Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Some of Our Favorite Resources

There are some "go to" resources that we turn to time and again for information about schools and other subjects. You may already use them, but in case you don't and in the hope you find them as helpful as we do, we thought we'd bring a few of them to your attention.

The terrific website InsideSchools.org has reorganized its resources, making it easier to find information on such topics as free programs for students and families, a wide variety of publications on subjects such as how to find elementary, middle, and high schools, and tools for such important topics as How to Change Schools, Special Education, and English Language Learners.

Inside Schools is always a helpful resource for information about specific New York City Public Schools, with search options popping up right on the home page. But it isn't always up to date, since it depends on school visits to each of the schools it reviews. Parents should also take a look at the NYC Department of Education website, where more recent information (without the narrative discussion that makes InsideSchool's reviews so helpful) can often be found. 

In fact, the major limitation of InsideSchools is that it only deals with New York City Public Schools. Families who live outside of New York City can often find guidance on the website GreatSchools.org., which is a national nonprofit with information on both public and private schools nationwide. 

Another resource we like is the steady stream of emails from the A.D.D. Resource Center, headed by Harold Meyer, a founder of CHADD of New York City (Children & Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), the national volunteer-based organization. This resource isn't for those who are protective of their inbox - Hal Meyer is prolific and can send a half dozen or more emails each day about topics relating to attention and learning. But most of his emails are interesting and some are really excellent. You can sign up for his e-list from his website. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Considering Emotions in the Classroom

It’s been almost 100 years since Pavlov, one of the earliest behavioral psychologists, set the precedent of linking learning with positive emotions. We learn better when we’re engaged and feeling good. It’s only in the last decade or two, however, that schools have started to take emotions seriously by implementing school-wide programs. There’s no shortage of research out there reminding us that unhappy kids are going to have a lot of trouble learning, but newer research has started focusing on positive emotions as well. Here at The Yellin Center, we see a lot of students who are feeling down or frustrated, often because they haven’t gotten the academic support they need in order to feel successful. Thankfully, lots of researchers have begun looking at how we can help students experience more positive emotions and, more importantly, learn how to identify, accept, and respond to the emotions they feel.

From kindergarten to college, we see a relationship between emotions or mood and grades or achievement. We also know that students with lower moods perceive themselves as less competent. It would be impossible to run a study looking at the directionality of these relationships, but it’s clear that negative moods, lower achievement, and feelings of incompetence are linked, regardless of what causes what. Parents and teachers want students to feel good about their work and to be engaged in the learning process. Feeling anxious, sad, or angry can get in the way of academic engagement. According to one theory, the “Broaden and Build Model” (Fredrickson, 2001), positive emotions broaden our mind, allow us to explore more of our environment and make us more aware of what’s going on. Negative emotions, on the other hand, have a narrowing effect; we are more likely to become fixated on a certain aspect of our environment and miss out on other details. Positive emotions might also increase our consciousness of potential solutions to problems – cognitive flexibility and strategy use, in other words. Way back in the early 1900’s, developmental psychologists already knew that feelings of joy lead to children’s desire to play and be creative – two very important mechanisms in the learning process, especially during early childhood (Vygotsky, 1978).

In our work, we know that before any academic interventions or strategies can be put in place, we need to focus on helping students feel their best so they’re ready to tackle whatever difficult learning comes their way. We’re especially happy to see researchers turning away from exploring negative emotions and towards testing out different school-based socioemotional interventions that can increase positive emotions, emotional regulation, and engagement. Two programs that have been gaining traction are socioemotional learning programs and mindfulness meditation. Socioemotional learning programs help students develop their emotional intelligence through a programmed sequence of lessons on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. There are a number of commercially available curriculums that schools have the option of buying as packages, but lots of teachers are implementing socioemotional learning into their classrooms on their own, as well. One of the most important lessons for students is learning how to identify their feelings, respond to them appropriately, and develop a toolbox of coping strategies for moving to a more positive state, if necessary. This is an important set of skills to start working on before children even step foot in a classroom; it helps young learners face challenges, conflicts, and failures appropriately. Parents and caregivers can start introducing children to a robust emotional vocabulary and coping toolbox as soon as a baby starts to attend to the people around her or him.

A second intervention steadily gaining popularity is mindfulness meditation. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the founding figures in the field, mindfulness is focused on learning how to be with your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way and to selectively attend to them. It can help students recognize their emotions and learn how to cope with them effectively in order to make space for positivity and calm. Research looking into the effects of mindfulness meditation in the classroom has found increased self-regulation, attentional control, and prosocial behavior (Schonert-Reichl et al., 2010).

We’re excited to see over the next few years what research comes out about school-based interventions that take the whole child into account – that is, academics that also focus on helping students feel positively empowered to engage in learning by giving them the tools to not just solve math problems but also manage the wave of emotions within each of us. In the meantime, feel free to check out the resources listed below and talk to your child’s school about how your child is learning to be emotionally empowered.


Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lawlor, M. S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre-and early adolescents’ well-being and social and emotional competence. Mindfulness, 1(3), 137-151.

Resources and Further Reading

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Wherever you go, there you are (10th ed.). New York, NY: Hachette.

Snel, E. (2013). Sitting still like a frog. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.

Blog: Why Social and Emotional Learning Is Essential for Students 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Starting Early to Prepare for College

Parents of high school students have access to lots of information about preparing their children for college. But families rarely realize that there are steps to be taken as early as elementary school to set their students up for college readiness and success, especially in families where going to college is not a given and students may not fully understand how and why they should consider a college education.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, is the professional organization for college admission professionals - admissions officers, counselors, financial aid counselors, and private college consultants. This year, NACAC has consolidated and updated several prior handbooks to create Step by Step: College Awareness and Planning for Families, Counselors and Communities. This multi-part publication includes curriculum for students starting in elementary grades and continues with separate guides for middle school and early and later high school years. There is also a section on financial aid and accompanying PowerPoint presentations. Spanish language versions are also available.

This curriculum is particularly intended for professionals who work with "underrepresented and underserved students to provide comprehensive tools for meeting the needs of first-generation students and their families." Starting with worksheets on things like "What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?" in elementary school, and moving on to questions for older students about short and long-term goals, and lessons on types of colleges and standardized testing, the curriculum is rich with ways to engage students to look at higher education through the lens of their life interests and where it can take them. And, as this curriculum makes clear, it is never to early to start to think about college.

Monday, July 31, 2017

When Parents Are Bullied

Much has been written in both the academic and popular literature about bullying -- what to do if your child is bullied, how to avoid raising a child who bullies, tips for parents and teachers who encounter bullying, and more. But we recently encountered a book that looks at bullying from a different perspective, one that we previously would not have thought about in terms of bullying - when children bully their parents.

When Kids Call the Shots, by psychotherapist Sean Grover, LCSW, looks at children who might be labelled "bossy" or "difficult" or "temperamental" and considers their behavior through a different lens. Grover views these children as bullies, and the targets of their bullying behavior are their parents. Understanding how and why this behavior develops and what parents can do to change their child's behavior is the focus of Grover's book, which grew out of his more than 20 years of working with both children and adults and his own experiences as a parent.

The book examines different ways that children become bullies, focusing on the three most common kinds of bullies: the defiant bully, the anxious bully, and the manipulative bully. Grover looks at the forces that drive each of these kinds of behaviors in children and then discusses the kinds of parents who are most prone to being bullied by their children. He continues with steps families can take to put together a support team (school officials, mental health professionals, and others) and ways parents can act to stop bullying behaviors. Grover spends time discussing family crises that may trigger bullying behaviors, things like divorce, trauma, and financial hardship. 

The book has a positive approach and a hopeful message, focusing on the fact that there are reasons why children behave this way and why parents may be feeding into this behavior. And his specific guidance on how parents can improve their family dynamic is something that should be helpful for parents asking the question: "What happened to my sweet, adorable child?"

Monday, July 24, 2017

Helping Young Children Start the School Year

Starting a new school year is a big adjustment for a child at any age, but it can be particularly disorienting for very young children. Preschool- and kindergarten-aged kids are comforted by routines, and so their first time in even the best of classrooms with the most insightful and empathetic of teachers can be a challenge. Here are some ways you can start now, during summer vacation, to ensure your little one’s year gets off to a great start.

  • Start setting your child’s biological clock. Summer sleep schedules with later wake-up times can take a while to undo, and your child may launch her first day at school cranky and sleepy if you don’t plan ahead. At least a week before her first day, get her used to the new schedule by dimming the lights in her play area an hour before her school-year bedtime. Be sure to offer her toys or books instead of electronics in the hour before she goes to bed; the quality of light emitted by screens stimulates the brain and makes it tougher to drift off to sleep later. Get her ready for bed following the same routine you anticipate using during the school year (pajamas, brushing teeth, etc.). Similarly, wake her up at the same time she’ll get up on school days and take her through her anticipated school-day morning routine. Learning these steps in advance means your child has one less new procedure to learn when school begins.
  • Visit the school a few days before the first day. Narrate the trip there in an excited tone of voice so that the route will feel familiar to your child when you report to the school on the first day. If you can, pop into your child’s classroom and explore the playground. This will help your child begin to visualize what school will be like and help her to feel more at ease on the first day.
  • Familiarize your child with his new teacher by referring to her by name instead of saying “your teacher.” If you can find a picture of his teacher on the school website, print it and hang it in a prominent place so she’ll look familiar to your child on the first day. 
  • Role play circle time, lining up for lunch, and show and tell with your child so she’ll know what to expect. Play the part of the teacher and recruit stuffed animals or siblings to act as her classmates. 
  • Model a positive attitude. When you feel anxious or tired, verbalize your feelings and talk through your plan for energizing yourself and realigning your positive thinking. (“Wow, I’m feeling really worried about tomorrow’s big meeting! I guess feeling a little nervous before a big day is normal. I think I’ll listen to some music I like and imagine myself doing really well in the meeting.”) Watching you will help your child realize that these feelings are normal and give him some strategies for coping with them. 
  • Instead of asking if your child is nervous about beginning school, casually ask how your child is feeling about the new year. Resist asking whether your child feels nervous; this suggests that there is something to be nervous about! If your child is behaving normally and doesn’t give you any reason to worry, it’s best to keep worst-case scenario preparations for the initial separation under your hat. Your child will take cues from you about how to feel about the first day.
  • If your child seems anxious or you’ve had difficulty with separation in the past, choose something she can bring to school that reminds her of her family. An article of clothing or piece of inexpensive jewelry is an especially good choice because your child can touch it whenever she needs comfort during the day without having to go to her backpack. Give her a bracelet of yours or let her borrow her brother’s lucky bandana. 

One big no-no: Don’t sneak away on the first day. Although this seems like a good idea for the child who tears up every time you take a step toward the door, resist the urge to wait until his back is turned to disappear. Such behavior can do damage to your child’s trust in you, resulting in the fear that you could vanish at any moment. Instead, assure your child that you love him, that you’re leaving him in a very safe place that you have chosen carefully, and that you will see him in four hours, then bite your lip and leave. Chances are good that you’ll have to pry him away from his new friends by pick-up time.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

New Research Explores Pitfalls of Homework Help

One question we get a lot here at The Yellin Center is how parents and caregivers can help students grow as learners at home, during homework time, or with supplementary educational activities. We love giving parents and students strategies for building up skills at home, as long as these activities are fun and stress-free, especially during the summer. New research out of Tufts University, conducted by Dr. Melissa Orkin, Sidney May, and Dr. Maryanne Wolf, explores the ways in which parents’ helping behaviors during homework time contribute to how kids feel about their work. 

Homework time, especially for struggling readers and students with disabilities, can be a stressful time for kids and parents alike. Often, homework tasks are not differentiated to meet a student at her or his instructional level; this means that students are often sent home to do work independently that they are not yet able to do. This can lead to task avoidance (a tantrum or power struggle, for example) and negative attitudes towards learning or school. In these situations, parents naturally feel the impetus to sit with their child and help them through the task while building up their skills.

When students are given homework tasks that are too hard to complete independently, they may begin to feel incompetent at managing the academic demands. It would be natural to assume, therefore, that helping your child through the task would increase her or his feelings of competence. However, Orkin and her colleagues found that one common type of homework help, which they dubbed intrusive practices, can actually lead to feelings of helplessness. When students feel helpless in the face of academics, or that they will be unable to produce work at the level expected of them, they will often become very frustrated or have an emotional outburst during work time, seeking to avoid the task.

Intrusive homework help practices include things like checking children’s homework or correcting mistakes when reading. These types of behaviors can contribute to a product (or achievement) oriented learning environment rather than a process-oriented learning environment. Ideally, we want children to value the process of learning, not the output. Sometimes this means taking a step back during homework time and allowing mistakes to be made. Fostering a process-oriented environment also entails providing specific, effort-based praise rather than intrusive corrections during reading or writing that limit the student’s autonomy while working. It’s important for parents and teachers to endorse growth and effort rather than “prescribed standards of success.”

Taking a step back and letting your child make mistakes can be extremely difficult, but research continues to show that encouraging risk-taking while building academic skills is incredibly important for helping children develop a love of learning and a growth mindset. It may take some getting used to, but next time it’s homework time at your house, see what happens when you let mistakes happen while offering up a healthy serving of effort-based encouragement and praise.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

School's Over... No, School's About to Start...

Here in New York City, where most schools run until the end of June and do not begin again until after Labor Day,  the first part of July is a time for students and teachers to catch their breath and to bask in the prospect of weeks of summer break looming ahead. But much marketing by retailers is national in scope, and we've noticed that stores that sell school supplies are busy reaching out to families whose children return to school as early as mid-August. These ads -- for clothing, binders, electronics and the like -- are only going to increase in frequency until things hit a crescendo as summer comes to an end.

So, loathe as we are to interfere with the relaxation that comes with summer, it may be time to consider some products that can make your family's return to school less stressful and more productive. In our work with all kinds of families, we've found that some basic items tend to be the most helpful.

A large white board, mounted in a central location (kitchen wall or door, near the front entry, right by the mud room or garage) can be "command central" for busy families. Need something from the grocery? Write it on the white board. Have a project or permission slip due? Make a note on the whiteboard or actually hang it from the board with a magnetic clip. Some families use a board that is divided into days of the week. Others reserve one area for each family member. And others write on it helter-skelter with lots of colors and underlining. Whatever works for your family...

A large bin or basket for every family member, lined up near the most used exit door. This can hold a backpack, gym clothes, homework folders (which should be in the backpack), and anything else that needs to leave the house with that person. Even mom and dad can find this useful as a place for keys, sunglasses, phones, etc. If you can locate the baskets near a place to plug in a long power strip, everyone can put their phones away (if you can pry them from their hands) and charge them for the upcoming day, all at the same time.

A supply closet can really help prevent last minute store runs. This can be anywhere you have a couple of extra shelves, which you can stock with packages of notebook paper, folders, glue sticks, boxes of pens and pencils, and printer paper - all bought on sale, of course.  If you have room for a pencil sharpener, manual or electric, all the better. And as the school year progresses, this is a great place to put "leftovers" -- those pieces of poster board you didn't use, the markers left over from a project, or glitter from a craft project. As the year unfolds, these items may come in handy and knowing where to find them is the key to putting them to use. Some families find a similar cabinet in the kitchen for lunch supplies is also helpful - stocked with sandwich fixings that don't need refrigeration, sandwich bread or wraps, juice boxes, packaged healthy snacks, and paper or plastic bags or reusable lunch containers.

A large, easy to read clock in the kitchen can help keep everyone on schedule during the crucial parts of the morning. Too often there are small clocks on various appliances, each off by a minute or two. When catching the school bus or commuter train requires a precise departure time, it can help to have everyone's schedule synchronized.

As you think ahead of other ways to make the transition from summertime to school time easier, don't forget to take plenty of time to read, relax, and enjoy the break from school.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Anyone who has taken Psychology 101 or Introduction to Child Development has spent some time learning about the history of attachment theory and its creators, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth – practically household names among those in the psychology or education fields. Like most topics in an introductory course, it’s hard to see how this 60-year-old theory, often demonstrated through fuzzy videos of a Strange Situation experiment, applies to modern day parenting and child development. A recent article in The New York Times by pediatrician Perri Klass, however, brings the relevance of attachment theory into the 21st century and discusses how pediatricians can use it to monitor the parent-child relationship. The goal, according to Dr. Klass, is for pediatricians to pay attention to how parents and babies interact at the one-year checkup, and to provide parents with strategies for developing a more secure, responsive connection to the child if warranted.

Attachment is the reciprocal bond that forms between parent and child. Evolutionarily, it keeps children safe; parents are hard-wired to want to keep an eye on the child, and the child is hard-wired to use the parent as a secure base from which to safely explore her environment. When parents are tuned into and responsive to an infant’s and growing child’s needs, that child feels safe and secure, and develops the idea that the world is a trustworthy and exciting place. When parents are having difficulty demonstrating a consistent, responsive style of parenting, the baby or young child may demonstrate an anxious, insecure attachment response. This means that the baby or child may not seek comfort from the parent, or may avoid the parent in stressful situations. This is a sign that the infant or child is experiencing more stress than would be expected based on the situation. All babies and children depend on their caregivers to regulate their levels of stress and other emotions. Therefore, when parents are not always available to respond to a young child’s needs, that young child will endure more stress and will have difficulty developing appropriate coping skills for stressful situations.

With newborns and very young children, being responsive means attending to the child’s every need, and helping them work through stressful situations by providing physical and verbal comfort. As children get older, however, finding that balance of responsiveness and allowing independence becomes trickier. The goal for any human is to eventually move farther and farther away from the parent, until they have developed the coping skills necessary to explore the world independently. Parents who tune into their children right from the start can begin to learn the cues for when it’s time to step back, and when they are still very much needed to provide comfort. As children get older, they learn, through their parents’ actions, that they can depend on their parents to be there when needed, and therefore they feel safe enough to inch further and further away.

The article in The New York Times encourages pediatricians to help parents monitor their own responses to their young children, and to offer support when an insecure attachment style is developing. Every child is resilient, and children who were insecurely attached during infancy can develop a secure attachment later on. Most importantly, parents should feel comfortable talking to their care providers, whether it’s the pediatrician or the nursery school teacher, about how to help foster that secure bond. Every relationship, but especially the early attachment bond, is a two-way street. If something is getting in the way of a parent being physically and emotionally available for their child, that parent deserves help and support. As the importance of attachment theory continues to spread, we hope that pediatricians and other professionals who work with families will be available to help parents and caregivers find that support, and to help families feel that asking for help is the first step to success.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Apps for Summer

With folks hitting the road for the July 4th weekend and other summer trips, families will be spending lots of quality time together all across the state, country, and globe. But there’s one piece of travel we may not think about very much – down time. Every trip, but especially the long haul plane and car rides, involves some significant amount of time when there really isn’t much for kids, or parents, to do. Waiting at the airport, sitting in the back seat of the car, or transferring from one train to the next – these are probably the hardest parts of vacation to plan. What are the kids going to do during all this “in-between” time?

Since tablets and smartphones became synonymous with child-rearing, the options for down-time have increased exponentially. But watching YouTube videos or playing mindless jumping games for hours on end is not most parents’ goal. Luckily, NPR Ed recently published an article highlighting some of this summer’s best apps for kids. Some of the best apps are educational, but kids can’t tell they’re learning while they play. NPR recommends that parents turn to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that reviews apps, games, movies, and other media directed at families. They aim to provide parents with information about age appropriateness and learning potential so that families can make proactive choices about how kids spend their screen time. The reviews are very comprehensive and cover things like what skills are being worked on; what the experience is like for the player; whether the media includes positive messages, violence, or other noteworthy features; and the overall quality of the media.

The NPR piece gives a shout out to Motion Math (5+), which is one of our favorites here at The Yellin Center. What’s notable about the Motion Math series of apps is that they engage the player in immersive experiences, like learning basic economics while running a pizzeria. Another series of apps rated highly by the folks at Common Sense Media is Toca Boca. One of the Toca Boca apps is Toca Lab: Plants, which offers young kids (6+) an opportunity to freely explore and experiment with the basics of botany. There’s no “winning” in this game; the game is focused on kids growing plants and evolving them into new species by discovering what plants need to survive. This cute game packs a big science punch for young minds. Other Toca Boca games are focused on habitats, chemistry, train sets, and building robots. Parents can choose apps for their little gamers based on their trip’s destination.

For the even younger crowd (2+), there are a plethora of colorful, slow-paced puzzle apps. Some well-rated examples are Slide & Spin; which works on fine motor skills and is reminiscent of those classic wooden toy boxes that allow toddlers to tap, slide, and twist knobs to make objects pop out of boxes; and Busy Shapes, which gives kids a digital playground to explore and manipulate as they learn how objects influence other objects.

An absolutely adorable app that popped up in our search is Peek-a-Zoo, rated five stars on Common Sense Media. Peek-a-Zoo is extremely simple and geared towards the youngest of gamers. The game has children choose an animal based on a facial expression or emotion. For example, one screen asks “Who is surprised?” and it’s the child’s job to use the facial cues to pick the correct animal.

Common Sense Media also has curated lists of apps based on age, including the Best Kids’ Apps to Download Before a Flight. Before you set off for the airport or pile into the car for your upcoming family road trip, consider curating a set of apps for your children to use. And for the purists among us, there’s even a highly rated app version of the classic license plate game, where family members compete to spot license plates from different states or with different designs.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Why Do Kids Lie?

In this age, when terms like "alternate facts" are part of the common parlance and newspapers like The New York Times feature articles like "Trump's Lies", complete with graphics, it may be instructive to look at why people, especially children, learn to tell lies and what motivates them to do so.

The June issue of National Geographic Magazine contains an extensive discussion of why people lie, in a piece entitled "Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways". The article looks at the behavior of both adults and children. Adults may lie to cover up bad behavior, or to inflate their own image, or to gain an advantage over others. Colorful tales of con men, politicians, and outright criminals illustrate these motivations.

But why and when do children first learn to lie? The National Geographic piece looks at the work of Professor Kang Lee at the University of Toronto, who has determined that children of two or three don't generally try to conceal their misdeeds, and they don't consistently lie about having done something contrary to the rules (here, peeking at a toy when the adult cautioned them not to do so before he left the room) until about age seven or eight. This "skill" seems to coincide with the acquisition of two specific abilities - the development of what is called "theory of mind", which enables us to consider the perspective of other people, and what are referred to as "executive functions", which are the abilities to plan, pay attention, and control our behaviors. As these two skills first emerge in children (and executive functions notably continue to develop well into early adulthood) children become more skilled at lying.

Not all lying is malicious. Reasons for lying include helping other people or avoiding rudeness. But parents may understandably be concerned about children who lie repeatedly, or who lie about things that can be harmful to themselves or others. We've written before about what parents can do when their children lie, and it may be a good time to take another look at these suggestions.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Attorneys at IEP Meetings

Parents sometimes ask whether it would be helpful if they brought an attorney to their IEP meeting. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) addressed this question last year in an advisory letter to the Illinois State Board of Education, which had sought guidance on the respective rights of school districts and families.

The DOE noted that parents have the right to bring anyone who has knowledge or special expertise regarding their child to the IEP meeting and that it is the judgment of the parents whether any particular individual falls within that definition. The DOE further noted that while the school district must give parents advance notice as to who will be attending the IEP meeting, parents do not have to advise the district in advance if they are bringing someone with them, including an attorney.

If a parent does bring an attorney to the IEP meeting, the district may seek to adjourn the meeting, but only if the parent agrees and the delay would not delay or deny the child from receiving an appropriate education.

The DOE notes, that "... in the spirit of cooperation and working together as partners in the child’s education, a parent should provide advance notice to the [district] if he or she intends to bring an attorney to the IEP meeting. However, there is nothing in the IDEA or its implementing regulations that would permit the [district] to conduct the IEP meeting on the condition that the parent’s attorney not participate, and to do so would interfere with the parent’s rights..."

They go on to state: "Finally, we would like to note that, even if an attorney possessed knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, an attorney’s presence could have the potential for creating an adversarial atmosphere that would not necessarily be in the best interest of the child. Therefore, [it is our] longstanding position is that the attendance of attorneys at IEP meetings should be strongly discouraged."

While there may be substantive reasons not to bring an attorney to the IEP meeting, we always suggest that parents try not to attend meetings on their own and that they should bring someone with them for support and to take notes. That can be the child's other parent, a friend, or an advocate. For other tips, take a look at our posts on this topic.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Different Ways to Solve the Problem of Algebra

Professor Jon Star of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a former math teacher, has been working to make algebra instruction more effective. We know that algebra is a tough subject for many students and have written in the past about ways to make algebra more readily understood by middle and high school math students.

Professor Star’s project, as described in Ed. magazine and online in the Graduate School Newsletter, has two aspects: first, he is working with teacher volunteers to show them that providing more than one way to solve a problem is more effective than insisting that problems be solved in one particular way. Second, he is having math teachers include more discussion in their classrooms. The idea is not to just focus on getting the correct answer, but to discuss how that answer was found or why someone took a particular approach to solving a problem. 

Working with colleagues, Star has created a set of curriculum materials designed for middle and high school students, which incorporates these approaches to teaching algebra. The materials are available at no cost for teachers to use in addition to their regular modes of instruction. And the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences has included this approach in two new publications, a problem-solving guide for grades 4-8 and an algebra practice guide for middle and high school students.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Research Links Screen Time with Speech Delays in Young Children

You see it all the time. Little children with their parents' phone, iPad, or other handheld device. The temptation for parents is understandable; keeping a young child occupied can provide the distraction to enable a parent to complete an errand, do a task, or just catch their breath. It's an understandable impulse, and one we have looked at previously.

But it's not a benign activity, and new research shows just how damaging handheld screen time can be to the expressive language skills of very young children.

The study looked at roughly 1000 children in the Toronto area, ranging from six months to two years of age. By the time they were 18 months old, their parents reported that 20 percent of the children had average daily handheld screen time use of close to 30 minutes. Based on a screening tool for expressive language delays, the researchers found a significant correlation between increased screen time and delays in expressive language. For every half hour increase in screen time with a handheld device, there was a 49 percent increased risk of expressive language delays. There did not seem to be delays in other forms of communication, such as body language or gestures.

This study is preliminary and the researchers emphasize that more investigation is needed. But the results are of sufficient concern that they should give pause to parents who are inclined to hand over their phones or tablets on a regular basis to entertain a fussy baby.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Making the Most of Summer Vacation

Here in New York City, the school year runs until the end of June, but we know that in some places summer vacation has already begun. Whether your child’s school year is winding down or behind them, there are some steps you can take now to make the summer more productive and to set your child up for a smooth transition when the next school year begins.

New School? New Class?

For students who are starting a new school next fall, whether because they are moving up in their own community or whether your family is relocating over the summer, becoming familiar with the new school building will help diminish any anxiety your child is feeling as September approaches. Often, incoming students will have had a chance to visit their new school as part of a class trip, but additional walks around the grounds, tours of the building (if it is accessible over the summer), and exploration of the neighborhood around the school may all help your child feel at home in a new setting.

If your child will be taking the bus, or the subway, or walking to school for the first time or in a new place, practice can make the process easier and less stressful for parent and student alike.

Summer Assignments
We’ve all had the experience of receiving a reading list at the end of the school year, with instructions to read a certain number of books and perhaps write a report – all due in September. It’s a rare student who has the drive and organizational skills to actually plan their reading and writing on their own so that August doesn’t bring a flurry of activity and anxiety. Parents can help by having their child unpack their backpack as soon as school ends, retrieving reading lists, assignment sheets, and supply lists for the next year. Breaking summer assignments down into manageable steps – and making sure that each step gets done on schedule – will alleviate the last minute rush that can interfere with a leisurely end to the summer.

Keeping Skills Fresh
Kids don’t want to spend their summer working on academic skills. Unless a student is required to attend summer school for academic reasons, or because he has an IEP that includes extended school year services, the best approach to keeping skills fresh or building new skills might be to use technology and games to make learning seem like playing. We’ve got more than two dozen suggestions for games involving almost every subject, for a wide range of ages. Check out these and our other ideas, such as coding and robotics resources,  for fun ways your child can exercise their mind over summer break.

And keep in mind that not all skills are academic. Summer is a great time to learn chess, work on swimming, and visit new places. Have fun and happy learning!


Monday, May 22, 2017

The State of Learning Disabilities

If you are a parent trying to better understand the issues involved in in your child's learning challenges, an advocate or professional in need of data about learning disabilities or special education, or an educator who is concerned about how schools deal with students who learn differently -- or some combination of these roles -- you will likely find valuable information in a report recently released by The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5. The title refers to the fact that one out of five children in the U.S. has learning and/or attention issues.

The report uses data from the 2015–2016 school year and takes a wide-ranging look at the landscape of learning and attention issues in school age children. It includes information about new findings in neuroscience that look at brain structure and function. It looks at policy issues, such as the increased rate at which students of color and students from low-income families are identified as having learning challenges. And it has extensive data on topics like emotional and behavioral issues.

Whether you prefer to review the "Executive Summary" of several pages or the longer report, which includes videos, charts, and personal perspectives of those dealing with learning challenges, this is a resource to bookmark, download, and use again and again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

That’s Show Biz, Kids!

For a lot of kids and teens, the best part of school comes when the school day is over and they can participate in their school’s theater productions.  This was the case for Yellin Center Learning Specialist Lindsay Levy, Ed.M. when she was in high school. Read her story and her reflections on what makes theater so rich with opportunity for children of all ages with a variety of strengths, challenges, talents, and affinities.

Lindsay remembers deciding against trying out for the school play when the opportunity was initially introduced to her in sixth grade because she didn’t want it to interfere with her studies.  She laughs now at what a needlessly serious middle schooler she was.  When she finally auditioned for a musical and was cast in a part, she learned that not only was she able to balance rehearsal with obsessiveness over homework, but also that she really enjoyed the experience, and found her fellow theater loving students to be a fun and welcoming group.  In college, where she spent most of her time and energy on her studies, she made time to include dance in her extracurricular activities.  While her psychology courses helped pave the way toward the interest that led her to The Yellin Center for her full-time work, her dance and choreography experiences started turning the gears that led her to what is now her work-outside-of-work (when she is not teaching Zumba) in community theater. 

As Lindsay prepares to choreograph and co-direct an upcoming community theater production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, she considers the ways that being involved in theater or other student productions can build important skills that students can use well beyond their senior play.

  • Collaboration - Teamwork is a huge part of being able to put on any show.  In order to reach the shared goal of a successful performance, everyone needs to work together.  Personal achievement is contingent upon group achievement.  Because of this, theater naturally fosters an environment in which helping is the norm.  Rehearsals and behind-the-scenes work are great opportunities for socialization and building social skills.

  • Listening - While speaking is clearly one responsibility of an actor, listening is a significant part of his/her work.  Directors frequently give “notes,” or constructive feedback and instructions, which are then expected to be incorporated into future rehearsals of scenes.  Cast mates need to pay close attention to each other’s lines and actions, in order to most effectively respond.

  • Memorization - Learning lines for a show can be an excellent and inherently motivating way to figure out what type of studying works best for a particular child.  How much should he try to learn at once?  What tricks help the dialogue and movement stand out in his mind?  How can he be sure he knows it?

  • Confidence- For children who may normally have a hard time with public speaking, saying lines as a character can actually be a less threatening way to practice.  For children who struggle academically, theater can be an opportunity to use strengths that they may not get to display during the school day.  For children who might not have done theater before, simply doing something new and seeing that they can take on and conquer a challenge can be confidence-building.

  • A Place for Everyone- Putting on a show involves so much more than the action the audience sees taking place on stage.  Productions need set builders, stage crew, painters, costumers, prop masters, pit members, ushers, publicity, etc.  While school can often be filled with a sense of feeling out of place, theater offers an opportunity for everyone to find a niche where they are comfortable, where they can thrive, and where they can find satisfaction and joy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Math Anxiety

How often do you hear someone say “I’m not a numbers person”? I’ve heard myself utter these words on more than one occasion, even though I’ve successfully completed multiple graduate-level statistics courses. Somewhere during our many years of educating students, we’re sending the message that some people just aren’t cut out for math even if they perform well through the years. What about “I’m not a words person”? Probably not as often, right? We put a lot of pressure on students to be competent, even excellent readers, regardless of whether they struggle with the skill, but, with math, we often let kids believe they either have it or they don’t. We covered this topic back in 2011, but there have been some interesting updates in the research since then.

 Research conducted a few years ago by Dr. Sian Beilock, the author of Choke, found that parents can transmit their math anxiety to children with phrases like “I’m not a math person either, and that’s okay”. Here at The Yellin Center, we know that success comes from practice and appropriate instruction, not innate ability. A 2015 study actually found that parents’ provision of more help with math homework predicted more math anxiety in students. Working together on math homework is a time when parents are inclined to let their children know that they don’t feel like “math people” through grimaces, comments, and visible frustration. An earlier study also identified math-anxious elementary school teachers as contributors to math anxiety, particularly for girls.

So how do teachers and parents help prevent the formation of math anxiety? A recent article in The New York Times provides some insight into the difficult subject. First, math begins at home, long before children enter school. Parents can point out the usefulness of math in the everyday environment – at the grocery store, while cooking, counting toys, etc. It’s second nature for parents to introduce young children to letters and literacy before school, but many adults, especially those who are anxious around numbers, might leave all the math work to the teachers. Research shows, however, that entering kindergarten with some solid early numeracy skills makes a real difference in achievement later on. There are plenty of bedtime stories out there that focus on numbers, as well. The website Pre-K Pages has a sizeable list. Most importantly, though, parents should work to overcome or face their own math anxieties and to be cognizant of how they are communicating to their children about math skills. Am I sending the message that this is another important skill to be conquered over the years, or am I telling my child that she or he might have what it takes, but might not?

If you want to take a short quiz to see where you fall on the math anxiety spectrum, check out this one, modeled after the tool used in the 2015 research.

Want to learn more about math anxiety? Check out these resources:

Aubrey, C., Godfrey, R., & Dahl, S. (2006). Early mathematics development and later achievement: Further evidence. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 18(1), 27-46.

Foley, A. E., Herts, J. B., Borgonovi, F., Guerriero, S., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2017). The Math Anxiety-Performance Link: A Global Phenomenon. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(1), 52-58.

Maloney, E. A., Ramirez, G., Gunderson, E. A., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2015). Intergenerational effects of parents’ math anxiety on children’s math achievement and anxiety. Psychological Science, 0956797615592630.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Why 3K For All?

New York City's Mayor Bill De Blasio recently made a very exciting announcement about early childhood – by around 2021, all three-year-olds in New York City will be eligible for free preschool. De Blasio rightly called this investment “one of the smartest we’ve ever made in the history of this city.” We don’t need another study reminding us that early intervention has an unbelievably high return on investment, both financially and with regard to student achievement. A few other cities in the country have already begun offering this service to families, but NYC will be the biggest district to do so.

To figure out why educating kids beginning at age three is so important, we just need to look at the amazing work done by The Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC), a controlled study carried out in the 1970’s. Plenty of wraparound early intervention services continue to exist in a number of states, but there is very little research on the long-term effects of these services, and whether they are financially reasonable undertakings. A study published after a 30-year follow-up assessment of the children in the ABC project adds to the overwhelming evidence that success as an adult starts with high-quality care that begins at birth.

The children in the study received high-quality care all day starting at eight weeks old. Their mothers increased their earning power by receiving subsidized care, so they could invest more in their careers. The children were immersed in language and interactive play with trained educators. Parents also received tips and parenting instruction, while all the children had access to quality health care. The young children came out of the program with early literacy skills, self-control and self-regulatory skills, higher engagement with the environment, and a solid foundation for kindergarten.

After decades of follow-up, researchers believe that the financial return on investment is about 13%. That’s quite a bit higher than your typical investment in the stock market. The societal benefits top even that high number, with reduced crime, better health, lower drug use, lower blood pressure, more years of education, and larger contributions to the economy. Since the children had subsidized care, parents were able to go to work full time and experience true upward mobility. They found positive effects in maternal education, labor force participation, and parental income. However, the researchers specifically note that these effects are due to the high quality of the wraparound care provided, and that low quality childcare is likely to take a steep toll on children’s and families’ well-being.

Finding high-quality affordable childcare in New York City is, some would say, an impossible feat. We’re looking forward to seeing how the 3K For All plan unfolds over the next few years, and what effect is has on children and their families.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Improvisation: Music To Our Ears

Q. What do the following have in common?
• An entertaining Whose Line Is It Anyway? episode
• A successful meal despite the forgotten vegetable broth on the grocery list
• An effective response to a surprising question

A. Improvisation.

In a world that’s generally unscripted, and where the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, improvisation is an important skill. David Wechsler, who developed the popular Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), defined intelligence as, “the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment.” To deal effectively with one’s environment is often, essentially, to improvise.

Improvisation has long been a subject of interest to Dr. Charles Limb, who is not only a neuroscientist but a jazz musician. In an interesting TED Talk, Dr. Limb discusses the research he conducted along with Dr. Allen Braun on what happens in an improvising brain. The subjects of their study were musicians who played the keyboard while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. In one condition, they played a given piece they had memorized. In the other condition, they improvised over the chord progressions from the song. When improvising, versus playing a memorized piece, fMRI data revealed:
  • Increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (an area associated with decision-making and self-directed behavior)
  •  Decreased activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex (an area involved in monitoring, judging, and correcting).
It seems that creativity is facilitated by one frontal lobe area turning on as another shuts off, so that ideas flow without being unduly inhibited or censored. Worry about judgement, whether from others or from ourselves, can be paralyzing, and it is worth noting that there is neurological support for giving ourselves permission to take some time to just brainstorm and create freely.

While it was David Wechsler who included creative adaptation as part of his definition of intelligence, and while we often use some of his tests here at The Yellin Center, we also acknowledge that the capacity to evaluate creativity is quite limited within any controlled assessment setting. Also, it should be noted that even some responses that may be marked wrong according to standardized scoring procedures may suggest more creativity than the kind of thinking that leads to the “right” answer. For example, one task has the child look at two rows of pictures and identify the two pictures, one from each row, that go together conceptually. A creative mind may be able to make links that are not the traditional ones but are clever nonetheless. The ability to find connections that may not be readily apparent on the surface has driven many important innovations over time, and sometimes you need to do some playing around to find them. After all, you can’t spell IMPROVE without IMPROV.

Photo credit: Nayuki via Flickr cc

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Last Minute College Decisions

College admission letters and emails have been received. Financial aid packages have been offered. Most students have made up their minds and sent in their deposits for their place in next year's freshman class. But, for some students, the decision process is not complete. What might be the issues that would keep a student undecided until the very last minute?

First, it is important to know that almost all colleges comply with the Mandatory Practices of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), which include:

[Colleges] agree  they will permit first-year candidates for fall admission to choose among offers of admission and institutionally-affiliated financial aid and scholarships until May 1, and state this deadline explicitly in their offers of admission, and not establish policies nor engage in practices whose effect is to manipulate commitments prior to May 1.

May first is next Monday, leaving almost no time left for students who have not yet made up their mind. And why would a student still be undecided about their college choice? There are several reasons why this might happen. 

  • Students whose first choice(s) did not offer sufficient financial aid to make their favorite school a practical financial choice might still be speaking to the Financial Aid Office, trying to improve the package offered to them. If they have already gone through this process, they might still be exploring family resources (grandparents, perhaps) and other ways to help make up the tuition gap to allow them to accept the offer.
  • Family issues can upend even the best thought out plans. A "local" choice can become long distance (and possibly less desirable) following an unexpected family move. Death or divorce can change both the family arrangements and available resources for some students. These graduating seniors may need all the time they can get to figure out their next steps. 
  • Health issues - medical or emotional - can arise that may impact a student's decision. A flare up or sudden onset of either kind of condition can mean that college enrollment may need to wait a semester or more.
  • The "once in a lifetime" opportunity. Some fortunate students may have a last minute option to do something truly special -- travel the world, join an orchestra (or a rock band, ballet company, or Broadway production), work on a science project -- that might make it worthwhile for them to postpone their enrollment. 
For those students who are not simply undecided, but who may have be faced with one of the situations described above, the best path is to immediately contact your desired school's Office of Admissions and see if postponing your enrollment for a year (or a semester) is possible. This is less likely to be granted if your postponement is due to financial reasons. But it never hurts to ask. Why ask? Because deferring enrollment has important benefits, including not starting the application process over again and knowing that you will be admitted when your period of deferment is over. 

And what about students who are torn between two or more acceptances and are waiting until the last minute to make up their minds? It isn't easy to decide, but they should know that more than one-third of college students transfer to another school.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Social Cognition and the Benefits of Being Nice

In a recent New York Times article, “Be Nice — You Won’t Finish Last,” author Sarah Maslin Nir reflects on having been a generally kind and amiable person, which served her well as a child and then seemed to link to a lower social status as a teenager. She then considers her experiences in the context of work by Dr. Mitch Prinstein, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor, who has studied the phenomenon of popularity. Dr. Prinstein draws a distinction between likability and status, and has researched their respective trajectories. The kind of friendly and altruistic behaviors that Nir displayed from early childhood link to positive outcomes in adulthood, including in romance and business. The status of Nir’s cooler teenage peers, however, which may have emerged from a combination of power and dishonorable behavior, is actually associated with negative long-term outcomes. In particular, high-status teens are at increased risk for going on to engage in dangerous behaviors.

Dr. Prinstein notes that being open and kind fosters likability, which in turn facilitates opportunities for enriching experiences and learning, which then contribute to advancement. “Be nice” is clearly good advice from a moral standpoint, and following the Golden Rule should be encouraged for its own sake.

 It is worth keeping in mind, though, that social skills are also important for academic and lifelong success. This is why here at The Yellin Center, we include social cognition among the various areas that we look at and discuss as part of our assessments. A student could have plenty of intellectual resources, but without being able to understand, relate to, and get along with others, one’s learning and achievements could only come so far. With collaboration having become an integral part of the classroom experience, students generally have ample opportunity to hone and utilize skills that will be vital in the rest of their lives, across settings.

 It should be noted that being socially skilled is not synonymous with being extroverted, despite what may be some common misconceptions. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has been a key figure in synthesizing and sharing research regarding introversion. Introverts, representing one-third to one-half of the population, are not necessarily shy, but prefer and thrive in environments where social stimulation is relatively low. They tend to listen more than they talk, to think before speaking, and to have careful, sensitive temperaments. These qualities, all aspects of social cognition, can foster achievement, creativity, and a valuable kind of leadership. Being an extrovert or an introvert is not better or worse; often what is most important is finding the right fit between personality and niche. Keeping this in mind, educators should be careful not to encourage class participation to an extent that is at the expense of identifying and nurturing students’ differing natures and assets; but certainly “Be nice” is a goal worth having, for many reasons, for everyone.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Clear Guide to Assistive Technology

Usually, when we write about a resource document, we carefully set forth what it says and offer guidance to the readers of our blog to help clarify and explain its content.

This isn't needed for the excellent guide from the ARISE Coalition (Action for Reform in Special Education) that provides detailed, clear information for parents about assistive technology (AT) devices and services;  students' AT rights; parent advocacy tips for acquiring AT; and resources for more AT information and special education support.

A quick look at the list of organizations and individuals that comprise the ARISE Coalition gives some sense of the substance behind this resource, but it also is so clearly written that it is a "must read" for any parent with a student in New York City public schools -- whether he or she receives special education services or not. The section describing different kinds of AT and what these devices can do can also be helpful for children who do not reach the threshold of having a disability, but may still benefit from AT.

Furthermore, although it is written for New York City parents and references the New York City Department of Education's Family Guide to Assistive Technology, the ARISE Coalition guide can provide helpful information to parents outside of NYC, especially in the "Additional Resources" section at the end.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning

A new "issue brief" from Penn State University (with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) notes that elementary age students who participate in school based programs in Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) show:
  • improvements in social behaviors 
  • fewer conduct problems
  • less emotional distress, and
  • improved grades and test scores (11% gain)

What is Social-Emotional Learning? According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), an organization that works in the areas of research, practice, and policy make to help make evidence-based social-emotional learning a part of all students' education, SEL involves five core areas of competence:

  1. Self-awareness -The ability to accurately recognize one’s feelings and thoughts and how they influence behavior.
  2. Self-management - The ability to regulate one’s emotions, understanding, and behaviors to establish and achieve goals. 
  3. Social awareness -  The ability to understand and empathize with others, to understand behavioral norms, and recognize resources and supports.
  4. Relationship skills - The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with a variety of individuals and groups. 
  5. Responsible decision-making -  The ability to make constructive, ethical choices about personal behavior, social interactions, and school and to understand the consequences of various actions.
Learn more about how your family and your school can build on the research about SEL and help children reap the personal and academic benefits that SEL can provide. 

Thanks to @jeremykoren for letting us know about this new report. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Targeting Environmental Risks to Children

Parents of children with learning and other challenges often wonder if environmental factors could have caused or been a factor in their child's difficulties. As noted in a recent issue of Pediatrics, this question was behind the 2015 founding of Project TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks) by scientists, physicians, other health professionals, and advocates. Project TENDR's mission is to raise awareness of the risk from toxic chemicals to the development of brain-based disorders in children, including intellectual and learning disabilities, autism, and ADHD.

In July 2016, TENDR issued a Consensus Statement, intended to be a Call to Action ...

"to reduce exposures to toxic chemicals that can contribute to the prevalence of neurodevelopmental disabilities in America’s children. The TENDR authors agree that widespread exposures to toxic chemicals in our air, water, food, soil, and consumer products can increase the risks for cognitive, behavioral, or social impairment, as well as specific neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Di Renzo et al. 2015; Gore et al. 2015; Lanphear 2015; Council on Environmental Health 2011). This preventable threat results from a failure of our industrial and consumer markets and regulatory systems to protect the developing brain from toxic chemicals. To lower children’s risks for developing neurodevelopmental disorders, policies and actions are urgently needed to eliminate or significantly reduce exposures to these chemicals. Further, if we are to protect children, we must overhaul how government agencies and business assess risks to human health from chemical exposures, how chemicals in commerce are regulated, and how scientific evidence informs decision making by government and the private sector."

The Consensus Statement coincided with the June 2016 signing of amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Nation’s primary chemicals management law, but the authors of the Consensus Statement note that this legislation, while "an important step," provides "too little action at too slow a pace."

The Consensus Statement sets out frightening information about the vulnerability of developing fetuses and children to environmental toxins. So what can parents do to avoid exposing their children to these poisons?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Healthy Children initiative has a comprehensive list of steps parents can take to reduce the exposure of their children to pesticides, including links to information about organic foods. The AAP site has similar helpful information about numerous other risks, such as lead and mosquito spraying. Scroll through the list of topics to find those you want to review and take the recommended actions to reduce the risks to your family.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Our Philosophy on Philosophy

In an earlier blog, we discussed the importance of educators teaching children not just content but how to think. It is worth noting that teaching philosophy to children may have benefits that include some less readily apparent ones. One study, that tracked thousands of students in schools across England, found that participation in philosophical discussions correlated with reading and math gains. This was a bonus finding, given that the philosophy course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy.

The particular intervention in this study was a course called Philosophy for Children (“p4c”), with a curriculum focused on facilitating questioning, reasoning, and collaboration. Teachers and students who received the p4c intervention generally reported positive responses such as increased listening skills, self-esteem, and confidence to speak. Perhaps an enhanced sense of ownership over their learning helped the students stay actively engaged with their course work, thereby contributing to improved levels of performance.

The Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (“PLATO”) notes that people of all ages can engage in philosophical thinking, and that young children — with their natural curiosity — can actually be particularly eager pupils. By encouraging active listening and questioning, philosophy not only helps students to more accurately ascertain truth but to find personal value, and therefore productive engagement, in their schoolwork.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Understanding Federal Disability Laws

Parents often ask us to explain the differences between the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and Section 504 (of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). And, for post-high school students who are no longer eligible under the IDEA, we get similar questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We've written about each of these laws numerous times in our more than 900 posts, often comparing and contrasting them. You can use the search feature on the right hand side of this page to search the "tag" for each law.

A 2016 Arizona case that ended up in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit contains a helpful explanation comparing and contrasting these several laws. Thanks to attorney Pete Wright for bringing it to the attention of his colleagues. The excerpts from the Circuit Court decision appear without quotation marks, citations, or footnotes, and we have added in headings to make it easier to read. You can see properly formatted text in the full court decision.

The Circuit Court explained:
There are three primary and overlapping pieces of federal legislation... The IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title II of the ADA.

Congress enacted the IDEA to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education [or FAPE] that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living. The IDEA focuses on making a FAPE available to disabled students through development of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). States receiving federal financial assistance under the IDEA must have in place policies and procedures to properly develop IEPs for qualifying children.

Section 504
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is broader than the IDEA; it is concerned with discrimination in the provision of state services to all individuals with disabilities. It provides that no otherwise qualified individual with a disability . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance
Like the IDEA, section 504 applies to public schools that receive federal financial assistance ...
The regulations adopted pursuant to section 504 require qualifying public schools to provide a free appropriate public education to each qualified handicapped person.

How FAPE Differs Under Each Law
FAPE is defined differently for purposes of section 504 than it is for the IDEA. Under ... section 504 regulations, FAPE requires "regular or special education and related aids and services that
(i) are designed to meet individual educational needs of handicapped persons as adequately as the needs of non-handicapped persons are met and
(ii) are based upon adherence to procedures that satisfy the requirements of [the law]".
Section 504's regulations gauge the adequacy of services provided to disabled individuals by comparing them to the level of services provided to individuals who are not disabled. One method of ensuring that the educational aids and services are designed to meet individual education needs as required under [504] is to implement an IEP developed in accordance with the IDEA, but a showing that FAPE was denied under the IDEA does not necessarily establish a denial of FAPE under section 504.

Title II of the ADA was modeled after section 504.... It provides that no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.
[Both Section 504 and the ADA include the right to sue for damages. However, a public entity can be liable for damages under § 504 (or the ADA) only] if it intentionally or with deliberate indifference fails to provide meaningful access or reasonable accommodation to disabled persons.

While the IDEA remains the best option for many of the students we see, it is important to be aware that there are other federal laws that can help students -- and all individuals -- get the help they need to overcome their challenges. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Supreme Court Hands Win to Students with IEPs

Yesterday, in a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the findings of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals (whose members currently include Neil Gorsuch, who has been nominated to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court bench) that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students entitled to special education receive an “educational benefit [that is] merely . . . more than de minimis.

We have written previously about this case, Endrew F., and looked at how courts have interpreted the requirements of the IDEA that students receive FAPE - a free, appropriate, public education. The questions for courts over the years have focused on the meaning of "appropriate" and looked at what schools were required to do for students who qualified for special education under the IDEA. 

The seminal case on this question was Rowley, which we examined in this blog almost seven years ago. In yesterday's decision, the Supreme Court looked back at Rowley and noted that it involved a student who was in a regular classroom, doing well, and able to participate in tests to measure her progress. The Justices noted, 

 “Rowley sheds light on what appropriate progress will look like in many cases: For a child fully integrated in the regular classroom, an IEP typically should be 'reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade' ... [However, they also noted that] Rowley did not provide concrete guidance with respect to a child who is not fully integrated in the regular classroom and not able to achieve on grade level."

For students like Endrew F., who has autism and significant behavioral issues which interfere with his ability to benefit from his education, the standards applied to Amy Rowley back in 1982 were not of practical use. These children have disabilities that make it unlikely or impossible for them to function in a regular classroom and the standards used for more typical learners with IEPs could not readily be applied to them. What some schools -- and the courts reviewing their conduct throughout the country -- did was to take advantage of the differences between a student like Amy Rowley and students with more extensive disabilities. Since advancing from grade to grade, passing tests along the way, was not a practical goal for these students, schools and courts believed that schools were required to provide an education that merely offered "some" or "more than de minimus" or a "just above trivial" educational benefit. 

In yesterday's decision, written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court soundly rejected that approach, and noted that "If ...it is not a reasonable prospect for a child, his IEP need not aim for grade level advancement. But his educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives." Furthermore, ... "the progress contemplated by the IEP must be appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances... A focus on the particular child is at the core of the IDEA. The instruction offered must be 'specially designed' to meet a child’s 'unique needs' through an '[i]ndividualized education program.' "

As the Supreme Court noted in the conclusion to its decision, "When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing 'merely more than de minimis' progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all."