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Preparing for Standardized Tests (In a Fun Way)

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It’s possible to make standardized testing a positive, fun experience.

As the date for standardized tests looms on the horizon, the classroom environment sometimes changes. Information is suddenly fired at students at rocket speed because . . .well, just maybe, something will sink in at the last minute, and a few more students will get a few more right answers on the test.

And who can blame teachers for doing so? With so much weight placed on standardized test scores these days, such frenzy is almost expected.

Yet, ironically, the more pressure students feel in regards to standardized tests, the more likely they won’t perform well. There are two primary reasons for this. Some kids shut down under pressure, while others try too hard.  However, with the latter, we get stuck in our left hemisphere, thereby increasing the chances of taking the test without the benefit of an integrated brain.

But we can easily change all of the above by making standardized testing a positive experience for everyone.  Here’s how:

1.  We present a different perspective of standardized tests.

We tell kids that standardized tests are a wonderful “deal” for them. After all, they don’t pay a dime for the costs to produce or score the tests, yet they get free feedback that assesses what they currently know. That’s it.

2. We hype the upcoming testing as if it were the Superbowl, and kids participate in similar activities.

For example, kids can do a daily countdown, such as, “Eight more days to Supertesting! Bring it on!”  Kids can also become cheerleaders, creating original cheers related to testing, and they can “produce” entertaining commercials that are then presented on test days.

3. Kids practice movements that wake up the brain, keep it alert, and integrate both hemispheres.

Such movements can include jumping, spinning, running, rocking, arm wrestling, push-ups, and cross-overs. Kids then do these movements right before the test.  They also practice movements such as neck rolls, nodding the head, and doodling Lazy 8s (an infinity sign) since these keep the brain awake while seated.  The act of chewing gum additionally helps the brain retain focus, which explains why many educators suddenly give permission to chew gum during standardized testing.

4. We provide good “brain” food and drink prior to starting the test.

Crunchy foods, such as pretzels, are considered alerting.  Foods high in protein (versus those with a high sugar content) are good for preventing blood sugar levels from rising and dropping suddenly.  And, of course, water is always the best drink for the brain.

So why not pass these ideas along to our kids’ teachers?  Even if they’re not receptive, as parents we can still do a modified version of all of the above at home.  And by doing so, we model how something that may have been perceived negatively can transform into something fun and positive.

Tips for Giving Kids Directions

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We can cue our kids that we’re about to give directions by placing our hands on their arms or shoulders.

We often become upset because we think our kids didn’t follow our directions. But did we ensure they processed them in the first place?

Here are some simple ways to help kids follow directions.

1. Give directions only after our kids’ brain registered that we’re about to speak.
Some kids really can’t “hear” if their back is to the person talking, or they’re unable to immediately transition from what they’re presently doing to tune into what someone is now saying. So this means we may first need to kneel down (for small kids) to make eye contact, and/or give tactile stimuli (e.g. put our hands on their shoulder)—something that ensures we’ve stepped into “their world,” front and center.

2. Have kids spin or jump or rock before (or while) giving directions.
Such movement wakes up the brain, increasing the chances that the information is processed.

3. If directions include materials, distribute those only after telling or modeling what to do with them.
This ensures that kids are less distracted and are not tempted to touch or play with the materials while we’re giving the directions.

4. Demonstrate what we do and do not want to happen.
Suppose we’re giving directions for an art project that requires kids to dip part of a piece of paper into a cup of water. If we don’t also model soaking the paper (as an example of what we don’t want), we can’t be sure that the kids fully comprehended what we meant by “dipping.” This applies to general directions, too. For example, if we want our child to walk directly to (wherever), we also demonstrate straying elsewhere to illustrate what we don’t expect to see.

5. Break up directions (as needed) to ensure kids can comprehend the entire message.
Instead of telling a child to wash his hands, get his shoes, and come to the kitchen, we may need to start with simply: Wash your hands.

6. If including more than one direction, motivate the brain to pay better attention by adding an element of fun.
In such case, we might tell our child to start jumping as soon as the directions start to get silly: “Take off your shoes, put them in the cubby, and then fly to the moon. No? Okay, take off your shoes, put them in the cubby, and then come stand on this line.”

7. Verify that the direction was indeed processed by asking a “choice” question.
Perhaps we just told our child to brush his teeth. But before sending him off to do so, we check for understanding: “Are you going to brush your teeth . . . or your nose?” Note that if we make the second choice something silly, it further increases the probability of the brain paying attention.

8. Select the fewest words possible to convey the message.
Fewer words mean there’s less for the brain to process. Compare: “Tiffany, I’m really needing you to bring your backpack to the front door so that you won’t forget it when it’s time to go to school tomorrow” with “Bring your backpack to the front door.”

It’s only when we’ve done all of the above—and the child still does not comply—that we can conclude that he’s choosing not to listen to us. But, more times that not, our kids just need a chance to process the directions—and that requires us to do our part.

When Labels Hurt Kids

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When we view kids as champions,
they act like one.

Mia is autistic.  Jon is bipolar.  Tyler is ADD.  Carley is manipulative. Tom is lazy. Jenny is shy.

If we look at how we often describe kids, it seems we may think they’ve become the diagnosis or description that follows the word “is.”

Interestingly, we don’t do this for every diagnosis. For example, I’ve never heard anyone say, “She is cancer.” Or, “She is canceristic.”

But that’s because there is a huge difference between “she is cancer” and “she has cancer.” The latter does not define the condition as being the whole person. Moreover, it implies a temporary condition that comes with hope for improvement.

When we slap an adjective after the word “is,” we also seem to infer a static view of the child. It’s as though we’re saying whatever the child “is” (as defined by the adjective) is as inherent as skin color.  Yet, there are no “genes” for the adjectives often used to describe kids.

So then why do we often frame them this way?  Maybe, it’s a quick, subconscious way to tell others to back off—that nothing they’re going to say or do is ever going to change how the child (or we) respond, since we view the child’s behavior as already etched in stone. Yet, how can that kind of thinking be ultimately helpful?

For example, if we think our child runs out into the street because he is impulsive or because he is autistic—does that then reduce his probability of being hit by a car? No, in other words, the drivers in the passing cars have no idea which child “is” what.  So we can’t be resigned to certain behaviors—if we want every child to be safe.

After decades of working with kids who’ve been given all kinds of diagnoses and who’ve been thought of as a string of not-so-attractive adjectives, I’ve learned a simple truth: Kids become how we view them.

So if we believe their behavior is unmanageable, they’ll give us out of control.  If we believe they are rude, they’ll give us sass. If we believe they are helpless, they’ll give us resigned.

I’ve also learned that kids usually feel judged whenever we view them negatively. When they feel judged, they get defensive. When they get defensive, they get combative. And so, is it any surprise that negative behavior escalates when negative perceptions prevail?

But then, what do we do if our child, for example, rolls his eyes at us when we ask him to do something?  While definitely a leap from framing our child as rude, we could respond with the following:

”Tony, I’m worried your brain is registering eye rolling as an okay and helpful response. Yet, I can’t think of a single place in the world where anyone applauds eye rolling or where doing that then improves the current situation. So what might be a different way to communicate that you don’t like what you’re hearing or being asked to do?”

With that response, we’ve shifted our perspective from thinking Tony is rude to viewing him as someone who has not yet learned a constructive way to express his dislike, and we’re moving forward with that mindset.

And guess what? Kids start to adopt positive behaviors when we shift our view of them in kind. For example, at the Brain Highways Center we believe every child is a champion. That’s the only word we use after “is”—and that’s the behavior they show us.

So here’s a challenge: Put $10 in a “perception” kitty every time this week you think of or describe your child with a diagnosis or adjective after the word “is” (unless that word is champion).  You may be amazed at the changes if that kitty stays empty.

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