Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Inattention Associated with School Failure

School Support for ADHD Children May Be Missing the Mark: Inattention, Not Hyperactivity, Is Associated With Educational Failure (Science Digest August 28, 2011)

Science Digest reports on a 20 year study of 2000 children.  New research from the University of Montreal shows that inattention, rather than hyperactivity, is the most important indicator when it comes to finishing a high school education.  Only 29% of children with inattention problems will graduate high school.  Early intervention to teach attention controls is needed to aid in students' success. 

     "In the school system, children who have attention difficulties are often forgotten
      because, unlike hyperactive kids, they don't disturb the class," said Dr. Sylvana Côte,
      who led the study. "However, we know that we can train children to pay attention
      through appropriate activities, and that can help encourage success at school."

Mental health experts have started a discussion of separating hyperactivity and inattention problems in the new addition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). 
      "These two health issues have now been more precisely dissected, and we may now
       need to define a differentiated type of inattention that is independent from hyperactivity,
       to improve our understanding of the phenomenon and better tailor interventions,"
       Dr. Jean-Baptiste Pingault said.

Kasting Connections' Perspective:

My 25 years of prescriptive teaching has taught me that hyperactivity and inattention are two different issues.  You may see both conditions in a student, but they need to be addressed differently.  I was just presenting a math lesson as a guest teacher in a sixth grade classroom when a student brought this very issue to light. 

The young man was excited about the lesson, but he was distracted by the activity in the classroom.  Although he wanted to participate, his inability to prioritize what sensory information was bombarding him kept him from attending to the lesson on a consistent basis.  Most of the students knew that my voice and the markers writing on the whiteboard were the sounds and sights to focus on.  This young man did not have that innate ability to decipher all the data that was streaming through his system.  I was able to bring his attention back to task by using several redirection tools, being careful not to associate any judgement placed on his lack of focus.  (Shame is rampant with inattentive children; they know they should be paying attention to the teacher, but some truly don't currently have the ability.)  Each time he returned to task and participated, only to be distracted by a student's comment or any movement in the classroom.

When it was time to practice what they had learned, the young man continued to be drawn to the noises in the environment.  After checking on the other students' understanding, I was able to return to the student to guide his attention. 

"Here's what you should be saying to yourself to help you focus on the math problems." 

I played his "inner voice" while he moved through each step in the process.  Had I known about his attention difficulties before entering the classroom, I would have prepared a mnemonic of the steps to follow.  Instead, I used my physical presence, deep pressure on his shoulder, and a calm voice repeating the cues for each step.  When he got in the rhythm of how to maintain his focus on his work, I walked away giving him a chance to perform on his own.  He was able to maintain focus enough to finish his math problems and turn it in like the other students in the classroom, a feeling that can be fleeting for a student with attention difficulties. 

If I had seen this young man's behavior through a different lense, I may have seen a defiant student who wanted to cause problems and avoid completing his work.  Instead I used cognitive strategies to help him regain control and begin to build self-confidence.  A small step in his school years, but one that can be built upon. 

In his book, A Mind at a Time, Mel Levine, M.D. discusses, in detail, our Attention Control System which is made up of three forms of control:
     1.  Mental Energy Control
     2.  Intake Control (taking in information and over stimuli)
     3.  Output Control (behavior and work)

These three forms of control have to work together if a student is going to  succeed in the classroom.  As educators, and parents, we need to know how these attention controls work and what the signs are if they aren't working. 

 A lack of attention control can look like laziness, attitude problem, poor behavior choices, writing difficulties, sleepiness, and inability to focus on
details.  When a student is displaying some of the above behaviors, it is reasonable to question whether all of his/her attention controls are efficiently functioning. 

Using cognitive strategies can be very successful with students who struggle with attention controls.  Dr. Levine has also written The Mind That's Mine, A Program to Help Young Learners Learn About Learning.  It is accompanied by a student's book, All Kinds of Minds, which is filled with stories of students that students will be able to connect.  "Eddie's Kind of Mind: A Boy with an Attention Deficit" is one of the chapters included.  The teachers's manual, The Mind That's Mine, is filled with lessons, supplementary activities, letters to families, and other resources to guide teachers. 

If you need more guidance in using cognitive strategies with students, Strategic Tutoring, written by Michael F. Hock, Donald D. Deshler, and Jean B. Schumaker gives teachers an excellent resource to develop cognitive strategies for your students. 

Building attention controls is a team approach; parents and teachers need to share what works with each other. 

I would enjoy discussing this issue with anyone who is interested in more detail.  Contact me:!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Quick warm up activity to do before writing! Prepares muscles in the hands!

John Murray, a pediatric occupational therapist, shows a 52 second routine that can be used both in the classroom and at home to warm up the muscles used when writing.  Well worth the time and effort!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Handling Teacher Troubles

5 Smart Ways to Handle Teacher Troubles

Is it the teacher -- or is it your kid? How to find out why your child's unhappy at school
By Stephanie Dolgoff
So before the end of the first month of school, Black went to speak with Harrison's teacher. "I said, 'My son doesn't feel like you like him,'?" recalls Black. "She was very defensive, saying, 'Of course I like him. I like all the children.'?" Black quickly explained that she wasn't accusing the teacher of doing anything wrong, but that she was simply trying to make her aware that Harrison felt this way, and to understand why. The teacher insisted she had no idea. "I think that started us off on the wrong foot," says Black, noting that things deteriorated from there and that she had "opened a can of worms." Harrison grew to dislike going to school, and his grades suffered. Ultimately he was moved to a different class, but not without much angst all around.

It's hard to know what to think (or do) when your child comes home clearly upset, or with a specific beef like Harrison's. "You hear things like, the teacher plays favorites, we all get punished if somebody's bad, she's impatient with me, or that he's bored," says Susan Etheredge, associate professor of education and child study at Smith College. Some of the complaints can be about social issues -- for instance, there's a problem with another child and the teacher isn't stepping in, says Etheredge, who adds that the beginning of the year is the peak time for all these concerns.

Depending on your style and whether or not your child is particularly sensitive, it may be tempting to advise him (in age-appropriate language, of course) to grow a pair. More likely, however, a part of you will want to elbow your way into the classroom like Nancy Grace on steroids and fight for your kid.
Totally understandable -- although more likely to get you branded as the cuckoo mom to be humored than to resolve the problem. Instead, use our step-by-step guide to sorting out your child's trouble with his teacher. You'll find that he may soon be looking forward to school -- or at least showing up and learning something. 


Step 1: Play Reporter

Sometimes kids will make generic claims, like "The teacher's mean to me." You want to find out what that means. Etheredge calls this "unpacking" what your child is saying. Try to get as much detail as possible. Ask, "What exactly did she say? What was happening in the class when she said it?" (You might want to inquire casually, so your child doesn't clam up or exaggerate.) "Mean" might mean "She makes me do my work," in which case you could explain that the teacher is trying to show the kind of behavior you need to have at school; after all, some things are very reasonable under the circumstances, but they may not seem that way to a 6-year-old. The idea is not so much to uncover "the truth" of what went down but to get a more concrete sense of what your child is seeing.

Step 2: Play Advocate

Tell your child that you're going to write down what she's saying so you can go have a conversation with the teacher. (Give her a chance to elaborate on her story -- it's hard for kids to remember every detail.) "Let the child understand that you, her teacher, and the principal are partners working to help make school a great experience for her," says Jan Harp Domene, a mother of three in Anaheim, CA, and president of the National Parent Teacher Association. This serves several purposes: Your child knows that you care about what's happening, that her concerns are going to be heard, but also that you're not just going to march in and "fix" a problem. Domene advises saying something like "Mom and Dad are going to talk to the teacher to find out why you feel this way" -- not "why the teacher did this." "It's your child's feelings you're dealing with. Until you talk to the teacher, you don't have the whole picture," says Domene. You might also be able to give your older kid some tools to handle the situation herself. Suggest options, such as approaching the teacher after class and pointing out, for instance, that she doesn't think she gets called on very often. Sometimes the teacher may not be aware of how your child feels.


Step 3: Play the Diplomat

If you decide you need to speak with the teacher, set up a time (not at dropoff or pickup), and go in as someone seeking help in solving a problem. Using inclusive language is important, says Etheredge. Say something like "I'm coming to you with a problem I don't completely understand, but I'm hoping together we can best figure out Mark's concern." Here's where you explain what your child told you and when, using his words as often as possible. "This de-escalates the situation," says EtheredgeDomene. "We need to realize that kids are kids and we love them, but they also can say stuff that may not be entirely true."

Despite your light touch, the teacher might feel criticized -- some people are sensitive, particularly beleaguered, tired, and underpaid educators who do occasionally deal with parents who are a little overzealous on behalf of their perfect little angels. Do your best to reassure her that you're not blaming her. "You don't want her to get defensive, because then you're in a hole and you're starting from behind," says Etheredge. If she rears up, just stay calm and keep repeating that you're simply trying to understand what's going on.

Ideally, the teacher will shed light on why your child feels as he does, and you can have a mutually informative conversation that will help her teach your child most effectively. If your child says the teacher "never" calls on him, when you talk to her she might tell you that your son often knows the answers, but she's trying to give the shier kids a chance.

Or the teacher may not have done anything at all. Maybe the teacher is a grump, and your child is taking it personally. Getting a firsthand taste of how the teacher communicates may illuminate the situation. Then you can talk to your child about how some people are not as smiley or are maybe less patient than the other adults in his life, but that doesn't mean they don't like him, says Domene.
A pleasant face-to-face helps in other ways: The teacher will see you as an ally and be more likely to confide in you, of course. But if the teacher is, let's say, better suited to another line of work, you're sending her a signal that you're paying attention and are involved. If the teacher is, in fact, singling out your child, a little I'm-onto-you might be enough to get her to lay off.

Because the truth is, while teaching is the most noble profession, not all teachers are as noble as one would hope. Juliet Goldberg*, a mom of two girls in Vancouver, British Columbia, felt that way about her daughter Sara's first-grade teacher a few years ago. "The parents just could not believe this woman was teaching our kids," she recalls. "I kept saying to Sara, this is not what school is supposed to be about.'?" The teacher made callous comments, teased kids about sensitive issues, and told stories about her personal life in class, says Goldberg, adding, "Sara hated going to school." Goldberg spoke with the teacher several times (something the experts advise) and volunteered in class two days a week so she could get a better sense of what was going on. When that didn't help, she decided to take the next step. Which is...


Step 4: Play Tattletale

No one wants to go to the principal's office, and that includes parents, but if you've raised your concerns with the teacher several times and you feel she isn't doing her best to resolve the problem, you have a choice to make: You can decide to turn the unpleasant situation into a "sometimes life sucks, kiddo" learning opportunity for your child, or you can go over the teacher's head. The first tactic, while perhaps not as just as the second, might ultimately be what's best for your kid. "The truth is, most kids will do fine" even if they don't like their teacher, says Etheredge. Ask yourself, is she learning what she needs to be?

This is what happened to Christine Klepacz of Bethesda, MD. Her tween daughter's teacher was strict and not very nurturing. To help get Alysia through the year, Klepacz told her that even though the teacher had a different personality than she was used to, she was academically challenging, and Alysia was meeting the challenge. It was a good lesson: Alysia learned she could work with all types of people.

But if, like Goldberg, you feel that what's going on in the classroom is turning your child off to school, by all means, speak to the principal or whoever is next on the school food chain. Tell the principal the steps you've already taken, and "keep bringing it back to the child's perceptions," says Etheredge. "Your attitude is still, we all want her to have the best year possible." Explain how you've tried waiting and discussing it with the teacher, but what's going on is interfering with your child's education. Depending on the principal's style, she either will arrange for you to have another conversation with the teacher or will speak with him herself. In Goldberg's case, the principal admitted to her privately that the teacher was a poor choice and promised the parents in that class that the following year their kids would get an excellent teacher, which they did.

When things reach this point, of course, you may not exactly be the teacher's pet parent, which may cause problems for your child. But if it's something important, as in Goldberg's case, advocating for your child is more crucial than being labeled the annoying mom.

Step 5: Play Hardball

If you suspect the teacher is taking her frustrations out on your child, especially after you speak to the principal, that's the time to make it clear to the principal, firmly and calmly, that you're not going away. As a last resort, request a change of classroom. Schools are very reluctant to do that, says Etheredge, but may if a child is truly suffering and the situation is unlikely to change. After much persistence, Harrison was ultimately moved out of his second-grade class and was much happier (and got better grades) with his new teacher. Still, Black saw a similar pattern developing with her second son, and moved both boys to a new school. "If you do nothing but defend your child and don't investigate the issues, you are not helping matters," she says. "But if a problem is repeated year after year and you've done what you need to do with your child, you know it's the school." At this point, both her sons are thriving at their new school -- and that makes all the difference in the world.

Stephanie Dolgoff is Parenting's editor-at-large.

Kasting Connections Perspective

I agree that a parent needs a plan when addressing classroom issues with a teacher.  It is very important to remember that your child is watching and learning how to handle conflict from you, so whatever you choose to do, please make sure your choice models treating others with dignity and respect.

1.  Play Reporter:

Stay true to the above stated goal: "The idea is not so much to uncover "the truth" of what went down but to get a more concrete sense of what your child is seeing."  Be cognizant of your reactions when listening to your child.  We all have 'trigger' words that send us on a righteous path.  Remain calm and open minded when listening.

I have worked with children that have poor visual and/or auditory processing skills which can lead to misunderstandings.  Watch for signs of your child's processing skills which may be impacting the way s/he is taking in information from adults and peers.

2.  Play Advocate

Sometimes making yourself known as a parent that is level-headed while demonstrating concern and follow through with your child goes a long way.  Advocating for your child while also holding him/her responsible for for his/her behavior shows the teacher that you are taking a balanced approach to the issue.

3.   Play the Diplomat

Approaching the teacher as suggested is a great way to open communication: "I'm coming to you with a problem I don't completely understand, but I'm hoping together we can best figure out Mark's concern."  Please make sure the rest of the conversation(s) follow in the same diplomatic tone. 

You should attend the first meeting alone, but if subsequent meetings  are necessary, bring another adult.  Have both adults write down what they heard at the end of the meeting. 

4. Play Tattletale

Keep documentation of all emails, meetings, and phone conversations you had with the teacher.  It may be difficult to think in these terms, but situations have been known to sour.  Keeping documentation reminds you of the steps you have taken and what transpired in the meetings.  Hopefully, it won't be necessary to access this information, yet it is a powerful resource to have.

5. Play Hardball

Find your inner strength to follow through on what you think is right; however, make sure you are doing what is best for your child and not falling into some power play.  Children can live through difficult situations and come out winners because they develop coping skills.  The next time they are faced with a similar situation, they have some experience to fall back on. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to School Tips for Students with Sensory Issues

One of my favorite authors, Lindsey Biel, has a new posting on her "Raising a Sensory Smart Child" website:  Back to School With Sensory Smarts.  She gives great advice on how to ease into the transition of going back to school and how to inform your child's teacher(s) about his/her sensory needs.  Powerful stuff!  Good Luck to you and your child!  May you have a successfull school year!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Checklist for Developmental Milestones: Is Your Child Ready to Enter Kindergarten?

I've recently become aware of a nice site for parents to understand and check their child's early development progress in 8 developmental areas:
  1. Gross Motor Development
  2. Fine Motor Development
  3. Auditory Processing
  4. Visual Discrimination
  5. Letter and Word Awareness
  6. Phonemic Awareness
  7. Math and Number Awareness
  8. Social and Emotional Development
The site, School Sparks, breaks down each of the 8 developmental areas in more specific categories.  I encourage parents of young children to look at this site!  I also encourage parents of early elementary school students to check out the site if their child is struggling in school.  In may open your eyes as to the areas your child needs intervention!

Understand How Early Childhood Development in 8 Specific Areas is Critical to School Succes:

Assess Your Child's REadiness to Begin Kindergarten: