Click below to explore OpenColleges’s interactive Brain Map. Filled with facts about the brain as well as strategies for leveraging those brain features to take ownership over learning. Enjoy.
An interactive infographic by Open Colleges
Click below to explore OpenColleges’s interactive Brain Map. Filled with facts about the brain as well as strategies for leveraging those brain features to take ownership over learning. Enjoy.
An interactive infographic by Open Colleges
In the video below, the clever folks over at RSA Animate give visual engagement to Steven Johnson’s brief talk on Where Good Ideas Come From, an excerpt from his TEDtalk.
One of the things we love about this talk is that it confirms what we intrinsically know to be true — innovation is more about interaction and engagement than sitting and listening.
Why is this important?
When we think about involving and investing all learners in education, we run up against the contrast between the traditional practices that sustain a factory “batch and queue” model of education with the reality of how people actually learn. Out of this contrast is born the dichotomous tension between focusing on efficiency and “teacher effectiveness” (an inherently top-down approach geared toward achievement on standardized tests) with that of focusing on the learners and their strengths/affinities/needs as a starting point (an inherently bottom-up approach focused on the whole child).
That the top-down version is currently the dominant paradigm is easy to see. There is more talk about accountability and outcomes than student engagement or motivation. Yet this video lays out the simple truth: innovation, via creativity, necessitates interaction and connections. If we want the strengths of dyslexia and other learning differences to be harnessed and applied, we need to think differently about how we involve students in learning. What is the role of the teacher? What is the role of the student? What patterns, norms, and habits of mind do we want for our graduates and what kind of learning experiences will help cultivate those?
Such questions will not be quickly answered. So, in the meantime, check out the clever video below.
“Behavior isn’t something someone ‘has.’ Rather, it emerges from the interaction of a person’s biology, past experiences, and immediate context.”
L. Todd Rose, from his book, Square Peg
For students with learning differences schools can be (and often are) incredibly trying places. Imagine being a kid who wants to do well — motivated, eager to please, and enjoys interacting with other students — but struggles with attention and working memory. Rather than reep the joys of learning, the student finds herself labeled, removed from her classmates and made to do the things she struggles with for a significant portion of the day. Other subjects, like PE, Art, the Humanities, are sidelined, even though they may be areas of strength for her. Her resulting behavioral expression of the dissonance between her and her learning environment is seen as misbehavior and disciplinary actions follow.
At the end of a day, month, year, or decade, what has she concluded about her “smarts” or her potential as a student? More importantly, what is her assessment of her value as a human? What does she see when she looks at herself through the lens of a school experience that focused, almost solely, on her deficits?
L. Todd Rose, co-founder and president of Project Variability, offers a glimpse of a similar experience in his part-memoir part-neuro-education book, Square Peg. His story goes something like this:
In the telling of this incredible journey, he shares insights from his experiences and from research into the needs, challenges, and value of the “Square Pegs” in our lives. The anecdotally academic weaving together of personal tales and studies from the field of neuro-education (he teaches Educational Neuroscience at Harvard Graduate School of Education) creates numerous access points for a compelling narrative arc as well as enlightening examples of applied theory. In short, it is a book that is hard to put down.
While he maintains a child’s sense of wonder and fascination about his own turnaround throughout the book, he also plays the role of scholar, unpacking the theories and ideas that became leverage points for capitalizing on his strengths and accommodating for his challenges. In the prologue he suggests the field of complex systems offers the best possible explanation for his story, and by proxy, the story of many others. He describes his application of complex systems as such:
To put it simply, the study of complex systems looks at how different parts of a system influence each other collectively to produce various outcomes. Nowadays, scientists have been holding up this lens to a range of traditional disciplines, from physics to biology–and, most recently, in centers like the one in which I work: Harvard’s Mind, Brain, and Education program–to the study of human learning. As this effort matures, it is offering a radically new and useful way for parents and teachers to understand the often bewildering behavior of children in their charge.
Throughout the book he uses complex systems and neuroscience to flesh out four ideas to help us be “much more understanding and effective parent(s) and teacher(s)” for the square pegs in our lives. But in reality, the ideas apply to myriad human systems. They are:
- Variability is the rule: As humans, our ways of perceiving the world and reacting to what we perceive are much more diverse and dynamic than we might ever have imagined.
- Emotions are serious stuff: Contrary to what we’ve long believed, modern neuroscience has shown that there is no such thing as purely rational thought or behavior. Parents and teachers need to learn to tune in to children’s emotional states to help them make the most of their education.
- Context is key: People often behave in dramatically different ways, depending on the circumstances. Among other things, this suggests that we unfairly prejudice children by labeling them with a disorder, when they’d be perfectly fine in a different environment.
- Feedback loops determine long-term success or failure: Remember those flapping butterfly wings, and keep in mind that small changes in your child’s life today can make an enormous difference tomorrow.
Taken together, these four ideas create a mosaic of factors playing into students’ lives, influencing and affecting their choices, decisions, and behavioral outcomes. They demonstrate that the only silver bullet is in not accepting there there is a silver bullet. No juggernaut exists for all people in all situations. Rather, we must be champions of the individual, unwavering advocates for the well being of each child, and Loraxes who speak for the square pegs.
We highly recommend this book to parents, educators, and clinicians working with square, triangular, and / or round pegs. Not only will you glimpse what the world may look like through their eyes, you will learn a bit about yourself, the science of learning, and, ultimately, the anecdotal and neurological value of caring.
By AKOM Guest Blogger Sally Hunter
I am struck by the reality that schools today require teachers to become skilled performers in an increasingly complex and critical balancing act. In more and more public classrooms, elementary teachers are asked to spend the bulk of their day following impersonal lesson plans, preparing students for mandated tests, and completing layers of benchmarks and reports to document their efforts. Schools are overwhelmed with well-intentioned but imperfect government mandates, liability inspired paperwork, over-emphasis on high stakes testing, and the bureaucratic tendency to jump on new ideas and methods simply because they are new. Evaluating schools, teachers, and students has become a checklist of what is easiest to test, rather than what will prepare individual students to become confident, active, productive citizens.
Successful teachers must strive to balance their instruction by finding time and energy to focus on each individual student and help every learner develop crucial connections:
Without these essential connections, students will never reach their full potential or have truly successful and satisfying adult lives, no matter how skilled they become in reading, math, and science.
My hope for the New Year is that all students would have teachers who tip the instructional scales in students’ favor by creating learning environments in which these connections are inevitable; naturally integrated throughout a curriculum that includes character education, social studies, and the arts. Teachers who provide the structure and flexibility for students to explore the world and apply their discoveries in creative and meaningful ways. Teachers who train students to work together, build on one another’s ideas, respectfully disagree with one another, and provide supporting evidence for their ideas and perspectives. Teachers who encourage students to set and pursue their own goals while helping them develop strategies to achieve those goals. Students must understand themselves and their place in the world before they can begin to understand the rich and amazing possibilities the world has to offer them.
Sally Hunter, a 4th grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary in the Austin Independent School District, was named 2010 National Council for the Social Studies Elementary Teacher of the Year. In addition to teaching and writing curriculum, she is a Schools Attuned facilitator for The Learning Center of North Texas.
All Kinds of Minds is pleased to announce that our website has been updated with a brand new structure and design. We’ve streamlined the navigation and structured the content to provide you with a better user experience.
Your Go-To Source for Learning about Learning
While the site has a new look, you’ll still be able to access the same great resources geared toward helping you understand and apply the science of learning in your schools and classrooms, such as:
If you haven’t visited our new site yet, take a look today! We hope you like what you see.
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:
Other strategies you might try with Kate include …
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!
Last week’s blog was our last installment of our book-inspired series. We received quite a few thoughtful and inspiring comments, and we gave away five free copies of Schools for All Kinds of Minds! We hope you enjoyed the sneak peeks into some of the ideas in the book, and we hope the series inspired you to pick up a copy if you hadn’t done so already.
Up Next …
This week we’re trying something a little different – a case study of Kate, a 6th grader with a puzzling array of learning challenges. Read Kate’s story and let us know what you think is going on with her and how you’d approach her challenges. Then, tune in next week for our explanation and recommendations!
Nothing’s Easy for Kate
Kate, a popular 6th grader, earns good grades and participates regularly in class. But Kate always has to work really hard to succeed. Nothing seems to come easy, but once Kate knows something, she appears to know it well and apply it effectively.
Occasionally, Kate’s dad helps her with her homework and studying – but by both accounts, these sessions are painstaking and don’t seem very productive. Kate can go over a list of spelling or vocabulary words repeatedly for more than an hour yet retain only a few of the items. The same goes for reading – she can read a passage easily but remembers only bits and pieces.
What Kate’s Teacher Sees
Kate’s teacher is puzzled by Kate’s constellation of challenges in the classroom. She’s noticed that Kate often needs to have explanations repeated and that she has a lot trouble complying with multi-step instructions of any type. It also takes Kate a long time to copy from the board; her classmates finish when she is barely halfway there!
Kate’s teacher has also observed that Kate does much better in day-to-day class work than she does on tests.
Reading and Math: A Mixed Bag
In the last year, reading has started to be a problem for Kate, especially in social studies and science. She has a particularly hard time summarizing what she’s read, despite her general ability to express herself well verbally.
While Kate is good at understanding math concepts, it’s been hard for her to master math facts, so she needs more time to complete math assignments and quizzes.
What’s Going Right
Kate seems to have a knack for graphic design. She looks forward to her computer class and has talked about being an architect one day. She loves animals and has a very special fondness for cats and has written several very perceptive reports about cats.
What do you think?
What areas are strengths for Kate? Weaknesses? How could you leverage Kate’s strengths to help her improve in other areas? What would you say to Kate?
Share your ideas with us, and next week, we’ll share our thoughts about Kate with you!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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!
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:
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.
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.
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!