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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sleep and Learning: Strategies to Help School Children Fall Asleep

Do your students or children struggle to get out of bed in the morning? Do they complain that they are fatigued during the school week? Many youngsters are up late doing homework, and as a result, they do not get the needed rest.  In fact, recent research suggests that insufficient sleep has been shown to cause poor school performance, cognitive and emotional problems, disciplinary problems, sleepiness in classes, and poor attention skills. 

Insufficient Sleep Can Also Lead to:
1.     symptoms of depression and anxiety
2.     aging of the skin
3.     serious health problems
4.     weight gain
5.     impaired judgement

How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
According to WebMD, the amount of sleep needed varies per age. 
·       7-12-year-old children need 10 - 11 hours of sleep per night
·       12-18-year-old adolescents need 8 - 9 hours per night.

What Does the Recent Research Suggest?
Recent research has revealed an association between insufficient sleep and poorer grades and behaviors in school.  In 1998, psychologists Amy R. Wolfson of the College of the Holy Cross, and Mary A. Carskadon of Brown University Medical School surveyed more than 3,000 high-school students and found that those who earned C's, D's and F's had about 25 minutes less sleep and went to bed about 40 minutes later than students who received getting A's and B's.  In addition, researchers at the University of Minnesota reported on a study of more than 7,000 high-school students that attended a school district that had switched from a 7:15 a.m. to an 8:40 a.m. start time. When compared to students that maintained earlier start times, those that started later reported more sleep on school nights, feeling more alert during the day, earning improvements in grades and experiencing fewer depressive thoughts and behaviors.  Furthermore, in 2009, American and French researchers discovered that events in the brain called “sharp wave ripples” are responsible for consolidating memory. This process transfers learned information from the hippocampus to the neocortex, where long-term memories are stored. Sharp wave ripples occur mostly during the deepest levels of sleep which can be impacted by insufficient sleep.  What’s more, Wiggs and Stores research reported in, Sleep Disturbance and Daytime Challenging Behaviors in Children with Severe Learning Disabilities, indicated associations between sleep problems and challenging behaviors. They found that sleep problems were more common in children with severe learning disabilities and that these children were also more likely to show daytime irritability, lethargy and hyperactivity. Finally, according to Backhaus, Junghanns, Born, Hodaus, and Faasch from the University of Luebeck, Luebeck, Germany, lack of sleep is associated with diminished consolidation of declarative memory. In other words, during sleep the brain turns recently learned memories into long-term memory storage, and sleep helps to lock in the learning.  

What are Some Strategies to Help Students Get Enough Sleep?
  1. Avoid television or screen time two hours before bed.  Research suggests that children who watch TV before bed stay up later and sleep less than children who do not.
  2. Prevent exposure to bright lights two hours before going to sleep.  A bright light can disrupt one’s circadian rhythms making it difficult to fall asleep.
  3. Keep your child’s bedroom as dark as possible.  Even a night light can disrupt sleeping patterns.  Help them to get comfortable with the lights off, or leave a nightlight on until they fall asleep.
  4. Provide children with a pass that is good for one (and only one) trip out of the bedroom after their bedtime.  If needed, allow them to earn a reward for compliance after a few days.
  5. Avoid long naps during the day as this can make it difficult to fall asleep in the evening.
  6. Engage in calming activities like meditations, lullabies, affection, and storytelling to help children relax and prepare for sleep.
  7. If your child still has difficulty falling asleep, encourage them to count backwards in their heads from 100.
Clearly, we need to assure that our children get the needed sleep so that they can optimize their learning as well as their physical and emotional wellbeing.  If you know of any other strategies, please share them with us.

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, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to: www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com www.learningtolearn.biz  

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Teaching Mental Math to All Elementary Students


Many people think that mental math is too difficult for elementary learners, but, in fact, youngsters have wonderful imaginations and capacities to visualize that can be utilized while doing mathematical calculations.  In addition, it teaches them how to use their brains in an efficient, mindful and active manner.  What's more it develops working memory, executive functioning skills and attention abilities that can serve them for the rest of their lives.

How Can Mental Math Utilize and Develop Working Memory, Executive Functioning and Attention?
Working memory is the key mental process that enables one to hold, manipulate, organize and process both new and stored visual and auditory information.  When employing working memory, students also develop their executive functioning skills as well as their attention so that they can retrieve, integrate, and process the problem at hand.

Teaching Children the Power of Visualization Makes Mental Math Fun and Memorable
Another important component of an efficient and robust working memory is the capacity to visualize what one is learning.  Creating mental imagery that can be adjusted like an internal movie can make learning both fun and memorable.  If you are interested in helping students to develop this capacity, you can play activities and games that will help young learners to develop this skill.  To learn about why and how you can teach this, CLICK HERE.

What Types of Mental Math Can You Teach Children?
You can begin by teaching very simple mental math problems by encouraging your students to visualize objects that they can then count in their head.  I also love to use mental math to teach simple addition and subtraction.  Instead of rote memorization, I have a different approach.  Here are a few examples.
  1. Students can learn to add and subtract simple addition problems by visualizing dice.  I have them do art activities and play games with dice until they feel comfortable that they can picture them in their heads.  Then when they have to add numbers that integrate 1-6, they can visualize a die and count up for addition and countdown for subtraction.  
  2. I teach funny memory strategies that students can visualize for learning how to add identical digits like 2+2, 3+3, 4+4 and so forth.  For example, with the problem 9+9, I tell them that the two nines are in love, and they get married.  When this happens they become one (1), and two heads are better than one (8). 
  3. Once they can add the identical digits, the mental manipulation comes in.  If they know that 6+6=12, then they can compute 6+7.  All they have to do is 6+6=12 and 12+1=13. 
  4. I am also a strong believer in integrating color, games and multisensory methods.  To learn more about my Mathematic Math Manual idea CLICK HERE.
You would think that mental math is only for bright or gifted children, but I have found that it works brilliantly with children with learning disabilities and even those with low IQ scores.  In fact, it works quickly, and I find that my students have great fun with it.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.  Do you, too, use mental math when instructing elementary students?

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, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to: www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com www.learningtolearn.biz  

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Why Copying from a Board is Ineffective for Dyslexics


Having to take notes by copying from a board or projection while a teacher is lecturing is challenging for any learner, because it requires students to multitask and constantly shift modes of learning.  The process demands students to read, listen and write while making sense of the material.  However, for students with dyslexia this teaching method can be disastrous.

How Has Technology Impacted Note-taking?
Before the rise of educational technology, students used to copy while the teacher wrote on the blackboard, however, with the use of devices such as the Smartboard and software like PowerPoint, the words just magically appear.  As a result, many teachers lecture while the students are trying to read and write from the projected image, and what often happens is confusion, shoddy notes, gaps in knowledge, and frustrated learners.  But what about students with dyslexia that are also dealing with weaknesses in language processing and memory?  According to the British Dyslexia Association, taking notes is ineffective for this population of learners and "creates serious difficulties."

What are the Challenges Students with Dyslexia Face While Copying from the Board?
Many students with dyslexia find difficult to reproduce words accurately and, worst of all, many have trouble finding their place on the board after they have looked down at their notebook.  In addition, when under pressure to work quickly, students with dyslexia usually have problems in copying words accurately.  They may mix up words in two separate sentences, misspell words, omit words or they may patchwork words that they see on the board with the words their teacher is speaking into a nonsensical hodgepodge of disjointed sentences.  Even if they do record some legible and readable notes, they probably won't learn or fully understand the content, and will require another teacher or tutor to reteach the material.

What Does the Resent Research Say?
Dr. Kirkby, with The Language and Literacy Group at Bournemouth University, researched how dyslexia affects learners when they are reading from classroom whiteboards.  She discovered that copying from a board presents serious difficulties to learners with dyslexia." The process involves a series of sequential visual and cognitive processes, including visual-encoding, construction and maintenance of a mental representation in working memory, and production in written form. These are all activities that can be challenging for students with dyslexia.  In their experiment, they use a head-mounted eye-tracker to record eye movements, gaze transfer, and written production of adults and children that copied from a whiteboard.  The results of the study showed that adults typically encode and transcribe words as whole words, but researchers found that even children without reading difficulties used only partial-word representations that often made note-taking ineffective.

What Can Be Done to Remedy This Problem?
What is most important is for teachers to slow down.  Give students the time to digest and get involved in the content.  Also, be sure to use other modalities in the learning process to increase engagement such as hands-on activities, discussions, and skits.  Additional note-taking suggestions include:
·     Offer your students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities reasonable accommodations such as a note-taker, use of computer or a copy of another student’s notes. 
·     Present a copy of your own notes to the students at the beginning of class.  Be sure to leave space so that they can add their own thoughts and connections.
·     Allow students to use technology like the Smart Pen which will allow them to go back and supplement notes with the recorded lecture, organize their materials, highlight important content and transfer their written words into typed text.
·     Post PowerPoint presentations online or make them available as downloads to your students.
·     Teach note-taking strategies.
·     Continually evaluate your students note-taking abilities and help them to “fill in the gaps.”

If you have any other thoughts or suggestions, please share them with us by commenting under this blog post.

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, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to: www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com www.learningtolearn.biz  


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Friday, May 1, 2015

An Overview of the Orton-Gillingham Approach to Reading Instruction

Many parents and professionals ask me about the Orton-Gillingham approach to reading and spelling. It is a well-researched and multisensory way of teaching struggling readers.  In fact,  popular programs such as Lindamood-Bell, Wilson, Barton, Fast Forward, and Spire are all based on this incremental approach.

What is at the Heart of the Orton-Gillingham Approach?
I created the following infographic to help provide an overview of the process:
When was the Orton-Gillingham Approach Created, and Who Designed it?
The Orton-Gillingham approach has been around since the 1930's.  It was designed by a Samuel T. Orton, neurologist and pathologist, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist.  They developed an explicit, incremental and diagnostic way to teach reading instruction for students with dyslexia.

Limitations to using Orton-Gillingham Based Programs: 
Although the programs available on the market today offer a well-sequenced, comprehensive, cookie cutter methodology of teaching reading and spelling, I find that the process can be long and arduous for some students.  Many learners don't like completing workbooks and reading long lists of words. As a result, I suggest finding a professional that knows the Orton-Gillingham approach well and has the confidence and mastery to tailor individualized lessons for each student.  In addition, I suggest using tools that strengthen the core cognitive skills required to read and spell as well as implementing games and fun activities that make the learning process motivating and fun.  If you would like to see some of these products, Click Here.

If you have any thoughts or anecdotes about the Orton-Gillingham Approach, please share them below this post.

Here is a pinnable image:


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, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to: www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com www.learningtolearn.biz  

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Friday, April 24, 2015

A Learning Disability Diagnosis: Should I Tell My Child?


I find that a lot of parents decide to hide the fact that their child has a learning disability.  They want to protect them from negative associations with the label.  Most of all, they don't want their child to feel disabled or experience any bullying from his or her peers. Although there might be some short-lived uncertainties and uneasiness associated with learning about one's diagnosis, the research shows that has lasting beneficial outcomes.

How Can Learning about One's Learning Disability Diagnosis Help?
Learning about one's diagnosis can help in a number of ways.  Whether the child is in elementary school or even approaching college, learning about one's learning disability:
  1. shows there is a reason for academic struggles and that the child can receive support and reasonable accommodations that will help them to succeed.
  2. helps define the type of assistance that a child needs so that remediation can be tailored.
  3. enables children to shed negative labels such as stupid, lazy, unmotivated, and careless.  
I actually did my doctoral dissertation on this topic.  I interviewed higher education students that were diagnosed with a learning disability for the first time in college.  I wanted to see if their diagnosis impacted their sense of self.  The stories were inspiring and profound. Although some of the participants experienced some initial, short-term concern about their testing results, before long, all those interviewed reported that learning about their learning disability as well as their strengths was empowering in three areas of their life: personally, academically, occupationally, and socially. All of the participants had an improved self-esteem and felt "vindicated, validated and freed."  They reported improvements in their lives, and they all experience resulting academic and occupational success.

How Do I Disclose a Learning Disability Diagnosis to my Child?

      1) Prepare Your Discussion

  • Manage your own emotional reactions to the diagnosis, before talking to the child.
  • Make sure you know all about the learning disability including associated struggles and even some possible strengths associated with the condition.
  • Compose a simple script before you begin the conversation about the evaluation results and any changes that might take place in school.  
  • Be prepared to explain what the learning disability is and what it is not in a sensitive and age-appropriate way.  Avoid professional terms and use vocabulary that is easy to understand.  
      2) Conversation Suggestions:
  • Discuss the child's learning problems with him or her in a gradual, informal, and sequential way.
  • Share that all people have strengths and weaknesses and then discuss some of your own challenges. 
  • Remind the child that they learn in a unique way that requires hard work and some different activities from classmates.  
  • Explain that learning can be a challenge and that it may take a little longer to master some skills than other classmates.
  • Reassure the child that negative and fearful feelings are natural and understandable at first, but that in time, learning about their brain will help them to be successful in life.
  • Provide inspiration by citing successful people, friends and family members that have similar problems.
  • Emphasize the child's strengths and do not simply focus on deficits and difficulties.
  • Remind the child that there is a strong and intact support system at home and at school.
  • Talk about accommodations and modifications that he or she may need.
  • Encourage the use of teacher-pleasing behaviors in response to receiving extra help.
  • Finish the conversation by encouraging the child to ask questions.
How Do I Support my Child After Disclosing His or Her Learning Disability?
  • Maintain open lines of communication with your child, so he or she can speak freely at home and with school personnel.
  • Be prepared to spontaneously discuss incidents that may occur at home or at school in a positive and supportive manner.
  • Share ways your child can compensate for any academic or social difficulties.
  • Teach your child self-advocacy skills.
  • Provide encouragement as well as positive and constructive feedback.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and express optimism about the future.
  • Keep expectations realistic but high.  As children grow and receive remedial assistance, areas of difficulty can be overcome.
  • Set goals that are attainable, even if this is only in small progressive steps. 
In the long run, hiding a learning disability diagnosis from your child will create more difficulties and angst than it will save.  In contrast, helping a child learn about their difficulties as well as their strengths is a critical step in developing and sustaining motivation, independence, and self-advocacy skills.
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, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to: www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com www.learningtolearn.biz  

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