Sunday, April 24, 2022

Letting Students Struggle May be the Key to Academic Success

 A piece earlier this month in The New York Times looking at research in how to maximize learning after the disruption of the pandemic examined the work of several educators -- and led to an interesting conclusion.

When students, especially students with learning challenges or those for whom teachers may have had historically low expectations, are not challenged, they do not get the depth of understanding that they would gain from strugging to master material. The article describes a number of ways of thinking about the process of struggling to learn material that can result in deeper learning and more complete understanding. 

Some educators use the metaphor of a "learning pit", a place where students can visualize the fact that they need to ask for help, work on the material, and through serious effort eventually "climb out" of the learning pit to a place of understanding. This process encourages students to become "comfortable with being uncomfortable". Another metaphor that has been used when students are encouraged to work through their discomfort with not understanding a lesson or subject is that of learning to ride a bicycle. If a teacher holds firmly to the back of the bicycle while the student is learning to ride, the student avoids the "cognitive wobble" that requires them to think more deeply. 

Dr. Manu Kapur, an educational psychologist whose meta-analysis of studies looked at how students learn best, found that simply teaching a topic was not the most effective method for achieving student mastery. Instead, students who had to struggle to solve problems before being taught precisely how to solve them learned better than when they were first taught a concept and then given a chance to practice it. 

For this "productive failure" approach to work most effectively, students should work collectively and should know that the goal of the lesson isn't to get to a specific correct answer. In addition, the problems presented should be difficult but not impossible and should have a number of possible solutions.



 All of the educators mentioned in the Times discussion noted that when work is too simple, and students do not have to struggle to understand and master material, they do not have the opportunity to deepen their learning. Especially now, when many students have been derailed by pandemic learning loss, it is important to make them aware that working hard, seeking help from their teachers and fellow students, and being comfortable with being uncomfortable can all contribute to better, deeper learning. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Using visual routines to help toddlers learn new daily life skills

Former Yellin Center Learning Specialist Renée Jordan is back today with more tips from her work with younger children .


Kids have so many routines to learn in the early years. Whether it is potty training, washing their hands or getting out the door in the morning, there is a stepwise process that they need to learn. However, the CDC, in looking at developmental milestones by the age of two, notes that two or three-step directions are all that most kids that age can hold onto.  But most of these routines require kids to master way more steps than that. Kids simply don’t have the active working memory to navigate these routines yet, which often results in tantrums and resistance.

One way to help these pre-reader aged kids learn these routines, and stay on track during the process, is to use a visual routine. Each step is represented by a visual so they don’t need to be able to read the word. As they go through the routine, if they forget the next step they can independently look at the routine and figure out what they need to do next.



The first few times a visual routine is used, you will do it with the child and teach them the steps of the routine. However, after a few uses, they will be able to look at the chart and follow the routine on their own. Over time, they will internalize the routine and no longer need it. They will have learned the steps, and be able to navigate the process independently.

On the Earlybird platform you can find cut & paste versions of helpful visuals that let you personalize routines to your child, or you can print several of their premade routines for bedtime, laundry, morning, hand washing or learning to use the bathroom. Or, you can create your own visuals, perhaps using characters from your child's favorite book or video.