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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity: Classroom Strategies for Success


Mindfulness-based approaches to learning are attracting more and more teachers, therapists and school administrators. Mindfulness refers to being completely in touch with and aware of the present moment, as well as taking a non-evaluative and non-judgmental approach to one's inner experience. These methods are helping students, as well as their teachers, learn how to manage and minimize stress, become active engaged participants, enhance memory and learning, improve classroom climates, and even develop supportive communities. Mindfulness-based programs empower students to self-regulate, develop emotional intelligence, and gain a sense of control over both their minds and bodies.

Classrooms today are faced with endless distractions including electronic devices, competitive classroom environments, ever-increasing administrative expectations, and both real and virtual violence. What’s more, competing diversions bombard learners, even when they are at home. This high-pressure lifestyle creates, for many, a “fight-flight-freeze response,” making learning uncomfortable and arduous. Additionally, when the limbic system is triggered, it is challenging to activate the prefrontal cortex and encode as well as process new information. However, the research now supports that neuroplasticity allows learners to make measurable changes in the way the minds functions at any age, but especially during the school age years. So helping students learn to manage their bodies and minds with developmentally appropriate mindfulness based practices, can make a significant difference in the lives of students and teachers, while helping to rehabilitate education as the whole (Mindfulness and Learning, 2016).

A holistic approach to cognitive, social, and emotional development is also supported in neuroscience. Recent research shows that the prefrontal cortex, which manages higher-level cognition, also plays an important role in processing and regulating emotion. Therefore, learning involves both a cognitive and affective schema. “This evidence has forced us to rethink the relationship between reason and emotion. Not only does academic learning depend on social and emotional skills, but it is virtually impossible to disentangle the two" (Barseghian, 2016).

Although this may seem to be a new approach, monks and meditation proponents have long advocated the value of mindfulness, and clinical evidence supports this assertion. In fact, recent research suggests that mindfulness training can prevent the deterioration of working memory during periods of high stress (Jha, Stanley, Kiyonaga, Wong and Gelfand, 2019), enhance attention (Brefczynski-Lewis. Lutz, Schaefer, Lenvinson, & Davidson, 2007), increase backwards sequential processing of numbers (Chambers, Lo, & Allen, 2007), improve visuospatial processing efficiency (Kozhevnikov, Louchakova, Jpsopovic, & Motes, 2009), and can even be used to treat medical conditions (Mindfulness Practices May Help Treat Many Health Conditions)


What is Working Memory?
Working memory is a core executive functioning skill that is responsible for the temporary holding, processing, and manipulation of information.  It is an important process for reasoning and guides decision making and behavior.  Working memory also enables one to remember and use relevant information to complete activities.  Often described as a mental workspace, working memory helps students attend to the immediate experience, access prior knowledge, solve problems in their head, and meet current goals. The process of working memory involves the conscious awareness of sensory input, while simultaneously pulling relevant knowledge from long term memory and mentally manipulating all this information with one’s inner voice and inner visualizations (See image below).


What is Working Memory?
Working memory is a core executive functioning skill that is responsible for the temporary holding, processing, and manipulation of information.  It is an important process for reasoning and guides decision making and behavior.  Working memory also enables one to remember and use relevant information to complete activities.  Often described as a mental workspace, working memory helps students attend to the immediate experience, access prior knowledge, solve problems in their head, and meet current goals.


How Does a Weak Working Memory Impact Learning?
Working memory difficulties affect:
  • Reading comprehension
  • Mental math
  • Understanding social interactions
  • Completing homework
  • Planning and preparing for activities
  • Solving multi-step directions
  • Writing essays and reports
  • Following a conversation
  • Test preparation
  • Turning in homework
  • Following and participating in group discussions


What are Some Key Symptoms of Working Memory Difficulties?
  • Troubles comprehending a story or directions
  • Difficulties memorizing facts
  • Problems making and keeping friends
  • Difficulties self-initiating or starting homework
  • Forgets needed materials at home and at school
  • Fails to complete work
  • Struggles with organizing ideas when writing
  • Makes irrelevant comments and often tries to change the topic of discussion
  • Difficulties maintaining focus
  • Misplaces things like pencils, notebooks, and agendas
  • Leaves assignments and test preparation to the last minute
So What Can We Do to Nurture a Mindful Classroom Environment?
1) Practice mindfulness in your own life, so you can demonstrate this approach and set an example for your students.
2) Define and discuss mindfulness with your students.  
3) If your students appear distracted, conduct a mindful activity to calm their senses.  Ask the students to sit for 3 minutes with their eyes closed.  They should notice their breath, release any thoughts and relax into their bodies.  You can start at their feet and work up to their head, asking them to be aware of their body and allow it to fully relax.
4) Before a test, offer a mindful activity to help your students release any anxiety.  Have the students take deep breaths and ask them to visualize a peaceful place of their choosing.  As they breathe in, have them imagine peace and knowledge filling their lungs.  As the breathe out, have them imagine that all negative thoughts such as doubt or concern will leave their bodies.
5) After a classroom or social conflict, ask the students to sit in a circle facing one another holding hands.  Ask them to close their eyes and imagine that they are all one entity.  As they breathe in, have them imagine that they are bringing positive energy, forgiveness, and loving kindness into the group.  As they breathe out, have them release any negative thoughts that they may feel.  You can make it specific to the situation.  After the activity, ask for volunteers to share complements or appreciation they would like to offer to the group or an individual.  Ask all the other students to listen mindfully.
Ready Made Materials:
Dr. Warren’s Mindfulness Activity Cards were created based on the current research on working memory, and they can be used in classrooms or therapeutic sessions to help enhance working memory capacity and build community.  In addition, they can be used to teach authentic dialogue and develop emotional intelligence. They are ideal for individual sessions, circle groups, and classroom discussions.  To view all of the social emotional products on Good Sensory Learning, CLICK HERE.
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to http://www.learningspecialistcourses.com/, https://godyslexia.com/, www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

From Frustrated Teacher to Educational Entrepreneur

Many of you have been following me for years, whereas others are discovering my blog and sites for the first time. So let me begin by saying that writing this blog has been both grounding and enriching. Much like a diary, I have documented my thoughts, passions, experiences, and inspirations. What's more, writing helps me to stay on top of the current trends and research. Although I addressed a multitude of topics, I have never shared much about my own path. This week, I am sharing my own journey so that you have a better understanding of my expertise, passions and point of view. I also hope that this post inspires other frustrated teachers to blaze their own entrepreneurial adventure!

My Story:
I'm Dr. Erica Warren, and for the past 18 years I have built a multiple 6 figure a year practice as a learning specialist. From one to one sessions, to creating multisensory educational materials to video podcasts, blogs and even online courses and mentorships, I've been paid by thousands and thousands of customers from all over the world. This business has been one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences of my life.  Best of all, I've done it on my own without having to accommodate or navigate a broken educational system.  It took me a while to discover this opportunity.  In fact, I didn’t even consider becoming an educational entrepreneur until I experienced, first hand, the terrible state of schooling in the United States.

Throughout my own training, I have worked in private and public schools with struggling students, conducted evaluations of school systems, assisted research for the National Science Foundation, conducted comprehensive psycho-educational evaluations, worked as a vocational evaluation technician, practiced as a mental retardation professional and even was a personal aid for the head injured.  One theme I noticed across virtually all my positions was that anyone with a disability or difference was provided substandard accommodations and, in many cases, were outright abused.  

These experiences fueled my desire to finish a master’s and doctoral degree. I wanted to tailor my own expertise, and I studied in the departments of educational psychology for two years, school psychology for two years, special education for two years, and then finish my studies in adult education.  When I completed my training, I was impassioned and ready to really make a difference for struggling and “out of the box” learners. I thought, now that I have these degrees, I will surely have the power to make a difference.  
My first job was directing a college program for students with learning disabilities.  Sadly, after nine months of 12-15 hour days and dealing with an ignorant and combative administration, I had to resign my position. I could see that they did not have the students needs in mind and were only using the program to make an extra buck.  I’ll never forget a specific incident with the president of the university who was also a nun.  She exclaimed to her staff, “We just accepted a blind student, and nobody is to offer her any accommodations until the parents threaten to sue.”  I did what I could to educate the powers above about the laws that protected the students, but my expertise, passion to serve, and desire to follow mandated rules was seen as adversarial.  I was quickly swooped up by another university to create a program for their students, but again, they were not willing to put any money into or allot any space for the program.  I was placed in the counseling department but was never allocated an office.  Whenever I had an appointment, I had to ask a colleague to borrow their space.  As you can imagine, this created friction and resentment and so I resigned.  

After that, I worked as a learning specialist in a private school, and I also began consulting with the public school system.  I could see how difficult it was for students to get their mandated rights, and soon decided to create my own private practice.  I thought, if I can’t get this to work, I’m just going to go back to school and become an interior decorator.

I decided to work out of my home to keep my expenses to a minimum.  Soon, I established my business, Learning to Learn, gathered the needed materials, networked with local professionals in complementary fields, and was quickly inundated with referrals.  I started working with high school and college students, but continued to read books, take workshops, courses, and even paid a reading specialist to walk me through her Orton Gillingham based reading program.  Over time, I worked my way down to middle school and elementary learners.  At this point, I could see that I had outgrown my home office and rented an office suite where I continue to work to this day.

Looking back on my private practice, I can honestly say that most of what I do today, I have learned since opening the doors of Learning to Learn.  I had to continue to master academics so that I could help my students learn course content.  Also, although I had a deep understanding of learning and cognition, I had to find and create the best remedial tools and methods for my students.  

It was back in 2005 that I created my first publication: Multisensory Multiplication and Division to Melodies.  In fact, I hired my own students to go into a recording studio with me to sing on the CD.  Now 11 years later, I offer close to 100 products online. This includes multisensory methods and lessons for teachers and homeschoolers, cognitive remedial tools for learning specialists and educational therapists, and a whole suite of learning games that can even be used by parents with their children.  

It has been an empowering adventure that has helped me to embrace a passion for lifelong learning. Over the past 7 years, I have become skilled at blogging, savvy with social media, adept at web design, experienced at video podcasting and now I’m pursuing one of my true passions and creating online courses as well as a support community for learning specialists and educational therapists.

Although I was unable to change our educational system when working under the umbrella of our established institutions, I have been delighted to discover that my private practice and online sites offer a rewarding global reach and positive influence that serves and inspires teachers, homeschoolers, learning specialists, therapists and administrators.

If I can be of assistance, feel free to reach out at erica@goodsensorylearning.com

About the Author
Dr. Erica Warren is a learning authority on multisensory teaching and educational materials.  With well over a million hits on her popular blog, Dr. Warren offers free advice for teachers, parents and homeschoolers.  She is also an avid podcaster @ Go Dyslexia and author, illustrator and publisher at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  Teacher training and one to one sessions are also available at Learning Specialist Courses and Learning to Learn.   You can also follow Erica on Google +,Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, or connect on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Five Secrets to Helping Students Ace Midterm Exams

Many students are coming back in the new year to face midterms in mid to late January. After the holiday break, it can be difficult for many students to hit the ground running and properly prepare for these looming exams.  

What are the Five Secrets to Acing Midterms?
  1. A few weeks before exams, plan a study schedule.  This includes:
    1. Estimating the amount of time it will take to prepare for midterms for each class.
    2. Filling in a blank calendar with all the study times allocated.
    3. Creating a study plan for each course.  This might include putting information on index cards, creating study sheets, predicting essay questions, entering exam content into sites like Quizlet, planning out appointments with teachers, or creating study groups.
  2. Review and Organize Materials: This includes past tests, assignments, notes, readings, labs, and handouts.
  3. Create a Daily Routine: Make a conscious effort to avoid distractions such as email, social media and television, decide on the best time to study each day, and stick to your study schedule. 
  4. Utilize memory strategies:  Memory strategies help learners organize information before they store content in long term memory and quickly retrieve the needed information upon command.  If you would like to read about memory strategies and download a handout, come on over to my blog post: 12 Memory Strategies That Maximize Learning
  5. Prepare the mind and body: Stress, lack of sleep, and a poor diet can all wreak havoc on the brain’s ability to recall information.  Get enough sleep before exam days.
    1. Eat a healthy meal and avoid sugar and processed foods the day of the exam.
    2. Calm your mind by visualizing the grade you hope to achieve and make sure to make a conscious effort to relax your body and breathe.  

If you would like to learn more about managing test anxiety, come read my blog post: 12 Strategies for Overcoming Test Anxiety.

If you would like to learn about my ready made materials that help students with test taking as well as planning, time management and organization, Click here  
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to http://www.learningspecialistcourses.com/, https://godyslexia.com/, www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

Monday, December 26, 2016

Remediating Dyslexia with Orton Gillingham Based Reading Games


Students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities often learn differently and require an alternative approach to learning basic reading.  What's more, these young learners are working full tilt while sitting in the classroom and by the time they get home and have to complete their homework, they are mentally spent.  As a result, tagging on remedial reading lessons to a cup that is already overflowing can be enough to turn these kids off to learning altogether.

How Do We Help These Students Learn the Core Skills Needed to be Successful Readers?
  1. First, use a remedial program that is backed by time, testimonials and research.  The Orton-Gillingham approach to reading is a well-established and researched approach that offers a multisensory, sequential, incremental, cumulative, individualized, and explicit approach.  There are many programs that are available.  Click here to learn about a selection of these programs. 
  2. Second, employ an individualized approach as each student has unique challenges and gaps in knowledge.  If you need to assess the areas that require remediation be sure to use an assessment tool such as the Good Sensory Learning Reading Assessment
  3. Third, the process needs to be fun and engaging.  Many programs required students to slog through boring lessons, complicated rules, and bland workbook pages. Many of these concepts can be instructed through cute memory strategies and fun activities.  You can find many fun supplemental materials here
  4. Fourth, integrate a student-created, colorful, language arts handbook or guide. Click here to learn more about this method. 
  5. Fifth, help students learn how to visualize what they are reading.  Many struggling readers do not have the cognitive space to use their mind's eye when reading, therefore, developing this skill to automaticity is key.  To learn about the research behind visualization and learning as well as how to teach this needed skill click here.  
  6. Sixth, and most important, supplement all reading programs with card and board games that allow students to practice the concepts they are learning.  This brings the fun factor into learning and can help to nurture a love for reading.
Where Can I Find Multisensory and Fun Reading Games?

At Good Sensory Learning, we offer a large selection of downloadable card and board games that work with any Orton-Gillingham or phonics based reading program.  In addition, we have many other supplemental multisensory reading activities and materials.  In fact, we just unveiled a new website. Let me know what you think!
 
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Free Text to Speech on macOS Helps Reading and Writing.

Apple has offered free accessibility tools with their personal computing devices for some time, but with each new operating system upgrade comes improvements and changes.  A few weeks ago, I did a blog and video on their Dictation accessibility tool, and this week I hope to educate you about the many benefits of their Speech accessibility tool.  So, if you read better when you can hear written text and could benefit from editing your papers by listening to your compositions, you are in the right place.

What is Speech?

Speech is a text to speech technology on macOS that allows users to quickly transform written text into audible words. Simply highlight a word, sentence, paragraph or a whole article in a document, email or online website, and once you select the designated command keys, your Mac will read the selection aloud. To top it off, you can choose from more than 70 male or female voices across 42 languages.

How Can This Free Speech Accessibly Feature Be Enabled?

  1. Be sure to upgrade your Mac to the new macOS Sierra.
  2. Choose Apple menu
    

  1. Select System Preferences



        


     4.  Click Accessibility
                                                        
5.  Click Speech
6.  Click the box “Speak selected text...” and select the white button that says “Change Key…”


7.  Select the keys you would like to use to enable this function.  I chose Option+S and then select OK.

 
8. Now you will want to select a voice.  To do this click on the dropdown menu next to “System Voice” and select your preference.  If you select the last option - “Customize…” you will be given additional voice options that can be downloaded for free.  My personal favorites are Alex and Tom.  You can listen to the voice by selecting the play button.  You can also adjust the speech rate by adjusting the white slider between Slow - Normal - Fast.  

A Few Key Pointers when Using Speech?

  1. By default, your Mac will speak highlighted text when you press Option-Esc.
  2. To stop your Mac from speaking, press the designated keys again.
  3. If no text is selected when you press the designated keys, available text items in the current window are spoken. For example, if Mail is open, an email message is read.

Why is Speech a Great Option for Individuals with Dyslexia?

Speech is a great option for individuals with dyslexia for two main reasons. First, many dyslexic learners find the process of decoding words to be arduous and tiresome. Speech allows them to listen to the words read aloud, so they can focus on comprehension. Second, Speech can be used to edit essays and self-generated documents. This can be a quick way to uncover misspellings, awkward wording, word omissions and more. Personally, I use it all the time to edit my work. For example, if I typed the word “from” when I meant to type the word “form,” in a sentence, I probably wouldn’t “see” the mishap. However, if I had the computer read it back to me, I would quickly hear the mistake.

Would like see my YouTube video on the free macOS Dictation tool?

I hope you found this blog helpful.  Please leave a comment and share it on social media.

Also, if you would like to learn more about my other videos on assistive technology and multisensory teaching, come on over and subscribe to my YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/warrenerica1


Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY. To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz
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