Great news for all of us, regardless of our age! Being bilingual, which historically has not been the norm in America, is great for your brain. For older folks, a second language can lessen the rate of decline in working memory, processing speed, and overall efficiency.
Of course there is a caveat: Not all developing brains will benefit from learning a second language. I personally know of kiddos who required speech and language therapy because their language development stalled when a second language was introduced. (And I have seen far more students quickly pick up a second or third language with ease.)
What about the issue of whether it’s easier to learn a language when you’re young? You know, the brain plasticity phenomena? Well, that argument can be countered by considering the conditions under which many adults try to learn a second language. For myself, trying to squeeze in the time and opportunities to practice a second language have doomed my efforts so far. I reached a point with Spanish where I could follow a sermon with minimal support. Right now? I shudder to think.
The conditions under which children learn a second language at home are typically supportive, allow for errors, and provide lots of practice. Learning a second language at school really requires expertise and educational leadership. Those once-a-week-30-minute “immersion” classes with songs about colors and numbers have not produced a generation of bilingual students. Teaching a second language requires competent leadership and community involvement, with a systematic plan for advancing student skills as they move from elementary to middle school and beyond.
As for special needs students, pulling them out to provide specialized instruction often occurs during “foreign” language classes. For students who are not communicating well in one language, that makes sense. And if those second language classes were truly effective, we wouldn’t want anyone to miss them.
I am thrilled with a ground-breaking book called, “The Good News About Bad Behavior,” by Katherine Reynolds Lewis. Published last April, this book presents thorough and up-to-date evidence that we are dealing with a brand new world of trouble- and hope. I’ll summarize this fascinating book across several posts, but one huge takeaway is that screen time has changed the brains and behavior of children and teens.
I was saddened and shocked to learn that by five years old, the typical kid is fastened to a screen for four and a half hours a day, which is about 40% of their waking time. This early exposure to the developing brain is NOT a good thing. This trend follows the same trajectory among teens, with the added component of social media and the anxiety that produces. Just remember, there’s bad news and good news! More to come!
Although this isn’t the REAL new year, the 2018-2019 school year, it’s still a great time for taking stock of where you’ve been and where you are going with your students. Bless you if you live and die by pacing guides and a district that emphasizes teaching to the test. Ignoring that major speed bump for now, my best advice is to love your students each day.
What does it look like to love your kiddos? Believing in each one. Knowing their strengths and challenges. Smiling and laughing. Connecting with families. Being patient with them and yourself. Buying a daily calendar with pages that can be ripped off and torn into shreds if it was THAT kind of day, never to be held against anyone.
On the topic of daily calendars, I bought us the 2019 New Yorker cartoon version and am most disappointed. You can even buy the cover cartoon as a poster, if you lack a sense of humor and have a bare wall in your shed. My dearest teaching widower had to google it before we understood the “joke.” You know what they say about explaining jokes….* Of course, we may hold the minority opinion on that. No one has asked me to publish anything anywhere.
I’ve got a lot of catching up to do in the blogosphere but I am not making any resolutions. You could make it a resolution to read my blog every day, knowing full well that there won’t be daily posts. That will give you time to follow up on other resolutions, such as reading current brain research, hunting for new teaching technologies, and using that new gym membership or exercise app. Right.
Having trouble getting some special needs students excited about reading? Consider classroom or individual props. Connect math, science, and social studies to literature. This benefits all students, as do typically brain friendlyapproaches. The student above loves to read but while we are making our way through “The Hobbit,” these slip ons are FUN!
I’ve posted a four-part series on overcoming phobias through Reid Wilson’s program, which uses current brain research to change the way you respond to fear. As a Christ-follower, I had prayed in desperation for 12 years that God would heal me. I tried to worship my way through panic attacks. I tried biofeedback and meditation on God’s word.
I felt in my heart that God was going to heal me, but how long would it take? And what if I “lost” the healing when I was on the freeway? At its worst, I immediately fainted when I tried to drive on any road with more than two lanes. All my fears seemed valid. After all, I would crash and kill someone if I fainted. How could possibly God help me? When would he help me?
Several years ago, God began my healing by showing me how much fear runs through my brain all the time, not just on the road. If you watch the video below, you’ll understand why. Desperately, I contacted a psychiatrist, who referred me to a weekend workshop offered by Reid Wilson(offered that very weekend and I was able to get in!). I hoped for a miracle but nearly ran out of the building as I realized that this was something I had to do. But thankfully, I was not alone in this. God was with me. His Spirit encouraged me that I was made for freedom.
The wonderful aspect of this freedom to drive is that I don’t have to be phobia- or fear-free to be FREE! I recognize that my brain is simply doing what it was made for, that my amygdala is trying to protect me. I love the intricacies of God’s creation in my brain. He has made a new way for me to enjoy his splendor. He has given me a new way to glorify his hand on my life.
Am I weak in faith if I am afraid? I am like the man who cried out to Jesus, “I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” I don’t have to “keep” my faith; my Savior does it all for me. From beginning to end, I am safe in His arms.
Part of my story is shared below. Of course, my name is misspelled. There may be 24 different ways to spell Katharine but Jesus knows who I am!
Step four of overcoming anxieties and phobias, as taught by Reid Wilson, is to transform fear into something more helpful. This makes powerful use of current brain research that changed my life forever. In this step, you are activating the fear neural circuitry so that you can generate a new fear-free circuitry! (Click here for previous posts.)
In my case, a driving phobia was crippling me. Sure, I needed a chauffeur (usually my dearest teaching widower) but it was much worse than that. It was torture, no matter who was driving. My clever amaydala translated the fear of jumping out of the car while driving to a fear of jumping out of a car no matter what.
What happens in step four? You practice kicking butt. I told my amygdala that NOTHING was more important than freedom. Freedom from fear and freedom to drive with joy. Freedom to drive to work. Freedom to pick up my widower from the airport. Freedom to drive any time, in any vehicle, on any road. Even the highest bridges or most lanes. Freedom is more important than the feelings of fear that still pop up. Scary feelings? Beh. I like the feeling of freedom!
Be sure to check out Reid’s online course when it becomes available this fall! You can do this!
Okay, this third step in Reid Wilson’s program to shed worries and phobias was not what I wanted to hear.
I had attended his small group workshop with a few other folks, desperate to overcome my fear of driving. Over 12 years, my world had shrunk to two-lane roads and occasionally, the driveway. I knew I was losing this battle, so I went to the workshop praying there was something AMAZING that he could do to change my life.
Step three involves what you or I can do. It’s a determination to listen to a different voice in your head. The other scary noise will be there, but the voice you listen to is different. My amygdala did not like it at all. It still doesn’t. I was uncertain that I could tell my brain the truth about driving, that I could practice making that truth the strongest voice. But I did and it was the most AMAZING experience!
See, I was imagining this workshop and wondering how Reid was going to get in the car with me and make this work. What if the other folks had driving phobias, too? How would he help all of us? The great news is that I didn’t need him with me. I headed right out for the freeway, in a downpour of rain, and shouted in a new voice. I’m kinda glad no one else was in the car.
Was I still scared? Yes. But was I training my brain in a new and exciting way? Yes!
Previously, I wrote about a wonderful cognitive behavioral therapy approach to anxiety and phobias developed by Reid Wilson. The first step is understanding how our brain works to protect us and in that process, may not be helpful at all.
The second step in dealing with these issues is to step away from the noise and false signals. In my case, my brain was very eager to tell me all the “dangers” associated with driving. I might kill my family. I might crash into other cars and kill those folks. I might drive myself off the road. I might even throw myself out of the car. My brain had gotten so good at “protecting” me that I would faint if I drove on anything but a two-lane road. How’s that for safety? This second step also focuses on your motivation to stop the noise, the crazy thoughts that pass for reality. In truth, when Reid told me to simply tighten my chest instead of relaxing, the fear of fainting (vasovagal syncope) had no way to hold me back from freedom.
This fall, check out Reid WIlson’s online course (not yet available). Learn how to be free of noise in your head!
If you are looking for a perfect summary of how to teach all year, but also want to fire up your jets for the start of things, TeacherVision’s Ultimate Back-to-School Guide is for you. It lists nine areas to consider, including self-awareness, persistence, and real world effectiveness. But this guide is much more than a list. It’s inspirational and has multiple links to apps, books, and online resources for each area that will support your teaching experience- and make you more effective.
The first area reviewed is one of the most important to me: self-awareness. Did you know there’s an app for that? Well, actually, much more than that. One inspirational quote in this section comes from Daniel Goleman, who has been at the center of the emotional intelligence field for years. “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
As a teacher, our job is to not only improve our self-awareness but also that of our students. As I noted in an earlier blog, Marianne Hardiman says that “setting the emotional climate for learning may be the most important task a teacher embarks on each day.”
Why am I so convinced that this course will be life changing? Two reasons: Because it is founded on the latest brain research and Reid Wilson is an expert in this field. The video below explains what happens in your brain when you come across something scary, like a snake. Watch it and be amazed at how fabulous your brain is- and how that amazing brain can make a mess of fear.