I am embarrassed to say that I am as guilty as a convicted felon.
As a former middle school teacher, I often used the phrase, “Pay attention!” Now you hear me telling you to never, ever say that.
Why? It seems innocent enough.
Well, first of all, it’s terrible teaching. It’s NOT at all “brain-based teaching.” In fact, it’s one more example of why many kids learn to dislike school more, every year they go. First graders are so pumped up, but by the time some kids make it to their last year in school, they’ve learned that school is not for them. If we do not count the high school certificates and equivalencies, only 70% of our nation’s kids graduate overall. The rates for Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans are under 50% in most areas of the US.
If we do not count the high school certificates and equivalencies, only 70% of our nation’s kids graduate overall. The rates for Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans are under 50% in most areas of the US.
If you think you know brain-based teaching, there’s a lot to learn! But, now that I’ve “taken away” from you one of the most commonly used attention-getters (“Pay attention!’), what should you do instead?
I’m glad you asked… I just happen to have the answer…
You’re driving over to a friend’s house. But it’s the first time and you’re looking for street signs. You slow down to a crawl, turn down the music, stop talking, and stare at every sign. Why is that? Neither the music nor talking affects your vision. Or, do they?
YES! They all demand resources.
When kids pay attention, they focus better, learn and remember more.
First, paying attention protects the quality of working memory (Jie Huang, J. and Sekuler, R. (2010) and Zanto, T. and Gazzaley, A. (2009) This is critical because working memory is the DRIVER of cognition. WHAT? Here’s an example: try to remember yourself solving a problem at the same time you are asked to meet new people. Working memory and attention are co-factors in the learning process. And, both are teachable.
Second, the ability to pay attention is regulated by many factors. For example, there are sex differences in sustained attention, and they are task specific (Dittmar et al. 1993). Your frontal lobes are highly susceptible to stress (Galinsky et al. 1993), emotions (Dolcos, F. and McCarthy, G.), training and caffeine (Smith, et al. 2003). But the key thing is that attentional skills are not random. We can “train” our own brain through mindfulness practice, playing musical instruments, martial arts, reading, meditation and writing.
Finally, when we “pay” attention voluntarily, our brain is more likely to encode and remember the information (Kilgard, M., & Merzenich, M., 1998). Our goals direct our brain to activate acetylcholine (the neurotransmitter for formation of memory) via pathways such as the nucleus basalis. So, why stop telling kids to pay attention? (more…)
Save your life or extend it! You may be concerned about the “big two” killers of cancer and Alzheimer’s. We’ll focus on cancer and next will be (again) on Alzheimer’s. By the way, every year these suggestions get so many rave reviews that they are re-sent, forwarded and “re-gifted.” Feel free to do so this year.
The first change will reduce your risk of cancer. A recent study shows that… (more…)
PART ONE: Research
This month, we take a side trip from the classroom and go directly into your kitchen or dining room. Many will celebrate school being out soon (unless you’re year-round or living in the Southern hemisphere). All of you will be, of course, eating. This month, I thought I would give you the science behind eating and over eating.
If you know me, you know I am skinny as a rail. But, while I might make it look easy, it’s NOT! I watch what I eat. I rarely eat desserts. I try to avoid artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and preservatives in my food. On top of that, I go out of my way to avoid so called “natural sweeteners” like high fructose corn syrup. I often eat 8-10 pieces of fruit a week PLUS loads of vegetables. All I’ve told you so far is a “no brainer. But I haven’t told you the most shocking thing yet… (more…)
Usually, we feature a column on how to be a better teacher, administrator or trainer. This month, we’ll pause for a moment and work at the other end of the process. What do STUDENTS NEED to be doing to become far more effective learners? Some of the research tells us things we already knew.
We all know that teaching kids HOW to get more organized for study is important. But there might be a few surprises that are downright counter-intuitive. For example, you’ll be surprised to find out that quizzing MORE OFTEN actually promotes learning. But that’s just one of the 10 powerful steps for improved learning. If you are in a position to share these with staff that can reach students, please share this upcoming list. The research for this month was collected by the following scientists:
Harold Pashler (Chair)
University of California, San Diego
Patrice M. Bain
Columbia Middle School, Illinois
Brian A. Bottge
University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Memphis
Carnegie Mellon University
Washington University in St. Louis
Typically, I use this area to fill your brain with the “why” behind all the action. This month, it’s posted, so you can look it up. The full research document is posted on the web. Only one of 50 of you either: 1) work with students in this capacity, or, 2) are hungry enough to look it up. The document can be downloaded here (pdf).
The research tells us that the following suggestions have reasonable scientific support for them. If something’s not a good idea, you won’t hear it from me. But wait, there’s more! The online research posted 7 ideas and I have added 3 of my own, for a total of 10. (more…)
By popular demand, we feature a teacher this month, not an entire school. After all, teachers make the difference. This teacher works at an “Extreme School.” Her high school is one of many underperforming schools in this low-performing district, within a high-poverty area. Another teacher in her place might feel like she has the deck stacked against her and every excuse to give up on her kids. Every other teacher at her school already has their excuses lined up, but this teacher doesn’t give up. In fact, the achievement scores that HER kids get are.
“In fact, the achievement scores that HER kids get are… so awesome that 100 percent of her students passed their state-mandated, end-of-course exams despite data from the state’s predictive model suggesting that over a third would not.” In short, she out-teaches every other teacher in her district.
Her school, Ben Smith High School, has 1,200 kids and 80% of its kids are from poverty. Academically, the school performed worse than 75% of the schools in North Carolina, meaning that Ben Smith is in the bottom 25%. About 96% are children of color. As a school, it struggles. But, is the problem with the kids or the staff?
First a bit of background about HOW this teacher succeeds… (more…)
Kimberly, a veteran teacher, has to make a big decision at the end of this school year. She’s either going to “re-up” and stay another year, or quit her job and seek another teaching job elsewhere. I am going to describe her work in a minute. But go ahead and put yourself in her shoes and ask yourself, “What would you do?”
First of all, Kimberly’s (I have changed her name; this is a true story) classroom kids all come from poverty. Every one of them has home issues, some have disabilities and all of them were struggling every year in school until this year.
Yet, her students alone outscored ALL other students on district-wide assessments by more than 25% points on average and 100% of her students passed their state-mandated and school mandated exams. In short, she is an “over the top, amazing teacher.” Many would call her an “irreplaceable asset.”
She has spent her entire 15-year teaching career actively seeking out schools where the students need her most, and her current school is one of the lowest-performing schools in the area.
So, what is the big decision that Kimberly, an amazing teacher, has to make at the end of this school year? It’s simple; “Should I stick around this school another year or not?” (more…)
This month our featured “Extreme School” is a school like many, on the “cusp.” That means, their student population is right on the edge for qualifying for this update. Just under 50% of their students are from poverty.
What this school does with their kids is amazing…
This elementary school is in Oklahoma City and has a diverse population, with an increasing segment of Hispanics every year. Just under half of the students are from poverty and the challenge is to prepare kids for secondary education and for life.
How does this school rate in the top 10% of all schools in their district and in the surrounding areas?
1. Decision is made. The school staff begins with a simple question: “Are we 100% (not 90%) committed to the success of our students?”
2. Support. Instead of complaining about what kids can’t do, they tutor students after school and provide resources necessary to individualize instruction. They ensure their kids CAN do what they need to do for success.
3. Focus. Naturally, they use research-based methods that they know will get results. They are a Great Expectations’ School and the majority of their professional development has been from the Great Expectations organization. This company raises the vision of what can be done and they provide clear, practical strategies to reach the miracle.
The school is in the top 5% in the entire state! They are a National Blue Ribbon School, an A+ Arts School, a Core Knowledge School, and a model school for the Great Expectations process. In short, kids LOVE going to this school.
Outstanding Teacher: Paula Washington
Nichols Hills Elementary
Oklahoma City, OK 73116
Now, you’ve read about another “Extreme School” success story, we have a question for you. How many school successes do you need to see and hear about before you BELIEVE that it can happen at your school? And, if there’s anyone on your staff who does not think it can happen, please forward these monthly bulletins to them.
Second, what can you learn from the true story mentioned above? The only good that happens in this world is when you move things from inside your brain to the outside world. What ideas, principles or strategies were affirmed OR, what was new to you? Could this be a topic of discussion at your next staff meeting?
Finally, miracles do happen every day. Are you ready to be one of them?
Lets focus on something that is so simple it slips by most educators. In fact, it is easily the most non-predicted, surprising “Top 15 factor” for student achievement. That’s partly because it is happening everyday, all day, in your work. It’s ubiquitous. It’s almost like the joke that 8-year olds tell:
“Help, help, it’s all around me!”
The friend says, “What’s the problem? What’s all around you?”
“My belt” he says, with a grin.
Actually, this factor is so powerful, it’s finally getting the research done that it deserves. Can you guess what it is?
Few words are thrown around more often during the second half of the school year than “stress.” But what you’re about to find out is that… most of what you’ve heard about stress is dead wrong! For example…