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. 

Summer Blog Series Post #7: The Role of Graphomotor Function in Handwriting

In last week’s post, we discussed the demands of revising written work.  Today, we’re going to focus on a different aspect of writing: handwriting.

Many people, adults and children alike, struggle with penmanship.  The ability to use computers to convey ideas can help minimize the need for handwriting and relieve handwriting-challenged individuals from the frustration of writing in some cases.  But even with the Digital Age in full swing, students – especially those in elementary and middle school – use this skill all day, every day, in their classrooms. 

Writing ideas or taking notes on paper requires us to form letters quickly and easily.  And in order to share their written material with others, students must also write legibly.  Some students find it easier to print than to use cursive writing. Printing requires that only 26 letter formations be remembered, while in cursive writing, every word is different. For other students, cursive is preferable because of the flow of movement when forming cursive letters.

As students progress through school, the demands increase – more details to track, greater language complexity, and growing vocabulary requirements. If students don’t learn to form letters with ease, they may need to focus so intently on their handwriting that they may find it difficult to produce the written work required.

Neurodevelopmental factors:

The process of writing places demands on a student’s memory (e.g., recalling the desired letters), spatial ordering (e.g., making a mental picture of each letter), and graphomotor function (e.g., having a comfortable grip and sending signals to the proper finger muscles to form letters).  In this post, we’ll focus on graphomotor function

Graphomotor function involves the coordination and control of the muscles at the end of our fingers. Some muscles are used to make a pencil move up and down, others to make the pencil move left and right, others to move it in a circular motion, etc. Since writing letters requires a combination of these movements, different muscles are used to form different letters. Some students have trouble getting their muscles to move in the correct way.  If one or more of these aspects are not functioning well for a student, he or she may write slowly and/or form letters and/or numbers that are difficult to read. 

Here are some possible signs that a student is succeeding with the graphomotor demands of writing:

The student …

  • writes letters smoothly, at an appropriate pace, and with consistent formation using a normal tripod grasp 
  • uses appropriate spacing between letters and words
  • forms letters without noticeable difficulty
  • writes without close visual monitoring
  • maintains appropriate posture when writing
  • applies adequate pressure to the pencil during letter formation

Here are some possible signs that a student is struggling with the graphomotor demands of writing:

The student …

  • hesitates while writing or labors over individual letters, making writing a slow, laborious process
  • leaves as much space between letters as between words
  • makes frequent cross outs or erasures
  • shows a strong preference for printing over cursive writing
  • uses an alternative (e.g., fist-like) grip or uses wrists and elbows rather than small muscles and joints
  • keeps eyes close to the page while writing
  • is reluctant to write despite having good language skills
  • uses excessive pressure on the pencil, causing the hand to become tired or cramped

Strategies to help students struggling with graphomotor function:

  • Have students practice tracing shapes and letters. Gradually reduce the complete shape or letter to dots, so that the student can practice making the shapes or letters by connecting the dots. 
  • Encourage students who have difficulty simultaneously recalling letter formation, spelling, and their ideas to do writing in stages (rather than try to do these all at once). Graphic organizers are a great tool for this.
  • Introduce fun creative writing activities in which students can practice correct letter formation, for example: writing to a pen pal, creating an advertisement for a new toy or other product, designing a contest entry form, writing to request a famous athlete’s autograph, etc. 
  • When assigning a handwritten project, give students a choice of printing or using cursive writing. Many adults naturally use a combination of manuscript and cursive writing. 
  • Be aware that some students with graphomotor difficulties may also have difficulty learning to type on a keyboard. Guide these students through computer mastery gradually and without undue pressure. As a student is acquiring keyboarding skills, have him/her continue to practice handwriting. 

Related links:

Learn more about our summer series

  1. More information and strategies about handwriting
  2. Related research on graphomotor function
  3. Writing section of the All Kinds of Minds Parent Toolkit
  4. Newsweek article: Good penmanship is more than just a quaint skill. A new study shows that it’s a key part of learning.

Summer Blog Series Post #5: The Role of Spatial Ordering in Understanding Math Symbols

The results of our recent poll are in!  You, our readers, expressed a strong interest in hearing about learning challenges related to math … so in response, this week’s blog is about the spatial ordering demands involved in understanding math symbols. Thank you to everyone who participated in our poll.  We love the feedback.

In developing an understanding of mathematical concepts, students must engage their nonverbal thinking skills. Nonverbal thinking involves the use of spatial and visual processes to learn or think about a problem or concept.

One mathematical concept that involves nonverbal thinking is the use of symbols, such as numbers. The number 6, for example, is a symbol that represents a quantity. Another common math symbol is “=”, often referred to as an “equals sign,” that represents the concept that quantities on each side of the symbol are the same, or equal (e.g., 3+3 is the same as 6).  Students use and manipulate symbols when doing operations ranging from basic addition to algebraic equations.

Understanding and using math symbols taps into a student’s higher order cognition and spatial ordering abilities.  In this post, we’re going to focus on the role of spatial ordering

Neurodevelopmental factors:

Nonverbal thinking involves visual or spatial representations of math processes and relationships. Students must be able to interpret visual and spatial information (as when looking at a graph or geometric shape), and to form and understand visual and spatial concepts (as when interpreting information from a graph or describing attributes of shapes).

Some concepts lend themselves to “visualization,” creating a mental image to represent a mathematical relationship. The concept of proportion is a good example. A student may have a difficult time interpreting proportion through words and verbal explanation, but being able to visualize the relationship (e.g., the number of boys to girls in the class, the ratio of eaten slices in a pizza) may greatly enhance his/her understanding of proportion as a concept.

Here are some possible signs that a student is succeeding with the spatial ordering demands of math:

The student …

  • understands mathematical symbols and can visualize patterns, math concepts, and the parts of a problem in his/her head
  • uses visual analogies successfully (e.g., determines how two symbols relate and applies that understanding to link other symbols)
  • quickly learns new science and math concepts (e.g., place value, perimeter, equations, resistance in a wire)

Here are some possible signs that a student is struggling with the spatial ordering demands of math:

The student …

  • has trouble associating math symbols with the concepts they represent
  • is unable to recognize the systematic organization of charts, diagrams, tables, or maps
  • is slow to master the alphabet and numbers because of difficulty recognizing symbols
  • has trouble forming concepts and solving problems without substantial use of language

Strategies to help students struggling with understanding and using mathematical symbols:

  • Integrate hands-on activities and verbal explanations into the learning of spatially based concepts. For example, have students use pattern blocks to make geometric shapes, then discuss and write down the characteristics of the shapes, such as number of sides, types of angles, etc.
  • Use examples of familiar situations, or analogies, to talk and think about math concepts. This helps students link the concepts to a visual image. For example, the concept of ratio may be illustrated by asking students to imagine two brothers sharing a pizza, and the amount of pizza left over after the big brother takes his portion.
  • Guide students in visualizing patterns. For example, talk students through ‘seeing’ a geometric shape in their minds, “picturing” a math process taking place, such as 1/3 of a pizza being taken away, and 2/3 of the pizza remaining, etc.

We’d love to hear what strategies or activities you’ve used to help promote understanding of math symbols in your classroom.  Leave a comment below with your ideas!

Related links:

Learn more about our summer series

  1. More information and strategies on understanding math concepts
  2. Related research on spatial ordering (check out the section on Higher Spatial Thinking)
  3. All Kinds of Minds’ “Thinking Mathematically” podcast
  4. Mathematics section of the All Kinds of Minds Parent Toolkit
  5. Interactive spatial ordering activity

Summer Blog Series Post #4: The Role of Attention and Temporal-Sequential Ordering in Time Management

When in school, students are expected to follow routines and complete assignments within certain time frames. Children must follow these same guidelines when continuing the learning process at home, managing their time and effort to complete homework assignments and projects on time.  

Time management is critical to many of the expectations placed on students, including initiating assignments, taking the appropriate amount of time to complete tasks, meeting deadlines, and maintaining a busy schedule. 

Neurodevelopmental factors: 

Time management involves several neurodevelopmental functions, including attention and temporal-sequential ordering.  

Getting started on assignments requires students to engage their attention. Students must be alert to the task at hand, possibly shifting focus to a new activity, and have the mental effort necessary to initiate the task.  The ability to preview, or think about the outcomes of a task before beginning, can help students conceptualize what a report will be like once a topic is selected, what materials will be necessary to do an assignment, etc.  Previewing is an aspect of attention. 

Taking the appropriate amount of time for a task involves both temporal-sequential ordering and attention.  Temporal-sequential abilities help us understand the order of steps, events, or other sequences; generate products in a meaningful order; and organize work, time, and schedules.  These skills are related to a student’s ability to appreciate time in general and estimate time appropriately. 

Tempo control, a facet of attention, helps students allocate the appropriate amount of time to the task at hand and predict the time required for an upcoming task. Tempo control also instills a sense of “step-wisdom,” the knowledge that it is more effective to undertake activities in a series of steps, rather than all at once. Tempo control allows a student to match his/her pace to the demands of a given task, e.g., to take the right amount of time to finish an essay test, to do a homework assignment thoroughly yet efficiently, etc. 

Here are some possible signs that a student is competent in time management:

 The student …

  • Is able to get started on homework assignments, reports, or projects on his own
  • Takes an appropriate amount of time to complete the task at hand, such as doing a homework assignment or studying for a test
  • Is able to meet deadlines related to schoolwork and follow established schedules
  • Comprehends time-related vocabulary (e.g., first, last, when, before, after, next)

Here are some possible signs that a student is struggling with time management: 

The student …

  • Either rushes through work, not taking the time necessary for a thorough job, or takes an excessive amount of time to complete a task/assignment
  • Has difficulty meeting deadlines and/or following an established schedule
  • Is often tardy, frequently not realizing when he or she is running behind
  • Has trouble with long-term assignments

Strategies to help students struggling with time management: 

  • To help students get started on an assignment, encourage them to start a homework session or study period by planning what will be accomplished during the session. If necessary, help students develop objectives that are clear, specific, and measurable (e.g., how long they will work, how long the report will be, how many problems they will do, etc.).
  • To help students understand the appropriate amount of time to allot to tasks, require students to plan for a designated number of minutes, work for a designated number of minutes, review for a designated number of minutes, etc.
  • Have students practice estimating and managing their time. For example, have students keep track of activities in a log, first recording the estimated time they think the activity will take, and then documenting the actual time it took to complete the activity.
  • Create a large classroom wall calendar that shows an outline of the stages and time frame for completing long-term projects. Note important steps and dates with color cues. Review the calendar regularly.
  • Allow students to practice managing time by being a “project manager” when working in cooperative groups, making sure activities lead to products on schedule.

We’d love to hear what strategies or activities you’ve used to help promote effective time management in your classroom or at home.  Leave a comment below with your ideas! 

Related links:

Learn more about our summer series

  1. More strategies on getting started on assignments
  2. More strategies on taking the appropriate amount of time for tasks
  3. More strategies on meeting deadlines and keeping schedules
  4. Related research on temporal organization

 

Summer Blog Series Post #3: Higher Order Thinking, Creativity, and Brainstorming

The ability to come up with ideas, to elaborate, and to think about objects or topics in a new way all involve what we refer to as “creativity.” At All Kinds of Minds, we believe that students should be encouraged – both at home and in school – to find areas in which they can discover forms of creative output that are meaningful to them. Providing activities in which students engage in brainstorming and creative thinking may help to uncover unrealized strengths in a struggling student and to provide a successful form of expression for a student in need of recognition.

Neurodevelopmental factors:

Creativity and brainstorming are two aspects of higher order cognition. Brainstorming involves the generation of original ideas or perspectives. Creativity involves the process of thinking in a new or innovative way. Brainstorming and thinking creatively are important components of our ability to generate ideas.

Students who are skilled in brainstorming and thinking creatively will find these abilities beneficial to many other endeavors in school including problem solving, decision-making, and understanding concepts.

Here are some possible signs that a student is competent in the areas of creativity and brainstorming:

The student …

  • Comes up with his/her own ideas during activities
  • Writes imaginative stories or draws original cartoons
  • Takes risks and is willing to get out on the fringes
  • Finds new or unique ways of solving problems

Here are some possible signs that a student is struggling in the areas of creativity and brainstorming:

The student …

  • Has difficulty generating new ideas
  • Wants to be told what to do
  • Has trouble choosing topics or using imagination in class
  • Is unwilling to engage in active thought
  • Has difficulty in art, music, or dance classes

Strategies to help students struggling in these areas:

  • Help students generate ideas necessary for doing an assignment, such as providing prompts to help in the selection of a topic or help them get started on a brainstorm. Providing a few cues or prompts may give such students the initial support, or scaffolding, they need to succeed in the assignment. For example:
    • Provide the first sentence of a paragraph.
    • Start one or more math problems.
    • Read the first paragraph of text.
    • Have cue cards handy, for example listing the steps of writing a paragraph, etc.
  • Incorporate guided higher order thinking activities in order to promote students’ creativity, brainstorming, and critical thinking. For example, an English teacher might ask, “Why do you think E. B. White called his book Charlotte’s Web instead of Wilbur or Zuckerman’s Farm?” while a Social Studies or History teacher might ask, “In social studies, “How might America’s history have been changed if Lincoln had not been assassinated?”
  • Develop activities that promote students’ ability to think ahead, or predict possible outcomes. For example, implement collaborative activities in which students start with the same beginning and work in teams to predict outcomes, or all students start with the same outcome and work in teams to determine what led to the outcome, etc.

We’d love to hear what strategies or activities you’ve used to help promote brainstorming and creativity in your classroom or at home.  Leave a comment below with your ideas!

Related links:

Learn more about our summer series

  1. More strategies around brainstorming and creativity
  2. General information about the neurodevelopmental functions related to creativity
  3. Related research on creativity
  4. Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on the importance of fostering creativity in schools

Summer Blog Series Post #2: The Role of Memory in Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is one of the most complex academic skills. Skilled readers construct meaning by synchronizing a bottom-up approach to reading (decoding words fluently and accurately) with a top-down approach (using prior knowledge and experience during reading).

Neurodevelopmental factors:

Reading comprehension involves a variety of neurodevelopmental functions, including attention, memory, language, and higher order cognition. In this post, we’re going to focus on the role of memory.

Memory:

While reading, we must hold important information and concepts in our minds. We must process words, sentences and paragraphs together in order to gain full meaning of what we’re reading. In addition, we must call up relevant information we already know. Memory is essential in helping us comprehend as we read, make associations between prior knowledge and new information, and remember that same information at a later time, such as during a test.

Here are some possible signs that a student is succeeding with the memory demands of reading:

The student …

  • Is able to pick out main ideas
  • Paraphrases/summarizes well
  • Holds onto the beginning of a story while reading the end
  • Keeps in mind the plot of a story while working on a single part of a paragraph
  • Easily learns new vocabulary words and definitions

Here are some possible signs that a student is struggling with the memory demands of reading:

The student …

  • Feels overwhelmed by the number of ideas presented
  • Retains only fragments of what was read
  • Can restate the gist of ideas, concepts, or directions, but not the details
  • Loses the meaning of a passage when looking up the definition of an unknown word

Strategies to help students struggling in this area:

  • Have students read in pairs, alternating between passages and then switching parts to re-read the text.
  • Have students take quick notes that describe the main idea of what they are reading. For example, have students stop to summarize what they’ve read after each paragraph. This approach will help ensure that students are recording important information in their minds.
  • Stress self-monitoring of comprehension while reading, by encouraging students to ask themselves: “Is this passage about what I thought it was going to be about?” “Have I linked what I just read to the parts I read earlier?,” etc.
  • Teach students how to create useful notes that reinforce understanding and help to trigger information recall at a later time. For example, teach students how to create concept maps based on their reading, as one technique for consolidating and organizing what they’ve read. Have students save their maps, and use them as study tools for upcoming tests.

We’d love to hear what strategies you’ve used to help students struggling with the memory demands of reading.  Leave a comment below with your ideas!

Related links:

Learn more about our summer series

  1. More information and strategies about the role of memory in reading comprehension (See “Tips to Help” links for more strategies!)
  2. General information about the neurodevelopmental demands of reading
  3. Research on active working memory and reading
  4. Reading resources on the web

Summer Series – Understanding Common Learning Challenges

Welcome to our new summer blog series! Each week we’ll bring you insights into various learning challenges students may face. We’ll start with some of the skills that students must master to be successful in school, discuss the neurodevelopmental factors involved, and look at common obstacles that students may encounter on the road to mastery. We’ll also offer practical strategies that you can use to help students who may be struggling, and hope that you will join colleagues in a dialog about these posts.

Remember: You can also sign up to receive an e-mail each time our blog is updated so the summer series is delivered right to your inbox (look for the Email Subscription box to the right).

We hope you enjoy our summer blog series.

Series Post #1: Attention and Determining What’s Relevant

Students are required to absorb and process a great deal of information in school every day. During any given class, students must attend to information that ranges from detailed facts to complex concepts, to people such as teachers and peers, to instructions and assignments, and to managing the materials necessary in the class.

Neurodevelopmental factors:

A student’s processing controls direct how s/he “takes in” of all of this information. The processing controls of attention specifically help students select which information is most important and then use that information as needed. These controls act as a kind of gatekeeper, facilitating the initial understanding of information before storing it in memory.

The processing controls have five roles:

  1. Determining what information is relevant
  2. Determining how deeply to process information
  3. Figuring out the span of attention required for a particular task
  4. Controlling the extent to which incoming information triggers connections to other information
  5. Ensuring that all information, even that which is only minimally interesting, is processed

Let’s take a look at #1 today – determining what information is relevant.

Here are some signs that a student is competent in determining what’s relevant:

The student …

  • focuses well in class without looking around and/or being distracted by background noises
  • determines what information is needed to solve word problems or study for tests
  • detects the significance of information when summarizing, paraphrasing, and underlining

Here are some signs that a student is struggling with determining what’s relevant:

The student …

  • feels overwhelmed in school due to distraction by sights, sounds, smells, or other stimuli
  • is distracted from what is going on in the present while showing a preoccupation with the past or future
  • is socially distracted, focusing too much on peers

For those of you who like to attach terms to concepts, the process of selecting and thinking about which information stands out or is most important is called saliency determination.

Strategies to help students struggling in this area:

  • Help students use color coding as an effective organizing strategy themselves. For example, a routine can be established in class (e.g., green for main idea, red for details in reading; blue for essential information in math word problems, etc.) that students can integrate into their own note-taking.
  • Have students practice deleting unimportant information in written materials, math and science word problems, etc. Allow students to create their own math and science word problems, in which they insert and delete information, examining the difference between necessary and unnecessary information.
  • Stage tasks (break them into smaller steps) to help students focus on the most salient features (e.g., highlight the symbol [+,-] for a particular math calculation before calculating the answer, highlight the most important information in a math story problem).

We’d love to hear what strategies you’ve used to help students learn how to determine what’s relevant. Leave a comment below with your ideas!

Related Links:

More information and strategies about attending to important information

Research on the processing controls

More information about attention