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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Inquiry Based Instruction: A Four Step Process to Student Empowerment

Having focused my higher education on lifelong learning, I studied both pedagogy (a child-focused teaching approach) as well as andragogy (an adult-focused teaching approach).  In fact, I believe that many of the distinctions in instructional methods are valid, such as children come to lessons with little to no experience, while adults come to the learning table with far more know-how and knowledge.  However, over the years of working with learners of all ages, I have found that incorporating many of the adult education principles into my one to one sessions with children has been extraordinarily beneficial.  In fact the inquiry-based learning approach, that is sometimes used in the sciences with children, can help student think and be used to bridge learners to a place of greater independence and empowerment in the learning process.

Inquiry Based Learning Helps to Unite Some of the Principles of Pedagogy and Andragogy for Young Learners.
Inquiry-based learning is primarily a pedagogical method from a constructivist viewpoint, that was first developed in the 1960s. However, it teaches students the following principles from adult education:
  • Learners can be self-directed
  • Learners can be responsible for their own learning
  • Learners can be internally motivated to learn
  • Learners can bring their own experiences to the learning process
Since inquiry based learning was proposed, a number of additions and revisions have resulted in a 4 step scaffolding process that ultimately teaches students to engage in and take on a self-directed role in the learning process.  
So How Have I Altered the Inquiry Based Approach to Empower my Students?
There are a number of different processes for teaching this approach and many use this way of teaching in the sciences.  I personally love to use it with my struggling learners for math, writing as well as test preparation.  I find that a well structured, scaffolding approach is best.
Step 1: Teacher/Learning Specialist Structured
In teacher structured the learning specialist controls the lesson or study session. Multisensory materials, manipulatives, and embedded memory strategies walk the student through the instruction.
Step 2: Teacher/Learning Guided
In teacher guided, the learning specialist provides paper, an ipad, or a dry erase board and pens to the student. Then the learning specialist provides the question or problem and guides the student through the process by having the student complete the question or problem steps themselves at the same time that the learning specialist demonstrates the process. Both the learning specialist and student writes out and then compares the steps or procedures.  The learning specialist then encourages the student to self-generate a memory strategy so they can remember the process. We often create colorful, step by step strategy sheets that can be compiled into a “strategy manual” that the student can refer to as needed.
Step 3: Teacher/Learning Assisted
In teacher assisted the learning specialist writes out the question for the student. Then, the student is responsible for following their own procedures and memory strategies to reach the answer.  
Step 4: Student Applied
In student applied, the student formulates their own approach to a new problem or concept they need to learn.  They self generate multisensory steps to learning, implement their own memory strategies, and then teach the concept to the learning specialist.
If you would like to see an example of one of my multisensory math lessons click here

Moving students from dependent to independent ways of learning will make the learning process fun and also provide students the tools and ownership that they need to become successful lifelong learners.

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 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).

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  
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