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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Working Memory, Hemisphere Integration and Attention Building Activities

Successful learners are fully engaged, can maintain attention and they activate both hemispheres of their brain.  However, many young learners go through their daily classroom activities without being fully conscious of the task at hand.  They are constantly distracted by external stimuli as well as their own internal thoughts that take them on “little trips” outside of the classroom.  Although their bodies are present, their minds are elsewhere.  What’s more, when these students eventually become consciously involved in the classroom, many have missed important instruction and they may only be activating the dominant side of their brain.  So, for example, if a student is only using the right hemisphere, reading can become a difficult task, as for most people, the left hemisphere of the brain is dominant for language.  For students that fall into this profile, learning can become difficult, frustrating and taxing.   

What Can We Do to Help Students Improve Memory, Activate Their Whole Brain and Improve Attention?

The key to developing these skills lies in improving three areas of cognition:
  1. Working memory
  2. Hemispheric Integration 
  3. Attention

What is Working Memory?

According to Google definitions, working memory is the part of short-term memory that is concerned with immediate, conscious, perceptual and linguistic processing.  The development of working memory is fundamental to helping students to be present and mindful while in the classroom.  It also helps them to encode information as well as perform mental manipulations.

What is Hemispheric Integration? 

Hemispheric Integration is the activation of both the left and right hemispheres of the brain.  When hemisphere integration is poor, there is decreased communication between the right and left sides of the brain.  Electrically, the two hemispheres are not communicating, there is an imbalance between the right and left sides of the brain or one hemisphere is activated while the other remains largely inactive.   Multisensory integration is essential for almost every activity that we perform because the combination of multiple sensory inputs is essential for us to comprehend our surroundings.  Dan Seigal (see link below) suggests, "A healthy and productive mind “emerges from a process called integration."  Both Dennison (see link below) and Hannaford (see link below) offer physical activities that integrate the brain through movement, but this publication offers quick printable activities that can also activate both hemispheres and train the brain to be mindful and present for improved memory and processing.

What are Attention Building Activities? 

Attention building activities require students to maintain attention in order to complete the exercise. Without being fully focused, the drills are virtually impossible.  If instructors or learning specialists slowly increase the number of activities that the student completes in a single session, they will be training the brain to concentrate over longer and longer periods of time. 

Why I Created and Use These Activities with My Students? 

We live in a society that is constantly bombarding children with stimuli to the point that when there is no stimulation, many kids get bored.  In addition, many children do not know how to activate their own cognition and take control of their own thought processes.   I created these fun, game-like activities to help students become mindfully present, develop working memory, engage both hemispheres of the brain and improve the capacity to sustain attention.  Many of the activities were created with the Stroop Effect in mind.  The effect is named after John Ridley Stroop who first researched and published the effect in England in 1935.  Later, his findings inspired a test, The Stroop Test.  The Stroop Test is purported to measure selective attention, cognitive flexibility, processing speed, and executive functions.  If you would like to learn more about these activities as well as see some sample pages, Click HereI also created some fun card games to strengthen executive functioning/working memory 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 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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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Teacher Assessment Cycle: Becoming A Better Teacher

Wouldn’t you like to be the first person to know if your lesson was a flop or your students misinterpreted your words or intentions?  Whether you like it or not, your students are continually evaluating your teaching materials and instructional style.  Their opinions travel quickly to peers, parents, tutors, advisors, and school administrators.  Frequently, the last person to hear this feedback is often the actual teacher.  In fact, this negative chatter, and exaggerations can turn a minor incident or criticism into a big ordeal.  What’s more, the spread of negative gossip can create lasting misconceptions.

Listen to Your Students Ideas and Opinions:
Allowing your students to evaluate your classroom materials, assignments and approaches can provide the needed feedback right to the source – you, the teacher. You will be surprised at the value of your students’ critiques.  My students have inspired some of my best materials.

How Can Teachers Gather This Information?

·     Utilizing a questionnaire with a Likert Scale can allow you to assess your students’ feedback quantitatively.   This can be done for assignments, projects, lessons and more.
·     Offer a suggestion box, where students can anonymously submit their feedback.  Weekly, you can review the comments, and if needed, discuss the advice with the class.
·     Allocate 10 minutes a week for students to discuss their ideas, favorite lessons and materials as well as critiques and concerns. 

How Can Teachers and Students Benefit from The Teacher Assessment Cycle?
·    Students know what is “cool” for their generation, and they can help keep you abreast of the motivating fads.
·    Students can discover how to be mindful of what they are learning and to generate and share their creative ideas.
·    Students will learn the value of accepting feedback.
·    Students can be empowered participants in the design of the curriculum.  In fact, if your students feel that they have a voice in your approach, they will be more motivated to complete the work. 
·    Students come to your class with a wealth of experience and knowledge, and they are their own best experts.
·    Students can develop their critical reasoning skills.
·    Students learn through example, and they will often imitate the behaviors of their teachers.  Therefore, if you listen to your students, they will be more apt to listen to you. 
·    Students can learn communication skills.  If inappropriate or hurtful words are expressed during an evaluation, you can use this as a lesson tool.  Teach your students how to turn negative criticism into positive advice.   The class can practice how to communicate their feelings in a way that gets their message across without hurting the recipient’s feelings and also achieving their desired outcome.
·    Students might make you aware of issues that you innocently overlooked.  For example, just yesterday when I was working with a student, Maddy.  She had to complete a portfolio assignment for her math class, and one of the requirements was to make the presentation as colorful as possible.  Maddy was troubled, as she did not have access to a color printer, while many of her peers did.   She was afraid that she would be graded down for this and spent a lot of time hand coloring the images, knowing that her attempt to mimic a color printout was second rate.   At the end of the assignment, the teacher allowed Maddy to rate this project and make recommendations for the future.  Maddy was pleased to communicate her concerns and shared that some students in the class could not afford a color printer.  In another instance, I learned that, “some Native American Tribes consider it to be taboo to show students animals such as snakes or owls.”  This was valuable feedback, because I often use images of animals in my lessons and was innocently unaware of this offensive behavior.

Clearly, accepting student evaluations will help you to be a life-long learner, an expert on your students’ needs as well as better, kinder, teacher.  I would love to hear your feedback.  If you would like a free copy of Dr. Warren's printable assessments, 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 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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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Midterms and Finals: Free Strategies and Handouts for Success

For many students, midterms are right around the corner, and learning how to plan for these comprehensive exams can be key to helping them manage test anxiety and achieve the desired grades.

What Can Teachers Do to Help Prepare Students for Midterms and Finals?

     1.     Throughout the Term Encourage Your Students to Create a “Test Preparation Portfolio”:
·      Help your students to create test preparation materials weekly from homework, classwork, notes, handouts and textbooks. 
·      Provide the opportunity for your students to ask questions about prior class content that creates confusion when they are preparing their portfolio.
·      Evaluate each student’s test preparation materials and make recommendations.
     2.     Communicate with Your Students About Upcoming Exams:
·      Inform your students about the exams well in advance and provide a study guide.
·      Inspire your students to organize their materials.  Evaluate their approach and offer recommendations.
·      Encourage your students to create materials such as two column study sheets, index cards, sets on Quizlet and so forth.  Again, evaluate their resources and offer recommendations.
     3.     Help Your Students Estimate the Time Needed to Fully Prepare for Exams:
·      Urge your students to come up with the total time they think it will take to prepare for the test.
·      Encourage your students to create a study schedule that designates reasonable time commitments over a period of time.
     4.     Teach Your Students to Use Memory Strategies:
·      Show your students how to use acronyms to encode and retrieve information.
·      Instruct your students on acrostics.
·      Inform your students how to use images and mental imagery to enhance memory.
·      Teach your students how to use hooking strategies. 
·      For an in-depth look at memory strategies CLICK HERE.
     5.     Help Your Students Determine Whether Working With Others or Working Alone is Best for Them and Encourage All Your Students to Share their Finished Test Preparation Materials:
·      Teach your students that some individuals do better when they work independently, while others thrive when collaborating with peers, parents and teachers.
·      Encourage students to share their preference to work independently or in groups and support their choice. 
·      Help students, that are empowered by interactions, to form study groups.
·      Allow your students to use some class time to prepare for tests so that you can assist study groups as well as those that choose to work independently.
·      Encourage your students to share their ideas, memory strategies and other test preparation creations with the rest of the class.
     6.     Offer Strategies that Students Can Implement Once They have Finished Studying:
·      Teach your students how to manage stress through deep breathing, stretching, and mindfulness practices such as meditation.
·      Urge your students to get a good night’s sleep before the exam.
·      Suggest to your students that they should eat a well-balanced and healthy breakfast the morning of the exam. 
·      Encourage your students to think positively about the test and to visualize their own success. 

To get a free downloadable copy of the two images at the top of this blog CLICK HERE.
To learn more about test preparation strategies as well as other helpful learning tools, consider purchasing Planning Time Management and Organization for Success.  This publication offers methods and materials that guide, and support students in the areas of learning strategies, time management, planning and organization (executive functioning skills).  It includes agendas, questionnaires, checklists, as well as graphic organizers.  You will also find advice and handouts for reading, math, memory, motivation, setting priorities and incentives programs.  These materials were created over a ten-year period for my private practice.  What’s more, the materials accommodate learners of all ages from elementary to college.  Finally, I offer a free sample assessment from the publication too, as well as a free video on executive functioning.  To Access this, select on the orange, free sample assessment button at the following link 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, 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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