Friday, 12 December 2014

Sad Week and One Happier Note

This has been a tough week for our consulting staff as two young people we have been working with passed away suddenly.  We understand the fragile nature of our young students but we have been delighted in their recent progress and their wonderful personalities.  However, our hearts are breaking for their loss and for their families, as we can't even fully imagine their pain and loss.  We are reminded to hold our loved ones close for we do not know the future.  These young men will leave an imprint on our hearts as we continue to work with their classmates.  Should you feel so inclined to donate on their behalf, please donate to the Cerebral Palsy Association of Alberta.

On a happy note, we received an email regarding a high school student in one of our ISP (Individual support classrooms).  Her mother reported that this gal had two favorite toys at home that she played with exclusively.  While the family read to her regularly, she did not really show any interest.  Last week, her mom reported that on her own, this gal picked up and book and read it without prompting or suggestion by mom.  Her mom was ecstatic! And so were we when we heard the news.  This is after only 3 months of a literacy program.  Imagine the possibilities for students who have regular literacy learning every day of their entire school career.  It boggles my mind what the difference could be!

Chapter 3: the Cognitive Domain

This was a meaty chapter for us to digest.  Shanker lists several key components of the cognitive domain including (p. 45):

  • focusing and switching focus as needed
  • thinking about the perspectives of other's
  • planning and executing several steps of action in a row
  • understanding cause and effect
  • thinking logically
  • setting learning goals for oneself
  • monitoring and assessing personal performance
  • realizing that failure is the opportunity to learn
  • managing time
  • developing self-awareness (around personal strengths and weaknesses)
  • using learning resources such as tech as needed
Phew, it makes me tired just reading this list.  Imagine the effort a youngster needs to put in during a classroom day?  How does this list relate to a child's ability in the area of executive function?  These are often the expectations of the classroom and we can all think of students who find it difficult to excel in all of these areas.  Shanker proposes students should be thinking about their thinking (metacognition).  This reminded me of a past school I worked in where our focus was on teaching students about metacognition.  Anytime we did big projects or key assignments, students (and teachers) completed a reflection to think about our learning and how this learning affected us.  It was the way of the school and most students left the school able to carry out many of the items on the list.  

Some of the key points that impacted staff in the book study include the following:
1. video games offer a natural opiate for students and to keep that "opiate" level up, the amount of stimulation may need to increase  over time.  What impact does this have on the classroom?  We may have to be as exciting as a video game! On the other hand, we may want to limit the amount of gaming in the classroom - not to eliminate it completely but give out careful doses.
2.On p. 59 of the book , it was noted that physical activity such as obstacle courses and big games are needed to develop motor coordination  and therefore improve attention in the classroom.  We can't sit all day! 
3. Many staff noted the importance of play listed on p. 49.  Play is "authentic and meaningful to children" and necessary for development.  We recognize there still needs to be more play in classrooms and not only in kindergarten.  Play in division I is key to development of social interactions and problem solving.  It was recognized that we can't just tell kids to go play and think we have done what we need.  Adults need to be available to guide students through difficult problem solving  and demonstrating how to play.  Our EAs need to be right in the middle of play to be the role models for the students.
4. Structured board games got a high five in this book especially for older students.  These offer opportunities for turn-taking, conversation and social skill development.  It would seem board games are making a comeback in Edmonton and you can find unique cafes that offer this activity here and here.  What a great family outing!  I know of families who have Board Game night at their homes.  It doesn't always have to be technology, technology, technology.  My favorite board game is the Farming Game where you buy and sell crops and livestock.  Our family had a blast playing this game! 
5.  Loved the simile brought up - attention is like a gas tank - you can run out! 
6. A interesting part of the discussion was about Auditory Processing when your ears and your brain just don't work together.  Thus the student wants to pay attention but there is just too much going on the in the classroom and everything just gets jumbled together. The difficulty in discriminating sounds causes many issues in reading, taking instructions, social discussion, and sensory overload.  Students need to be encouraged to learn when they need a break and to take that break to decrease the anxiety. 
7. Students who have difficulty sustaining attention , who give up at the earliest frustration, who fantasize extensively, and who are vulnerable to distracting impulsive thoughts do NOT NEED TO BE PUNISHED.  This does NOT work. It just makes their difficulties with attention worse. (p. 46-47)
8.Trauma and stress have great impact on attention.  How can we expect a child in fight or flight mode to "pay attention?"  Just as a hungry child cannot work and think, nor can a traumatized child do so.  Teachers need to read and learn about trauma in order to support these little ones.  Ross Greene's Lost at School talks about alternatives to punishment for these little people.  
9.  Relationships, relationships, relationships!  Teachers need to build relationships with students so they can intimately know what their students need and then work to meet that need.  Reference was made to the work of Jennifer Katz in social emotional learning and understanding and how similar Shanker and Katz were in terms of how to build this area so children can learn.
10. p. 64 gave the reader many suggestions of how to motivate students.  A key point was moving from large group activities to small group activities so all students could be involved.  

Finally, we all agreed that by doing one small thing, nothing would change for students but a large paradigm shift is needed to avoid labeling so many children as attention deficit.  We need to get to the root of the issue before slapping on a label.  We recognize this takes time but could make all the difference in the world for your students!  Recently we have seen a number of students using Class Dojo as a tool to get kids to "pay attention."  This method involved public humiliation and taking points away if a student is off task or any number of infractions decided on by the teacher.  Can you imagine the stress level of students and how this would have the exact opposite impact resulting in diminished attention!  Check out this great article about Class Dojo here to find out more about the negative impact.  I mean, sure you will get short term compliance but I am certain you will have to up the ante over and over again as the impact wears off.  

Our students deserve the best possible education and space to chill out if they need it.  Why not create a soft area where students can take a break in your classroom when they are overwhelmed and make that the norm rather than getting to the point of complete annoyance (hey, we are human) and reacting negatively? Last, but certainly not least, KNOW YOUR STUDENTS.  Know what they need to be successful.  It might mean you have to change up your practices but it will be worth it in the long run.  Both you and your students will be happier and self-regulated!