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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Soothe Your Students and Increase Homework Productivity

When students are spent and stressed from a long day at school, it can be a chore to get them to complete their homework. So how can one entice these passive, unmotivated learners to pick up the pencil and mindfully coast through their assignments?

Working as a learning specialist and educational therapist, I meet with most of my students for a single hour each week. Therefore, it is imperative that I use every minute of my session wisely. It took me some time to realize that, for some students, it is a fruitless and frustrating chore to push them to plow through assignments. For these students, I need to commence at a slow pace and pause for 5 to 10 minutes, before they are encouraged to plunge into the pool of school work.

What Gets in the Way?
There are a number of hurdles that can topple a student session.
  • Low stamina: Many students are cognitively spent after a day of school.
  • Poor motivation: Some students have little to no interest in completing homework.
  • Attention issues: Some students struggle with attentional difficulties, and if they are fatigued after a long day of school their ability to focus is further compromised.

What Can Be Done to Soothe your Students and Charge Cognition?
My favorite strategy is allowing learners a few minutes to interact with my Zen Table. The Zen Table is a piece of furniture that holds deep recesses that house a variety of tactile manipulatives such as sand, beans, lentils, rocks, and magnets. I have two distinct sides to my table. On one side I have mung beans and magnets, and on the other I have lentils and rocks. Many of my students gravitate to this place where we can let the stress of the day “dribble out of our fingertips” as we gather our thoughts, connect and create intentions, talk about the day, and plan our approach.

I found my Zen Table on Overstock about ten years ago, but I have also created them in crates, large Tupperware bins, chests and boxes.  If you look for coffee tables with storage, you can find a number of options.  As another possibility, you can create your own Zen Table with these free plans. This option is particularly cool as it features a chalkboard for the top of the table, which can be used to brainstorm ideas or draw out goals.

Other Strategies that Can Help
There are a number of other tricks I can employ when antsy or apathetic students come to a session.
  • Play Upbeat Music: One of my favorite gadgets at work is the Amazon Echo which I have recently upgraded to the Amazon Show.  This voice activated device can play a tune upon command as well as perform many other skills. With many motivating songs, there is a multitude of options.  For example, I always begin one of my student sessions with the song Happy by Pharrell Williams.  It’s an opportunity for us to elevate our mood and move our bodies.
  • Offer a Kinesthetic or Brain Break: Spending a minute or so bouncing on my Zenergy Ball chairs or doing exercises like jumping jacks can pull most students out of a slump.
  • Conduct a 3 minute Muse session: For my students that struggle with focusing issues, I have found my Muse is my go-to device.  The Muse is an app and headset that can walks students through guided, mindful meditations while providing constant biofeedback on their level of attention.

As each student has their own motivating triggers, I encourage you to consult with each student and tailor an individual approach.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

7 Mindful Methods Boost Sensory Processing for Improved Learning

An awesome sunset will likely capture one’s attention for a minute or two, but much of our sensory processing information remains overlooked. Although we are subconsciously processing our surroundings with our senses so that we can navigate our environment, being consciously aware of this sensory input is less common.

I’ll never forget a seventh grade student, Mary, that I had in a study skills course. One afternoon, she came bursting into the classroom and eagerly shared a profound revelation. Mary had consciously decided to focus her attention and listen in class, and she was astonished at how easy it was to learn.

Individuals of all ages have the ability to get “lost in thoughts,” and these distractions can be past experiences, future predictions, fantasies, worries, or even new and creative ideas. In fact, many of us are so tangled in the past and the future, that we miss the present moment. Students that struggle with processing sensory information in the moment are often diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and or Attention Deficit Disorder. Mary had been diagnosed with the later, and she had learned to mindfully address her learning challenge. Whether students struggle with these diagnoses or not, teaching them to be aware of the here and now can provide them the metacognitive skills to maximize their potential.

There is currently a growing movement in America called “Mindfulness.” The idea is to live in the here and now, and this mindset and embedded strategies can benefit students as well as their teachers, and parents. In fact, if a teacher or parent chooses to teach these skills, they will have to master the process themselves. To do this, one must learn to mindfully tap awareness into one’s senses.

Mindful Sensory Activities that Improve Attention and Learning

Being fully aware of your senses can be a great way to manage attention and capacity to learn. Here are my favorite sensory strategies that you can implement yourself or teach youngsters so they can improve attention, metacognition and learning at large:

  1. Visual: I believe that visualization is a secret weapon to maximizing learning potential. Mental imagery is a key ingredient to improving working memory as well as emotional intelligence and attentional skills. I have found that the best way to teach visualization is through games and mindful discussions. To help with this process, I wrote a book entitled Mindful Visualization for Education. If you would like to read more about this product and the research behind it, CLICK HERE
  2. Auditory: Mindfully addressing your inner voice, the words we hear in our own heads, is another powerful tool for managing sensory input and improving cognition. This is also another key ingredient to improving working memory as well as attentional skills. Mindful task cards can be used to help students change their inner voice from a critic to a cheerleader. 
  3. Tactile: Touch is another sensation that can be used to improve learning. In fact, tactile learners find that feeling and manipulating items in their surroundings can help them to encoding information into their memory banks. This might, for example, include writing out information that needs to be learned, doodling, physically mapping out ideas with sticky notes, using manipulatives like an abacus, or conducting hands on experiments. I also use a tactile Zen Table in my office to help to soothe and calm students that are feeling spent or agitated. Another option I like is to provide a balloon to my students and encourage them to blow their worries into the balloon. After that, we can let the air out or we can tie it and pop it! 
  4. Taste: Helping students to be mindful of what they eat can be a game changer. Healthy food can feed the brain, whereas junk food can trigger brain fog. For example, we need B vitamins (from foods like organic eggs, fish and cheese) for healthy nerves and brain cells. In addition, research suggests that blueberries can provide antioxidants for improved memory. Furthermore, vitamin C has long been thought to have the power to increase mental agility. Some of the best sources of this vitamin are blackcurrants, red peppers, citrus fruits and broccoli. Finally, pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc. This valuable mineral enhances memory and thinking skills. 
  5. Smell: Familiar aromas can trigger an emotional response in just about anyone. It might be the wafting scent of pot roast, a loved one’s perfume, or a pathway of fragrant Lily of the Valley on a Spring morning. One can bring soothing scents into a session, and many experts in the field of aromatherapy suggest that essential oils can be used to help with concentration, memory, and more. Essential oils can even be tried to manage stress
  6. Kinesthetics or movement of the body: For many students movement and exercise promotes learning. In fact, research suggests that regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down the mental aging process and helps us process information more effectively. I love to integrate movement into almost all my sessions. Even if it means that we are simply maintaining an active core while sitting on a ball-chair
  7. Interoception: Interoception describes our awareness and sensitivity to internal body sensations such as pain, temperature, itch, hunger, thirst, and breathlessness. Emotions often arise from our interoceptive sensations, too. When someone asks how you feel, you often check-in with your body. Body scan and breathing meditations can be a wonderful way to help students to mindfully become aware of stress and negative sensations in their body so that they can make a conscious effort to manage their reactions and release, for example, muscle tension. Changing the body's reaction to the brain and also making a conscious effort to breathe can have a profound impact on learning. Again, my Mindful Tasks Cards can help students manage their internal body sensations as well as their emotions. 
I hope you found this helpful. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Empowering Students: Pay Attention and You Will Find the Magic

As a learning specialist and educational therapist, I find an individualized approach for each of my students is key. I often begin by giving the Eclectic Teaching Profile, which is an assessment that comes with the Eclectic Teaching Approach, but I also pay careful attention to my student’s mannerisms, sense of humor, and passions when creating a tailored intervention.

Just this past week, I was working with Olivia, a 10-year-old that will be entering the 5th grade this fall. In school, Olivia has struggled with maintaining attention, reading comprehension, multi-step directions, and math. This student is a vivacious and voracious learner who loves color and order.  In fact, this past week, Olivia eagerly showed me a strategy that she created to organize her iPhone, and quite frankly, it blew me away. It is not only an approach that I am now using myself, but it provides a wonderful glimpse on how I can best serve the needs of this creative learner.  

What is Olivia’s Ingenious Approach to Organizing Iphone Apps?
Olivia came up with a “Rainbow Approach” to arranging her apps, and her technique is spreading like wildfire as her friends are asking her to duplicate it on their devices.  Olivia quickly organized my apps this way, and when a friend of mine saw it, she implored that I help her to reorganize her iPhone this way too.

Here are the Steps to Olivia’s Approach:
  1. Look at each app icon and organize similar colors into the same folder. This can be done by holding your finger down on an app icon until all the icons wiggle. Then, click and drag icons of similar color on top of one another. This will create a folder.  Next, click and drag other apps of a similar color into that folder.
  2. Once you have all the app icons organized into color coded folders, drag the folders and organize the colors in the sequence of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.  You can also arrange black apps as well as white and gray apps into their own folders.  
  3. When apps are multicolored, Olivia suggests placing this in the “rainbow folder.”
  4. You can label the folders with a word, but Olivia uses emojis of the same color to define the folder.  For example, Olivia helped me select a red apple for my red folder, a blue raindrop for my blue folder, and a lemon for my yellow folder.  Of course, the rainbow folder features a rainbow emoji.  
  5. Organize the color-coded apps in each folder, so that the ones you use the most are featured first.

Why Do I Like this Approach?
It’s a quick, no-brainer, and clutter free way to see all your apps on one page. Even if you did not recognize the apps icon color in the past, it doesn’t take long to learn the system and accessing them for future use proves quick and effective.

How Can I Apply Olivia’s Approach to Her Academics?
Olivia’s approach to organizing her iPhone, provides great information about how she likes to process information. Clearly, Olivia likes to see the “big picture” and enjoys a simultaneous approach that categorizes information.  In addition, Olivia loves color, and this can be a useful way to organize multi-step directions and step by step approaches to learning.  Here is how I can apply it to academics.
  1. Break the steps required to do math problems into a color coded (rainbow) approach.  This is what we did for an order of operations math lesson and this made the activity, fun and memorable for Olivia.
  2. Map out assignments so that Olivia can see the whole approach.  Use color to designate any sequence.
  3. Bring color into all assignments and activities.  Olivia absolutely loves the Frixion markers and using them really brings the fun factor into our lessons.
  4. Use Frixion markers to underline and annotate readings.  If Olivia has reading comprehension questions, she can underline each question a different color.  When she finds the lines in her reading that answer a specific question, she can underline it the same color as the question.
  5. When writing, Olivia can use what I call, Color Coded Writing.  This is great for any research based writing.  Each paragraph is assigned a color. When a student finds information that he or she wants to use in a specific paragraph, the key text is underlined in the same color.

Allowing students to be the captain of their remedial approach not only makes the process fun and creative, but you will be honoring their most comfortable way of processing.  What’s more, you will get them actively involved and invested in the learning process.  Maybe you will even find your student’s genius qualities, as I did with Olivia, and start to employ their strategies in your own life.
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.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Language Processing Disorder: 12 Easy Steps to Boost Receptive Language

The spoken word gives human’s an incredible advantage over other species, but for those that struggle with language processing, this “invisible difficulty,” can create countless challenges.  What’s more, this problem often goes unnoticed and many of these students are misunderstood and mislabeled as inattentive, careless, lazy absent-minded, and defiant.

What is a Language Processing Disorder?
Language processing disorders are not uncommon, and it is a difficulty that impacts communication and social relations. This disorder can impact a student’s ability to understand language (receptive language) and/or express their thoughts (expressive language). Like many cognitive based challenges, it can manifest in a variety of ways. One student might struggle to outline their thoughts, while another might battle with accessing the right word or name from their memory banks, following a sequence of directives, or even maintaining attention. In addition, a student may experience difficulties with either receptive language or expressive language.  Some struggle with a combination: expressive/receptive language disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Language Processing Difficulties
There are a number of signs and symptoms that can serve as red flags for language processing problems.

Common Expressive Language Difficulties:
  • Develops the ability to speak later than most youngsters
  • Struggles with weak vocabulary and learning new words
  • Confusions with verb tenses
  • Frustrates with word finding difficulties
  • Troubles communicating thoughts
  • Jumbles words and says things that are nonsensical
  • Repeats themselves when telling stories or answering questions
  • Difficulties expressing ideas in writing

Common Receptive Language Difficulties:
  • Appears disinterested or distracted when in conversation or social interactions
  • Misinterprets or misunderstands verbal or written directives
  • Appears shy or withdrawn
  • Struggles understanding sarcasm or jokes
  • Difficulties with reading comprehension
  • Troubles telling jokes

Getting Tested for Language Processing Disorders
If the warning signs listed above describe a child, the next step is to pursue an evaluation. You can acquire testing with a local speech and language pathologist, or if the child is in school, one can request that the local public school conduct a free evaluation.  Even if the child is in a private school, testing can be requested at your local school district.

12 Easy Treatment Options for Language Processing Disorders
If a language disorder is present or suspected, individual sessions with a speech and language professional or educational therapist can help develop the needed skills.  As another option, you can acquire tools that can help to develop these skills.  Here are 12 different resources. If you select the title, you can learn more about these products.
  1. Speech and Language Bundle
  2. Following Directions Bundle
  3. Reversing Reversals Primary
  4. Making Inferences the Fun and Easy Way
  5. Word Shuffle
  6. Hey, What's the Big Idea
  7. The Main I-Deer
  8. 5 Ws Detectives
  9. Show Don't Tell
  10. Abstract Thinking and Multiple Meanings
  11. Categorizing, paragraph Building and Transitional Words Activities
  12. Memory Master
I hope you found this blog helpful!  If you have any questions, feel free to reach out and contact me at erica@goodsensorylearning.com.
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.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

12 Executive Functioning Strategies for Student Success

Gearing up for the fall, teachers and parents often scour for strategies that can help learners maximize their learning potential, complete assignments on time, and manage their workload. Although, executive functioning is a no brainer for many, planning, time management and organization can be troublesome and bewildering for others. In fact, I work with many bright and capable students that have the intellect, test taking capabilities and desire to acquire top marks, yet missing assignments, lost materials, avoidant behavior and messy backpacks wreck their GPA. Each academic year offers students a fresh start, so providing them the needed resources and support is key!

Students that struggle with executive functioning are often categorized as lazy, unmotivated, and careless. These misnomers couldn't be farther from the truth. Rather, executive functioning skills are not fully developed in the brain until one reaches his or her early twenties, and expecting students to independently manage their learning can be a mistake that can derail a student from reaching their true potential. What can we do to help these frustrated learners?

12 Strategies that Can Help:
  1. Establish a structured, daily routine and write out a plan for each day of the week.
  2. Demonstrate how you set priorities, and then guide students so that they too can establish a well sequenced, and mindful plan of action.
  3. Create a consistent homework plan. This will include an allocation of time for each assignment, defined breaks, rewards and consequences.
  4. Provide a scaffolded approach to time management, and help students generate self imposed deadlines.
  5. Break large assignments into a sequence of manageable and scheduled tasks.
  6. Make accessible to-do lists on smart phones using apps like Wunderlist, desktop applications like Reminders, note taking services like Google Keep, and use a tailored planner such as The Ultimate, Mindful and Editable Planner/Agenda.
  7. Teach study skills such as note taking and test taking strategies.
  8. Provide motivating incentives and positive reinforcement when you see desired behaviors. 
  9. Utilize graphic organizers or outlines for planning ideas and writing to help students conceptualize a sequence of steps as well as an overall approach.
  10. Teach metacognitive skills by demonstrating the thought processes aloud.
  11. Be patient and supportive. Avoid any negative labels and guide students to correct responses. Also, provide students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and gain partial credit for these efforts.
  12. Provide the tools and resources.  Have structured handouts, planner sheets, study material, and review compensatory strategies.  
Ready Made Material and Free Sample Resources:
The Executive Functioning Cognitive Remedial Bundle offers a comprehensive approach to improving a student’s planning, time management and organization abilities. This bundle offers a discounted suite of downloadable planners, cognitive remedial activities/games, and mindful handouts that were designed to help learning specialists, educational therapist and even parents assist students in developing executive functioning skills. If you would like to learn more about each of the products featured in this discounted bundle, click on any of the following titles to learn more:
To get a free sampling of activities from one of the publications in the bundle, CLICK HERE

If you would like to watch a video on this content, click on the image below:

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.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Magic of Humor: Bring the Silly into Student Sessions

Reflecting on my best sessions over the past 18 years as a learning specialist, the one common factor was a silly and playful connection. Humor can be a magical tool that can cut through overwhelm, frustration and even feelings of helplessness, thus infusing lessons in light hearted relief and gaiety.  Tears from failure can turn into belly aching laughter, if you can bring wit and whimsy to the table.

How Can Humor Help?
Research shows that humor reduces stress and correlates with improved health, resilience, increased life expectancy, and overall well being.  In fact, a number of studies suggest that laughter stimulates the immune system and alleviates the negative effects of stress hormones.

Your Choice of Words Can Impacts Your Students Attitude
  1. Pick Playful Lesson Titles: When designing your lessons it is important to bring fun and giggles into the lesson title.  For example, instead of telling your students that they will be working on script or cursive lettering, increase the fun factor exponentially by choosing a playful lesson title such as "Roller Coaster Letters."  Beyond that, keep your students imaginations turning and twirling by offering directives to the letter formations.  For example, when teaching script, I call the letter z, the hump ditty bump letter.  When forming the letter, you first make a hump and then a bump before looping below the line.  Now that’s one fun rollercoaster letter!
  2. Shed Negative Names: Replace discouraging or judgemental words with cute or funny terms.  For example, instead of telling a student that they are wrong or incorrect, simply call it an oops.  Better yet, guide them to the correct answer so that they can experience success.

Cracking Jokes and Acting Silly Can Be a Recipe for Success
If the mood is somber at the beginning of a session, I love to start with a joke, a tongue twister, some goofy dance move, or a ridiculous YouTube clip. Sometimes will we talk about what is bothering them, so I can help them move through that energy and choose a better mindset.  

Telling Humorous Stories Can Inspire and Motivate Frustrated Learners
Simply telling a student that they have to “jump through the hoops” that their teacher lays before them, usually does not work. Like a cat that fears water, pushing a student towards their discomfort may cause them to lash out and growl as you continue to apply pressure. However, a humorous story can create connection, illustrate a point, and motivate a response.

As a student I, too, was known to buck the system and resist complying with teachers’ demands or ideas that seemed ridiculous. As a result, when trying to educate my students on the power of acquiescing, I often tell the story of Mr. Kersnowski.

Mr. Kersnowski was an English professor at my undergraduate university, and I was warned by many prior students of his, that there was a risk to taking his courses. If he liked you, you got an A and if he didn’t, you were doomed to fail. The next semester, I not only took one course, but two with this notorious teacher. I sailed through the first half of the semester with high marks, but Mr. Kersnowski had a strange and quite absurd notion that he repeated incessantly in his lectures. Mr. Kersnowski ranted that in life there was a line that was never to be crossed.  If one were to cross that line, they would “fall into the chicken fat.” This metaphor tormented Mr. Kersnowski, and he thrust this image upon us with a frenzied force. One day, my patience hit that very edge, and I raised my hand and stepped across that line, declaring, “Mr. Kersnowski, perhaps you should just jump into the chicken fat.”  From that point forward, Mr. Kersnowski shunned me and showered me with failing marks. I did all I could to pull myself out of the chicken fat, but it was too late.  Mr. Kersnowski would not budge and my GPA paid the price. I often joke with my students that Mr. Kersnowski, himself, was the chicken fat, but what the story illustrates is the possible consequences a student may be dealt when resisting a teacher’s directives or “crossing their defined lin.”

So when I come across a student that struggles to follow rules or teacher expectations, I can use this silly anecdote to draw parallels and inject some chuckles into intense situations.

Clearly, embracing humor and making an effort to share a chuckle with your students has multiple benefits. It will not only improve your connection, but it will also promote the overall well being for you and your 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 and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/, www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

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