Pinkalicious reminds us to build background knowledge



Above is a picture of two pages from a favorite series of books- Pinkalicious. The other night I was reading this story with my daughter and we came upon the part of the story in which Pinkalicious tries to convince her family to buy a fake Christmas tree (a pink one, of course). She brings out an air freshener in response to her brother’s statement that he likes the smell of real pine trees. I thought it was funny and clever of Pinkalicious.

My daughter was confused.

I realized that she didn’t know what an air freshener was- especially the ones that Pinkalicious was holding up. We don’t have them in the house or car.

It was then that I realized that her lack of background knowledge caused her to miss an important part of the story and it reminded me of how important it is for students to have a good background of general knowledge to have good reading comprehension. It makes sense in this case and this idea is backed by reading research. Better readers have a good foundation of general knowledge (Alexander, Kulikowich, & Schulze, 1994; Hirsch, 2003; Shapiro, 2004). They know more about the world and can make more connections as they read.

If a student has no idea what snow is, then reading a story about igloos and Eskimos will be hard to understand. If a student is familiar with snow- has played in it, knows what it feels like, knows how cold it is- then they will have a deeper understanding of a story about an Eskimo making an igloo to live in.

How can parents help students build background knowledge? Parents can make an effort to give children lots of rich experiences. This does not necessarily require lots of money. Activities such as taking a hike around a lake, visiting the library, or going to the beach can provide students with rich experiences. It is also very important to talk about these experiences with your child. Children should have a general knowledge of lots of things in the world around them. Parents can also access technology. While it doesn’t replace an actual visit to an actual museum, parents can explore the Smithsonian through an interactive website- visiting virtual exhibits and having important discussions with their children. If your child is learning about penguins, do a search and watch some YouTube videos on penguins. The more students know about the world, the more connections they will make when they read. When they make connections, they can understand more and think critically about what they read.

Character is just as important as academics


A school’s main priority is to educate students and provide them with the academic skills necessary to be successful in our society. It is equally important for schools to help produce good citizens of society. In other words, character is just as important as academics.

People with education, money and power sometimes lose their moral compass. Politicians, business and religious leaders, and celebrities have all had their share of disgrace- just look in today’s newspaper.

If we have straight A students who do not understand the values of honesty and fairness and grow up to cheat others, we have failed. If our students are accepted into the best colleges but don’t care about anything other than themselves, we have failed. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike”.

At our school, we focused on character traits every month so our students can understand what it means to be a person of good character. Respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, citizenship, caring, and fairness were all traits we celebrated this year. I want to thank the families who took our lessons home and helped their children understand that being successful in life is more than getting good grades. Good character cannot be only learned at school.

Our success as a community and nation depends on our ability to educate young people who are intelligent and compassionate citizens of the world. I believe that this will happen. However, the task is big and it will take all of us working together to be successful.

The Importance of Working Hard


Dear parents,

This may be shocking to you but you will rarely hear me say to a student, “You are so smart and talented!” What? The principal admits that he doesn’t give praise to students for their intellectual abilities? It’s true. I believe that talent and natural ability are over-rated. Some people may be born with a little talent in some areas but I believe that most success comes from lots of practice and hard work.

In fact, scientific research tells us that most successful people are the hardest workers who have put in at least 10,000 hours of purposeful practice into their craft (see the Malcolm Gladwell’s work). The coach of the NBA basketball team, Oklahoma City Thunder, Scott Brooks, went to my high school. People said that he was too small to play in the NBA but he worked hard and persevered. Legend has it that he would sneak into the East Union High School gym and spend 3-4 hours every night just dribbling the basketball from one end of the court to the other. He dedicated himself to mastering the details. When others said that he couldn’t make it, he worked harder. He made it to the NBA and learned the game inside and out. He studied the game so much that he eventually became a head coach in the NBA. A few years ago, he was voted Coach of the Year in the NBA. He took one of the worst teams and made it one of the best teams. He once said that his teams are good not because they have the most talent but because the players understand what it means to work hard and be dedicated to getting better.

What does this mean to our students? Students need to learn to practice until mastery. From the multiplication facts to the scientific process, students need to put in the time and effort to learn and master these academic concepts. Giving up is not an option. Research shows that students who are praised for working hard and putting forth outstanding effort are more likely to not give up when they are challenged. They are more likely to achieve more as they understand that success comes from working hard, not some talent that they are born with. So parents, the next time your child does well in school, instead of praising them for how smart they are, praise them for their effort and say, “You are such a hard worker! You must have studied and practiced a lot!”

Don H. Vu, Ed.D