Relationships: That’s What Matters Most Right Now

It’s never been very helpful to argue with kids about homework, and that is especially true right now. With so much uncertainty in the world, it’s no surprise that many kids (and parents, too) are finding it hard to focus on something as ordinary as schoolwork.

We keep hearing that we are all in this together, and it’s true for schoolwork as well. Every student in Alberta has had their year of schooling interrupted. So when the students return to school, teachers will meet students wherever they are at in their learning, and adjust their lessons accordingly.

So while you are working overtime to juggle the demands of working from home and keep everyone in your family healthy and safe, and now you have to worry about how to help your child with their schoolwork, give yourself permission to s-l-o-w- – -d-o-w-n! It’s not a race.

Alberta Education has provided clear guidelines of how much “schoolwork” is expected.  And it’s not as much as you might have originally thought. Your child’s teachers will be communicating with you about what they want your child to learn and how you might go about helping them.

Aside from that, take this unusual gift of time and look for ways to make learning an enjoyable part of your child’s everyday life. Here are some suggestions for your elementary aged children.


  • Make a “word wall” or picture dictionary, where you can collect interesting and intriguing words you read or hear.
  • Use Scrabble letter tiles (or make some of your own using the back of a cereal box) and then build words together. Make new words by changing just one or two letters.
  • Read a book together, no matter what the age of your child, and wonder about what’s going to happen next, or why a character chose to do what they did.
  • Write a story, taking turns with each word, sentence, paragraph or chapter.
  • Draw a picture together. Let your child take the lead, and do your best to copy each step on your own paper. You can take the lead on the next picture.
  • Look for signs of spring, and start a photo collection of what you find.


  • Measure the dimensions of a room, using steps. Use the dimensions to draw a map.
  • Make a half-batch of cookies together, with your child figuring out how much of each ingredient is needed.
  • Let your child make up a problem for you to solve.
  • Give your child a number and have them find as many ways as they can to arrive at that number. For example, “How many different ways can you make 12?” Your child might want to use materials such as bingo chips or buttons to help them represent different ways to show the number.
  • Play games, and let your child keep score. This is a great way to practice mental math.
  • Talk about the difference between games of skill and games of chance. This can help your child deal more constructively with ‘losing’ at a game of chance. For games of skill, help them learn strategies for improving their skill level. How do you keep track of what cards have been played, or the clues that have been given?
  • When you’re reading a book together, see what page you’re on, and figure out how many pages are left. Decide a number of pages you might read each day, and when you expect to be done. 
  • Estimate the number of words on a page and in the book. Do a word count of a page to help refine your estimate. How close were you to your original estimate?
  • Make a list of where we see numeracy skills being used in the real world.

Ideas for Anytime Conversations

Encourage your child to ask questions. Ask them, “What do you wonder about this?” and support your child by asking good questions yourself. Here’s a list of questions that prompt further conversation.

  • What do you need to know next?
  • What do you notice about this?
  • How are these two things alike? How are they different?
  • Why do you think that happened? What if…?
  • Does this make sense? What makes you think you’re right?
  • Why did you choose to do it this way? What are you going to do next?
  • Can you help me understand this part?
  • Is there another way you could do this?
  • Why do you think this didn’t work? What could you try next?
  • Could you make a question of your own that’s like this one?

It’s all about the learning, and your attitude is so important!

Be positive about learning, be interested in what your child is doing, and be excited when a tough problem is solved or a challenge is achieved. Celebrate success. Provide encouragement. Have a conversation. Find time to have fun together every day, and in doing so, you’ll help keep those important relationships intact.

We’ll get through this together, and who knows, the family time we create might just be one thing that we want to remember from this uncertain time.

Formative Assessment? What’s the big deal?

If you have a child beyond Kindergarten, you’ve probably heard about school assessment being divided into two categories: formative and summative. People may have even explained the difference. But in plain language – why does it matter? Isn’t a grade a grade?

Well, as it turns out, assessment and grades are two different things!

Assessment refers to all the ways in which we try to understand where students are in their learning. Most of the time, the assessment happening in a classroom is on-going and often pretty informal. Teachers need to know how things are going, minute-by-minute and day-by-day, so they can make decisions about what to do next to move their students’ learning forward.

  • They might use a specific question somewhere during a lesson to help them understand where each student is in their thinking. 
  • Students might work, independently or with others, on a series of practice questions. 
  • Perhaps teachers look at a rough draft of a writing assignment, so they can provide helpful feedback. 
  • Or the assessment might happen during an “at elbow” conversation with a student as they work on a task. 

In all of these examples, it doesn’t make sense for teachers to assign a grade. Learning is happening here, and grades can actually get in the way!

The assessment at this point is for the benefit of the teacher and the students, and it is totally “formative”. By that, we mean assessment informs students and teachers so they can make good decisions about what to do next.

Teachers also make decisions about when it’s important or helpful to share some of that formative assessment information with parents, so you can support the learning at home. But it’s important to balance sharing that formative assessment information with the goal of providing students time and space within the classroom to take risks and make mistakes. Students really do need time for learning.

Sometimes, assessment provides evidence that will be used to assign a grade. A grade is our best attempt to measure the learning that has taken place, and it’s assigned at the end of a period of learning. This is referred to as “summative assessment”, and it might take the form of a finished piece of writing, a lab report, a unit test, or a gymnastics routine, to name just a few possibilities. These grades are shared with students, parents, and others who have the right to know.

Limiting the number of summative grades that are assigned to students helps us all keep our focus on the learning, not the grade!

Important Conversations… At Any Time of the Year

Report cards, conferences, checking the online parent portal for the latest entry, looking at your child’s test or project rubric – what matters most to you?

Is it your child’s grades? Where they are in relation to their classmates? Or are you more concerned with their attitude toward learning? Where they’re being successful, and where they struggle?

If you’re like me, the one thing you really want to know is that the teacher knows your child as an individual. They understand your child’s strengths and learning needs. They have a plan to help your child keep moving forward. And they see you as a partner in that learning journey.

Teachers communicate with parents in many different ways. When you’re not sure how to approach one of these important conversations, it’s important to see the big picture of your child’s experience in school.

A report card can never tell a complete story about the learning that happens at school, no matter how many grades it includes or how long a comment the teacher writes. It’s simply a snapshot. Some parents have access to their children’s grades online, but again – marks tell only one part of the story!

So be cautious about putting too much focus marks and grades. If everything your child does in class is marked and ‘counts’ towards the report card, where is the time for learning? School should be a safe space where students can learn, make mistakes, receive feedback, reflect on their learning, make adjustments to work in progress, and apply their learning in new situations. As parents, we can step back a bit, and give our children that space.

Instead of focusing on the grades, imagine that your child could select a piece of work to represent their learning – one they are particularly proud of, that shows the growth they have made over time. What could they tell you about their learning journey? It doesn’t matter whether your child earns top marks or faces learning challenges at school. They will benefit from seeing that you believe the growth and learning that has happened, and is still to come, is more important than the grade on a paper or a report card!

Conferences, whatever their format, offer another, often richer, source of information. When you have an opportunity for a conversation with your child’s teacher, come prepared with some questions in mind. Here are some ideas…

  • What do you see as my child’s greatest strength at school? What makes them feel proud and accomplished?
  • How does my child’s skill in ____ (e.g. writing, reading, mathematics, oral language…) compare to where they were 2 months ago? What can we do at home to help them continue to grow in this area?
  • Here’s something we see at home that concerns us: _________. Do you have any ideas that could help us deal with this together?
  • What concerns you the most about my child’s learning? What plans do you have to support them in this area? How can we help support?

Of course there is a place for grades and end-of-year reporting. But often the journey is more important than the destination. Mid-year report cards and conferences should be a time to celebrate the learning to date, and look ahead to the rest of the year. All children deserve a chance to feel proud, confident, and hopeful!

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