Dear Marcy and Jackie

Co-authored by Jackie Hirtz

Each week, Marcy Winograd and Jackie Hirtz, educators with over 20 years of experience working with students from elementary to high school, will answer your questions regarding reading strategies, essay writing, homework habits and math challenges in this blog.

Submit your questions to and include Dear Marcy and Jackie in the subject line.

Q. Dear Marcy and Jackie, Whose job is it to teach basic math? Both my kids are learning multiplication and they get zero practice in class. The teacher expects parents to practice with their kids at home and get the skills down. Isn't this what school is for? We are a busy family with lots of extra classes and sports going on after school.

A. We agree that students need to practice their multiplication tables in class, but too often the curriculum doesn't leave enough time for daily math drills. Though multiplication is taught in the third grade, it's not uncommon to find middle school students struggling to remember their times tables. We could all throw up our hands and grab calculators, or we could take a deep breath and avail ourselves of some terrific online resources. Kids love to play games and Circles and Stars, a dice multiplication game, is no exception. Another helpful resource is the printable multiplication grid, which students can use to test themselves. Finally, we suggest you set up a parent-teacher conference to discuss using timed multiplication drill sheets at the beginning of class. Students usually enjoy these because they offer immediate feedback as students compete against themselves to improve their times.

Q. My son's high school teacher told me my son is not providing textual evidence to support his essay thesis. I don't thoroughly understand what she means, nor do I know how to help him. Can you?

A. In plain English, textual evidence means details -- action, dialogue or description -- that support the essay's central argument. Before being able to write about a book or article, students need to practice close reading strategies: underlining main ideas, numbering supporting details, writing questions in the margin, circling unfamiliar words, agreeing or disagreeing with the text; noting stylistic devices (personification, similes, metaphors), so perhaps your son needs more support in annotating or talking back to the text. Once he can do this, he'll be more prepared to include details or evidence from his annotated text to build a strong argument. We've said this before, but no harm in saying it again -- two words you can use to help your son are "Prove it!"

Credentialed in both English and social science, Marcy Winograd now teaches special education students at Venice High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Jackie Hirtz, MS Ed., a writer and writing coach, taught elementary school for seven years. Together, Marcy and Jackie have written for children's television, print, and new media. Their most recent project is the tween novel Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush, available on Amazon. They also blog at and tweet on tweenorama.