Friday, September 14, 2018

The Importance of Waiting

We often suggest that the teachers of students with whom we work take a moment to pause after asking a question in the classroom. This gives all students -- not just those who may struggle with retrieving information from their long-term memory -- a chance to process the question, consider the answer, and come up with the right words to respond. Even just a few seconds can make a big difference to a student with memory issues or expressive language difficulties or even just a student who is a bit shy.

Sometimes, the silence that ensues can be uncomfortable for students and instructors alike. However, according to Professor Bob Kegan of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, it's important for teachers to resist filling the silence by repeating the question or even providing the answer. Professor Kegan explains, in an excellent video that can be accessed on the Instructional Moves website, that making waiting time part of the class discussion and explaining to students why you are doing it, helps avoid confusion and emphasizes the value of time to think before responding.

It's worth trying this in your classroom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Resources to Prevent Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and a number of organizations are working to get the word out about resources available to those struggling with depression and other mental illnesses. Suicide is a serious health issue for young people. The national organization Active Minds, which has chapters at more than 600 colleges and high schools, notes that suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. It is important to keep in mind that a majority of mental illnesses start between ages 14 and 24, so reaching out to young people is of critical importance. Active Minds works to raise awareness of mental illness and to remove the stigma from seeking help. An excellent report from NBC News highlights their impact.

Active Minds isn't the only organization working in this important space. The National Institute of Mental Health has issued a booklet, available in multiple formats, with frequently asked questions about depression, geared for college-age students.

In addition, NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, provides awareness events, works on public policy issues like insurance parity for mental health and funding for mental health research, and helps to educate patients and their families. NAMI also has a national help line. Parents may want to look at a chart NAMI has created that depicts the impact of mental illness on the 20 percent of young people who live with a mental health condition and lists warning signals that require intervention and/or referral to a mental health specialist.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Back to School Tips for Families

The late August heat wave has made it hard to be outdoors, so we've had extra time to catch up on our reading. We've encountered lots of back to school information that we want to share with our readers.

For New York City Families

New York City public schools don't begin classes until after Labor Day and we know that every year there are students who don't have a school assignment as the first day of classes approaches. The folks at have a helpful guide with tips on what to do if your middle schooler still needs a place at this late date. They also offer information on how to contact the NYC Department of Education and its various offices for other school related issues that can arise at the beginning of the school year or later in the term.

Navigating the Start of School
Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics have an excellent set of suggestions on their website for making the first days of school go more smoothly, especially for younger children. They cover topics ranging from travel to and from school -- on foot, by bus, and even by bicycle. They have tips for how to handle bullying and the best ways to develop good sleep and study habits. And they link to more detailed articles on many of these subjects. It's worth reading.

School Supplies
We've always liked the suggestions from Wirecutter, and they have an extensive list of suggestions for back to school items for all ages, including backpacks, writing instruments, organization tools, electronics, and art supplies. They also have recommendations for laptops for college students. 

Dressing for School Success
Scholastic has some practical suggestions for what young children can wear to school that will enable them to be both comfortable and independent. For older students, parents might want to check out whether their child's school has a dress code, and work together with their child to make sure that they can express their personal style in acceptable ways. And both students and parents should keep in mind that the saying "dress for success" has a real basis in scientific research.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Sex Differences in Soccer Related Brain Injuries

More than four years ago, prompted by the World Cup Games of 2014, we wrote about new pediatric concussion guidelines.  Now, the  NFL season is about to get underway, and lots of the football fans we know are dismayed at the frightening statistics about head injuries to players, both professionals and those who play in school. Moviegoers who saw the 2015 film Concussion saw this issue dramatized in a compelling way. Because no women play in the NFL and only a handful play football at college and high school levels nationally, there have been no comparisons between how blows to the head might affect male and female football players differently.

Such is not the case with soccer. Both boys and girls play in schools, in leagues, and informally and it is possible to look at differences in how blows to the head -- from "heading" the ball or otherwise -- might differ between male and female players.

Research findings reported last month in the journal Radiology that looked at the results of  sophisticated neuroimaging of approximately 100 soccer players in their twenties, evenly divided between men and women, suggest that "women may be more sensitive than men to the effects of heading at the level of tissue microstructure". The researchers noted that their findings "add to a growing body of evidence that men and women express distinct biologic responses to brain injury."  The research team noted that they had controlled for sex-based differences in frequency of heading among players.

It is clear that football isn't the only sport in which repeated head injuries can have a significant impact over time. And it isn't only boys who are at risk. Parents and coaches of female athletes, especially soccer players, need to be aware not just that girls can suffer from repeated blows to the head when they play, but that girls appear to be even more vulnerable to the effects of such impacts than are boys. The researchers in this study express the hope that, "A focus on sex-based vulnerability to brain injury may inform care of injured athletes and enhance guidelines for safe play." We hope so too.

Photo by Jeffrey Lin on Unsplash

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Building a Better IEP or 504 Plan

Yesterday, Dr. and Mrs. Yellin were the featured speakers in a webinar from ADDitude Magazine, where Mrs. Yellin is a regular columnist, writing on "Your Legal Rights." For this event, they jointly presented information on how parents can make sure that their child's IEP or Section 504 Plan will properly provide what is needed for their child to succeed in school.

As they explained to their live audience of close to 2,000 listeners, the first step in creating an effective IEP or 504 Plan is to fully understand the issues with which your child is dealing by having a thorough evaluation, one that looks beyond labels or diagnoses. They noted that it's important to keep in mind that these plans need to be individualized, and that administering a standard battery of tests may not be sufficient to get to the source of your child's problems.

The assessment that begins the IEP or 504 process needs to delve deeply into the specific areas of breakdown. It needs to look not just at a child's challenges, but also look at strengths, since these can be leveraged to help to bypass challenges. Likewise, areas of interest or affinities should be identified, since these can help your child become involved in their academics. Presenting a sports obsessed struggling reader a book about baseball or football is more likely to keep his or her interest than having that same student read about travel or music.

Another key point of the webinar was the importance of goals. Having appropriate goals is critical to a successful plan. Goals set out in an IEP or 504 Plan should be:

  • Specific, objective, and quantifiable
  • Should include standardized measures
  • Must contain a clear understanding of:
    • Who is responsible for implementation
    • The frequency of assessment
    • The mechanism for reporting to parents
    • A clear understanding, upfront, of what constitutes sufficient progress. 
You can listen to the webinar in its entirety on the ADDitude website, or watch it on YouTube, below. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Next Generation Science Standards

Research is clear that students who are exposed to STEM fields -- Science, Technology, Engineering, and higher level Math - in their elementary school years are more likely to select careers in STEM fields than those who don't get significant science or technology instruction until high school. That's not surprising. But one barrier to meaningful science instruction in elementary school is that most teachers at that level have little or no background in science.

While most elementary school teachers have had some science courses in college, these tend not to be in fields like physics, engineering, and chemistry. Studies have shown that most teachers at this level do not feel confident in their ability to teach these subject areas to their students. It's hard to teach what you don't know well.

Many teacher training programs have responded to this situation by ramping up the coursework and training required of future teachers. And schools across the country have sought ways to expand their STEM education in early grades.

One tool that both teacher training programs and elementary and middle schools are using effectively is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards have been adopted in 19 states and the District of Columbia and another 19 states have adopted similar new science standards, according to the National Science Teachers Association.  There is an extensive website dedicated to the NGSS, as well as several long videos. But, for a short but helpful video that explains the NGSS and how they work, you might want to check out the link below:

Friday, July 27, 2018

Therapy Dogs and ADHD

We've written numerous times about the benefits of dogs as pets. We've shared research that found that children with dogs at home had fewer respiratory or ear infections and needed fewer courses of antibiotics than children who had no exposure to dogs.

We've looked at how using dogs as reading companions can help struggling readers gain skills and confidence. And we've shared how psychotherapists are using dogs in their therapy practices to help their young patients.

Now, a new randomized controlled study (the "gold standard" of how research is conducted) has found that children with ADHD who received Canine-Assisted Interventions (CAI) with a certified therapy dog significantly improved attention and social skills and exhibited fewer behavior problems after only eight weeks. Of note, hyperactivity and impulsivity were not affected. The study, from researchers at the University of California, Irvine, involved 88 children ages 7-9, none of whom had taken medication to treat their attention difficulties. Both the CAI group and the control group received standard behavioral interventions for their ADHD and the control group did improve with these (as did the CAI group), but the children in the CAI group did better and improved more quickly (eight weeks vs. 12 weeks) than those without canine support.

While it is not a cure-all, families whose children have ADHD might consider a certified therapy dog in conjunction with more standard behavioral interventions for their children.

Photo by Andy Omvik on Unsplash