Monday, April 30, 2012

How to Get Student Engagement

Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement

Heather Wolpert-GawronA twelve-year teaching veteran and a California regional Teacher of the Year, Heather Wolpert-Gawron's musings on educational policy, curriculum design, and daily school life can also be read at

A while back, I was asked, "What engages students?" Sure, I could respond, sharing anecdotes about what I believed to be engaging, but I thought it would be so much better to lob that question to my own eighth graders. The responses I received from all 220 of them seemed to fall under 10 categories, representing reoccurring themes that appeared again and again. So, from the mouths of babes, here are my students' answers to the question: "What engages students?"

1. Working with their peers

"Middle-school students are growing learners who require and want interaction with other people to fully attain their potential."
"Teens find it most interesting and exciting when there is a little bit of talking involved. Discussions help clear the tense atmosphere in a classroom and allow students to participate in their own learning."

2. Working with technology

"I believe that when students participate in "learning by doing" it helps them focus more. Technology helps them to do that. Students will always be extremely excited when using technology."
"We have entered a digital age of video, Facebook, Twitter, etc., and they [have] become more of a daily thing for teens and students. When we use tech, it engages me more and lets me understand the concept more clearly."

3. Connecting the real world to the work we do/project-based learning

"I believe that it all boils down to relationships. Not relationships from teacher to student or relationships from student to student, but rather relations between the text and the outside world. For example, I was in a history class last year and my teacher would always explain what happens in the Medieval World and the Renaissance. And after every lesson, every essay, every assignment, he asked us, "How does this event relate to current times?" It brought me to a greater thinking, a kind of thinking where I can relate the past to the present and how closely they are bonded together."

"If you relate the topic to the students' lives, then it makes the concept easier to grasp."
"Students are most interested when the curriculum applies to more than just the textbook. The book is there -- we can read a book. If we're given projects that expand into other subjects and make us think, it'll help us understand the information."

"What I think engages a student most is interactions with real-life dilemmas and an opportunity to learn how to solve them. Also, projects that are unique and one of a kind that other schools would never think of. Also something challenging and not easy, something to test your strengths as a student and stimulate your brain, so it becomes easier to deal with similar problems when you are grown up and have a job. Something so interesting that you could never ever forget."

"I like to explore beyond the range of what normal textbooks allow us to do through hands-on techniques such as project-based learning. Whenever I do a project, I always seem to remember the material better than if I just read the information straight out of a textbook."

"I, myself, find a deeper connection when I'm able to see what I'm learning about eye-to-eye. It's more memorable and interesting to see all the contours and details of it all. To be able to understand and connect with the moment is what will make students three times more enthusiastic about learning beyond the black and white of the Times New Roman text."

4. Clearly love what you do

"Engaging students can be a challenge, and if you're stuck in a monotone, rambling on and on, that doesn't help...instead of talking like a robot, teachers should speak to us like they're really passionate about teaching. Make sure to give yourself an attitude check. If a teacher acts like this is the last thing they want to be doing, the kids will respond with the same negative energy. If you act like you want to be there, then we will too."
"I also believe that enthusiasm in the classroom really makes a student engaged in classroom discussions. Because even if you have wonderful information, if you don't sound interested, you are not going to get your students' attention. I also believe that excitement and enthusiasm is contagious."
"It isn't necessarily the subject or grades that really engage students but the teacher. When teachers are truly willing to teach students, not only because it is their job, but because they want to educate them, students benefit. It's about passion. That extra effort to show how it will apply to our own future."

5. Get me out of my seat!

"When a student is active they learn in a deeper way than sitting. For example, in my history class, we had a debate on whether SOPA and PIPA were good ideas. My teacher had us stand on either ends of the room to state whether we agree or disagree with the proposition. By doing this, I was able to listen to what all my classmates had to say."

6. Bring in visuals

"I like to see pictures because it makes my understanding on a topic clearer. It gives me an image in my head to visualize."
"I am interested when there are lots of visuals to go with the lesson. Power Points are often nice, but they get boring if there are too many bullet points. Pictures and cartoons usually are the best way to get attention."

7. Student choice

"I think having freedom in assignments, project directions, and more choices would engage students...More variety = more space for creativity."

"Giving students choices helps us use our strengths and gives us freedom to make a project the way we want it to. When we do something we like, we're more focused and enjoy school more."
"Another way is to make the curriculum flexible for students who are more/less advanced. There could be a list of project choices and student can pick from that according to their level."

8. Understand your clients -- the kids

"Encourage students to voice their opinions as you may never know what you can learn from your students."

"If the teacher shows us that they are confident in our abilities and has a welcoming and well-spirited personality towards us, we feel more capable of doing the things we couldn't do...What I'm trying to say is students are more engaged when they feel they are in a "partnership" with their teacher."
"Personally, I think that students don't really like to be treated as 'students.' Teachers can learn from us students. They need to ask for our input on how the students feel about a project, a test, etc. Most importantly, teachers need to ask themselves, "How would I feel if I were this student?" See from our point of view and embrace it."

"Students are engaged in learning when they are taught by teachers who really connect with their students and make the whole class feel like one big family. Teachers should understand how the mind of a child or teenager works and should be able to connect with their students because everyone should feel comfortable so that they are encouraged to raise their hands to ask questions or ask for help."
"Teachers should know that within every class they teach, the students are all different."

9. Mix it up!

"I don't like doing only one constant activity...a variety will keep me engaged in the topic. It's not just for work, but also for other things such as food. Eating the same foods constantly makes you not want to eat!"

"Fun experiments in science class...acting out little skits in history...if students are going to remember something, they need visuals, some auditory lessons, and some emotions."
"Also, you can't go wrong with some comedy. Everyone loves a laugh...another thing that engages me would be class or group games. In Language Arts I've played a game of "dodge ball. We throw words at each other, one at a time. If they could get the definition, the person who threw the word would be out...Students remember the ones they got wrong, and of course, the ones they already knew."

10. Be human

"Don't forget to have a little fun yourself."

I'd like to end this post with one more quote, this one from my student, Sharon: "The thing is, every student is engaged differently...but, that is okay. There is always a way to keep a student interested and lively, ready to embark on the journey of education. 'What is that way?' some teachers may ask eagerly. Now, read closely... Are you ready? That way is to ask them. Ask. Them. Get their input on how they learn. It's just as simple as that."

Go on. Try it. Ask.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Surviving (Your Child's) Adolescence

Psychology Today: Here to Help

Parenting Adolescents and the Problems of Letting Go

How letting go can the hardest part of parenting.

Friday, April 20, 2012

When Teaching Gets Tough:

Smart Ways to Reclaim Your Game

By Allen N. Mendler 

Chapter 1. The Big Picture: Attitudes and Strategies

If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realizing that you are the author and every day you have the opportunity to write a new page.
Mark Houlahan
I was recently consulting at an inner-city middle school and was asked to visit Ms. R's class, which was identified as one of the toughest. Apparently, the day before, she was practically reduced to tears due to their noncompliant behavior. Expecting the worst, I was surprised to find the students relatively well behaved. Many were involved in the interesting video of tornadoes that began the day's lesson, and then were very animated when the metaphor of an angry mother representing a tornado was presented by Ms. R. Kids talked openly about their relationships with their mothers, some expressing lots of love, others telling about how they boss their mothers around, while still others talked about preferring to be swept up by a real tornado rather than facing an angry mom.

About 35 minutes into the 45-minute period, Ms. R somehow connected the lesson to how she was feeling right then and expressed her delight at their positive behavior throughout the day's class. She told them that she actually felt like crying at the joy she was feeling. She then told them how different yesterday was, being very open about how upset she felt and how, as she left school the day before, she wondered why she even bothered to teach. As she went on with this for a few minutes, you could hear a pin drop in the classroom. Every single student was completely mesmerized by what they were hearing. A few minutes after she finished, some of her more difficult students began to revert back to their irritating behaviors.

Attitudes Are as Important as Strategies

The point of this story is that attitudes are at least as important as strategies when you are in difficult situations. Perhaps the two most important attitudes for teachers are:

  1. Live each day as if there is no tomorrow
  2. Understand that change is a roller-coaster ride

I observe many committed teachers lose their enthusiasm for teaching because they don't take it one day at a time. If you have a particularly difficult class or you are surrounded by too many toxic colleagues, it is easy to get discouraged and depressed if you start thinking about the many tomorrows that are ahead. Nobody in the midst of stress wants to think about how there are still six months left to the school year or 25 years to go until retirement. Teachers need every ounce of positive energy and enthusiasm they can muster.

If things are tough, you might begin to think about other life options for yourself or apply for other jobs. Keep the door open to change, but approach each day as if there is no tomorrow. Only then will you have the grounding to live in the moment without being emotionally scarred with what happened yesterday. Take a second and look around. Volunteer with Special Olympics or Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Get outside your own little world and realize that while things are difficult right now, overall you have your summers off, never work weekends or holidays, have a very nice pension, and are blessed to have a career where you can drastically influence and change lives every day. As columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. writes (2011), "Get done what you came here to do, give the gifts you meant to give, do the good you're able to do, say what you need to say, now, today, because everything you see is temporary, the clock is ticking and the alarm could go off any second." Teach with BEEP—belief, energy, emotion, and passion every single day, as if it were your last on this beautiful Earth. Finally, realize that changing behaviors is almost always very difficult. It is a roller coaster ride of ups, downs, loops, and corkscrews. For the teacher, it is like being on the roller coaster blindfolded. Rarely do we know when the twists and turns will come. Virtually all people, including you and your kids, revisit old behaviors as they are acquiring new ones. It is quite likely that Ms. R's kids who started acting out after hearing her touching story were saying, "Don't expect me to be good always just because I've been good today. I'm not ready to be good always."


The wonderful and highly effective FISH! program that guides employees at the Pike Market in Seattle, Washington, emphasizes four primary attitudes when treating customers and coworkers. Unlike any other store that sells fish, this one is special. For me, spending time in a store that sells fish would not normally be a priority. Yet this market is a fun place to be. Although it looks and smells like a fish market, it feels more like a playground for adults.

Customers not only come to buy fish, but also see the market as a fun place to hang out. As described in the book FISH! Tales (Lundin, Christensen, Paul, & Strand, 2002), the fish philosophy is all about how employees should treat customers: choose your attitude, play, make their day, and be present. I believe these same attitudes are at the core of successful and satisfied teachers. The best teachers view their students as the most important customers they have.
Although most of the book is about strategies, we begin with attitudes since attitudes are the fuel that makes the engine go.

1. Play

Employees at Pike are encouraged, and in fact required, to have fun with each other and with their customers. It is not uncommon for employees to be cracking tasteful jokes and playfully tossing fish to customers and each other. They make time to play, bringing energy and fun along with commitment to the job.

At the Longaberger Company, a maker of handcrafted baskets and other home products in Newark, Ohio, there is an unwritten policy that employees are to take up to 25 percent of each work day having fun. If this practice was implemented in school, at least one and a half hours every day would be primarily about fun. When I interviewed a few employees to confirm this practice, one of them told me that when management tells employees that that they are having too much fun, it is not uncommon for an employee to answer, "I'm just getting in my 25 percent." Morale seems very upbeat there. Children do not question whether they should have fun; they just do it. Yet, if you ask one of your friends to do something just for fun, you are likely to hear, "I wish I could, but I'm too busy." Like an elite athlete who is not only talented in what he does but also loves doing it, satisfied teachers find ways to enjoy what they are doing and will often create their own fun. Look for ways to inject fun into as many things as you can while you teach. Laugh with your kids. Enjoy their quirky ups and downs. Revel in their youth, dreams, and naiveté.

2. Make their day

Employees are expected to take good care of their customers so they will want to come back. Within reason, employees do whatever they can to please the customer. Naturally, there are limitations. If customers come looking for produce in a fish market, they have to be redirected. Satisfied teachers know that their most important customer is the student. When students feel fulfilled, it makes our job a lot easier. Try to make everyone you come into contact with want to be around you. Take the advice of the noted business guru, Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and create an "emotional bank account" in which you "give before you get" (1989, p. 188). Ask yourself about everyone with whom you interact: how can I make their day? How can I make this person's life better? Because you are an excellent teacher, you likely do this naturally with most people anyway, but when our batteries are low, we tend to become more self-absorbed. It can help to think about a store or place you love to be. What happens that makes you want to be there? How do the people treat you? For most of us, the most important thing is to feel that others care about us. They notice us through a kind word or caring gesture, letting us know that we matter to them. Often, just some simple acknowledgment that lets each one know that you think he or she is special does the trick. A friendly greeting can go a long way. Making their day will usually make yours!

3. Be there

Employees are expected to be fully present: physically, emotionally, and behaviorally, tuning out distractions unrelated to their work so they are aware of what their customers are saying, thinking, and feeling throughout the day. One more quality is required for greatness as a teacher: passion. It is important to love what you teach and teach what you love so that your knowledge and energy comes as much from your heart as it does from your head. Passion inspires learning. By the time it is fifth period or later in the day, it is understandable that your energy might naturally be lower. So it may require a conscious effort to be on your game as much then as you were earlier in the day. More importantly, be there for yourself by appreciating what you are doing—even on days when no one else seems to care. Most days, you are the best person to congratulate yourself on a job well done. Recognize what you need and figure out the best way to get it. Try to remember that others are probably struggling even more than you are to feel good about what they are doing and about themselves. Therefore, they may not be giving you the support you need.

4. Choose your attitude

While events that happen are often beyond our control, how we react to the events is almost always within our control. This was evident during one of my visits to the fish market. An unsuspecting patron was hit in the face by a flying tuna. The worker/thrower was mortified as the customer cupped her face in her hands. After a few tense seconds, her hands lowered to show a face hysterically laughing. "I didn't know you guys actually throw the fish! That is so awesome. Trust me, I will be ready next time," she said. The attitude this woman chose made what would have been a tense situation into a laugh fest.

How do you react when an unsuspecting cuss word or incomplete homework assignment hits you in the face? Each and every one of us decides the attitude we take in every situation. We can and sometimes do blame others, events, or circumstances, but at the end of the day, we are the masters of our own fate. If you are up at 6:00 a.m. and feeling groggy, you can choose to be grumpy about it or you can get over it and remind yourself how lucky you are to have your health and the myriad of other fortunes that are easy to take for granted. Earlier, I wrote that one aspect of being a great teacher is performing or playing a role. Sometimes performers must act out a role even if it is not how they are really feeling. Sometimes this is necessary! Do you smile or scold when a student walks in late? Do you laugh or yell when a student calls you a name? Realize you don't always have to feel a certain way to act a certain way. We can choose how to be with our students, colleagues, and parents, no matter who they are or what they do. For example, try smiling even when you don't feel like it. You might notice that what you do can change the feelings you have. We can sometimes bring the emotion along by changing our behavior rather than waiting for the feeling to change. Attitudes can change feelings. You can choose to see someone as stubborn or strong-willed, lazy or easy-going, belligerent or persistent, threatening or challenging. The lens we look through determines what we see and affects how we react. Great leaders are able to rally people to a better future.

Teachers' Attitudes

There is a good likelihood that if you have been a successful teacher with a feeling of fulfillment, the above four attitudes are a reflection of who you are. You are either built this way or you have learned well from others. Your success can be attributed to the fact that teaching has enabled you to be playful and present for your students. Although things haven't always gone your way, you have felt in charge of who you are and what you do. Your greatest satisfaction has come from seeing the glow on the face of the kid who finally gets it, the relief from the burdened student who trusts you enough to confide in you, and the fun you experience when you go to your place of work realizing that an important part of your job requires you to think, feel, and sometimes even act like a kid. Just as likely, if there are growing doubts about whether teaching remains the right career for you, one or more of these attitudes is being chipped away by people, events, or circumstances that may or may not be directly within your control. Keep in mind that changes in behavior often precede changes in beliefs, attitudes, habits, and expectations (Kotter & Cohen, 2002; Fullan, 2007). As noted by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler (2008), the change process begins by asking, "In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do? (p. 26)" A good place to start reclaiming your enthusiasm is to recognize how your thoughts, expectations, or behaviors are getting in the way and then figure out what you can actually do to change them.

Four Major Challenges and Strategies to Deal with Them

After my many years of observing, counseling, and advising teachers, four major issues stand out as factors that lead to teacher dissatisfaction. Each section of the book addresses one of these challenges. All contain problem-solving and coping strategies to keep you energized or reawaken your BEEP (belief, energy, enthusiasm, passion).

1. Difficult, disruptive, or unmotivated students with or without a sense of entitlement

By far, the most frequent complaint among teachers is disruptive or unmotivated students. Effectiveness as a teacher and feelings of satisfaction can often be derived by focusing on six factors:

  • Relationship
  • Relevance
  • Responsibility
  • Success
  • Safety
  • Fun

The more you are guided by these six characteristics in your curriculum and in your interpersonal moments with students, staff, and parents, the better your chances are of having motivated and well–behaved students. Because teachers spend the bulk of their time with students, when students want to learn and want to behave, most teachers feel fulfilled and are happier. Although it is not the only cause of burnout, without question, unruly, unmotivated students is the number one cause for most teachers. Because of this, many strategies (which I will explain in Chapter 2) focus on how to deal with difficult students and manage your classroom most effectively. Chapter 2 also provides practical strategies to make your classroom a place where both you and your students want to be.

2. Little support and appreciation from colleagues, administrators, and parents

There are few tangible external rewards available to teachers. Virtually all teachers make the same money and receive the same benefits, which are based on seniority rather than merit. It is amazing that even the best teachers are rarely noticed by administrators, thanked by parents, appreciated by colleagues, or recognized by their pupils for the myriad of things they do to enrich the lives of their students. In fact, those teachers who become the best at working with the hardest to reach students are often rewarded by being given even more such students with no more support or resources. If that wasn't enough, too often adults who should be supportive and appreciative are irritating and blaming. You will learn how to seek support from others, but more importantly how to provide your own self-nourishment regardless of the environment around you. Chapter 3 contains strategies to defuse hostile parents, colleagues, and administrators.

3. Lack of resources to do the job most effectively

Availability of resources varies by school and by district, with wealthier schools usually having an abundance of the best supplies and materials while less wealthy schools often struggle to provide updated textbooks to students. In some schools, it is not unusual for teachers to change classrooms each period, making it extremely difficult to keep organized. Some schools have a bright, cheery feel of openness due to updated construction, sun-splashed vaulted ceilings and brightly decorated walls, while others look like condemned institutions.

One of the challenges some of us face is how to access more materials when we need them and how to brighten a dreary environment. Additional resources for teaching are often best secured through enhanced professional development opportunities. Like great doctors, great teachers need continuous training to keep abreast of the latest pedagogical methods and technological advances. Yet with schools always subject to the vagaries of the larger economy, professional development is one of the first things to go when budgets are tight. Complicating matters, the presence of inane policies and unrealistic expectations are often enough to drive away some of our best. Chapter 4 explores how to secure the best resources you can and survive the rancor of misguided policies, procedures, and expectations that can steer even the best teachers off course and make them want to throw in the towel.

4. Inability or unwillingness to make yourself a priority

There is only so much that individual teachers can do to change the system or other people. It may be human nature to think that the "grass is always greener." However, when we get up close to the other side, we often realize that the grass is just as green or brown there as it was in the place we just left. There are certainly exceptions, but if you are good at what you do yet you are feeling stressed out or disillusioned, it may be that teaching is a great fit for you, but you need to take better care of yourself.

Great teachers are notoriously good at nurturing others but not necessarily good at nurturing themselves. A top-notch teacher needs to take top-notch care of herself to remain top-notch. This can be accomplished through physical exercise, better nutrition, and healthy activities that can calm your mind. Fortunately, there is much you can do to enliven and reawaken your own spirits that is largely independent of your surroundings. Chapter 5 offers healthful activities for the mind and attitude adjustment strategies that will help keep you level-headed and emotionally responsive even when you can't directly change the people or circumstances around you.

The book is designed for each of the subsequent chapters to stand on its own. You do not have to read one to benefit from another. So move about depending on what you suspect is the biggest obstacle to satisfaction for you and explore, learn, and practice those strategies. For example, if you primarily find yourself dissatisfied over a lack of support from colleagues or administrators, go right to Chapter 3.

Questions for Reflection

  1. If the road to satisfaction is choose your attitude, play, make their day, and be present, on a scale of 1–5, where do you rank on each measure?
  2. What are the obstacles at school or in your mind that prevent you from moving in the direction of any or all of these attitudes? Can you think of any ways to address these obstacles?
  3. If there was one new thing that you had to do tomorrow to further fulfill each attitude, what would it be?
  4. Four main issues have been identified as the leading cause of stress and burnout for teachers. On a scale of 1–5, rank each issue according to how you are affected by it.
    1. Disruptive/Unmotivated students
      Not a problem 1---- 2---- 3---- 4---- 5 Source of great stress
    2. Lack of appreciation from colleagues, administrators, and parents
      Not a problem 1---- 2---- 3---- 4---- 5 Source of great stress
    3. Inadequate resources
      Not a problem 1---- 2---- 3---- 4---- 5 Source of great stress
    4. Lack of attention to yourself
      Not a problem 1---- 2---- 3---- 4---- 5 Source of great stress

Your responses to this informal survey can give you a good idea about where to go within the book for strategies and ideas. Obviously, the higher the source of personal stress this issue is for you, the more likely you will be to benefit from the strategies in the section that addresses the issue.

Key Chapter Thoughts

  • Live each day as if there is no tomorrow and understand that change for you and others is a roller coaster ride.
  • Play and have fun. For example, try smiling even when you don't feel like it. Make a point of saying or doing at least one thing you enjoy each period.
  • If you strive to make their day fulfilling, there is a really good chance that you will make your own day satisfying.
  • Be there. It may require a conscious effort to be more on your game with some of your students, classes, parents, colleagues, and administrators. It is ultimately worth the effort. More importantly, be there for yourself by appreciating what you are doing even on days when no one else seems to care.
  • Choose your attitude. The lens we look through determines what we see and affects how we react.

For the Administrator

Ours is a people business. With all the talk about the need for high standards, a challenging curriculum, relevant instruction, 21st century skills, professional learning communities, and innovation through technology, running an effective school is about establishing a climate where teachers want to teach and students want to learn. It is people who bring about change for better or worse, and your best teachers are already making things happen. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't want or expect your best teachers to get even better. As new approaches develop to help students learn at high levels, even the best teachers will need to embrace change. However, the last thing you want is for the latest mandate, initiative, or vision to be a source of irritation and stress. Since your best teachers already have what it takes, your goal should be figuring out ways to get more teachers to act like them.

When there is a desire or mandate for a new initiative, think about ways your best teachers can get behind this initiative with the same verve and skill they bring to their classrooms. Realize that new initiatives should be presented, initiated, and evaluated while furthering the four key attitudes among your best teachers and hopefully awakening these same attitudes in those less capable: choose your attitude, play, make their day, be present. As the school leader, you should encourage all teachers to behave in ways that reflect these four attitudes in order to establish or reinforce a school climate that provides the energy and creativity essential to the teaching-learning process.

When change is on the horizon, give your best teachers a "heads-up." I have noticed that it is often the best teachers who are most bothered by mandated curricula or schedule changes. Sometimes they simply disagree with what has changed, but more often they are resentful at having had no say. To paraphrase Saphier (2005), virtually never will they disagree with goals that articulate a crystal clear curriculum that includes a compact list of learning intentions and success criteria. They may have issues pertaining to curriculum content, the specifics of the learning goals, or how to best measure mastery. Seek their involvement and their ideas about how implementation can best happen with the least amount of disruption. If there is disagreement, uncertainty, or confusion, provide clarification. Kotter and Cohen (2002) point out, "In a change effort, culture comes last, not first" (p. 175). Culture changes after people change. The more you can get your best teachers behind a new initiative, the more likely this initiative will become a permanent part of the school's fabric.

Copyright © 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. No part of this publication—including the drawings, graphs, illustrations, or chapters, except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles—may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system , without permission from ASCD.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Multisensory Handwriting Instruction     March 2012

Easy Ways to Make Handwriting Instruction Multisensory

Goodbye to boring handwriting drills. Hello to fun and achievement for all!
Multisensory teaching strategies will help engage all of your students’ senses in a fun, interactive way. This approach creates a dynamic classroom environment where all children succeed, regardless of learning style or background.
Here are some strategies for creating dynamic classrooms and taking advantage of students’ natural inclinations:
  • Use large step-by-step visual directions to teach letter formation.
  • Demonstrate at the board or easel using large arm movements and props so students can see easily and follow along.
  • Use large, clear illustrations that promote left-to-right directionality.

  • Use Wet–Dry–Try (see video) activities on a slate or blackboard for repetition and fun without boredom.
  • Provide opportunities for finger tracing and coloring.
  • Encourage building activities that teach letter formation and promote motor skill development.

  • Use consistent, child-friendly language for memorable lessons.
  • Incorporate music and different voices to engage students and teach various language arts skills including rhyme, letters and numbers, words, sentences, and more.
  • Play Mystery Letter games (PDF) with your class to delay auditory letter cues and break bad habits.

  • Incorporate music and movement to teach letter formation, social skills, and body awareness and to help children develop motor skills and coordination.

Use multisensory instruction with any letter, word, or sentence lesson and watch your classroom come alive. The hands-on approach is also great for learning cursive connections, size, and placement. See our hands-on products.
It’s easy to give fun, memorable handwriting lessons in just minutes per session. It’s okay to sing, be silly, and create your own activities. The important thing is to captivate your students and encourage them to participate. You will be delighted with how quickly and easily they learn.
Classroom Tip:
The Hand Activity
(Taken from the Kindergarten Teacher’s Guide)
Beginning printers are still figuring out letter size. They are still learning the difference between capital and lowercase letters. You see this when they write “cows” like this: “cOwS” or “Jacob” like this “JaCOb.” You see that when they float a descending letter like "g" or "y" or "p."
hand activity
You can help them. Here is a delightful hand activity for teaching correct size and placement of capitals and lowercase letters. This is fun for a child or a whole class. It captures their attention and gets them moving. As you use the activity you can see them mastering letter size and placement!
Directions for Letter Activity:
  1. Point to the Wall Chart to show the letter (Any letter – Aa, Dd, Gg for example)
  2. Children hold up the right hand for the lowercase
  3. Make a fisted hand for small letters (a, c , e, I, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, z)
  4. Point the index finger up for tall letters (b, d, f, h, k, l, t)
  5. Point the thumb down for descending letters (g, j, y, p, q)
Directions for Word Activity: (Any word - dog, ship, game, etc.)
  1. Show a lowercase word on the board or in a book.
  2. Read the letters in the word together from left to right.
  3. Use one hand to show the hand position for each letter as it’s named.
Note: Don’t use this activity for children learning sign language because it may create confusion.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What You Need to Know About Dyslexia That Will Save Your Child's Self Esteem and Future

A Discussion With Susan Barton, Bright Solutions for Dyslexia

The harsh reality when it comes to dyslexia is this -- you can't afford to wait for your child's school to figure it out because that may never happen.

Studies show one in five kids struggles with dyslexia, but federal education laws don't require schools to screen or test for it. And a child who can't keep up with peers, who's embarrassed when another child sees his class work, or who feels stupid every day at school is at risk for lifelong emotional scarring.

But parents don't have to sit back and watch it happen anymore. There are steps you can take to help your child if you suspect they have dyslexia. And in this audio, you'll hear all about them from Susan Barton, founder of Bright Solutions For Dyslexia. She's going to tell you how to identify the classic warning signs and how to help your child overcome them at home and at school.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Attention Problems May Be Sleep Related

Family | By KATE MURPHY | April 16, 2012, 6:15 pm

In Blur of A.D.H.D., Sleep Troubles May Be The Culprit!

Diagnoses of attention hyperactivity disorder among children have increased dramatically in recent years, rising 22 percent from 2003 to 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But many experts believe that this may not be the epidemic it appears to be.

Many children are given a diagnosis of A.D.H.D., researchers say, when in fact they have another problem: a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea. The confusion may account for a significant number of A.D.H.D. cases in children, and the drugs used to treat them may only be exacerbating the problem.

“No one is saying A.D.H.D. does not exist, but there’s a strong feeling now that we need to rule out sleep issues first,” said Dr. Merrill Wise, a pediatric neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at the Methodist Healthcare Sleep Disorders Center in Memphis.

The symptoms of sleep deprivation in children resemble those of A.D.H.D. While adults experience sleep deprivation as drowsiness and sluggishness, sleepless children often become wired, moody and obstinate; they may have trouble focusing, sitting still and getting along with peers.

The latest study suggesting a link between inadequate sleep and A.D.H.D. symptoms appeared last month in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers followed 11,000 British children for six years, starting when they were 6 months old. The children whose sleep was affected by breathing problems like snoring, mouth breathing or apnea were 40 percent to 100 percent more likely than normal breathers to develop behavioral problems resembling A.D.H.D.

Children at highest risk of developing A.D.H.D.-like behaviors had sleep-disordered breathing that persisted throughout the study but was most severe at age 2 1/2.

“Lack of sleep is an insult to a child’s developing body and mind that can have a huge impact,” said Karen Bonuck, the study’s lead author and a professor of family and social medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “It’s incredible that we don’t screen for sleep problems the way we screen for vision and hearing problems.”

Her research builds on earlier, smaller studies showing that children with nighttime breathing problems did better with cognitive and attention-directed tasks and had fewer behavioral issues after their adenoids and tonsils were removed. The children were significantly less likely than untreated children with sleep-disordered breathing to be given an A.D.H.D. diagnosis in the ensuing months and years.

Most important, perhaps, those already found to have A.D.H.D. before surgery subsequently behaved so much better in many cases that they no longer fit the criteria. The National Institutes of Health has begun a study, called the Childhood Adenotonsillectomy Study, to understand the effect of surgically removing adenoids and tonsils on the health and behavior of 400 children. Results are expected this year.

“We’re getting closer and closer to a causal claim” between breathing problems during sleep and A.D.H.D. symptoms in children, said Dr. Ronald Chervin, a neurologist and director of University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center in Ann Arbor.

In his view, behavioral problems linked to nighttime breathing difficulties are more likely a result of inadequate sleep than possible oxygen deprivation. “We see the same types of behavioral symptoms in children with other kinds of sleep disruptions,” he said.

Indeed, sleep experts note that children who lose as little as half an hour of needed sleep per night — whether because of a sleep disorder or just staying up too late texting or playing video games — can exhibit behaviors typical of A.D.H.D.

Not only is a misdiagnosis stigmatizing, but treatment of A.D.H.D. can exacerbate sleeplessness, the real problem. The drugs used to treat A.D.H.D., like Ritalin, Adderall or Concerta, can cause insomnia.

“It can become a vicious, compounding cycle,” said Dr. David Gozal, chairman of the department of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, whose clinical practice focuses on children with sleep disorders.

Sleep deprivation is difficult to spot in children. Of the 10,000 members of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, only 500 have specialty training in pediatric sleep issues. And pediatricians may not even know to make a referral, because they often depend on parents to bring up their children’s sleep problems during checkups.

But parents themselves often are uninformed about healthy sleep habits. A study conducted last year by researchers at Penn State University-Harrisburg and published in The Journal of Sleep Research showed that of 170 participating parents, fewer than 10 percent could correctly answer basic questions like the number of hours of sleep a child needs.

“Parents didn’t know what was normal sleep behavior,” said Kimberly Anne Schreck, a psychologist and behavioral analyst at Penn State who was the study’s lead author. “Many thought snoring was cute and meant their child was sleeping deeply and soundly.”

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Visual Attention, Reading, and Dyslexia

Dr. Laurie Cestnick discusses how visual attention works and fails to create dyslexia and other learning problems. ADHD, PDD, dyslexia, learning disorders, hemifield neglect, stroke, development.

Dr. Cestnick email change:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

New Study Supports Subtypes of Sensory Modulation Disorder

The Sensory Processing Blog

James, K. Miller, L.J., Schaaf, R, Nielsen, D. M. & Schoen, S. A. (2011). Phenotypes within sensory modulation dysfunction. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 52, 715-724.
This study partially supports the new taxonomy proposed by Miller and colleagues (2007). Two of the three Sensory Processing Disorder subtypes were identified in a sample of 94 children. These children were clinically diagnosed by occupational therapists as having Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD).
  • Sensory Seeking/Craving (SC) which was characterized by the following:
    • Hyperactivity, impulsivity, delinquent and/or aggressive behaviors, poor socialization, inability to adapt, and impaired cognitive and/or social behavior.
  • Sensory Under-Responsivity (SUR) which was characterized by:
    • Movement sensitivity, emotional withdrawal, low energy and/or weak muscles, fatigue, poor balance and motor control. These behaviors may occur because children with SUR tend to avoid activities that challenge their balance and motor coordination.
Although Sensory Over-Responsivity (SOR), which is characterized with adverse responses to touch, visual, taste, sound, and smell stimuli, did not cluster as a separate subtype, it was present in both Sensory Craving and Sensory Under-Responsivity.
The results of this study are different from previous hypotheses about the relationship between Sensory Under-Responsivity and Sensory Craving as well as the relationship between Sensory Under-Responsivity and Sensory Over-Responsivity. Unlike Winnie Dunn’s model, the individuals in this study with Sensory Craving did not have Under-Responsivity in the proprioceptive and vestibular domains. In addition, this study did not find that Sensory Under-Responsivity and Sensory Over-Responsivity were on a continuum as suggested in other writings. Rather, Sensory Under-Responsivity and Movement Over-Responsivity co-occurred in this sample.
Additionally, a high percentage of our sample displayed behaviors characteristic of ADHD and similarly a high percentage of children who met criteria for ADHD were reported to have SMD. Specifically, 75% of the children with SMD had significant sensory craving and hyperactivity while 82% or the children with ADHD had sensory modulation difficulties. Therefore, therapists and parents are advised to evaluate children for both SMD and ADHD in order to obtain the appropriate and effective interventions. For example, children with SMD tend to become calmer with sensory activities, while children with ADHD may become more hyperactive and disorganized with the same activities.
This research supports the finding that children with ADHD are a heterogeneous group and may present with multiple characteristics of SMD. For example, children with ADHD often have features of sensory craving as well as sensory over-responsivity. Given the likelihood of overlapping symptoms occurring in these disorders, it is important for clinicians to have tools to better differentiate them. In the future, we hope to have measures of direct performance to better differentiate clinical disorders from sensory modulation subtypes.

Friday, April 6, 2012

9 Ways to Help ADHD Kids Follow Directions

Students with ADHD sometimes struggle to slow down, listen, and follow instructions -- especially with so many classroom distractions. Here's how teachers can help them better follow directions.
by Sandra Rief       
This article comes from the Spring 2009 issue of ADDitude.     
Getting kids to stop, listen, and comply in the classroom is a challenge for teachers. While some instructors interpret inattention as defiance, the truth is that children with ADHD have legitimate reasons for not hearing directions: the inability to stop and disengage from what they’re doing and/or working-memory weaknesses.

Here are strategies to help ADHD students follow instructions in the classroom.

1. Wait until it is quiet, and you have students’ attention, before giving instructions.

Do not talk over students’ voices. Always face the class and speak up when you give directions.

2. Read written directions to the class...

...and have students color, highlight, circle, or underline key words.

3. Focus on the behavior you want to encourage in students...

...not on what they are doing wrong. State the directive or command in the form of what you want your students to do. For instance, “Look at the chart” or “Turn to your assignment calendar.”

4. Give complete directions...

including what you expect them to do (a) if they have any questions and (b) when they are finished with the task or assignment.

5. State the direction, remain silent, and wait...

...10 seconds for the child to comply.
If a child still doesn’t begin the task, address him by name and repeat the command,
preceded by “You need to....” For instance, “Michael, you need to sit down at your
desk right now.”

6. Be specific when issuing a command.

Instead of saying “behave appropriately” or “do careful work,”
say, “bottoms in your chairs,”, “book open to page 21,” and “desks cleared.”

7. Provide multisensory directions...

such as visual cues and graphics, along with verbal explanations.
Demonstrate exactly what you want the kids to do. Place visual reminders,
like the class schedule or a rules-and-routines chart, in plain view in the

8. Assign a classmate to clarify directions.

Ask one student to “tell your partner what we are going to be doing on

page 247.”


9. Avoid multiple-step instructions - a chain of directions.

Whenever possible, give one instruction at a time. If multiple-step
directions must be used, outline the steps and their sequence (1, 2, 3)
in writing.

Adapted with permission from and How to Reach and Teach Children
with ADD/ADHD, Second Edition, Copyright 2005 by Sandra F. Rief.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Is Dyspraxia? How is Dyspraxia Treated?

Written by Christian Nordqvist

Article Date: 29 May 2009 - 8:00 PDT
via Medical News Today

A person with dyspraxia has problems with movement and coordination. It is also known as "motor learning disability". Somebody with dyspraxia finds it hard to carry out smooth and coordinated movements. Dyspraxia often comes with language problems, and sometimes a degree of difficulty with perception and thought. Dyspraxia does not affect a person's intelligence, but it can cause learning difficulties, especially for children.

Dyspraxia is also known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD), Perceptuo-Motor Dysfunction, and Motor Learning Difficulties. The terms Clumsy Child Syndrome or Minimal Brain Damage are no longer used.

Developmental dyspraxia is an immaturity of the organization of movement. The brain does not process information in a way that allows for a full transmission of neural messages. A person with dyspraxia finds it hard to plan what to do, and how to do it.

Experts say that about 10% of people have some degree of dyspraxia, while approximately 2% have it severely. Four out of every 5 children with evident dyspraxia are boys. If the average classroom has 30 children, there is probably one child with dyspraxia in almost each classroom.

A study carried out by researchers at Orebro University Hospital, Sweden, indicated that poor physical coordination during childhood is linked to a higher risk of obesity later in life.

The English medical word dyspraxia comes from:

  • The Greek word duspraxia, which means "dyspraxia".

  • The Greek word duspraxia comes from the Greek word Praxis, meaning "to practice; (concretely) an act; by extension, a function".

  • The Greek word Praxis comes from an older Greek word Prassein (prattein), meaning ""to pass through, experience, practice".

  • What are the signs and symptoms of dyspraxia?

    Very early childhood

    The child may take longer than other children to:
    • Sit
    • Crawl (some never go through crawling stage)
    • Walk
    • Speak
    • Stand
    • Become potty trained (get out of diapers/nappies)
    • Build up vocabulary
    • Speak in a clear and articulate way. Many parents of very young children with dyspraxia say they cannot understand what they are trying to say a lot of the time

    Early childhood

    Later on the following difficulties may become apparent:
    • Problems performing subtle movements, such as tying shoelaces, doing up buttons and zips, using cutlery, handwriting.
    • Many will have difficulties getting dressed.
    • Problems carrying out playground movements, such as jumping, playing hopscotch, catching a ball, kicking a ball, hopping, and skipping.
    • Problems with classroom movements, such as using scissors, coloring, drawing, playing jig-saw games.
    • Problems processing thoughts.
    • Difficulties with concentration. Children with dyspraxia commonly find it hard to focus on one thing for long.
    • The child finds it harder than other kids to join in playground games.
    • The child will fidget more than other children.
    • Some find it hard to go up and down stairs.
    • A higher tendency to bump into things, to fall over, and to drop things.
    • Difficulty in learning new skills - while other children may do this automatically, a child with dyspraxia takes longer. Encouragement and practice help enormously.
    • Writing stories can be much more challenging for a child with dyspraxia, as can copying from a blackboard.

    The following are also common at pre-school age:
    • Finds it hard to keep friends
    • Behavior when in the company of others may seem unusual
    • Hesitates in most actions, seems slow
    • Does not hold a pencil with a good grip
    • Such concepts as in, out, in front of are hard to handle automatically

    Later on in Childhood
    • Many of the challenges listed above do not improve, or do so very slightly
    • Tries to avoid sports and PE
    • Learns well on a one-on-one basis, but nowhere near as well in class with other kids around
    • Reacts to all stimuli equally (not filtering out irrelevant stimuli automatically)
    • Mathematics and writing are difficult
    • Spends a long time getting writing done
    • Does not follow instructions
    • Does not remember instructions
    • Is badly organized

    What causes dyspraxia?

    Scientists do not know what causes it. Experts believe the person's nerve cells that control muscles (motor neurons) are not developing correctly. If motor neurons cannot form proper connections, for whatever reasons, the brain will take much longer to process data.

    In some cases dyspraxia can be inherited (Ref: Great Ormond Street Hospital, England).

    One study carried out at Children's Hospital Boston, USA, found that when there was injury to the cerebrum among premature babies; the cerebellum failed to grow to a normal size. The cerebellum grows rapidly late in gestation - much faster than the cerebral hemispheres - premature birth arrests this surge in development. Premature babies with cerebellum problems are likely to have deficits that extend beyond motor, and may benefit from early intervention.

    A study by scientists at the Universite Laval, Canada found that mothers who take omega-3 during the last months of pregnancy will boost their child's motor and cognitive development.

    A study carried out at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that fetal heart rates give clues to children's later development during toddler years.

    If a person develops dyspraxia later in life it is usually due to traumas suffered by the brain after a stroke, accident or illness. If a person is born with dyspraxia, it is also known as Developmental Dyspraxia.

    Unfortunately, for many sufferers, there is no obvious cause.

    How is dyspraxia diagnosed?

    A diagnosis of dyspraxia can be made by a clinical psychologist, an educational psychologist, a pediatrician, or an occupational therapist. Any parent who suspects their child may have dyspraxia should see their GP (general practitioner, primary care physician), or a special needs coordinator first.

    When carrying out an assessment, details will be required regarding the child's developmental history, intellectual ability, and gross and fine motor skills:
    • Gross motor skills - this refers to how well the child uses his/her large muscles that coordinate body movement. This includes jumping, throwing, walking, running, and maintaining balance.
    • Fine motor skills - this refers to how well the child can use his/her smaller muscles. Activities which require fine motor skills include tying shoelaces, doing up buttons, cutting out shapes with a pair of scissors, and writing.
    The assessor will need to know when and how developmental milestones, such as walking, crawling, speaking were reached. The child will be screened for balance, touch sensitivity, and variations on walking activities.

    If the assessor, or GP, does not have the necessary training, dyspraxia could be missed altogether and the child will not be referred to a specialist. Training on identifying dyspraxia can be patchy, depending on which part of the world you live in, and also which part of specific countries. The same applies to teachers - in some places they are well trained at identifying potential dyspraxia among their pupils, while in others they are not.

    A new coordination and handwriting test that identifies Developmental Coordination Disorder may identify teenagers who need extra help at secondary school and college.

    What is the treatment for dyspraxia?

    Although dyspraxia is not curable, with time the child can improve. However, the earlier a child is diagnosed, the better and faster his/her improvement will be. The following specialists most commonly help people with dyspraxia:
    • Occupational therapy

      An occupational therapist will first observe how the child manages with everyday functions both at home and at school. He/she will then help the child develop skills specific to activities which may be troublesome.
    • Speech and language therapy

      The speech and language therapist will first carry out an assessment of the child's speech, and then help him/her communicate more effectively.
    • Perceptual motor training

      This involves improving the child's language, visual, movement, and auditory skills. A series of tasks, which gradually becoming more advanced, are set - the aim is to challenge the child so that he/she improves, but not so much that it becomes frustrating or stressful.
    Scientists from the University of Leeds, England, developed a set of practical guidelines for use by teachers, childcare professionals and parents that will help pre-school children with co-ordination difficulties, to improve their dexterity.

    A study carried out by Robert Sekuler, a neuroscientist at Brandeis" Volen Center for Complex Systems, and team, indicates that "What makes one person clumsy and the next person a prima ballerina is a combination of talent and practice" (article not about dyspraxia, but it is interesting).

    Active Play

    Experts say that active play - any play that involves physical activity - which can be outdoors or inside the home, gets the motor activity going in children. Play is a way children learn about the environment and about themselves, and particularly for children aged 3 to 5; it is a crucial part of their learning.

    Active play is where a very young child's physical and emotional learning, their development of language, their special awareness, the development of what their senses are, all come together.

    The more children are involved in active play, the better they will become at interacting with other children successfully.

    Parents, uncles and aunts, and other adults can also become involved with a child's active play - however, sometimes they should take a step back and let the children really explore so they can try out their own understanding of the world. The risk of negative things happening to children if they play outside are far smaller than the risks of negative things happening to them if they don't, such as obesity, poor socialization with other children, and having less fun. It is only by taking risks that children learn the importance of, say, holding on tight, and correcting themselves.

    Parents who have a child with dyspraxia need to balance the risks of negative things happening outside, with the enormous benefits that active play has to offer. Deciding what this balance is depends on many factors, such as the severity of the child's dyspraxia, the outside environment, etc.

    A study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child Development Institute and UNC's School of Education indicates that if both parents work, the father's influence on a very young child's language development may be greater than previously thought (not specific to dyspraxia, but interesting from a child development point of view)

    Sources: National Health Service (NHS), UK, The Mayo Clinic, Wikipedia, HHS (Department of Health and Human Services USA), NIH (National Institutes of Health, USA).

    Written by Christian Nordqvist
    Copyright: Medical News Today

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