Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Laptops in Lectures: Update

In a blog post last year, I shared the reasons I did not allow laptops in the classes I taught at Brooklyn College.  Succinctly, taking notes on a laptop leads to less learning than taking notes by hand, according to research.  When we are able to record notes as quickly as they are spoken, our brains don’t have to process the information – it goes straight from our ears to our screens.  Recently, The New York Times published an update on this line of research, and I wanted to share some of this interesting information with our readers.  According to the Times article, which referenced a study by Sana, Weston, and Cepeda of McMaster and York Universities in Canada, it isn’t just the laptop users who suffer during lecture.  The researchers gave a lecture to a group of students, all of whom were taking notes on a laptop. Half of the students were also given twelve simple tasks to do while taking notes.  One task, for example, was looking up what was on television at a specific time that evening.  This was meant to approximate typical multi-tasking by college students, who are often on Google, Facebook, or Instagram while also trying to take notes during class.

The results of the study are interesting and potentially alarming.  While it’s not surprising that the students who were given the distraction tasks recalled less from the lecture on a 20-question multiple-choice test, the more notable finding is that the students who were seated in view of the multi-tasking students also performed worse compared to students who were not multi-tasking and were not seated in view of a multi-tasker.  This spillover effect puts other students, not just the kids on Facebook, at a seemingly unfair disadvantage.  The study’s authors warn against a total laptop ban, however, noting that this would be “extreme and unwarranted.” 

Sana, Weston, and Cepeda argue that rather than banning laptops completely, their use should be carefully curated so that students are not simply using them for note-taking, which studies have confirmed is detrimental to learning.  Rather, they recommend the use of web-based research, pop quizzes, online case studies, and discussion threads, all of which can “foster positive learning outcomes.”  They also recommend that instructors have an open conversation with students about the use of laptops in classes, and discourage their use when the technology is not a requirement for learning (e.g., slides are provided, textbooks cover all the information).  Finally, the authors note that instructors have the responsibility to build enticing, interesting classes that can compete with the allure of online browsing.  Inevitably, college students must be responsible for their own learning.  It is up to the instructors, however, to lead them in the right direction.

One important exception to discouraging laptop use was noted by the author of the Times article: students with disabilities who require laptops for note taking, to access lecture materials, or otherwise, must be permitted to use their devices in class. This can single out these students as having disabilities, but the author notes that it is a matter of weighing the needs and best interests of one group of students against those of others. 


Photo credit: Tyler Ingram 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How is the School Year Going So Far?

Most years, on the day before Thanksgiving, our blog post contains lists of things we are thankful for, or Thanksgiving books for kids,  or a discussion about gratitude. While we are no less grateful for family, friends, colleagues, and so many other things in our lives, this year we are taking a different approach to Thanksgiving -- using it as a good time to pause and take stock of where your child might be at this point in the school year. 

It is now around three months into the academic year and students have had at least one report card. Review of last year's work has been completed and new content has been taught for a while. So it is a good time to pause and see how things are going so far -- and yet it is early enough in the year to make changes that can make the school year more productive and satisfying for your student. 

For all Students
Thanksgiving weekend is a good time to clear out backpacks. Far too many students will have failed to do this since school started. Ideally, older students should do this on their own, but students with organizational or executive function issues of all ages may need some support with this task. Papers that aren't needed currently should be kept in a "reserve" file, since they may be needed to prepare for year-end tests. Other items can be tossed or, if current, replaced neatly into the backpack - ideally, in clearly marked notebooks or folders. If this task is repeated regularly, perhaps every couple of weeks (or, failing that, at each holiday break throughout the year) some order may prevail. 

Parents may want to find some quiet time this weekend to speak to their student about how things are going in a general way. Is her reading group a good fit? Does she have friends in her class? Does she get along with her teacher? Although many of these kinds of issues come up informally in day to day conversations, having a targeting discussion can be fruitful, and can sometimes reveal issues that parents need to address before more of the school year goes by.

For Students with IEPs or 504 Plans
Hopefully, you had reviewed the IEP or 504 Plan when it was created or revised, likely last Spring. Are your child's teacher(s) following the IEP/504? Is he getting the accommodations and/or services it provides? Sometimes, schools may delay a week or two before they begin related services such as speech or occupational therapy, or academic supports such as resource room. They may need to get staff in place or determine appropriate groupings. But, by now your child should have been getting the supports and services to which he is entitled under his IEP/504 for quite some time. If this isn't the case, you should contact the school (case manager, head of guidance, or principal, depending on who heads up the IEP team). 

If your student is getting what is provided for in the IEP/504, but things are not going well, this is the time to call for a new IEP or 504 meeting. You are entitled to do so at any point, not just annually. But a formal meeting is not required to make minor changes, and you may find that you can effect the changes you want more quickly by meeting informally with the head of the IEP/504 team and putting your agreed-to changes in writing.

For High School Seniors
If you haven't completed your college applications, this holiday weekend might be a good time to do so. Those who are applying early decision or early action will have submitted their applications earlier this month, and most other students are aware that they have until the end of the calendar year, or even later, to finish up their applications. But many places have rolling admissions and once their places are filled, even strong applicants will not be accepted. In addition, students who are applying to specialized college support programs need to keep in mind that these programs are generally small and admit on a first come - first serve basis. While latter applicants might be accepted to the college itself, they can be closed out of the support programs they need to succeed. 

So, Thanksgiving can be more than a time for thanks. It can be a time to take stock of how things are going for your student and to take steps to improve things if there are problems that need to be addressed.

In the meantime, all of us here at The Yellin Center wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 17, 2017

The December Dilemma

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and the Christmas season is already evident in stores, advertisements, and decorations. In a year when the political climate has been challenging for diversity of religion and culture, it may be a useful time to think about how public schools handle religious holidays, how schools can accommodate students' differing religious traditions, and how historical and secular aspects of religious holidays can be celebrated in public schools without making some students uncomfortable or crossing the line between secular and religious education.

We've looked at this subject before, in the context of a presentation by Matthew Yellin, then a NYC public high school social studies teacher (and now Assistant Principal at the same school) on how "separation of church and state" does not require that teachers refrain from teaching students about religion or letting students discuss religion. In fact, Matt noted, "[religion] is an explicit part of my curriculum. Not only is discussing religion in public schools allowed, it is actually mandated by my curriculum."

This topic has also been addressed in a series of resources looking at the legal issues surrounding religious and holiday celebrations in public schools and best practices for teachers that can help them teach about religion as a historical and cultural part of society, while avoiding religious teachings that take a particular position, or are insensitive to the multi-cultural aspects of public schools, their students, and their mission. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League has created a multi-page list of religious and secular observances that teachers can use to infuse their classroom with an understanding of the many ways that a wide range of religions and religious practices impact our culture and our lives.

As you ponder these issues, enjoy your school's holiday concert - religious music and carols are fine, so long as they are part of a larger array of musical offerings. Have a happy and inclusive holiday season!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The IDEAL School of Manhattan

The IDEAL School, a K-12 private school, located on Manhattan's Upper West Side, incorporates its goals of diversity and inclusion in every aspect of its program. Your blogger had the opportunity to visit IDEAL School during a recent Open House and saw these principles in action. Students and teachers alike spoke about their experiences, and it was clear that all of them valued this nurturing and accepting school community.  
The student body includes typical learners, students with some learning or other challenges, and a  number of students with significant learning or developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome.  Individualized instruction at a foundational, standard, or even honors level, is the key to providing instruction for students with different learning needs. Small class size, embedded support and services, and a "no pull out" policy (where services are provided during elective periods so as not to remove children from the classroom) helps students at all levels build critical thinking skills and creativity. 

IDEAL has two specialized programs in addition to its standard curriculum - the Zenith Program, in which about one-third of their student body of approximately 180 participate, and the Dylan Program. The Zenith Program is designed for students needing an additional level of academic, behavioral, and related services support. The Dylan Program is for students with more significant needs, often 1:1 support, which IDEAL provides by an associate teacher. Both the Zenith and Dylan Programs may be paid for by a student's public school, using Carter or Connors funding.

The arts and technology are both important parts of the IDEAL curriculum, for all students. Drama, art, music, and dance are part of academic content through cross-curricular units. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) classes in the middle school (continuing as electives in the high school) include robotics and film making, with tools such as a 3-D printer and a green screen to help enhance the creativity of students.

The Lower School and Upper School are located in separate buildings, a couple of blocks from one another. This year, IDEAL will graduate its first students since it was founded in 2006. A program to extend the IDEAL education for students with IEPs who are entitled to publicly funded education through age 21 and who need more time to build skills, has begun and IDEAL has also engaged a college advisor  for its 11th and 12th graders who plan to attend college. 

As we visited classrooms and saw students of all levels of ability in their classrooms, it was clear that this is a special place, where every student is learning at his or her own pace, as part of a diverse student body. For families who share its values and approach to learning, this may well be an IDEAL school option. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Financial Education

Most parents teach their kids about manners, good nutrition, how to drive, and hundreds of other tasks and skills that they need to learn on their way to becoming competent, independent adults. But how many families include educating their children about finances and money management in this list? Although more than half of families expect their children to be financially independent by age 21, at least 72 percent of parents express some reluctance to discuss financial matters with their children, according to a survey on Parents, Kids, and Money by the financial firm T. Rowe Price.

Clearly, parents need to incorporate money and finances in the skills and values they pass along to their children. And many of them do. But, according to the Council for Economic Education, a nonprofit whose mission is "to reach and teach every child in America about personal finance and economics"
  • More than one in six students in the U.S. do not reach the baseline level of proficiency in financial literacy.
  • Nearly one-quarter of millennials spend more than they earn.
  • 67% of Gen Y have less than three months worth of emergency funds.
Earlier this year, we wrote about several apps and tools that could help young people manage their finances. And while these can be helpful, an even more powerful tool for enabling young people to  understand and manage their financial lives is a school course focused on personal finance. While a number of states require some coursework on this subject, it is usually only a part of a larger curriculum. Only five states require a separate, stand alone course in personal finance and only 20 states require an economics course for graduation.

The Council for Economic Education seeks to address the need for financial education by providing programs and tools to help families and educators give kids the tools they need to manage and improve their financial lives. These programs include "Never Too Young", designed teach personal finance to K-5 students in after-school/out-of-school settings.

The Council for Economic Education has numerous programs for students of all ages as well as educators and districts. If your child's school does not provide financial education, this might be a good place to begin to persuade them to do so.