From “Deficits” to “Neurodiversity” — The Time Is Now

Armstrong_Neurodiversity_mech.inddIn a recent commentary piece at Education Week, author, speaker and educator Dr. Thomas Armstrong argues for tipping from a deficit model to a more inclusive (and enlightened) model that values students’ strengths, regardless of their learning profiles. He writes,

I believe it’s time for a paradigm shift in the field of special education. Fortunately, a new concept has emerged on the horizon that promises to establish a more positive foundation upon which to build new strength-based assessments, programs, curricula, and environments for these kids.

The concept is neurodiversity. The term, which was coined by Australian autism-activist Judy Singer and American journalist Harvey Blume in the late 1990s, suggests that what we’ve called in the past “disabilities” ought to be described instead as “differences” or “diversities.” Proponents of neurodiversity encourage us to apply the same attitudes that we have about biodiversity and cultural diversity to an understanding of how different brains are wired.

It would be absurd to say that a calla lily has “petal-deficit disorder,” or that a person from Holland suffers from “altitude-deprivation syndrome.” The fact is, we appreciate the flower for its intrinsic beauty and value citizens of the Netherlands for their unique landscape. So, too, we should celebrate the differences in students who have been labeled “learning disabled,” “autistic,” “ADD/ADHD,” “intellectually disabled,” “emotionally and behaviorally disordered,” or who have been given other neurologically based diagnoses. We ought to appreciate these kids for who they really are and not dwell upon who they have failed to become.

We could not agree with him more. It is why we have built our organization around 5 principles:

  1. Inspire optimism in the face of learning challenges
  2. Discover and treasure learning profiles
  3. Eliminate humiliation, blaming, and labeling of students
  4. Leverage strengths and affinities
  5. Empower students to find success

To read his full and compelling article, click here. For more about our work, click here.

Image: Da Capo Press 

How the Brain Retains (Infographic)

The folks over at mindflash developed this infographic about how and where the brain stores it’s information. While much of the brain’s information storage system remains a mystery, it is important to remember (see what we did there?) that memory is varied, nuanced, and often associative. Working memory is different than short or long term memory and what students take away from an experience or recall about it later, cannot be dictated by anyone else. They construct knowledge and memory themselves. It is why, as educators, we must be conscientious of providing environments and experiences that are meaningful, relevant, and engaging to them.

brain-infogr

Minds at Work, Unpacked

An All Kinds of Mind’s School of Distinction, St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Potomac, Maryland discovered their top to bottom attention to research-based practices necessitated founding an institution dedicated to exploring the meeting ground between neuroscience research and educational practices. Their Center for Transformational Teaching and Learning was created with four key questions in mind:

1. What is learning?

2.Where does learning happen?

3. How do all students best learn?

4. What research in educational neuroscience can help inform and measure exceptional teaching and learning?

As a center, their mission states:

The CTTL’s long-term vision is to be a thought-leader in the neuro-science of teaching and learning and to share what we know and learn with public and private schools nationwide.

Its recent publication, Think Differently and Deeply, explores the application of emerging trends in the science of learning with their efforts to push each and every student to their fullest potential. While the publication unpacks the theories in the context of their school, readers will find transferable ideas for better meeting the needs of all students. Topics include neuroscience in education, design thinking, play, centrality of arts, and foreign language and the mind, among others.

Visit their site, explore their resources, and consider working with them as to complement and inform your school’s professional development plans.

You can also download the pdf here

What’s Up with Kate? (Part 2)

Last week we told you about Kate, a 6th grade student with some learning challenges.  Kate is earning good grades, but she really has to work hard for everything – seemingly much harder than her peers.  She struggles to retain new vocabulary words, recall information from reading passages, follow multi-step directions, and master math facts.

So what’s really going on with Kate?  We got some terrific responses to last week’s post, with thoughtful analyses of Kate’s challenges as well as creative strategies for using her strengths and affinities to help her.  Here’s what we think:

The Good News

Kate has strengths in expressive language and writing.  She is also very creative, a function of higher order cognition.  She enjoys graphic design and computers, indicators that spatial ordering could be a strength for her.  She also loves animals, especially cats.  We’d want to continue to encourage her in these areas, and take advantage of these strengths and affinities when coming up with strategies to help Kate. (See the comments on last week’s blog for some great ideas on how to do this!)

Getting at the Root of the Problem

As many of our readers suggested in their comments, memory seems to be an underlying theme behind Kate’s learning issues. While retrieving information from long-term memory is okay, getting the information into long-term memory is a challenge that is showing up when she studies new spelling and vocabulary words and tries to master her math facts. Summarizing what she reads also relies on functions of memory, including active working memory. Weak active working memory could also be making it difficult for Kate to follow multi-step directions. 

Talking to Kate

The first step we’d take is to discuss with her the reasons behind some of her difficulties in reading and the resulting academic struggles. It’s important to highlight Kate’s strengths as well as the areas in need of improvement.  As one of last week’s readers alluded to, we’d also want to foster her confidence that she can succeed in these areas.

We’d talk with Kate about the different types of memory, and tell her that she has difficulty “getting things into” her memory. We might make this idea more concrete by using an analogy such as putting clothes in a dresser or papers in a file so she can easily find them later.  We’d share with her that subjects like social studies and science have a lot of factual information and more memory demands than other subjects, which is why she struggles more in these areas.

Working toward Success

As we mentioned earlier, we’d want to capitalize on her strengths and interests when thinking about strategies to use with Kate.  Here’s a few examples:

  • Support Kate’s interest in animals by having her read about a species or particular animal and practice summarization skills and memory strategies by role-playing as a zoologist. 
  • In addition to supporting Kate’s art activities, give her the opportunity to work with experts in set-design and construction, so that she will see multi-step processes and instructions at work.

Other strategies you might try with Kate include …

  • Help with reading – Provide her with some basic accommodations in reading assignments to help her experience some success in class and to improve her learning of the content. For example, give her outlines – possibly partially-completed – from text book chapters to guide her to important information.  As one reader mentioned, graphic organizers, charts, and drawings might also work well for Kate.  Have her save these “tools” to study for tests.  These tools might vary based on the subject.  For example, in history, she may benefit from making timelines or creating cause-effect flow charts.  In math, she may benefit from making reference cards with the technical vocabulary words of an upcoming lesson.  One reader also recommended using visuals to help Kate remember math facts (e.g. the program “Nine Lines”).
  • Help with tests – Give Kate specific guidance in what is expected of her on tests and assignments. For example, instead of just asking Kate about the author’s intent in a story, provide instruction to her: “The next few questions will ask you about the author’s intentions in writing the story. Use what we learned about the author’s feelings about the subject to help you understand her intentions. Use facts in the story to back up your conclusions.”
  • Help with vocabulary – Limit the number of new vocabulary words she’s asked to learn at one time. Too many vocab words can be overwhelming for her, especially if other rules are introduced at the same time. For example, the word endings for action, suspicion, and suspension all sound the same, but are spelled differently. Some students find it easier to practice these rules one at a time.  One of last week’s readers also suggested having Kate “visualize” her vocab words.

See the comments on last week’s blog entry for more great strategies for working with kids like Kate.  What strategies would you use?  What are some other ways we could leverage her strengths and affinities?  If you haven’t done so already, share your ideas with us by leaving a comment below!

Related links:

One School’s Faculty-wide Exploration of Schools for All Kinds of Minds

By Mary Mannix, Guest Blogger

Last spring, administrators at Indian Creek School, an All Kinds of Minds School of Distinction, searched for a book for summer reading for the faculty that would be meaningful and relevant to teachers across all three divisions of the school, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

Why Schools for All Kinds of Minds?

Administrators chose Schools for All Kinds of Minds because they believed it would serve as a platform for the faculty to review, reflect upon, and discuss Indian Creek’s ongoing commitment to using the All Kinds of Minds approach to teaching and learning. Group discussions would also provide the opportunity to learn how teachers in each division are using the All Kinds of Minds philosophy and framework in their instructional practice.

All faculty members were given a copy of the book on the last day of school and asked to prepare for small group discussions to be held at the start of the school year.

Framing the Book Study

Ten faculty members, designated as small-group facilitators, developed guiding questions to frame the group discussions. Throughout the summer, they shared their thoughts and reflections on their own blog. As their discussion unfolded, several questions emerged:

  • How are teachers nurturing and using students’ strengths and affinities to support learners and learning?
  • How has the teacher’s role changed with the All Kinds of Minds approach?
  • How do we help students develop metacognition and insight into how they learn best?

The facilitators agreed that the goal of the discussions would be to determine how reading the book would affect our teaching and our students’ learning this school year.

Faculty “Aha’s”

Over 80 faculty members gathered in small groups on the first day of school. A major “aha” for many was the book’s shift away from a focus on students’ weaknesses and the emphasis on using students’ strengths and affinities to support and leverage learning. Teachers perceived this to be an important change in perspective which would allow a broader implementation of the All Kinds of Minds framework and would ultimately improve the learning experience of all students.

“To build a mind requires that you understand it” was an idea that resonated for many teachers.

Teachers also felt that the book validated the importance of investing time and effort into understanding the unique minds in our classrooms. During discussions, it became obvious that while the details of how teachers achieved this goal differed according to the grade level of the students, teachers shared a belief that getting to know students is the best way to support them. “To build a mind requires that you understand it” was an idea that resonated for many teachers.  

Book Study Takeaways

Reading Schools for All Kinds of Minds as a faculty allowed us to see clearly that the All Kinds of Minds approach is a thread that weaves itself throughout all three divisions of our school. This way of thinking about teaching and learning allows us to realize the goal set forth in our mission statement: “to provide an academically challenging education in a warm, nurturing environment to a group of students with a wide range of talents and skills.”

Discussing Schools for All Kinds of Minds reenergized our teachers, deepened their understanding, and renewed our commitment as an All Kinds of Minds School of Distinction. It provided a meeting ground in which elementary, middle, and upper school teachers could learn from each other and share insights and ideas. For us, it was the right book for building bridges across three divisions.

What’s next at Indian Creek?

The book discussion was so successful that another has been planned for mid year so teachers can share how they are implementing the ideas they took away from the book. We are focusing on “small-wins” – a concept highlighted throughout the book – and sharing our success stories regularly at faculty meetings. Administrators are also giving teachers an opportunity to visit classrooms across divisions to observe the implementation of All Kinds of Minds strategies and practices.

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Mary Mannix is the Lower School Learning Specialist and All Kinds of Minds Coordinator at Indian Creek School in Crownsville, Maryland.  She is also a long-time All Kinds of Minds facilitator.

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Have any other schools out there engaged in a book study using Schools for All Kinds of Minds?  If so, tell us about it!  What were your faculty’s “aha’s”?  How will you continue to use the book throughout the school year?  Questions for Mary?  Leave a comment … we’d love to hear from you!

Note from All Kinds of Minds:  Did you hear about our free book giveaway?  We’ve already given away several books, and this is the last week of our giveaway!  Here’s how it works: Each week that we feature a blog post related to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book!  To be entered to win this week, you must (1) subscribe to our blog, and (2) share your thoughts about this blog entry by posting a comment.  Remember: Non-subscribers are not eligible to win!  Subscribing is easy: just look for the “Email Subscription” box to the right.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Related links:

Embrace What’s Going Right to Pave a Better Road to Learning

By Michele Robinson, Director of Special Projects at All Kinds of Minds and co-author of Schools for All Kinds of Minds

Grab a pen or pencil.

Off the top of your head, list 3-4 of your strengths – those things you do well with relative ease.

Now list 3-4 affinities – those activities or topics you love to do or learn about. (You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to have a passion for it.)

Look back at your lists. To what extent do your strengths and affinities influence your choices as an adult … your career decisions, your hobbies, how you spend your time?

Tapping into our Strengths and Affinities

As adults, we often find ourselves drawn to tasks or activities that play to our strengths. Perhaps you chose to pursue a career in physical education because you excelled in sports and are passionate about helping students understand the value of physical activity throughout life. Or maybe you’re involved in civic organizations because you enjoy the relationships you develop with others and are good at organizing events.

Certainly some aspects of our work and life require us to engage in tasks that aren’t an area of strength, but chances are you generally choose to spend time doing things that play to your strengths, and likely your affinities.

How Leveraging Students’ Assets Improves Learning

What about your students? Within the context of a typical school day, where do opportunities exist for them to develop and leverage their strengths and affinities?  A foundational cornerstone of All Kinds of Minds is a focus on assets – those strengths and affinities that are part of each person’s unique profile and that influence choices we make and how we learn.

A foundational cornerstone of All Kinds of Minds is a focus on assets – those strengths and affinities that are part of each person’s unique profile and that influence choices we make and how we learn.

As we discuss in Chapter 5 of Schools for All Kinds of Minds, “Building on Student Assets,” we believe that educators have a responsibility to continually search for what is going right for students (strengths) and to help student discover their natural passions or interests (affinities). Sometimes these strengths and affinities become evident over time, like when a student realizes that information is easier to understand when it is presented graphically (like in a concept map) and that she is really good at reading maps (both of which are evidence of strengths in spatial ordering).

Discovering your Students’ Assets – The 60-Second Challenge

Teachers can also initiate intentional conversations with students about strengths and affinities, using activities like the 60-Second Challenge:

Give every student one minute of your attention each week just to explore their strengths and affinities. Here are some questions to get you started: 

  • If you were to design the perfect day, what would you be doing?
  • What parts of school are easiest for you? Why?
  • If you could choose the topic of our lesson tomorrow, what would it be?
  • For a class project, you have a choice of writing a book report, building a model, or acting out a skit. Which do you prefer?

Paying attention to strengths and affinities can make a difference in how students feel about school and their ability to learn. So, once you have a sense of a student’s strengths and affinities, what do you do with that information?

Incorporating Student Strengths into Instructional Decisions

Knowing a student’s strengths can inform instructional decisions. Take, for example, a student with strengths in spatial ordering and fine motor function who creates wonderful drawings but is struggling to sequence the events of a narrative story. One strategy to help him with sequencing more effectively (and reduce his frustration!) might be to have him first develop storyboards of the events before writing the paragraphs.

Why Using Student Interests to Personalize Instruction Can Make a World of Difference

Knowledge of a student’s affinities provides a vehicle for personalizing her educational experience and increasing her motivation to learn. For example, when assessing a skill (vs. assessing content knowledge), allowing students to choose their own topic for a report or project based on an affinity can make the task more engaging.

These are just a few examples of ways you can tap into your students’ strengths and affinities to help promote their success in school.  The book includes many more examples of how teachers can – and are – discovering student assets and incorporating them into their instructional approach.

How are you nurturing and leveraging your students’ strengths and affinities? How do your students respond? Share your ideas and experiences!

To learn more about Schools for All Kinds of Minds, read book excerpts, purchase the book, download book extras, and more, visit the Schools for All Kinds of Minds website.

 

Note from All Kinds of Minds:  Did you hear about our free book giveaway?  We’ve already given away several books!  Here’s how it works: Each week that we feature a blog post related to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book.  To be entered to win this week, you must (1) subscribe to our blog, and (2) share your thoughts about this blog entry by posting a comment.  Remember: Non-subscribers are not eligible to win!  Subscribing is easy: just look for the “Email Subscription” box to the right.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Seeing – and Nurturing – the Genius in our Students

By Rick Ackerly, Guest Blogger

In the foreword to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, writes:

More than ever, America needs the kinds of minds that generate new perspectives, seek solutions, and discover emerging opportunities. Those are the minds of many of the students in your schools today who, at first glance, look a lot like the struggling student I was in school. I invite you to take a second look at the individuals who walk through your school doors. Join us in helping as many kids as possible become more aware of their unique talents and more confident in their learning abilities—and help us rescue the wonderful potential that may otherwise be lost.

 

Slow it down. He said a mouthful, and it is critical that we get all the pieces of this:

  1. The world needs graduates who generate new perspectives, seek solutions, and discover emerging opportunities.
  2. We need all kinds of minds fully functioning and geared into the real world in productive ways.
  3. We need all kinds of minds to be good at different points of view, good problem solvers, curious about and capable of doing something with new opportunities.
  4. Visit any number of schools across the country and it won’t be obvious that the teachers and students are working on this need. It seems they are about other business. If they are struggling, let them be struggling toward the most important outcome. What was that? “Generate new perspectives, seek solutions, and discover emerging opportunities.”
  5. Take a second look at each student. See the genius in them. Notice them in their uniqueness. See that each one has a brain that activates when curious.
  6. Each of us is more powerful when we are aware of, appreciate, and see the power in our unique learning abilities—our unique approach to the world. That is a good definition of “confidence.”
  7. We must stop squandering an enormous amount of human potential.

And speaking of mouthfuls, Schools for All Kinds of Minds is one well worth reading for those of you aspiring to be leaders of learning.

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Rick Ackerly is a nationally recognized educator and speaker with 44 years of experience working in and for schools.  He recently published his first book, The Genius in Children: Bringing Out the Best in Your Child.  Rick’s articles about education and diversity have appeared in Education Week, The New York Times, The Independent School, and Multicultural Education. You can read his short weekly essays on his website.

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Note from All Kinds of Minds:  Did you hear about our free book giveaway?  We’ve already given away two books!  Here’s how it works: Each week that we feature a blog post related to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book!  To be entered to win this week, you must (1) subscribe to our blog, and (2) share your thoughts about this blog entry by posting a comment.  Remember: Non-subscribers are not eligible to win!  Subscribing is easy: just look for the “Email Subscription” box to the right.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Related Links:

Teachers: What’s Your Framework?

By Craig Pohlman, Ph.D., Co-author of Schools for All Kinds of Minds and Director of MindMatters at Southeast Psych, a learning program in Charlotte, NC

In some circles, All Kinds of Minds has become equated with the neurodevelopmental framework it uses, but this framework is only one aspect of their approach to understand learning and learners.  All Kinds of Minds is really about a set of principles for education, such as leveraging strengths and affinities.  So the framework itself is not nearly as important as having a framework.

The Value of a Framework for Understanding Learning

As we note in Schools for All Kinds of Minds, gathering and then making sense of clues about learning is made easier with a framework for sorting and organizing those clues.  In the same way that artists or musicians know their influences, teachers should know what pedagogical theory guides their instruction.  Louis Pasteur once wrote, “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.” A framework prepares the mind for understanding learners.  A framework is a conceptual structure or mental scaffolding that can be used to organize observations from multiple sources.  It is vital equipment for an educator because it clarifies what to look for and then guides how to interpret what is found.

A framework facilitates communication.  When teachers, students, and parents use similar terms to describe learners, collaboration is made much easier.

Learning plans are more readily handed off to different teachers.  Also, using a common vocabulary helps teachers support each others’ thinking and problem solving.

Our Framework

The neurodevelopmental framework used by All Kinds of Minds is an organizing structure through which all learners can be understood.  Developed with an eye towards linkages with academic skills, such as reading and writing, it is similar to neuropsychological frameworks and draws from disciplines such as speech-language pathology.  Its structure and components are well-supported by the research literature.  Its major aspects, or constructs, are attention, higher order cognition, language, memory, neuromotor function, social cognition, spatial ordering, and temporal-sequential ordering.

Frameworks Can Be Eye-Opening

Using a framework is not confining.  Rather, it is liberating in how it opens one’s eyes to new sources of data and more sophisticated levels of understanding.  Put differently, patterns and themes emerge more easily with a framework.  Also, a conceptual framework can and should be adaptable; it’s not acceptable for one’s framework to remain ossified in the face of new thinking and research.   The All Kinds of Minds framework has certainly evolved over the years.

If you are new to the AKOM approach, take the framework out for a spin.  You’ll probably find it comprehensive, yet user-friendly.  Most importantly, it will prepare your mind.

Craig’s  previous books are Revealing Minds and How Can My Kid Succeed in School?

Note from All Kinds of Minds: Did you hear about our free book giveaway?  Each week that we feature a blog post related to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book!  To be entered to win this week, you must subscribe to our blog and share your thoughts about this blog entry by posting a comment.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Related Links:

>      Schools for All Kinds of MindsRead book excerpts, purchase the book, download book extras, and more!

>      All Kinds of Minds neurodevelopmental framework

Where are our Learning Experts? (Here’s a clue: They weren’t invited to DC this week)

By Mary-Dean Barringer, CEO, All Kinds of Minds

There’s a critical meeting in Washington, D.C this Friday, September 17th, on the “Future of the Profession: New Learning Ecology for Teachers and Students.” Billed as “a discussion about the emerging realities facing the nation—the funding crisis, the teacher shortage, and new technologies—that will reshape learning environments and expectations for the teaching profession,” it has a stellar panel. Leaders from both teacher unions, the U.S. DOE, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the Center for Teaching Quality, Michael Horn (co-author of Disrupting Class) and two teachers will present on “how school structures can capitalize on the transformative power of technology, the implications for creating a student-centered profession, and the federal and state policies that can support a new learning ecology for students and teachers.”

It’s disappointing that a conversation on a new learning ecology is absent any voice that would describe the new expertise that a profession needs to acquire and deploy if a new learning ecology is to be fully realized. But it isn’t surprising. The first chapter of Schools for All Kinds of Minds describes the challenge inherent in truly understanding learning as the core business of schools. As I state in that book, “Educators, school leaders and policymakers—working on new standards, new schools and new systems—talk around learning but not about learning.” Many people following education trends make the point that equipping the profession with the current knowledge from science about how we are wired to learn is essential to future vision of education.

Important initiatives are underway that can move us closer to a profession well prepared to develop the kinds of minds America needs. The Council for Chief State School Officers has created new teacher standards for licensure and practice that first and foremost address learning and learners. Organizations like the Dana Alliance, Johns Hopkins University, the Mind Brain and Education program at Harvard, and All Kinds of Minds are advancing this knowledge base and bringing it to teachers. All Kinds of Minds will be in DC this week as an audience participant, and we hope others working to bring the science of learning into our classrooms will be there as well.

The sponsoring organization of this event is the Alliance for Education Excellence—a first-rate organization advocating a better education for all students, particularly those in high school. They do a great job informing policymakers about critical and complex issues. And creating a learning profession is one. I invite you to read Chapter 1 of Schools for All Kinds of Minds (you can access it right here for free!). If the ideas resonate with you, write to the Alliance and tell them the next time they want to talk about learning, gather the experts and learning leaders.

To learn more about Schools for All Kinds of Minds or to read more book excerpts, visit our website.

How to guarantee “learning”? Understand the learner AND the content

By Mary-Dean Barringer, CEO, All Kinds of Minds

For several years, many of my colleagues have been urging me to pick a fight with Daniel Willingham, a well respected cognitive scientist: “He doesn’t believe in learning variation!” That may be, but having read his book Why Don’t Students Like School?, I find much in common with his recommendations and nine principles.

All Kinds of Minds doesn’t use a neurodevelopmental framework to assign labels or learning style terminology. Rather, a neurodevelopmental framework is most useful to organize research findings from the brain, mind and learning to contribute to helping teachers know how to best target pedagogical choices and instructional strategies to achieve learning outcomes–for all students.

Willingham’s blog this week in the Washington Post illustrates how he urges educators to engage in a little deeper analysis regarding the choices they have when teaching. There’s no “right” choice all of the time. Ensuring learning requires the ability to quickly diagnose the goodness of fit between teaching strategy, content, and desired instructional outcome.

It’s possible Willingham and I may part ways when we consider the usefulness of adding learner and learning expertise to the diagnostic “habits of minds” today’s teachers need. My own decade-plus of teaching “complex” students was successful only when I married what I knew about content with what I knew about learning and its variations to make effective instructional choices.

That’s the value of the research from the neurosciences and learning. We have more expertise available to help us understand and analyze the neurodevelopmental demands required to be successful at instructional mastery. It helps teachers make an even more specific and targeted instructional decision, increasing the likelihood for success. As Willingham points out, a PowerPoint can be the most effective choice for demonstrating quadratic equations, and I argue even more effective when modified to fit the understanding a teacher has of the attention, temporal-sequential, and memory strengths and weaknesses of a particular group of students.

That’s my opinion, and I’d like to hear yours. I’m sure Daniel Willingham would as well. So respond to both of our blogs today and continue this important professional conversation.