Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Helping Kids Cope with Frustration

Grit and perseverance are the topics of many books, blogs, and articles lately. Many experts believe that determination is a quality adults should strive to cultivate in themselves and in their kids, and most parents would probably agree that grit is important. But watching one’s child struggle with a task is not easy, and it can be difficult to simply sit back and watch, as many parenting experts suggest. Here are some tips – from a Scholastic article by Rachel Bowie and from our own toolkit --to help kids feel less frustrated so that they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and dive into another attempt at something challenging:

For children in early elementary school, says pediatrician and author Dr. Harry Karp, the style of an adult’s communication is key. Children of six and seven years old are well into developing their receptive language skills, but they’re still relative beginners, and frustration and anger may make them even less skilled at understanding what they’re hearing. Adults should accommodate by using short phrases and repetition. Calmly acknowledge the child’s feelings and show empathy without laying it on too thick. Say, “You’re frustrated, Sarah. I can see you’re frustrated. It’s hard at first. But I know you’ll get it.”

Kids in middle and high school often feel tremendous pressure to balance their social worlds, academics, family obligations, and extra curricular activities. And anxiety makes them more prone to frustration. One tack author Michele Borba, Ed.D. suggests is helping young people recognize the signs that they’re starting to feel frustrated so they can begin to calm themselves down. Does your teenager grind his teeth? Tense his shoulders? Start snapping at people or shut down? He may not be aware that he’s drawing near an explosion until it happens, so helping him spot warning signs can help him feel a sense of control. Next, give him some suggestions. Perhaps he can walk away from a task for five minutes or repeat a mantra to himself (“No one is perfect at first” or “I don’t have to be perfect; I just have to try my best”) until he feels calmer.

One of the most helpful things adults can do is to offer lessons on perseverance rather than tips for succeeding at a specific task. No kid of any age likes to be preached at, but children are interested in, and will be comforted by, stories of their parents’ own struggles. Share an anecdote about a time you failed at something you can now do with ease. Or reassure kids that no one is born an expert. For real-life examples of people who overcame difficulties to achieve great things, visit the blog Opening Lines.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Long-Term Impact of Bullying

We’ve blogged about bullying several times in recent posts – including looking at the impact of peers on stemming bullying behavior and using technology to reduce bullying. Unfortunately, the occurrence of bullying, with one in four students reporting being victims, is all too common itself.  The importance of preventing such cruelty is intuitive, but some recent research  has yielded data that highlights the seriousness of this issue.

In an article published late last year in JAMA Psychiatry, a team of researchers from Finland and Israel looked back at data collected in 1989, when over 5,000 eight-year-olds in Finland were surveyed about their experiences, or lack thereof, with bullying.  The researchers then looked at national health records to see if these same children went on to receive treatment for psychiatric disorders when they were between the ages of 16 and 29 years old.  They found that being bullied when young correlated, after adjusting for other factors linked to psychiatric risk, with nearly twice the risk of needing psychiatric treatment later in life.  It is also interesting to note that most of the eight-year-olds who bullied others had existing psychiatric symptoms at that time as well as later.  This suggests that incidents of bullying should be red flags for both the victims’ and the perpetrators’ need for help.

Photo credit: One Way Stock via flickr cc

Friday, February 5, 2016

Chrome Accessibility Extensions

Often, when searching for student-centered solutions for learning differences, we are quick to look at tools and programs specially designed for diverse learners. We forget that many of the everyday tools we use have been designed for accessibility in mind. This is true Universal Design, where one tool can be used by all, regardless of their limitations. Microsoft has a wealth of accessibility features across their products. Similarly, Google’s Chrome has several extensions to make web browsing accessible to those with reading and writing challenges. Most of the add-ons and extensions are free, making them a cost efficient alternative to some of the pricey third party resources. 

Reading and Writing Extensions

The Chrome extension Readability removes visual clutter from web pages, making them easier to read. Reducing visual noise will benefit students with attention, visual processing, and reading difficulties. If Chrome isn’t your browser of choice, readability has expanded its product line to include apps and add-ons for Firefox and Safari. The High Contrast extension allows you to alter the coloring of your webpage with several high contrast filters, making the text easier to read. 

The Zoom add-on will make reading easier by allowing you to magnify the webpage. Another great tool is the SpeakIt extension, which converts text into speech, reading the passage using a synthesized voice. ChromeVox is a screen reader designed for the visually impaired. For writing, Voice Search allows users to use voice commands to search Google and locate information online. Voicenote II is a simple and functional digital notepad that will allow you to take notes using your voice rather than typing. 

A Suite of Accessibility Features

Google has put together a suite of accessible features in their Read&Write for Google Chrome extension. This collection of tools was designed specifically to aid students with print disabilities and English language learners. Using this add-on, students can hear words, passages, or entire documents read aloud, and even hear the text translated into a different language. There is also speech-to-text capability with this extension. When typing online or in a Google Doc, integrated word suggestions will pop up, helping facilitate the writing process. Students are also able to highlight portions of the text or make voice notes. You are able to try Read&Write for free with a 30-day trial; after the trial period you can keep a free basic subscription or upgrade to the premium paid version. However, teachers are eligible for a free premium subscription. To register and activate your subscription, go to after installing the Read&Write for Google Chrome trial. 

Checking Accessibility

Online accessibility is important whether you are a consumer or creator of web content. If you are ever concerned about the accessibility of a web page, you can use the WAVE Chrome extension to evaluate web content for accessibility issues. WAVE can provide visual feedback about the accessibility of traditional websites, as well as personal sites, intranet pages and password protected sites. It is important to note that no data is sent back to the WAVE developers and all analysis is done within the web browser to ensure secure, private evaluations.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Goalbook App

Today’s Ed Tech review is for teachers –specifically special education teachers. It also happens to be one of our favorite resources. Goalbook is one of the few educational technologies that was created by a coder - one who also spent time as an educational specialist for students with disabilities in East Palo Alto, California. So Goalbook gets both the educational and the technology side of Ed Tech, which makes for the design of a very valuable and informed tool. Many teachers would agree that actual classroom teaching is the great aspect of the job, but the paperwork and IEP planning can be a bit tricky sometimes and at times a lot less rewarding, especially when you are trying to coordinate the schedules and insights of multiple people on your multidisciplinary team, and track results from the multiple services a student receives, all the while adhering to FERPA. This is where Goalbook can assist.

The Goalbook Toolkit really takes the mystery out of IEP writing and planning by helping educational professionals collaborate and communicate to devise meaningful, achievable goals for their students, as well providing amazing tools to track each student’s progress. Their entire system is aligned beautifully with all Common Core and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) standards, while also offering instructional ideas to achieve set goals. As a learning specialist, what really set Goalbook apart was how closely their team collaborated with the people at CAST to ensure that they infused multiple levels of support so that each accommodation and modification is truly differentiated and UDL-aligned. Beyond their framework, they also offer professional development and showcase the research that backs their approaches and model on their website.

Over the years CAST has shown that UDL isn’t just the best practice for diverse learners but, rather, that differentiation has merit for all learners. With this in mind,  Goalbook offers a new framework, Goalbook Pathways, for tailoring school-wide curriculum with the goal of helping schools provide and “design engaging, rigorous instruction for all students.” Again, just like with the Goalbook Toolkit, each instructional strategy is aligned with the Common Core and principles of UDL, as well as broken down into multiple levels of rigor. Sample formative assessment measures and professional development opportunities are also included with the model.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Tuning In To Your Body To Help Cope With Stress

“Listen to your heart.” It’s a well-worn cliché. However, it is advice worth following, according to recent research reported in The New York Times. Increased heart rate is one of the numerous physical symptoms, along with shallow breathing and a palpable surge of adrenaline, experienced during times of stress. In moderation, it can be helpful; but in excess, it can undermine performance. The degree to which this physiological arousal and its accompanying emotional state then returns to normal (i.e., resilience) varies among people. Dr. Martin Paulus and colleagues set out to learn more about why this occurs.

Their study involved healthy adults who were asked to complete a questionnaire about their self-perceived levels of emotional and physical resilience. The subjects were then put in brain scanning machines and given face masks that the researchers controlled to create periodic moments of breathlessness. Those who had rated themselves low in resilience had distinct response patterns. As their masks threatened to close, their brain scans displayed relatively little activity in the areas that monitor body signals. When breathing then became difficult, they displayed relatively high levels of physiological arousal. In contrast, subjects who had rated themselves higher in resilience showed an almost opposite activity pattern, which paralleled that of soldiers and elite athletes who had participated in an earlier study. In these cases, when the masks threatened to close, the portions of the subjects’ brains that process body signals were highly active. Despite this, activity in the brain areas that intensify bodily arousal was rather slight. In other words, these subjects closely monitored the initial physical signs of stress but then diminished the response.

This suggests that paying close attention to your body may be important to effectively coping with stress. It makes sense, then, that mindfulness training programs such as one recently employed in Baltimore public schools have been shown to be so beneficial. So “Listen to your heart” is more than just a song from the 80's or the advice from your otherwise at-a-loss friend. It is an evidence-based strategy for keeping your cool.

Photo credit: via flickr

Monday, January 25, 2016

Gallup on What Makes a College Degree “Worth It”

A majority of people in the United States believes that it is important to get a college education. For one thing, adults with only a high school diploma earn, on average, considerably less than adults who graduated from college. Perhaps more importantly, a more advanced degree also allows graduates more choices about the jobs they take and the lives they lead. The perception that college is critical prompts ever-rising numbers of young people to drive themselves into heavy debt to attain the goal of attending college. But is it really worth it?

The results of a recent study by Gallup provide some interesting answers. The Gallup-Purdue Index collected information about 30,000 college graduates in the United States, going beyond just salary to measure the subjects’ engagement in their work, the extent to which they thrived socially and financially, their sense of purpose, and even their physical well-being. The results indicated six elements of emotional support and experiential learning in college that are correlated with long-term career and life success.

These experiences impact graduates’ lives so heavily that Gallup calls them the “Big Six.” Adults who report experiencing all of the following six elements in college perform better on every measure of long-term success than graduates who missed out on these experiences. In college, successful adults generally report:

1. Encountering a professor who made them excited about learning

2. Working with professors who cared about them as people

3. Having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams

4. Working on a long-term project

5. Placement in a job or internship where they applied what they were learning

6. Being extremely involved in extra-curricular activities

The difference between the outcomes of graduates who experienced all six elements versus those who experienced none of them is nothing short of astonishing. For example, results indicate that 82% of Big Six graduates felt prepared for life after college. In contrast, only 5% of those who had none of these experiences felt prepared. Sixty-five percent of employees whose college experience contained all six elements reported being engaged at work while only 25% of those who experienced none of the elements did. Keep in mind that the adults polled are all college graduates.

In light of these results, Gallup’s Brad Busteed, executive director of Education and Workforce Development, advocates adding graduation requirements that would prompt colleges to provide students with experiential learning and supportive relationships in addition to traditional coursework.

College hopefuls, and their parents, should read the original article and view the results in detail; careful selection of a school that can provide this winning formula could make all the difference.

Photo credit: State Farm via flickr cc

Friday, January 22, 2016

National Handwriting Day

Thanks to the folks at the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association, tomorrow is “National Handwriting Day.” The date of January 23rd was chosen in honor of the birthday of John Hancock, whose name has become slang for a signature. Hancock was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, and his large and distinctive handwriting has become among the most famous in our nation's history.

The keystrokes being entered to write this blog serve as a reminder, however, that handwriting is arguably less crucial a skill than it once was. Nevertheless, as we discussed in a prior blog post, some research suggests that handwriting may assist in the learning process in a way that typing cannot. There are also certainly situations in which handwriting is the only available means of written communication, or even a note-to-self. Handwriting clarity thus serves as an important tool for conveying information as well as for keeping organized. Students with graphomotor difficulties often face a unique array of challenges across academic areas.

Occupational therapists can help struggling students to strengthen the abilities underlying effective handwriting as well as to use assistive devices such as unique pencil grip products. We at The Yellin Center tend to recommend skill building in conjunction with bypass strategies, and so advise that work-arounds such as speech-to-text software should be considered as well, in appropriate contexts. Fluency in capturing and expressing information is important for optimizing the amount of material available for processing and the quality of ideas that can be generated. Therefore, it behooves students to use strategies that will help this fluency in the short-term while building the handwriting skills that will help them later.

          Happy Handwriting Day