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!

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

Building Schools for All Kinds of Minds

In our recently-published book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds: Boosting Student Success by Embracing Learning Variation, our CEO Mary-Dean Barringer makes the point that Educators, school leaders and policymakers … talk around learning but not about learning,” and she notes that equipping educators with current knowledge from science about how we are wired to learn is essential to the future of education.

But how can educators access this knowledge?  And once they have, how can they translate what they’ve learned into practical solutions in their classrooms, schools, and districts?  Providing answers to these questions is a big part of our work here at All Kinds of Minds.

Schools for All Kinds of Minds

Reading Schools for All Kinds of Minds can be a great first step for educators seeking this expertise.  This book gives school leaders insights, examples, and tools to help them use the All Kinds of Minds approach to transform their classrooms and schools and ultimately help their students learn and thrive.  It highlights schools that have made real progress in building their learning expertise for the benefit of their students and shows educators how taking even small steps can help them meet their long-term goal of ensuring that all students find success.

We invite you to join us on our blog over the next few weeks as the book authors share some ideas and tips from the book as well as personal insights around the book’s content.

Win a Free Book!

But that’s not all.  Each week that we discuss an aspect of Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book!

To be eligible to win a book, you must subscribe to our blog and share your thoughts about the blog entry by posting a comment.

Check back next week for the first Schools for All Kinds of Minds-inspired post.  We look forward to sharing elements of the book with you!

To learn more about Schools for All Kinds of Minds or to read excerpts, visit our website.  Here’s a preview of what you’ll find there:

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.

— Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s
(excerpted from the Schools for All Kinds of Minds Foreword)

 

Have you read the book?

If you’ve already read the book, we’d love to hear what you found compelling, how it’s influenced your thinking, or how it’s changed your practice.  Leave a comment below!

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.

Origami and Temporal-Sequential Ordering … An All Kinds of Minds Lesson Plan

It’s the time of year when lesson planning is, once again, on every teacher’s mind. And we at All Kinds of Minds are thinking about lesson plans, too – that is, “Learning about Learning” lesson plans!

We believe that it is critical to empower students to find success. Educators can promote and support this goal in many ways. One way is to help students understand the different components of learning, gain insight into their strengths and weaknesses, and employ targeted strategies to achieve success.

With this in mind, we wanted to share a sample “Learning about Learning” lesson for you to try in your classroom. The objective of this lesson is for students to develop an awareness of temporal-sequential ordering and the importance of following directions in the right order.

“Temporal-sequential ordering” refers to the process of organizing information by putting things in order and understanding time. It includes:

  • Understanding order of steps, events, or other sequences
  • Generating products arranged in a meaningful order
  • Organizing time and schedules

LESSON PLAN: Ordering with Origami*

*Adapted from a lesson plan submitted by several teachers at Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth, TX.

Grade Levels: This lesson can be taught in an elementary, middle, or high school setting, with the complexity of the origami figure based on the grade level.

Objective: Students will develop an awareness of temporal-sequential ordering and the importance of following directions in the right order.

Estimated time: 20-30 minutes, depending on complexity of origami figure and depth of debrief

Preparation:

Materials: Paper square for each student

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Tell students that they will be creating an origami figure. Do not reveal what the final product will be.
  2. Tell students that this activity is designed to help them explore an aspect of how they learn.
  3. Convey the steps in one of the following ways: (1) Distribute handouts with the steps listed (either through pictures/diagrams or words), (2) Write the steps on a white board as you proceed through the figure, or (3) Demonstrate the steps while reading them.

Debrief (use all prompts or just a few):

  1. Discuss the mode in which directions were given. Ask students whether they think another mode would have been more effective for them, which mode, and why.
  2. Ask students whether they would have preferred to know what the final product was going to be before they began. If so, how would that have helped them achieve the result?
  3. Briefly explain temporal-sequential ordering. Points you may want to cover include how sequences and memory or sequences and language work together, how time is a sequence, how getting organized with time often involves organizing sequences, etc. Discuss the importance of sequencing and what can occur if the correct order is not followed.
  4. Ask students to brainstorm areas in which sequencing is important (e.g., understanding how time works, order of events in history or in a story, cause-effect relationships in science, problem-solving in math, etc.).
  5. As a class (or in pairs or small groups), ask students to come up with a few strategies they can try if they have difficulty with sequencing. See below for some suggested strategies to get your students started!

Feel free to adapt this lesson – play with it!

Sequencing strategies:

For students:

  • Break sequences into small chunks.
  • Repeat a sequence quietly to oneself (subvocalization).

For teachers:

  • Regularly repeat, review, and summarize key points of the sequence. Students will benefit from paraphrasing directions in their own words. Have students discuss whether they agree or disagree with each other’s summaries of the directions.
  • Provide checklists for sequential procedures, temporal order, and scheduling. Encourage students to refer to them often. Students may benefit from recording how well they use each step in the process.
  • Provide concrete visual representations of sequential information that is delivered verbally. Represent multistep or complex sequences by drawing diagrams and flowcharts, and writing timelines on the board. Give handouts to refer to during class instruction and discussion.

What activities have you used to help your students understand sequencing? How might you adapt this leson? Do you have any great strategies for helping students improve their abilities in sequencing? Share your ideas with us by leaving a comment below!

For more information about temporal-sequential ordering, see:

Facebook Back-to-School Question of the Week #2

To help get you in the back-to-school spirit – and maybe pick up some great ideas along the way – we recently started a Back-to-School Question of the Week series on Facebook.  This is an opportunity for you to share your thoughts with your virtual colleagues around some key back-to-school questions. We wanted to share some of these responses with our blog readers. 

Check back each week for highlights of the past week’s question and responses.  We hope you’ll join in the conversation by either adding your ideas to our blog or our Facebook page.

Last week’s question: What do you do in the beginning of the school year to create your classroom culture?

Responses:

  • “Create a parent letter to elicit important information about the child. Have children create goals and dreams, then classroom rules that will allow the students to achieve the goals. Create curriculum that is inquiry based. Make sure that there is academic choice for all activities. Morning Meetings a la Responsive Classroom, to include authentic curriculum.”
  • “I created a ‘Do I Know You Well Enough To Teach You’ questionnaire that ask silly, but revealing questions. We talk about what it means to be a Hamptonian” which is what all of my students are called since I am Mrs. (Momma) Hampton. I take pictures of my students when they are reading on the floor, working in writing groups, sitting at their desks, etc. and those pics are displayed on our classroom bulletin board to emphasize the idea that this is our” room, our community. I absolutely ♥ the first week of school and the weeks following.
  • “I adapted the compass points activity from the [All Kinds of Minds] Schools Attuned course… The H.S. students respond well and it starts them thinking and talking about what their learning profile is and what they need to be successful.”  NOTE FROM ALL KINDS OF MINDS: In this activity, participants are asked to identify themselves as North (structure), South (meaning), East (action) and West (caring) and, in small groups, to consider their own learning/working needs as well as the needs of those identifying with other “directions.” A brief discussion follows. This activity results in a set of ground rules for the group.
  • “Aware that she was facing a difficult class, one teacher I know wrote one thing on the whiteboard on the first day: ‘We are all new.’ (and then went into Responsive Classroom mode to get the kids to elaborate on what they thought that meant and what it would mean for them as they participated in creating a learning community in their class.” 

To read more, visit our Facebook page and look for our August 19th entry.  Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a member to view the page!  Or, if you’ve got an idea to share, leave a comment below. 

Pursuing Passionate Interests Can “Spark” Success for Students

Search Institute recently released Teen Voice 2010, a national survey of 1,860 15-year-olds and in-depth interviews with 30 teens, sponsored by the Best Buy Children’s Foundation.  This report caught our attention because it highlights the positive effect of “sparks” – similar to what we at All Kinds of Minds call “affinities” – on teens’ well-being and success in school and beyond.  All Kinds of Minds has been talking about affinities for many years, but this study has done a great job exploring and articulating the value of kids’ pursuit of sparks, or passionate interests. 

The report focuses on three key strengths that influence successful teen development:

  • Sparks
  • Voice (confidence, skills, and opportunities to influence)
  • Relationships

Researchers described “sparks” to survey respondents as “interests or talents you have that you are really passionate about. When you are involved with those sparks, you have joy and energy. You are not bored, and you might lose track of time because you are so involved in what you are doing. A spark is a really important part of your life that gives you a sense of purpose or focus.”

The report explores the teens’ experiences with sparks and the people and places that help sparks grow. In this year’s study – the second of its kind – creative arts, sports, and technology topped the list of sparks.

According to the study, the power of sparks comes when three key elements (comprising the “Sparks Index”) are present:

  • You know your spark(s)
  • Your spark is important (evidenced by what you experience when doing your spark and by the amount of time you spend on it)
  • You take initiative to develop your spark(s)

While 80% of the teens in the survey indicated that they have at least one spark, only about half of them exhibited all three of these key elements. 

We know what you’re thinking: Of course it’s important for kids to identify and develop passionate interests!  But here are some key takeaways that really drive this point home:

  • Teens who exhibit strengths in sparks, voice, and relationships do the best of all on every academic, psychological, social-emotional, and behavioral outcome they studied.
  • Teens who score high on all three elements of the “Sparks Index” are more likely than their peers to work to master what they study, work up to their ability in school, and report having a high GPA.
  • 71% of respondents said pursuing their sparks has helped them to learn new things outside of school, and over half of respondents said that pursuing their sparks had given them new skills that would help them in a career. Thus, schools’ efforts to help students identify and pursue their affinities may be key strategies for boosting achievement as well as college and career readiness.
  • 76% of respondents who have a spark said that other people have “often” encouraged or supported them with their sparks, but only 32% of 15-year-olds “often” get encouragement and support to pursue their sparks from teachers.

Just think about the power teachers have to encourage their students’ pursuit of sparks!  All Kinds of Minds has long encouraged educators to leverage students’ affinities as well as their strengths.  In our recently published book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds, the authors note, “Affinities provide educators with a vehicle for personalizing a student’s educational experience and increasing motivation to engage in learning. Educators throughout the school have the privilege of not only helping students to identify areas of passion but also helping nurture those passions” (page 99).

The possibilities for helping students explore their affinities in the classroom are endless – having students research and give presentations related to their affinities, having students create a blog to write about their affinities, and encouraging students to connect their affinities to broader topics, to name just a few.  To learn more about how schools and parents can nurture children’s strengths and affinities, take a look at this article.

How have you used student affinities to make learning more relevant?  How have your students benefitted?  Share your ideas below, and check out the Teen Voice 2010 report and video!