Reid Wilson’s approach to cognitive behavior therapy changed my life. No longer trapped by a driving phobia, I drive anywhere and everywhere, sometimes still telling my amygdala to give it a rest. Reid now has a new online course which I can guarantee will change your thinking about anxiety! The course is called “Stop Worrying: Powerful New Tools for Anxiety Relief.”
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.
More info on this course to follow!
Research continues to support the use of specialized instruction for rewiring the young dyslexic brain, changes which persist into adulthood. A new study reported by the Dana Foundation found significant improvement in reading AND changes in the brains of 24 dyslexic children over an eight-week summer reading program. The changes occurred not only in the brain’s language areas, but also areas which allow monitoring of sensation and movement. The study used a Lindamood-Bell program, similar to one with which I also have positive experience. The cool part is that changes occurred so quickly.
I have seen such rapid changes in reading performance with youngsters I’ve taught. I’ve seen as much as three years reading growth in less than 10 months for some kiddos. And in other cases, that growth occurred in three months! I would identify developmental readiness, small group size, and administrative and regular classroom support for pull-out sessions as key factors to speedy improvement.
Ok, I am starting a list of things that leak. Feel free to add your own. I am not including body parts other than the brain.
- Complex instructions to kiddos spoken in the midst of asides and other students’ comments.
- Classroom lectures that last 30 minutes.
- Classroom lectures that last 20 minutes.
- Social skills instructions that are not practiced in real world situations.
- Tips for dealing with bullies that don’t include adult supervision and support.
- Phonics instruction presented by teachers who have no scope and sequence.
- Phonics instruction presented by teachers who never learned phonics skills.
- Ditto #6 and #7 for phonological instruction.
- My brain after less than 8 hours of sleep.
- My words after a strong cup of tea.
Even this dehumidifier leaks- but into the sink, not the subfloor, like our dishwasher.
From TED talks to neuroscience journals, the consensus on improving memory is clear: make information fun, meaningful, and visual-spatial, while training the brain to focus. Most of the videos I’ve watched emphasize memory of facts, dates, spelling, and playing cards (Not sure that minors need to memorize decks of cards in less than 5 minutes but it might help with Hearts or Spades.) Did you know that there are memory athletes who compete in how quickly they can memorize hundreds of names?
While we are not only teaching facts to be memorized, these athletes do have some useful tips for the load of information required at each grade level. Multiplication.com, for example, effectively uses a story-mode with unusual characters to support memorization of times tables.
An ancient Greek strategy uses places (“loci”) to help store information. For example, you picture the words or concepts you want to recall in familiar places, attached to a vivid story. To memorize the six syllable types, I could walk up my front steps to find the door has turned to glass. It is CLOSED so I whack the glass to OPEN it. As soon as I walk inside, I see an unfamiliar band playing in the hallway but can’t hear anything. And how did they get in my house? I step closer and notice they are all wearing band tee shirts saying SILENT E, which is weird, right? I run to the kitchen and grab my phone to call the police, keying in my cLE password (c for consonant). The police send a special V-TEAM to sort things out, but those guys end up in the hallway playing with the Silent Es! I’m about to give up when some lady on a motorcycle revs out of the living room! The loud RRRR sound scares everyone away!
Okay, that’s a bit lame, but I guarantee that if a student or class create a picture story using spaces in the school building, they will remember all of the syllable types. And just imagine the fun they’ll have! Where does the meaningful part come in? Guiding students to understand the benefits of learning those syllable types or multiplication facts. Learning about memory and how to improve it. Helping them make connections with previously learned material. Practical and social applications, like being a student memory jock. And maybe some of your kiddos will end up in memory triathlons!
What? How can goofing off be good for you- and your students? Lea Waters has written a powerful book called “The Strength Switch: How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish.” Despite its cumbersome title, “The Strength Switch” has the potential to change you, dear readers, as well as other teachers, parents, and kids. I am encouraged that it is already changing me!
This post will address the goofing off research and I’ll go into more detail on strength-based teaching after I finish reading the book. (What I’ve read so far is awesome!)
Research shows that certain kinds of “goofing off,” where the brain is doing something habitual, physical, and/or requires little effort or concentration, helps the brain percolate information. Waters likens it to a bridge (no pun intended, I’m sure) between direct attention or focus and “free-form” attention (sometimes called mindfulness). We can only concentrate for a certain period of time before the brain is overloaded with processing. Shifting gears, or effective goofing off, allows our brains to rest and make sense of what we’ve just heard. An interesting fact is that the brain is not really resting; this downtime allows the brain to store information, problem solve, and make room for more information. Researchers from Columbia University saw marked improvement in attention and cognitive functioning when kids were routinely allowed this effective downtime.
Waters suggests that kids can build their attention skills by practicing this shift between focus and “goofing off.” It makes sense to me that we can all do better with this approach to tasks and breaks. You know how that name you were trying to remember pops up when you’re not even thinking about it? How you come up with a clever idea or solution to a problem when you were least expecting it? Those are perfect examples of how you’ve given your brain a chance to work more effectively.
Goofing off is “softly focused inward attention,” according to Waters. It is not texting or talking on the phone. It’s doing the mundane, so that your brain can become more brilliant.
Give yourself goofing off time and see what happens!
ASCD, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, has a lot to offer teachers as well as administrators. The organization was founded in 1943 and has continually provided high quality professional development, current research and issues, along with a commitment to improve education, one child at a time.
How does this play out for special needs kids? ASCD supports a positive approach to neurodiversity, which means celebrating learning differences and improving students’ ability to understand their unique strengths. This also means less emphasis upon labeling/pathology, less test-driven assessment, and more technological support for struggling students. With state and federal monies dependent upon labels, is this possible? Certainly! Most elementary students are oblivious to the behind-the-scenes labeling process. As they mature, students can participate in that process with a secure awareness that there is no average learner.
Check out the membership options for ASCD. You’ll be glad you did!
In the latest edition of Stanford, an alumni publication, atomic physicist Carl Wieman examines the differences in student performance between sit-and-listen versus hands-on, problem solving. (Sam Scott writes the article entitled “Should We Lose the Lecture?”) No question about the results. Students who actively participated in classes FAR outperformed their peers, even when the teacher was much more highly qualified.
So here’s the kicker: These studies were conducted at the graduate level of education! Research at the elementary, middle, and high school levels confirms that our brains simply can’t absorb such lengthy chunks of information. And we also need to actively interact with information (and our peers) to get the most out of instruction.
As teachers and students, we intuitively know this to be true. Yet in our practice, it feels expedient to lecture, lecture, lecture. Unless we are quite deliberate in structuring short chunks of information followed by authentic student interaction, we will overload our kids’ brains. Being a highly qualified teacher means losing the lecture.
… And have fun with programming at the same time! This is the game board for a ThinkFun game for preschoolers called Robot Turtles.
It’s never too early to play logic (aka coding) games and if you are trying to steer clear of screens with your younger ones or even introduce the joys of hands-on games to older kiddos, ThinkFun is a terrific resource. A local toy store keeps us supplied with some of their classics, but you’ll probably have to go online to check out their wealth of problem- solving games. The availability of non-screen games is shrinking, so it’s ironic that you need your screen to purchase hands-on fun.
I highly recommend ThinkFun as a source of individual and group entertainment, with brain challenges galore. Does your kiddo have social skill challenges? The structure of a group game can provide a satisfying, well-defined opportunity to engage with others. Try Escape the Room mystery game (ages 10+). where you are transported back to 1869 to save a local astronomer. These games are terrific for parties as well as family night fun. Have a long car trip in your future? ThinkFun has a number of fascinating 1 player games, too.
Thanks, Jennifer Nicole Wells, for your Color Your World challenge featuring desert sand.
In a not-so-recent post, I mentioned that I’m using the awesome Tobii Dynavox I-12 device with Communicator 5. One of Com 5’s cool features is the creation of page sets that allow links to even more links. This means the homepage can be simple, but each link allows more choices. Here’s a look at a home page (sorry for the picture quality):
Before UMMY, “brain break” in the school page has been linked to pictures of a student’s favorite YouTube videos, but then we have to open YouTube, etc. Brain breaks are serious business and support improved student learning, but they also need to be efficient. This is where UMMY makes good things happen! I just discovered the Ummy video downloader, which allows me to access and create links to the actual YouTube videos. Wow! For $14.95, I now have unlimited downloads, it’s a snap to use, and allows me to choose from a variety of formats. I love the HD quality as well as the sound. [I had a free trial with another downloader, but it was going to cost a big chunk every month and in 5 days, I couldn’t get one video downloaded. Granted, my brain has had its challenges this past week, but even a digital novice can get Ummy to work!]
If you want easy and cheap access to unlimited and high quality video downloads, Ummy is a winner. It’s going to make school transitions easier and my student’s life more fun. For classroom teaching, you can ALWAYS access your Ummy videos with a simple click, even without internet availability. Be sure to check it out!
What does neuroscience tell us about spelling instruction? An excellent resource for understanding brain-friendly teaching in this area is “The Best of Corwin: Educational Neuroscience,” edited by David Sousa. (Corwin has been at the forefront of educational research for many years; click on the link to access webinars, free resources, and more.)
In her chapter on The Literate Brain, Pamela Nevills reiterates what we already know. Memorizing a set of words each week is NOT the way to develop capable spellers. Instead, she suggests a sequence of skills by grade level. These are also paired with reading instruction on the same skills.
- Kindergarten- letter-sound associations
- First grade- vowel sounds with decodable words, along with exceptions
- Second grade- complex vowel and consonant patterns
- Third grade- multisyllabic words, the wonderful schwa (unaccented syllables), and common prefixes and suffixes
- Fourth grade- Latin-based prefixes, suffixes, and roots
- Fifth through eighth grade- Greek roots and content vocabulary.
Nevills asserts that only about 4% of English words cannot be spelled using predictable spelling patterns and those are best learned through repetition and memory. My experience confirms that estimate. For struggling readers and writers, this is great news! Students who learn spelling and syllable rules early and systematically actually change the structure of their neural pathways.
What are the implications for classroom and special education teachers? Learn these rules and patterns for yourself and your kiddos. There are many available resources online. Encourage your PLC or grade level team to incorporate these skills into reading instruction. Reading instruction, especially decoding words, does not end at third grade! A bonus for teachers in Educational Neuroscience: Each section provides student demystification of our brain processes for that topic, including a scripted discussion starter.
I’ll share more about this terrific resource in later posts.