Friday, July 3, 2015

Summer Skills Building: Vocabulary

It's summer and thinking about academic skills is not high on any student's "to do" list. But the slower pace of the summer months makes them an excellent time to build skills that will be helpful when school begins again. This summer we will be featuring several blogs that will be looking at ways to build skills, work on problem areas from the past school year, and get ready for the challenges that September will bring. Don't worry -- we know it's vacation time and won't be suggesting anything too rigorous. We hope that our suggestions can help your student have fun, build strengths, and start the new school year ready to tackle what lies ahead.

We have written extensively on building vocabulary, and our prior posts have included a number of tools that can enrich students' vocabulary at all levels, from computer games to books to the importance of talking to young children to build their skills. Take a look and see what might be helpful to your child.

We have a few more suggestions that you might want to have your student try: 
This computer-based program for grades K-12 teaches new vocabulary and definitions with audio and visual support. It also offers online games and activities to help reinforce the new vocabulary learned from the word lists.
This subscription service sends daily emails containing words selected for students in middle and high school. Students receive a daily email including the word, its definition, origin, and pronunciation, and several sentences containing the word. Students  should be encouraged to learn and use the new word regularly to gradually increase their vocabulary.
  • E Readers
Another way to build vocabulary is to do summer reading on an electronic book reader, such as 
Amazon’s Kindle. An eReader allows students to tap on an unknown word to easily access the precise definition without interrupting their reading. Keep in mind, however, that the kind of light emitted by EReaders can interfere with sleep, so they are not good choices for before bedtime reading.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Inclusive Classrooms Project: An Excellent Resource for Teachers

The idea of inclusion makes some teachers nervous. In the education world, inclusion means placing students with special needs alongside typically developing students so that they learn together. While most would agree that this arrangement sounds great in principle, teachers are often intimidated by the demands of serving kids with a diverse range of needs in one classroom.

Teachers College’s Inclusive Classrooms Project aims to support teachers in providing effective education for all populations. The developers of the project believe that students labeled “disabled” can participate in, and benefit from, general curriculum when provided with appropriate supports.

There are several ways teachers and administrators can benefit from TCICP’s work. For example, educators in the New York City area can arrange for on-site consulting or a workshop for their school, or visit one of the TCICP Demonstration Schools to see the model at work.

For those too far from New York to learn in person, the project’s website is an excellent resource. The Practices page provides teachers with ideas for incorporating tested techniques into their classrooms; topics include culturally relevant curriculum, positive behavior supports, technology, assessment, peer support, and multi-modality. All downloads are free. The Learning Library shares recommended titles, both print and digital, that teachers can consult for even more information.

Since both students with and without disabilities have been shown to benefit from inclusion, TCICP supports teachers in creating a win-win scenario.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Study: Physical Movement Helps Some Kids Focus

Parents and teachers are often distressed when they see young people squirming in class or during homework time. If a child is tapping his foot, clicking a pen, or wiggling in his seat, he can’t possibly be focusing, can he?

At the Yellin Center, we often tell parents that there are two kinds of fidgeting: the kind that distracts a student, and the kind that actually helps him to concentrate. The key is to figure out what kind of fidgeter their child is. A new study indicates that our advice is on target.

In the experiment, students were asked to perform a task that required concentration while sitting in a swivel chair. The ones who had been diagnosed with attention difficulties did better the more they moved. The typically developing kids, on the other hand, performed more poorly when they spun in the chair while working. The movement, it seemed distracted them.

We explain it like this: Moving one’s body is like recharging one’s “battery.” If a child with attention difficulties is forced to sit still, her battery drains, leaving her little mental energy to work with. Instead of devoting her mental resources to thinking, she’s using them up in her efforts to keep her body still. Dustin Sarver, lead author of the study, offers a similar theory: “We think that part of the reason is that when they’re moving more, they’re increasing their alertness.”

If movement seems to help your child concentrate, it’s important to figure out ways that he can move in class without distracting others. (Supportive as we are of fidgeting, we agree that pen-clicking has no place in a classroom.) Perhaps he can do his work standing at a counter or tall table so he can move his feet. When listening to his teacher, maybe he can squeeze a stress ball, sketch, or roll a wooden dowel under his feet on a carpeted floor. Sit discs and swivel chairs are also helpful to many kids. Here at the Yellin Center, our assessment rooms have a variety of chairs, including stationery and swiveling, to accommodate the needs and  preferences of all the students we see.

Remember, though, that the object is to help him focus. If he becomes so fixated on his swivel chair, stress ball, or sketch that he stops listening, perhaps it’s time to try another technique.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Combating Cyber-Bullying

Lots of adults today can remember being bullied as children. Years later, the sting of an unkind comment or others’ derisive laughter still hurts. But imagine that the witnesses to one’s shame were not limited to those within earshot of the slight. What if hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people, most of them strangers, could see what happened? And what if they could participate in the taunting? Cyber-bullying amplifies bullying to unimaginable levels, making its victims’ lives nearly unbearable.

And who better to talk about the topic of online humiliation that self-described “Patient Zero” Monica Lewinsky? Lewinsky’s scandal was a perfect storm in many ways: It was the most salacious political drama our country has ever experienced, and it happened just as internet technology was becoming ubiquitous. Instead of simply discussing her story among themselves after reading about her in the paper, people around the world could post comments about her for all to see.

Years later, Lewinsky is back in the spotlight, this time by choice. She is campaigning for a more compassionate online community, and she shares some excellent advice in a recent talk . Here are some of her key points, along with some of our own suggestions for parents struggling to help their children navigate these uncharted waters:
  • Parents of young children should do what they can to supervise kids’ time online. Consider allowing kids to go online only on a desktop computer in a public place (e.g. the kitchen) whose screen faces the room, not a wall. Stop by often to talk with them about what they’re viewing and participating in. This can be an excellent opportunity to teach kids about dangerous online behavior, like connecting with strangers. 
  • Parents who are more internet-savvy than their kids (and we know there are fewer and fewer of those out there) should be sure that they are connected with their little ones on any online network accounts their kids have. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, following your kids will serve two purposes: First, it will make them think twice about what they post, and second, it will give adults opportunities to talk with kids about what kind of posts they may consider appropriate for public knowledge. (“What do you think could happen if you share your address in your online profile?” “Do you think someone might misinterpret that picture if they don’t have any context?”)
Of course, parents can’t, and shouldn’t, monitor every facet of their kids’ online lives, especially as they get older. Instead, try to help kids see the people at the center of scandals as just that: people.
  • ·Avoid talking excitedly about celebrity scandals. Instead of watching shows dedicated to gossip, passing judgment in kids’ hearing about the decisions of perfect strangers, or picking up tabloids, adults should model compassion. Pointing out how embarrassed the subject of a shocking headline must be enforces their humanity and shows kids how to be empathetic. Comment that you’re certainly glad none of your mistakes were shared with the world. 
  • Lewinsky urges people to be “up-standers” instead of merely bystanders. Post positive, supportive comments, and make sure kids know you’re doing it. Compassionate responses can mean a lot to victims of online bullying, and your empathy can change the tone of an online thread. And report cyber-bullying when outlets have those options.
Lewinsky says, “We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression.” Help young people understand that the internet gives them great power, and along with power comes responsibility.

Friday, June 19, 2015

TED Advice for Navigating Educational Technology

We love TED, both the talk series and the blog, and were so impressed by one of their recent education blog posts we had to share it. Called “There’s No App for Good Teaching,” it provides ideas for helping parents and teachers navigate the ever-expanding array of learning technology. Although many apps, online learning opportunities, and tech-y tools can be helpful, educational technology is a very lucrative industry, meaning that lots of programmers are producing content in the hopes of cashing in. The upshot is that there’s a lot of chaff to be separated from the wheat. TED shares this list, based on research, of eight factors to keep in mind when assessing learning technology:

1. Keep learning goals ahead of the technology.

2. Opt for the open-ended.

3. Don’t let tech making learning easy.

4. Take feedback seriously. (This refers to feedback the technology gives to students.)

5. Stay skeptical of individualized learning – for now.

6. Bring in student interests, authentically.

7. Start conversations (i.e. look for tools that get kids talking).

8. Make it open, make it better. (This one, which applies to teachers, suggests that teachers can all benefit from sharing their lessons plans with each other to enhance student learning.)

We enthusiastically recommend reading their post in full for more details on the list.

Our thoughts? Number three caught our attention in particular. We agree that real learning takes time and effort. Young people, and all people, often need to wrestle with new concepts, laboriously considering all angles and trying and failing a few times to truly understand complex material.

But remember to make a distinction between learning and accessing/expressing. Students with disabilities need the opportunity to wrestle with new material just as much as anyone else, but some may need to rely on technology to access that material. A dyslexic child who uses audiobooks is not taking the easy way out; he is using a tool to help him do what other kids can do easily. He still needs to comprehend and interrogate the ideas in the text, which audiobooks certainly won’t help with. Similarly, a child with dysgraphia may need to dictate what she has learned to speech-to-text software to show her teacher the complexity of her thoughts. When other students can transcribe their ideas easily, such software allows her the same opportunities as peers to show what she knows. Our colleagues at CAST do a great job explaining this concept of universal design for learning, or UDL. A visit to their website provides excellent resources, including explanatory videos.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Reading Recovery Works!

The Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) has released a promising evaluation  of Reading Recovery, a popular program used for early intervention with students at-risk for low literacy outcomes. The intensive program pairs low-achieving first graders with a trained Reading Recovery teacher for 30 minutes of one-on-one work over a period of 12 to 20 weeks.

Because of positive results from a previous study, the US Department of Education granted funds to expand the program in 2010, and the evaluation took place during this period of growth. Resources were used to train over 2,000 new Reading Recovery teachers, allowing more than 23,000 students to receive individualized services. In addition, nearly 114,000 children received from whole-class or small-group instruction.

The results were impressive. Reading Recovery students outscored the control group on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) by an average of 14 to 16 percentage points. In addition, ITBS indicated that these students had attained 1.4 months’ worth of reading improvement more than a control group, which was taught using a different curriculum.

CPRE’s findings are even more striking when one considers that the Reading Recovery students were previously identified as being at-risk. Early detection and remediation of reading difficulties is critical, and we’re delighted that this simple program can strengthen the potential of the most vulnerable kids.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Recommended Reads for High-Level Students

Lots of people mistakenly think that success in difficult high school, college, or graduate-level courses is directly related to a student’s intelligence. Others believe it’s all about motivation. Smart, driven young people, the myth goes, are bound to do well, and if a student struggles it must be because she isn’t bright enough or lacks the will power to put in the time and effort.

These misconceptions can be very damaging to students. At The Yellin Center, we frequently work with students who blow us away with their intelligence, yet still struggle in school. More often than not, these sharp young people simply need to learn strategies to help them manage difficult coursework. Many times the strategies are not even especially complicated; they’re simply ways to conceptualize important relationships in curriculum, track their schedule, or organize ideas that a student hasn’t tried before.

Ambitious students who want ideas for new strategies that will help them learn more efficiently and produce high-quality work reliably will find two books tremendously useful: On Course by Skip Downing and Becoming a Master Student by Dave Ellis. Although neither book is inexpensive, both are filled with the kinds of tricks that the curve-wrecking students are already using, often without even realizing it.

On Course starts with a self-assessment tool that students can use to identify behaviors and beliefs that they wish to change. Part philosophy treatise, part bag of tricks, the book helps students understand what causes tendencies they don’t like and guides them through processes for adjusting their habits. On Course is also full of practical tips for taking good notes, improving reading comprehension, studying effectively, and more.

Students should try to get a new, hard copy of Becoming a Master Student, if possible, because many exercises in the book will require them to write on its pages. Like On Course, Becoming a Master Student helps young people to make discoveries about themselves and their habits, since understanding a problem is a critical first step to fixing it. In addition to lots of effective, specific strategies for helping students succeed academically, the newest edition provides information about cutting-edge technologies that make learning, organization, and time management feel easier.