Wednesday, December 15, 2010
I try to keep in mind that a lot of these people, though highly educated, don't know much about the process of learning. What surprizes me is how quickly they blame the environment-material and social for the child's difficulties and ignore underlying biological reasons.
Here's more information for parents of children with ADHD from a very interesting article in New York Times:
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Let someone mention that their child is starting to have difficulties in school, and out pop these pearls of wisdom. People’s advice ranges between deny that a problem exists, hide it from the child’s school or get aggressive with the teachers for identifying the issue. Not surprisingly, most of this is when children show difficulty in attention, processing and other language based needs or behavioral symptoms of evolving personality disorders.
When children have physically manifest developmental disabilities, the story is different-all about being ‘differently abled’ (I hate that term) and God’s gift…I’ll leave that for another discussion. I thought I’d do a series on how to advocate for your child-with teachers and school authorities, with family members (well meaning or not) and random strangers with no knowledge or information but love to share their two bits.
Take the scenario where the teacher talks to you about your child’s problems in class. Your instinct is to react. Which one of us wants to hear this message anyway? But stop and think for a moment—why does the teacher identify a problem with your child? Because she doesn’t like the child—really? Because she doesn’t want to do any additional work? Yes, some adults do enjoy power plays but seriously!
When was the last time you spent an hour in your child's classroom? How many students are there? How much portion does the teacher have to cover? How much help does the teacher get? Does she have an assistant to travel around the room and make sure the kids are engaged, while she is leading the whole class? If the child has persistent behavior issues, is there a one on assistant available to work only with that child? Is there provision for tutors or volunteers to work individually with children who need extra support?
When a teacher tells you that there is a problem, think about the different ramifications of that problem. Can she continue to teach the rest of the class when one child is not following along or is disruptive? Occasionally yes, but regularly? No way! Put yourself in the shoes of the other parents. If your child is a reasonably good student, would you be happy if the other child got him or her in to trouble? Would you be o.k. with a class so disruptive that no one else can learn?
If your child is ill in the classroom, what do you do? Your first step is to identify the cause. If it seems like a serious issue, you go to the doctor for a professional diagnosis. The same steps apply when you hear the teacher express concerns.
Finding out that your child has learning or behavioral needs is a difficult message to hear, no doubt. But this process is to help, not harm your child. In some cases it may be a temporary situation and the child’s behavior gets resolved with minimal intervention. In others it is a life long process. If it is the latter, you have a lot of learning to do yourself. Wouldn’t you rather have the teacher on your child’s team? You’ll both be able to support your child and each other.
So take a deep breath, listen to the message and talk to your team mate to help your child.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
It was a very insightful comment and the educator in me was applauding her quietly. She planned/sequenced/organized for the task (test preparation), set time limits and stayed on task (sustained attention) and used self regulation (when it got stressful). How did it end? She completed the task on time and was prepared for the next important task (taking the exams).
As you can see task completion utilizes the other executive functions. It allows for the progression of learning but there is also the emotional benefit. It is rewarding! Chances are that this student will use the same skills to prepare for all future assessments. Isn’t this what we aim for all our students? Self motivation and independent work habits will help students succeed not just in the school, but at work and in their personal lives.
A student with difficulty completing tasks usually has several half finished projects. It follows that assignments are late and not up to standard. So how do you improve a student’s ability to complete tasks?
Increase Student’s Self Awareness:
- Is the student aware that completing a task allows for progress? If she doesn’t see what follows when a task is completed, then motivation to compete it is low.
- Is the student aware of her strengths and weaknesses? For example, if her time management skills are poor, then she needs to address those first. If she is easily distracted by external stimuli, then she needs to work on her inhibition skills.
- Post organizational charts stating steps to task completion. For students who need more support, make individual charts to keep at their desks.
- Chunk Assignments into manageable sections with due dates/timelines for each chunk.
- Review student’s work and provide feedback at intermediate due dates—this will help student stay on track and/or make corrections before the final submittal.
- Modify assignment to reflect student’s needs—type the paper instead of writing; make a diorama with a verbal presentation instead of a long written assignment.
- Use peer tutors
- Use appropriate rewards to reinforce learning behavior—start with increasing frequency and fade as the skill becomes internalized.
- Always, always, recognize student’s effort.
Yes, one day we too will pay attention to systematic evaluations instead of random emotional responses to teachers and teaching:)
Friday, December 10, 2010
“These days students are very rude,” said one voice while another piped in, “No control, not understanding how to behave in social gatherings or accepting limits is more like it, don’t you think?”
The second comment was spot on. There are always rules for every kind of social gathering—rules which enforce civility. These are not to be confused with rigidity and order. Every action has its consequence. It is important for teachers to foster students’ ability to accept these limits and develop tolerance and/or express frustration in an appropriate manner.
As children grow older, they develop better emotional control. Part of this has to do with maturity, improved language skills and understanding social norms on age appropriate behavior. This leads to variations in the emotional control of a kindergartner/ primary/high school student.
Self-regulation has two sides: first, it involves the ability to control one’s impulses and to stop doing something, if needed—for example, a child can resist his immediate inclination to blurt out the answer when the teacher poses a question to another child. Second, self-regulation involves the capacity to do something (even if one doesn’t want to do it) because it is needed, such as awaiting one’s turn or raising one’s hand. (Bodrova, Elena & Leong, Deborah J., Developing Self Regulation in Kindergarten, Young Children On the Web, March 2008, 10 December 2010)
A student with self regulation is able to:
A student with poor self regulation on the other hand is:
- Poorly motivated/disinterested
- Socially Immature
- Irritable and easily upset
- Emotionally volatile
- Gives up easily on even mildly challenging activities
- Needs instant gratification
Strategies In the Classroom:
- Teachers, model self control in the class room. Use a calm voice at all times, watch your words carefully and respond instead of reacting.
- Target self regulation for the whole class—not just for the emotionally vulnerable student.
- Students with self regulation problems get easily overwhelmed by their environment. Your sessions should be reasonably predictable. Why do I say reasonably? Because real life is not always predictable or structured.
- When you do have unstructured periods or sudden changes, be prepared to support the student. Limit the choices of activities available during unstructured times. Instead of “Pick something to do until the bell rings,” try “You can choose between a board game, drawing or a book.”
- Pair these students with those who have good self regulation skills. This works two ways—the skilled student will not react to every distraction while the unskilled student picks up study/academic strategies from the partner. If he is working, he will have less time to be emotionally reactive.
- Discuss how students feel when they are upset. If they can identify why they are upset (test anxiety, disappointment, frustration) then they can target the underlying reason.
- Encourage them to use self talk. “I am upset now. I may say something which I can’t take back later. So I will… (take a deep breath and count to 10, take a water break, move away from the situation).
- Offer frequent and objective feedback. This gives them a real picture of their strengths and weaknesses.
- Teach students to accept delayed gratification. If another student is using the computer, give them visual cues on how long they have to wait. Let them identify alternatives. “I can read a book or do some research with my friend while I wait for my turn.”
- If they find social boundaries difficult (as in the case of the student in the example) do not wait until the situation gets out of hand. You are helping the student (and the others) by intervening at an early stage. Be firm and consistent in enforcing the rules.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Sound familiar? My mom used to send me off with this reminder before every test/exam. I bet yours did too.
This is exactly what monitoring is about—check your responses to a situation, see if you did the job correctly and if not, go ahead and correct it. My mom’s directions were to monitor a specific task—my test. To be successful we need to use the same skill to monitor our performance on the job and in social situations (behavior).
Self Monitoring And Academic Performance:
To finish a task on time, the student must be aware of his pace of work
- Does he set the right pace to complete the assignment on time?
- If not, can he correct himself?
- Can he finish the task with time to spare (to review his work)?
- When he reviews his work, is he able to identify corrections and improvements?
Monitoring helps the student to understand his strengths and weaknesses which in turn prepares him to adjust his habits or compensate for skill deficits.
A friend of mine who has dyslexia moved to a country where English was not the main spoken language. He described how he used his phenomenal visual/spatial skills to learn important information related to work. One such task involved learning multi-syllabic regional names in a language with completely different phonic rules—“I just gaze at the map to identify the region and then look at the shape of the name. I matched the shape to the first few letter sounds. I maybe able to say the names a few years down the road (or maybe never) but I know exactly which region people are referring to by the first couple of sounds I hear.”
I spent an hour tutoring a high school student yesterday. We reviewed his written assignment for social studies. He couldn’t understand why his teacher had asked him to rewrite it. In his opinion his work was perfect. Slowly, over the next forty minutes, we addressed each comment and added other ideas. Eventually a much better draft emerged. He turned to me and said, “I never realized that there was so much more to this assignment.”
A student with poor monitoring skills often over/under estimates his own work and is surprised at others’ evaluation.
Self Monitoring And Behavior/Social Skills:
Self monitoring in social situations is essential for good interpersonal relationships. Students with good self monitoring skills take their cue from the situation and exhibit appropriate behavior. They understand their behavior impacts the behavior and emotional wellbeing of the others around them and modify their responses accordingly. A more reflective student will not egg the class bully on because he knows it is not safe for him or the other students involved-it is not just kindness, but also prurience. Decision making becomes an informed proposition as opposed to being instinctual.
On the other hand a student with poor self monitoring skills is socially unaware and responds emotionally. He responds to every social prompt and in a repetitive manner. Sometimes we glorify such individuals by labeling them ‘plain hearted.’ But seriously, how many others get affected by one person’s plain heart? Isn’t it a better virtue to understand how our actions/behaviors affect others? This student does not know how to negotiate or even understand the importance of negotiating! While persistence may be a virtue, stubbornness isn’t.
Strategies In the Classroom:
- Provide checklists for projects, assignments. Review the expectations and timelines when you introduce the topic. This aids in planning and organization.
- Ask students to evaluate their study habits and specific academic skills. This helps them understand their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, when you review their work, make objective and explicit remarks. Being objective softens the blow and being explicit will help the student understand exactly where he needs to improve/change.
- When you see any positive change, bring it to the student’s attention. “At the beginning, you needed several reminders to check you final answers. You have become more independent now.” This improves self esteem and reinforces the behavior you want out of the student.
- Students can develop checklists of target behaviors in the task/subject there they need more support. For example, if they are constantly getting into conflicts with other students on the playground, they can frame a list of alternate behaviors for that environment. Then they can evaluate their own behavior at the end of the session. I will talk more about self monitoring plans in a separate post.
- Set aside ‘proof reading’ time at the end of the period.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Tracing the Spark Of Creative Problem Solving:
No Memory, but He Filled In the Blanks
Monday, December 6, 2010
Haven’t we all heard students express that they didn’t think to try a different method when they encounter an obstacle? Sometimes it is because of disinterest. In other instances, students aren’t flexible enough to try something new.
Be it in academics or in their social lives, students have to read different situations and respond accordingly. This calls for certain degree of flexibility and creative thinking. For example, comments on a friend's attire maybe appropriate in a small group but not in a large gathering. Even within the small group, there are certain social protocols to follow.
In other instances, if a particular strategy doesn't work, a successful student tries alternate approaches. If one particular assignment is frustrating and seems to go ‘no where,’ then the student sets it aside to tackle another task. He comes back to the original task after a break, most probably with new ideas.
Shifting is this ability to move between tasks, be flexible in problem solving, and adapt to unexpected changes.
A student with poor shifting skills:
- Struggles with ending one activity on time to move to the next
- Is unable to adapt to unexpected changes, usually exhibiting strong emotional responses
- Is rigid and unable to come up with alternate strategies when faced with obstacles
- Is uncompromising in social situations
- Doesn’t enjoy new experiences, thereby limiting learning opportunities
- Is constantly worried about past insults and disappointments, no matter how small
Strategies in the classroom:
Teachers can make the classroom routine more predictable, support students to cope with changes, and increase their flexibility with organizational props.
- Post the time table in a prominent place (even if students have a copy of their own).
- Set aside a section of the blackboard to write down special events for the day—assembly at 10.00 a.m.; drama practice 7th and 8th periods.
- Give advance notice of any changes—trip cancellations, teacher absences, etc. For unavoidable last minute changes, support the student—“I know this is difficult. Why don’t you read a favorite book for a few minutes to help you stay calm?”
- Prepare students for transitions—“You have two more minutes and then it will be time to clean up.”
- Have student help you set up the materials for new experiences. This will expose them to the lesson and provide a sense of control.
- Modify expectation for student’s participation—“You don’t have to touch it with your hands. Instead you can use the tongs or wear gloves.” “I will help you do the first part and you can complete the rest yourself.”
- Brainstorm ideas in class about alternate ways of approaching a task. “If you can’t find the book in the school library, what should you do?” “If you don’t have a complete set of class notes, how will you get those before the study holidays?”
- Give a set of guidelines (in checklist form) on how to problem solve—If step A doesn’t work, try step B. If that doesn’t help either, try C. If in doubt, ask a peer. Finally, go see the teacher.
Friday, December 3, 2010
The example was about a teacher’s poor time management and how it affects her students…but the teacher was a student once. This inefficiency in her work skills must have been evident in her school life as well.
What does time management have to do with efficiency? Quite a lot actually!
A student with good time management skills
- starts work on time,
- uses task analysis to identify the steps needed to complete tasks
- gathers neccessary materials before starting work
- allots sufficient time for projects and homework based on the complexity of the tasks
- completes work on time without undue stress
As you can see time management works in tandem with other executive function skills-initiation, planning, task completion, etc. In most cases, working on one executive function skill spills over to other areas as well.
A student with poor time management skills
- chooses to play first and work later-forcing her to do an ‘all night-er’ where the outcome is not her best work
- is unable to identify the steps needed to complete an activity
- has a poor understanding of how much time is needed to complete each step of the task-example, researching a topic and writing an essay require different amounts of time (based on students’ skill, time available, etc).
This student is almost always stressed because her time is stretched thin between her social life, school work and extra curricular activities.
Fostering Good Time Magement Skills:
- As always, lead by example. Don’t be that teacher who leaves half her portions unfinished!
- Whenever you give out an assignment, brainstorm with your students to break it down into specific tasks. Ask them to estimate the time for each task. This creates an awareness of the relationship between the complexity of the task and amount of time required.
- On a more practical level, select a common chore like clearing out the desk and ask students to estimate the time required to complete it. Next, time them when they clear their desk at the end of the week. Compare time taken with their estimate—discuss the results. How accurate were the estimates? How does this relate to academic work?
- For in class activities give advance notice of how much time is left and set timers—with an alarm (auditory cue) or use the classroom clock (visual cue).
- Use planners as part of your routine—weekly and monthly. Students should write down the steps to each project, and the time limit/due date for each step. Checking their planner everyday directs them to what needs to be done next.
- Subject teachers can help with a little bit of flexibility-try to spread out the due dates for large projects over a period of time. This will help all the students pace their work and put forth their best effort.
- Prime the students to finish the assignment a few days before the due date. Being stress free at the last minute is a great reinforcement. Can you take the time to help this student complete the task a few days ahead of the due date?
- Time management affects every aspect of the student’s life—get the parents on board. Let them work on the same skills, using the same strategies for activities around the house.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
A co-worker of mine was amazing at how she geared her teaching for all the students in her class. Watching her, I realized the strong impact a good teacher has on her students’ study habits. For the first two months of the academic year, this teacher began every class with a deliberate emphasis on how to attend to the task. At the beginning she modeled each step. Gradually the responsibility shifted and the students began to identify/follow the procedures themselves.
Once the routine was established, the teacher guided her students to refer to these steps (posted on the wall), to ensure they were on track. Students who were easily distracted had a smaller version on their desk.
Since this method was used for the entire class, the student with poor attention skills didn’t feel like it was aimed only at her; the peer next to her stepped in quickly to help with the correct step.
Here's a link to an excellent article on how to get your students' attention from the ADDitude magazine.