Want to Improve Learning? Just Ask. By Mary-Dean Barringer, CEO, All Kinds of Minds

It’s hard to resist the temptation to make a few New Year’s resolutions each year—resolutions that typically focus on something we want to change to improve ourselves. We look to people we admire for their success (whatever that might mean to us—popularity, wealth, fitness, power, balance) for our inspiration. Rarely do we contemplate that a role model’s current success may have resulted from his or her own resolve to conquer a lifetime of challenges. Yet for so many of today’s successful adults, the road involved taking a long-haul view—and looking to others for help over hurdles along the way.

I’ve learned a great deal about resolve from many of the successful individuals who have been involved with All Kinds of Minds. Two individuals in particular come to mind. For both, as students who struggled in school, a promising adult life seemed elusive. Both of them have written terrific books that can inspire those who are helping students “stuck” in a learning struggle chart a roadmap for long- term success.

Paul Orfalea’s story has been highlighted by Fortune magazine as an example of the many CEOs who struggled with learning as children. Paul, who founded Kinko’s, recounts his journey from a student on whom most educators gave up to successful businessman in his autobiography, Copy This! Paul also graciously agreed to reflect on this journey in the forward to All Kinds of Minds’ forthcoming book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds: Boosting Student Success by Embracing Learning Variation.”

All Kinds of Minds trustee Gary Cohen also struggled with learning issues throughout school. His neurodevelopmental profile shows weaknesses in aspects of memory, grapho-motor skills and attention. Gary, founder of the executive coaching firm CO2 Partners, recalls that these made school “devastating” for him. “If I had to sit and listen to a teacher talk and write down notes in order to get information in, I just couldn’t,” he says. “Of course I was grades behind as a result.”

Like Paul Orfalea, he benefited from parents who never gave up the search to find the educational services he needed. Gary also credits a handful of teachers throughout his schooling who helped him cope with his struggles and find joy in learning. He recalls how a teacher taught him to create pictorial images in his head to understand math. Gary became very good at math–an asset that gives him an edge as a businessman. “I can look at a company’s financials and actually envision the business from those statements,” he says.

Understanding how his mind worked—and what the stumbling blocks were—also enabled Gary to work around his learning weaknesses. He credits this as a main factor in his success as an entrepreneur and executive coach. “My strategy was to partner with the brainiacs,” he says. “I’d table up with the smart kids and get them to help me. And I learned how to ask questions.”

Asking questions helped Gary become a successful learner in two ways. “First, it helped with my attention issues—asking questions refocused me on the topic. Second, it helped me learn how to learn—how to seek out information in a way that I can internalize.”

This questioning skill is the subject of Gary’s recently published book, Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions, now in its second printing. “This isn’t just a book for people in business,” Gary notes. “It’s about leadership in any setting. I keep having parents tell me that they’ve used these ideas with their kids, and it has worked!”

The book’s primary message is that in any leadership situation, asking questions helps you uncover important information, create accountability and trust, and make better decisions—an idea that will resonate with educators seeking insight into and connection with complex learners. Indeed, asking questions of students, parents and other adults who are part of a learner’s life is critical to getting the needed data to make the best decisions about strategies for unique minds.

Paul’s and Gary’s stories are testimonies to the kinds of success that educators can help promote by using the All Kinds of Minds approach. They remind us why we should not give up on students who are struggling with learning differences—and they are examples of how the hard work and creativity required to overcome learning weaknesses can ultimately contribute to success.

They also remind me that truly meaningful success rarely stems from a resolution to simply change or “fix” something we don’t like. So my resolution this year? Ask more questions.

Misunderstood Minds, Disappearing Faces: Addressing the Drop-Out Epidemic by Focusing on Learning by Mary-Dean Barringer, CEO, All Kinds of Minds

In schools across the United States, students are lining up for the annual ritual of having their school portraits made. Despite the new technology used by the photographers –and the constantly changing fashions and hairstyles that class photos reflect–the tradition of memorializing each school year in photos has not changed over time. Elementary school students will be bringing home their class composites; older students will put together the first layouts of school yearbooks.

Sadly, too many faces disappear from these composites and yearbooks from year to year. On average, one out of every three students posing for his or her ninth grade photo right now will be missing from the school yearbooks that will be published in spring 2013.

If that seems too abstract, consider that according to America’s Promise Alliance, 1.3 million students in the U.S. drop out of high school each year. That’s 7,200 per day – or an average of one every 26 seconds.

A great deal of talk – and resources – are being directed toward solving this massive problem. But an understanding of how students learn is missing from most discussions about helping those students at risk of not graduating. Studies show that students with poor academic performance have the strongest risk of dropping out, and a disproportionate percentage of these students have learning difficulties.

To be sure – the causes underlying our nation’s drop-out problem are numerous and complex. There is no silver-bullet fix. Yet, research and anecdotal feedback from All Kinds of Minds alumni clearly suggest that the science of learning needs to be part of a comprehensive drop-out prevention strategy. Studies prove that increasing educator understanding of and ability to effectively address learning variation helps improve student attitudes about school, self-confidence in abilities, engagement in learning, and behavior in class – all outcomes that are linked to academic success and high school graduation.

Shelly Gregg, founder and director of the Outer Banks Learning Center in North Carolina, can attest to this. A graduate of and trained facilitator for All Kinds of Minds’ Schools Attuned program, Shelly left the classroom a few years ago to open a private tutoring center. Inspired by All Kinds of Minds’ philosophy that all students can learn and that no child should struggle or face humiliation because of the way she or he learns, the Center works in partnership with the Dare County schools to make sure struggling students don’t fall through the cracks.

The Center’s REBOUND program takes in students suspended from the local high schools. Participating students get academic coaching, take part in community service, and receive personalized counseling that helps identify learning needs and interventions that may benefit the student. Students are able to avoid falling behind (or further behind) academically during their suspensions, and for some, the individual attention they receive during REBOUND helps identify and target barriers to academic success that have never been addressed at their regular schools.

“Through the REBOUND program, we have been able to tangibly support students who would not otherwise finish school and have made graduation and future educational success possible,” Shelly asserts. Shelly and her center’s efforts are adding new portraits of success for many of the most vulnerable students in Dare County, and can serve as inspiration for others trying to ensure that every young person’s last grade school photograph includes a cap and gown.

Literacy and Learning: Keys to Success for All Students Mary-Dean Barringer, CEO, All Kinds of Minds

I love reading. I love the feel of a book in my hand and seeing the ink stains from combing a newspaper from front to back. The end of summer makes me a little sad that I won’t have the extra moments to squeeze in one more novel, journal article, short story, or blog. I can’t imagine my world without the skills of literacy I’ve acquired over my lifetime, starting with the strong foundation I developed during my school years.

On September 15, I was invited to Washington, D.C., to attend the release of a new report from the Carnegie Corporation’s Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, and I was struck by some of the grim statistics highlighted during the meeting:

“Approximately 8 million of the 32.5 million students in fourth through twelfth grade read below the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) minimum or basic standards for their grade level (NCES).” The increased literacy demands in the workplace, college and community contribute to the fact that “almost 40% of high school graduates lack the reading and writing skills that employers seek, and almost a third of high school graduates who enroll in college require remediation (National Governors Association).” And this doesn’t even address the literacy needs of the one million students who dropped out of school last year.

Six years in the making, the Council’s report, “A Time to Act: An Agenda for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for College and Career Success,” makes a compelling argument for continued literacy instruction through high school and provides research, policy guidance and resources for practitioners. The website, www.carnegie.org/literacy, gives you free access to the latest report and related publications, as well as the products from the partners they funded in this effort. David Coleman, president of Student Achievement, said it best: “We owe a debt of gratitude to Carnegie for making such a source of intellectual capital widely available.”

The work and recommendations of this panel help advance the overarching mission of All Kinds of Minds to equip educators with the knowledge, tools and strategies to ensure that struggling learners find success and all students have opportunities to achieve their greatest promise. All of us have witnessed first hand the observation by researcher Catherine Snow’s that “many excellent third-grade readers will falter or fail in later-grade academic tasks.” We share the commitment of the Carnegie panel to a new approach to literacy training: not only to help students to learn to read between kindergarten and third grade, but also to teach them to “read to learn”—and to write and think critically — in the subsequent grades. I’m confident that when we–the adults who teach our nation’s children–combine what we know about how students are wired to learn with the best research-based strategies of instruction on adolescent literacy, we can ensure that all our students can read, write, think and learn at the high level required to chart our course (and theirs) in the 21st century.

You CAN help keep All Kinds of Minds in NC’s Budget!

States across the country are facing tough decisions about education expenditures in the face of declining revenues and increasing budget shortfalls, North Carolina is no exception.

On Tuesday, N.C. Governor Bev Perdue announced that tax revenues collected on April 15 were $1 billion short of what is needed to get North Carolina through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Shortfall projections for the coming fiscal year have not yet been announced, but will be at least $3.3 billion and could be much higher. The General Assembly is facing the need to make drastic cuts in next year’s budget, which puts the crucial funding that All Kinds of Minds receives from the state in jeopardy.

This funding enables All Kinds of Minds to bring the science of learning to educators and classrooms across North Carolina. By providing educators with research-based knowledge and tools that equip them to understand, identify and address how different students learn – particularly those who are struggling – we help schools increase student achievement and ensure that every child reaches his or her promise.

Please help us continue the work we do – North Carolina cannot afford to let struggling students slip through the cracks!  Contact these key decision makers and let them know the value of our work:

Rep. Rick Glazier
Rep. Marian McLawhorn
Rep. Ray Rapp
Sen. A.B. Swindell
Sen. Richard Stevens

For more information contact Katie O’Neal at 919-933-8082 ext 2145 or koneal@allkindsofminds.org.

Thank you for your continued support of All Kinds of Minds!

Math Word Problems: Take Away the Anxiety

A flower garden in the park has a total of 80 daisies. 30% of the daisies are red, ¼ are yellow, 2/5 are purple and 5% are pink. How many of each color flower are in the garden?

Do you find yourself immediately calculating 30% of 80? Did you start to draw a picture of daisies in a garden? Or did you just say “forget it?” Do problems like this make you anxious, or are you excited to solve the challenge?

Depending on our personal neurodevelopmental strengths and weaknesses, each of us may have a different reaction to math problems and may approach solving these kinds of problems differently.

So do our students! Some have profiles that lend themselves well to this kind of task. Other students read the problem and have no idea where to start.

Here are a few strategies that may help:

  • Teach students to read for meaning, rather than searching for key words, when trying to identify the operation to use for a math word problem. For example, a student who can read a problem and restate it in his own words to help him realize that he’s been asked to combine amounts or add, will have a deeper understanding than a student who looks only for a key word or phrase in the sentence (e.g., ‘total,’ ‘how many,’ etc.) to indicate what operation to use.
  • Teach students about strategies they can use for organizing a word problem before attempting calculations, for example, making a graphic chart that shows the important information, using a personalized checklist of steps, etc.
  • Set up a ‘math mentor’ for the student. This person may be a mathematics teacher, or a professional in the community who uses math in his/her work, e.g., a surveyor, an architect, a research scientist, an accountant, etc.
  • Build students’ knowledge of when to apply rules and how rules are relevant using real life situations. For example, to teach the rules for rounding numbers, use items from a restaurant menu, “for sale” notices from classified ads, mileage on a map, etc. Have students talk about when it would be appropriate to use rounded numbers, and when the exact figure would be needed.
  • Have students categorize related math problems together as variations of a larger rule (e.g., the steps for 4/5 = __%, and the steps for 80% = _/_ are different, but the steps fall within the larger rule for converting fractions to percentages).
  • Help students see how patterns and rules reflect mathematical concepts. For example, first explain that the rules for regrouping rise from the concept of place value, then show the role regrouping plays in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. This allows students to focus on the reasoning behind the rules. Moreover, instead of memorizing eight different sets of rules, students memorize two processes (borrowing and carrying) with variations.
  • Have students use different representations to describe the same situation. For example, demonstrate how something can be shown using a table, a graph, written description, etc.

We also found some really cool websites that offer activities to help students practice math concepts and skills.


What sites have you found that are fun and engaging places to practice? Let’s talk more about strategies and web sites in the comments section below!

No Mind Left Behind: How Taft Middle School Is Transforming Its Approach for Struggling Learners

By Heather Sparks, 2009 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year

Note: A National Board Certified Teacher, Heather Sparks teaches math at Taft Middle School in inner-city Oklahoma City. The school serves some 850 students in grades 6 through 8, more than 90% of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs.

This is a story of hope. Three years ago, our principal told our faculty that she wanted us to find and implement a school-wide reform project that would help us make a difference for our low-performing students. The first program we tried just didn’t take root; we just didn’t see a real connection with the learning issues we were seeing in our kids, many of whom come from very challenging situations.

I had gone through the Schools Attuned course in 2001 and knew what a powerful professional growth experience it is. I had also helped bring the program to two other schools I worked in before coming to Taft. So I was thrilled when my colleagues decided we should give it a try as part of our long-term strategy to better serve our students. Over the past two years, almost our entire staff of 72 has participated in Schools Attuned (the last few are taking the course this summer), and even those who were initially skeptical are now enthusiastic about this approach for our school.

With the All Kinds of Minds focus on understanding the learning process, our faculty members have really been able to see how it is going to help us entirely change the way we work with the kids who are struggling. My colleagues have individually talked about how they are doing things differently in their own classrooms – not leaping to conclusions about students, helping identify strengths, looking for clues about what underlies a particular student’s challenges.

As a faculty, the Schools Attuned training has given us a common language to use so we can talk about individual students and what we’re observing; it has also given us tools we can use to collaboratively intervene with those students, both across subject areas and as students move from grade to grade. My math team has begun looking at how we can integrate what we have learned about learning into approaching our curriculum. At the school level we’re looking at using Title I dollars to fund faculty to take on profile advisor roles at each grade level to provide additional support.

What did we do for struggling students before we took this on as our school-wide approach? We’d say, “OK, let’s meet with his parents,” or “let’s refer her for summer school.” Or we’d start the referral process for special ed. But these aren’t real strategies for addressing student learning issues, which is why the concepts and tools from All Kinds of Minds have really drawn us in.

Although we’re still early in the process of implementing this school-wide, I am excited about the way it is transforming our school. The ideas and knowledge we have gained through the All Kinds of Minds professional development are not things you learn in college, and I believe teachers can’t leave it unchanged. It’s a gift we now have to enable us to make a difference for all the kids we as teachers struggle to reach.

Share your stories, school implementation strategies or inquiries with Heather  in the comments below!

A Number Two Pencil and a Three-Point Shot

Mary-Dean Barringer, CEO, All Kinds of Minds

March has come to be associated with “madness,” particularly for NCAA basketball fans. We cheer for our favorite college team during the tournament, but we are enthralled by the unexpected Cinderella story. We love the team – previously overlooked or counted out – that surprises us all with stunning performances. In recent years, Davidson, George Mason, Gonzaga have each worn the Cinderella label. We wonder… where did they come from? Who knew they could play like that? But we shouldn’t be surprised. These Cinderella teams have something in common: well-prepared coaches and otherwise-overlooked stars who found the right environment in which to perform.

Schools face their own version of March Madness in the form of state and district-wide testing. Principals know that their school will be ranked and judged by this performance, fearing that test performance may obscure an otherwise successful season. They will get data needed to assist segments of students, but they worry about inadvertently defining groups by what they do and do not know. Most importantly, principals and teachers know that this kind of data won’t help them discover the students who could be part of their Cinderella story. But there is help on the way.

March 2009 brings a new twist to the madness and possibly a huge opportunity. It’s not NCAA, but ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. By now you probably know that a mini-tsunami of money is coming to schools by April 1. The challenge of ARRA is to spend it “quickly and wisely,” in the words of the press release, while addressing the four education reform targets of the Obama administration.

I’ve included a little background and links so that you can access the latest guidelines for using these so-called stimulus funds. The bottom line is that the U.S. Department of Education is in the process of sending Title I and IDEA money to your state right now. The U.S. DOE is urging education leaders to “focus these funds on short term investments with the potential for long term benefits.” Principals and school leaders who want to fund professional development to expand the capacity of their staff have a window of opportunity. Let your state department know you want to fund programs that enable teachers to become learning experts and better assess and manage students’ unique learning profiles through descriptive data and targeted research-based strategies. [You can track the distribution of funds on the official government recovery website: www.recovery.gov]

At All Kinds of Minds, understanding HOW students learn is our specialty. Giving educators this knowledge to ensure that students learn is our mission. We stand ready to collaborate with you to understand how to bring the science of learning to the art of teaching. Together, we’ll discover the promise within your most puzzling learners and help all students maintain a thirst and eagerness to learn.

Join the discussion about how students learn and share your own “student Cinderella story” by commenting below.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

By Katie O’Neal

As part of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which President Obama signed just last week, education stands to receive almost $115 billion.  This amount, which is staggering at nearly twice the amount spent on education in fiscal year 2009, reaffirms the administration’s campaign promises of a dedication to education funding.

Stimulus Pie

As the money is distributed, you can track where it’s going at: http://www.recovery.gov/

Though there were differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill, the final stimulus includes:

$39.5 B of the state stabilization fund for schools
$5 B incentive fund within the stabilization fund
$10 B for Title I programs for disadvantaged students
$3 B for Title I school improvement grants
$11.7 B for state grants for special education
$1.1 B for Early Head Start
$1 B for Head Start
$2 B for the Child Care Development Block Grant
$250 M for state data systems
$100 M for teacher-quality state grants
$200 M for the Teacher Incentive Fund
$650 M for education technology

National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality’s TQ Connection

by Katie O’Neal

Join the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality’s TQ Connection January 19 – 23, 2009 as Jean Schumaker, PhD, former Associate Director of the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, leads a week-long discussion on RtI:  Learning Strategies. We encourage you all to log on to www.tqsource.org/forum to discuss the knowledge and skills teachers must acquire to be effective instructors for all students.

To participate in this week long discussion, please register for the TQ Connection forum at http://ncctq.org/forum/index.php?action=register. You can also submit questions anonymously by sending your questions to lynn.holdheide@vanderbilt.edu or amy.potemski@learningpt.org.

Election 2008 Roundup

by Katie O’Neal

The commercials are now off the air, the yard signs are in the garbage and President-elect Obama prepares to take the oath of office on January 20, 2009.  While the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will likely delay any significant changes in educational policy in the immediate short-term, many electoral changes will take place within the states in which we work.  Here are some highlights:

North Carolina

  • Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue was elected the state’s first female governor.  Governor-elect Perdue, Lt. Governor-elect Walter Dalton, and June Atkinson, who won re-election as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, are all supporters of our work.  The House and Senate in NC continue to be controlled by Democrats.


  • Republicans continue to hold their majority in the state House with 61 seats (40 seats are held by Democrats), however the state Senate is now majority Republican also.  (Twenty-six seats are Republican and only 22 are Democratic.)

South Carolina

  • Republicans continue to maintain their majorities in both the state House and Senate along with Republican Governor Mark Sanford.  State Superintendent Jim Rex, a Democrat, was elected in 2006 and continues to show many signs of positive support for the work of the Institute.

Post Election Issue #1

The most pressing issue for all newly elected officials is that of the economy and its impact on state funding priorities.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that at least 41 states are facing shortfalls in their budgets for this and/or next year; and more than half the states have already cut spending, used reserves, or raised revenues in order to adopt a balanced budget.

While many states were planning budget cuts within fiscal year 2010, many are forcing serious budget cuts even now.  Current estimates are that mid-year gaps total $24.3 billion – but these will almost certainly widen as the continuing economic turmoil causes revenues to decrease.

The 31 states facing mid-year shortfalls are Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Stay tuned for more details on implications of November’s historic election and its impact on the work of All Kinds of Minds.  As President-elect Obama chooses a new Secretary of Education, Congressional committees take shape and the nature of the national domestic agenda forms within early 2009, we’ll continue to update you on details of interest and support for our work together.  We have forwarded to our sales and delivery team a more detailed roundup that’s of interest to our specific designated territories.  If you would like more information or have specific input for our work – please don’t hesitate to contact us.