourself a headache.

1. Plan ahead.

Planning lessons in advance and having the correct tools on hand makes life so much easier. But with busy lives and multiple children, I know this is a challenge. It may help to take a day or two off and plan a week or month in advance, create lists of materials needed, and even set up folders or shelves with the items for each experiment on them assuming nothing dangerous is in the reach of kids.



2. Safety first!

Post and review safety rules often. Include pictures of items like safety goggles so your kids are more likely to remember the rules. Remember to set the example.

If they need goggles, you need goggles.

If they need to walk while holding a beaker, so do you.

If someone breaks a rule, refer back to the rule and it’s matching image. Make your own or buy one like this.



3. Practice using tools.

I don’t know about you, but when I get a new thing, I want to check it out. This holds true for science tools like beakers, bunsen burners, pipettes, etc. Kids ALWAYS want to play with new items.


The question is, have they had enough time to play safely, then practice using the materials responsibly? If so, then you are ready for lessons. If not, well, let’s just say broken glass isn’t fun so let the kids practice A LOT under your supervision before beginning lessons.



4. Stop for safety.

If your students are not focused or are being unsafe, stop. You can always start again later or on another day. Sometimes it takes a brain break or time outside to get those wiggles out and refocus on the lesson.



5. Ask your kids.

Ask your kids what they want to learn. Ask them how they think a scientific inquiry should proceed. When you use open-ended questions and student-chosen lessons, when possible, it helps your children to internalize the information because it will likely be more important and interesting to them.


6. Try it again.

Try experiments more than once. Scientists do this, so why can’t you? Consider changing one thing in the experiment such as the independent variable and see how that changes the findings. Ask the kids to decide what to change and how. Record the results each time and compare them in a log book like this one.



7. Have fun!

It’s also okay to have fun! There is no reason that science should be boring. Science is always open to change and to new questions. If an experiment sounds bor-ring, consider doing a different one. The goal is to learn how to make a scientific inquiry and go through the scientific process to ensure results are unbiased, reliable, and valid. It’s okay to have fun while you do it!

If you want some ideas to help you get started, check out the options below!

Keep in mind that I reserve the right to use affiliate links throughout my website.

About Melissa, The Reading Coach

Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed. Photograph by Alexandra Islas

Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed.
Photograph by Alexandra Islas

Several years ago, I left my teaching job to spend more time with my children. I was sad to go, but am thankful for the experiences that classroom teaching provided. My educational experiences paired with real world experiences give me a unique perspective when working with families to achieve their behavioral and educational goals.

I earned my master’s degree in reading and literacy as well as an ESE graduate certificate. I hold a current teaching certificate and am working on my PHD in general psychology. As a consultant and reading coach, I focus on early childhood education, elementary education, reading and literacy, study skills, thematic units, and social skills. I look forward to putting my teaching experience and degrees to work for you. Please contact me with questions or to request services.

You can also contact Melissa, The Reading Coach at



Uniforms: The Great Equalizer

Many years ago uniforms were widely added to school dress codes and are mandatory in many areas. Not all schools did this, but there was a clear trend. Many argued for uniforms for valid reasons. Many opposed as well. As a former teacher and parent, I find this topic much more cut and dry than most.

Uniforms have been popular in dress codes over the past few decades.

Uniforms: Socioeconomic Equalizer and Anti-Bully Tool

When uniforms became a new fad, many argued that this type of dress code would help those who cannot afford the newest, coolest clothing. This makes sense to some degree. It’s not easy to buy the most popular brands. Then again, most families in need either accepted donations or purchased sale items which likely cost less than a week’s worth of uniforms. Some families cannot afford to go to the laundromat more than once per week which may mean a child must wear a uniform twice in one week, even if dirty.

If students are good people, being taught to be good citizens by their families, then odds are that bullying is not an issue no matter what others wear each day. Make no mistake, bullying begins at home. When it spreads through schools, you can still go back through the chain to find bullying by one or more families at the start.

On top of that, when a family can only afford a few uniforms, the socioeconomic status is still obvious in the wear and tear or unwashed appearance of the clothing. Bullying can still occur with a uniform dress code in place.

Uniforms: Gang Prevention

Another popular opinion is that without clear markings on clothing, gangs will have less of a foothold in schools. I am thankful that people are concerned about safety in schools. The problem is that gangs are not stupid. They will use hairstyles, tattoos, shoe or sock choices, hairbands, and other ways to show their alliance and gang colors or symbols.

Uniforms: Good for Everyone

The pervasive idea that uniforms are good for everyone is a bit of a generalization. After all, those with sensory issues may very well have negative behavioral reactions to the feeling those polo shirts and collars have. This can cause tardiness, ongoing in class behavior issues, and distractions. On the other hand, children who are raised with love, patience and taught to focus on school will likely not have difficulty moving on from seeing what others wear to do school work.

Uniforms may be comfortable for some students, but not all.

In the end, I found uniforms to stifle creativity of my students and children. I am firmly against using them as a mandatory dress code and encourage others to consider the cons along with the pros. It is easier to teach a student who feels comfortable and happy. This may mean polo shirts and cotton/polyester blend pants or it may mean leggings and a t-shirt. The goal is learning. Don’t let uniforms stand in the way.



Dear Teachers: Step Away From the Elf



It’s that time of year, again. Time to break out the tree, ornaments, and other Christmas décor. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own bubble, complete with traditions and expectations, that I forget that there are other winter holidays.



Back when I taught in public schools, there was a rule about holidays and cultures. If you teach about one holiday or culture, you must give equal time and effort to all holidays and cultures. The other option was skipping this type of social studies topic unless it was present in your basal textbooks due to state or common core standards. Easy enough. Each year my team worked together to provide social studies units throughout the year. It was fun and promoted multiculturalism and the idea that we all ought to help one another.


Because this is the standard in most schools, districts, and states I was shocked to find out that many teachers use Elf on the Shelf during this time of year. I thought it was a joke! Nope, some teachers use this little fella for décor while others (MANY others) use the elf to coerce children into behaving certain ways. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work long-term and is far from a positive, respectful discipline plan.

Using the elf creates kids who are always watching out for anyone with the power to punish them, including bullies. Which, sadly, leads to children following a bully’s directions due to fear rather than making wise choices via an internal compass.

On top of that terrible social skills lesson, the elf doesn’t honor all religions and cultures making the classroom a negative influence on multiculturalism and, sadly, fostering a “we are better than you” bully mentality. This is a form of racism.

I realize this seems like a stretch to those who do not live the daily realities of institutionalized racism, which are often not as obvious as racism from years in our past. However, this type of racism is still very much a reality and teachers do need to be aware of this fact. Keep in mind that some parents are extremely watchful, as they should be, and will report racism to the department of education in their state or to local districts because the elf does violate anti-bullying rules in schools and anti-racism laws. Yes, this can put jobs on the line. Is the elf worth the risk?

Though I know people mean well, it is time to ditch the elf. No Elf on the Shelf needs to be in our public schools. Not even if the elf is free. Not even if parents and kids ask for it. Not even if it’s “cute”. The ramifications from this “cute and harmless” tradition are harmful and have no place in our public schools.


There’s also the issue of telling lies. Yes, many parents lie about Santa, the elf, and more. But should teachers lie to kids? Some kids don’t mind, but others feel betrayed and that can break the bonds of trust they need so they can more easily learn.

Also, children with anxiety often have heightened anxiety if they think someone is spying on their every move. Think about the last time a police officer was driving behind you when you were at the wheel. Did you overthink every move you made even though you follow the rules closely? If so, then you know at least a little about the anxiety a child feels when put under a spotlight because a teacher uses the elf in an attempt to manage classroom behavior. If your classroom behavior management is respectful and effective, then you won’t need a crutch like an elf who spies on children anyway.

Child Reading

Fellow educators, I ask you to do away with the Elf on the Shelf. It isn’t worth the messages the elf sends to our students. It isn’t worth the time explaining the elf, moving the elf, and using the elf to force compliance from students. It isn’t worth someone complaining to DOE because a teacher chose to focus on one holiday or character. Just say no to the elf. Our kids deserve better and nobody needs more stress this time of year. We can achieve more without the elf than with it.

Ways to Teach Handwriting Without Using a Pencil

Many parents ask me how to help their children who refuse to practice handwriting or who have difficulty forming letter shapes with a pencil. There are several things parents can do to help in this situation. Keep in mind that special needs may affect skill acquisition so if your gut says there is an issue, get it checked out. However, even when dealing with a special need, the following activities may help strengthen your child’s fine motor skills and also letter writing skills.



Use clay to shape letters or for fine motor play.

Use a tray of rice or play sand, from your local home improvement store, to draw letter shapes.

Practice using tweezers to pick up small items such as buttons, pompom balls from the craft store, or beads, then sort them into groups according to color, size, or other characteristics.

Bend pipe cleaners/chenille wires into letter shapes.

Use q-tips, toothpicks, or sticky items like Wikki Stix to form letter shapes.

Use finger paint to draw letter shapes.

Use items from nature to create letters and words. (Sticks can draw in sand, leaves can be fashioned into letters, etc.)

Use a different material such as chalk on a sidewalk, white board, or computer drawing program.


child playing

You can also use any of these ideas to draw straight, curved, and diagonal lines as well in order to help children practice making the lines that letter shapes use. The key is to get creative, use your child’s interests, and don’t be afraid to complete the activity with your child. It’s more fun when a caregiver participates. 🙂

5 Reasons to Read Picture Books to Older Children

Educators and parents often consider picture books to be for young children in early elementary grades. However, I have found picture books extremely helpful for older children in late elementary, middle, and high school grades. Read on to find out 5 reasons why you should read picture books to older children.

Child Reading

1. Reading to another person reaffirms that you care.

2. Reading to another person shows that you value literature.

3. Older students may have special needs or English may be a second language which can make comprehension or reading difficult. By reading to older students, you remove some of the roadblocks preventing the enjoyment and understanding of a story.

4. Reading picture books to older children helps them to understand pronunciations, story lines, and other constructs of literature which they may miss through lectures and by reading to themselves.

5. Reading to older children lets them sit back, relax, and enjoy a great story.

Household Items You Can Use as Math Manipulatives

math manipulatives

One of the most valuable lessons I learned during my teaching career is that you don’t have to spend money on the expensive supplies in order to help children learn quality information. After teaching at schools with a high free and reduced lunch rate, I prefer to use items which are cheap and easily accessible instead of the shiny, new, EXPENSIVE math manipulatives. Below is a short list of items you can use with out breaking the bank. Remember to take your child’s age and maturity into account when choosing which manipulatives to use.


Cotton swabs




paper clips


bottle caps from water or sports  drink bottles


rubber bands


construction paper cut into shapes

sidewalk chalk






Stop Dilly Dallying! (Read the book!)


 Child Reading

Yesterday my son wanted to read (as usual) so we sat down with several of his favorite books. I asked him a question about the main character and he answered, then excitedly opened the book to the first page of text. I began to read, then paused to ask another question. He became impatient and stated firmly, “Stop dilly dallying. I WANT to hear the story.” I was taken back for a moment. After all, I am a teacher by trade and part of learning to be an “effective teacher” is knowing how to ask open ended questions and help children make connections while reading texts.

Even though we unschool, I still find myself going back to my old ways. Sure, it is okay for me to ask a genuine question for my information. However, my child just wants to hear the stinkin’ book and I really shouldn’t interrupt his enjoyment of reading. If I interrupt often, he may decide that reading is no longer fun or worthwhile. Truth be told, it really isn’t my right to interrupt a story. I would be irate if someone interrupted my favorite story! Why would it be okay to interrupt his favorite story? It isn’t. It just isn’t.

When I interrupt, even with the best of intentions, I am sabotaging a few things. I am breaking my son’s concentration which reinforces a short attention span rather than allowing a longer attention span to grow. No wonder children have such short attention spans even in upper grades. WE, teachers and parents, interrupt them constantly in order to meet our curriculum standards, our schedule, and our goals. (We also tend to use topics not chosen by students which means they may not be invested in learning the information, but that is a topic for another post.)


Children imagination


When I interrupt, I cause a break in the fluidity of the author’s story. How can a child learn the ebb and flow of a story or chapter without hearing stories, or a chapter, from beginning to end? Yes, we can list the parts of a well written story, but children can and should learn to write their own stories through reading and hearing uninterrupted examples of stories. Plus, the author would have noted any breaks the reader should take when reading the text. Besides, it is a reader’s right to use his imagination to help him understand a story. My questions can throw this creative process off balance.

When I interrupt, I take the fun out of the story. My child will ask me if he has a question. He will let me know how long he wants to look at an illustration and when he is ready to turn a page. It is not my job to interrupt. It is my job to be here to read with him, answer his questions, and discuss the information when he wants to expand his knowledge.


This topic is a difficult one for me, personally. I spent many years teaching canned curriculum easily fall to old habits. (Canned lessons are the curriculum for each subject which is pre-written by a large company. Though I could scaffold lessons to meet the needs of all learners, I still had to follow the topics and standards listed in the lessons.) Going forward, I will work to catch myself before I interrupt a story to ask questions. Yes, my child will learn the conventions of language, reading, and writing. No, I will not interrupt his enjoyment of books in order to teach the topics I prefer to teach. I must trust my child to let me know when he has a question. He will learn organically if I step back from the bossy behaviors which have become my pattern and let it happen.

Yes, I will “stop dilly dallying” and read the story.

*If you want to do this, too, but feel you must also interrupt at times, then please read the book aloud at least once before interrupting the story to practice reading and comprehension strategies.


If you want more information or to attend a reading training session or to get more information, please contact me at the link found here. Let me put my experience to work for you!


Melissa Packwood, M.S. Ed.
Photograph by Alexandra Islas

Open Letter to Okeechobee County School District



Dear Okeechobee County,

I am taking a few minutes to respond, in an open letter, to recent requests asking me to interview for a teaching position in your county. Many counties send out basic interview request emails when a teacher posts a resume online and I, as well as many other certified teachers, receive these emails quite often.

Unfortunately, I cannot come in for an interview. There has been a report of repeated harm coming to children in your county at the hands of parents while deputies or school staff members watch. The fact that you allow and observe the hitting of students on your campus in your presence proves that your county has not worked to learn about the brain, current research, and the link between domestic violence against minors and academic deficits as well as behavioral deficits. Your code of conduct lists corporal punishment on page 7. The use of the term “posteriorly” when describing corporal punishment in your code of conduct is concerning. There are sexual abuse concerns surrounding the practice of hitting children on the buttocks. The practice of hitting children is in direct conflict with my ethics and the necessity for students to be safe so they can learn effectively. Corporal punishment is also in direct opposition to current research regarding brain development, learning, and the emotional health of children. Several references are listed below for those who wish to have more information.

The original definition of disciple is learner. Discipline originally meant instruction or knowledge. Yet parents, school staff, and deputies often think discipline means to punish. You cannot teach a useful lesson through punishment. If a child hits, we call it bullying. If an adult hits, then let us call a spade a spade. That act is bullying, too. I will not be a bully and I will not subject a child to bullying. Teaching life skills, kind choices, and responsibility comes through adults modeling these choices, discussing choices, and allowing children to work through issues via real life situations and role playing.

No, I will not be available for an interview. I prefer to work in an environment where children are taught through example rather than through misguided, outdated practices which harm and cause regression. I will continue to be an advocate for children and for our future as a state instead of being part of the reason we have high prison rates, high crime rates, and low academic achievement.

It is the job of educators to be up to date regarding brain research and human development as new information comes to light. We must choose more productive, less violent, behaviors to manage behavior our schools. After all, if an adult’s solution to problems is hitting others, how will children learn not to hit others? Children copy what we do. Let our example be positive and rich with problem solving skills rather than full of negative behaviors. Together, we can raise the bar and foster a community of success within our schools.


(I didn’t bother with proper APA format. I put resources in order of most relevant to the topic to least relevant to the topic, though all are relevant to some degree.)

Research on Spanking: It’s Bad For All Kids by Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D.

The Case Against Spanking By Brendan L. Smith

Why Spanking Impair Cognition in Children and Adolescents by Ugo Eche

Spanking the Gray Matter Out of Our Kids by Sarah Kovac

How Spanking Harms the Brain by Molly Castelloe, Ph.D.

Spanking Quickstart Guide by Our Muddy Boots

Don’t Whoop that Child: How Spanking is Harming Our Brains and Communities by Stacey Patton

Adrian Peterson and What Our Father Did to Us by Jeb Lund

7 Alternatives to Spanking by ParentingPeacefully.com

12 Alternatives to Spanking by Ariadne Brill