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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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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Empower Dyslexic Students with Successful Tools and Strategies

Students with dyslexia require a comprehensive approach to learning and strategy based instruction, because many of these capable learners are not accommodated by traditional teaching methods.  In addition to carrying the weight of their cognitive based weaknesses, these young learners work full tilt trying to make sense of taxing instruction. By the time they get home and have to complete their homework, most are mentally exhausted.  As a result, taking away any down time and adding remedial lessons to an already weary and discourage learner can be enough to turn these kids off to learning altogether.

How Can We Help Students with Dyslexia Learn the Core Skills and Strategies Needed to be Successful Learners?
  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. Address the cognitive based weaknesses associated with dyslexia.  These often include rapid automatic naming (RAN) and word finding, working memory, memory, visual processing, auditory processing and executive functioning skills. What’s more, many of these learners have a poor academic self concept and require strategies to build their resilience.  
  3. 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  Good Sensory Learning Spelling Assessment and Remedial Approach
  4. Third, utilize a fun and engaging method.  Many programs required students to slog through boring lessons, complicated rules, and bland workbook pages. However, many of these concepts can be instructed through cute memory strategies and fun activities.  You can find many engaging supplemental materials here.
  5. Fourth, integrate a student-created, colorful, language arts handbook or guide. Click here to learn more about this method.  You can do the same thing for math.  To learn more Click Here
  6. Fifth, help students learn how to visualize what they are reading, scenes before they write, as well as the lessons they learn in class.  Many struggling learners do not have the cognitive space to use their mind's eye when encoding information. Therefore, providing a scaffolded approach and helping them develop 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.
  7. Sixth, and most important, supplement all 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 a Comprehensive, Multisensory and Remedial Approach?
The Dyslexia Remedial Bundle offers a discounted selection of Dr. Warren's digital download publications that can be used to strengthen and remediate the cognitive weaknesses associated with dyslexia.
Below are the publications included in this bundle. When you click on the name, you will be guided to the product page in another window.  Here you can learn about each publication.
All these products can be printed in black and white or color.  I use most of the products in my private practice on my iPad with students both online and in person.  By using the free app, Zoom, students can do many of the activities on a computer or tablet.  Here is a video I created to share this strategy.  https://youtu.be/yRvozyE-BpU
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 5, 2017

Focusing on the Negative: How Schooling Conditions an Abusive Inner Voice

 
The current approach in many schools is to focus on the negative. When something goes wrong, such as missing assignments, incorrect answers, or avoidant behaviors, students are often punished with detentions, criticism, demerits and poor marks. In fact, it is difficult to see where we teach students how to build positive character strengths such as resilience, grit, confidence, self-control, curiosity and social intelligence. This overarching focus on the negative can take a toll on student motivation and many learners are also harassed with a negative inner voice that constantly undermines stamina as well as the learning process.

What Have I Been Witnessing in my Practice?
Over the past 15 years in my private practice as a learning specialist, I have witnessed an increase of depression, anxiety, and learned helplessness in my students.  Many of these discouraged learners have identified with and integrated negative labels to describe themselves such as “careless,” “lazy,” “unmotivated,” “liar,” and “stupid,” to name a few, that have provoke avoidance and shutdown.

A Recent Trend Asks Students to Analyze their Errors:
In theory, asking students to be mindful of their errors is a wonderful idea that can allow teachers to expose student needs and encourage metacognition.  Student are asked to consider the causes of their homework and testing errors, so that they can learn the root difficulty.  Unfortunately, what I am observing in my practice is for students with low resilience and a poor academic self concept, this process can be torturous. In addition, this overarching focus on the negative is discouraging for virtually all students.  I have seen that students are often given defined options such as, "I committed a concept error" (AKA “I’m stupid”) or a "detail error" (AKA “I’m careless".) Sadly, I have never witnessed external factors presented to the students as options, such as, "the curriculum was poor" or "the teacher’s presentation was lacking."  As a result students come to believe that all the fault resides in themselves.  

What Can We Do to Change This Negative Trend?
The answer is twofold.  First we need to encourage teachers to change their approach and second we need to help students build confidence and move their inner voice from critic to cheerleader and then from cheerleader to champion.

14 Ways to Nurture Resilience and Confidence:
  1. Be present and find joy in being with your learners.
  2. Recognize effort not intellect.
  3. Provide at least 6 positive comments for every negative one. According to Harvard Business Review the highest performing business teams witness 6 positive comments to 1 negative comments.  
  4. Recognize and support students when they behave appropriately.  In addition, be consistent about letting them know that you like what they are doing.
  5. Use Tools like ClassDojo to help nurture a happier learning experience.
  6. Stop using negative labels and embrace words of encouragement.  For example, instead of telling a student that they are wrong or incorrect, use words or phrases like: "nice try, almost, getting there, give it another shot."
  7. Recognize caring and supportive relationships that make each student feel valued.
  8. Offer guidance and high expectations for each student's potential.
  9. Offer opportunities for creative expression and critical thinking discussions.
  10. Build community in your classroom, and provide students the opportunity to help one another.
  11. Encourage and praise students that ask for help.
  12. Recognize and reinforce the expression of feelings.
  13. Provide opportunities for students to learn from their mistakes and show that mishaps are opportunities for growth.  
  14. Help students to recognize and change negative and self-defeating labels and behaviors.
  15. Help learners manage stress.  Talk about stress factors with your students in the classroom and brainstorm coping strategies.
Ready Made Activity Cards Develop Emotional Intelligence and Working Memory:
I created Mindfulness Activity Cards for Developing Emotional Intelligence and Working Memory based on the current research on emotional intelligence, social emotional learning, and working memory.  There are 100 cards in the 2 sets, and they can be used in therapeutic sessions or classrooms to help develop mindfulness, a positive inner voice, inner visualizations, emotional regulation, emotional intelligence, resilience, and community. Additionally, they can be used to teach authentic dialogue and develop self-esteem. These task cards are ideal for individual sessions, round table discussions, and circle groups.  


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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