Somewhere along the line, we’ve come to associate slouching with being inattentive. That’s why we often hear adults telling kids, “Sit up, and pay attention!”
Yet, I know many kids who actually pay less attention when made to sit up straight.
How can that be?
Well, some kids have retained primitive reflexes. In such case, sitting upright in a chair isn’t as automatic as it should be.
For example, a child with a retained Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex will experience difficulty doing movement that goes against the pull of gravity. So these kids can only sit upright for a very short period of time before being “pulled down” (i.e. gravity wins).
This then explains why such kids sink lower and lower into their chair, or they sprawl across the desk when reading and writing. At least, in these positions, they can start to concentrate on the task as hand (they’re no longer distracted by fighting gravity) . . . that is, until they’re, once again, told to sit up straight.
Some teachers mistakenly think the child who always puts his head on the desk while writing is not going to bed at an appropriate time. She may even call the parent about this.
If the parent does not also understand the connection between retained primitive reflexes and difficulty sitting upright in a chair, she may now put her child to bed earlier (even though she’s a little miffed about the call because her child does go to bed at a decent hour).
Yet that mom can put her child to bed at noon or earlier—and he’s still going to go down, down, down when sitting in a chair. He’s wired to do so.
But now, the teacher may think the parent is ignoring her bedtime concern or lying about his real bedtime. After all, the child is still always sprawled over the desk. Since the mother is putting the child to bed earlier, she may start to think the teacher is just out to get her son. And all the while, no one understands the real reason the child slouches.
We’ve actually all experienced fighting gravity while sitting up. Think when we’ve had a bad flu. Suddenly, trying to sit up (let alone straight) is very cumbersome. We’d much rather be lying down, right? Imagine, then, how difficult this is for kids with primitive reflexes, who have to deal with this all the time.
So, maybe the next time we see a child slouching . . . we let it be.
Parents often rely on the latest buzz around the neighborhood, soccer field or baseball bleachers to learn who’s the best teacher for next year.
But I never found those sources reliable. That’s because the real question is: Who is the best teacher for my child? So, here’s a set of questions to ask prospective candidates:
1. How do you honor kids in your classes? We’re hoping teachers rattle off a list of concrete examples that show how they find ways to make each child shine (regardless of their current academic level), how they peel back, as needed, to ensure kids don’t shut down, how they hold kids accountable for what they can do, and how they set challenges that are within reach of every child.
2. What percentage of the day are kids expected to be seated and quiet? How many opportunities to move are included within daily lessons (and can you give some examples)? If teachers stumble on providing specific ways movement is integrated into their curriculum or if there is a high percentage of seated, quiet time, this classroom may be problematic for kids who really need to move.
3. Are the majority of your lessons multisensory in nature? If so, can you give me some examples? Most traditional classroom lessons rely heavily on visual pathways. So good to know whether auditory, tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive sensory stimuli are also included, especially if kids are not strong visual learners.
4. How do you create a “safe” learning environment? Ideally, teachers respond that they focus more on thinking (rather than just getting the right answer) and more on the process than the end product. So it may be a red flag if the teacher immediately refers to a set of classroom rules when answering this question.
5. How do you handle kids who are viewed as uncooperative or who do not finish their work? Looking to determine whether: a) the teacher views classroom problems as his or her responsibility to address or expects parents to bring about change; b) the teachers’ response to such kids could be considered punitive or “branding” the child (i.e. every student in the classroom can quickly name who always gets “in trouble”); c) withholding recess is used as a consequence for unwelcome behavior or not finishing work.
6. Do you assign homework that can be done independently by the child? How much time a night do you expect kids to do homework? Since parents seem to differ in regards to what’s an acceptable amount of homework and how much parents should be involved, good to know if the teacher’s homework policies are in sync with parents’ expectations.
7. How do you make learning joyful? (See Why Schools Fail for a list of ways to do this.)
But what if your school doesn’t allow parent input for teacher selection? Well, just a quick look around the classroom can be very telling. Parents can also answer the above questions as they hope their next year’s child would respond, and then give that to whoever is responsible for their child’s class placement.
The bottom line: Each year, kids spend more than a thousand hours in a classroom. Seems worth the time to ensure that environment is a good fit and one where the child can succeed.
Bill Gates, along with other well-known philanthropists, has now contributed billions of dollars to improve education.
What kind of change has all that money created? Well, Newsweek recently gave the overall results a disheartening B-minus to C-minus grade.
So I guess money wasn’t the simple answer.
But what if, before ever donating a dime, all those philanthropists had first answered this straight-forward question: How can we make learning joyful?
Yep, when we answer that question, we may be surprised at how much everything else falls into place. Here is how I believe we can make learning enjoyable.
1) We rewrite standards.
I’ve yet to read a state standard that includes the word joy as part of any criterion. Somewhere along the way, we decided that it’s only, for example, important to learn how to read—but it’s irrelevant whether we ever enjoy reading. But I don’t think you can separate the two.
So I want to see the words “with joy” tacked onto whatever skills are spelled out in existing standards. Think we’d see a change in classrooms if such qualifying words were part of how we measure success?
2) We present lessons that trigger a positive physiological response in the brain.
When we provide opportunities to move, engage multiple senses, and interact with peers while learning, the brain is able to process information efficiently and stay alert. It may even release dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to pleasure and motivation.
In contrast, if the brain becomes frustrated or feels “threatened” (e.g. “I can’t do this”), it immediately shuts down, going to the survival part of the brain. With repeated failure, the child then additionally creates a general brain map that says: I can’t learn. I’m not smart.
3) We present curriculum that parallels natural brain development.
For example, since there’s a growth spurt of dendrites in the right hemisphere during ages 4-6, we should be engaging these kids in activities that include lots of movement, music, creative thinking, fantasy and other activities reflective of the right side of the brain. We actually used to do that with our youngsters.
But without any research to back up the change, we switched to a left-brain focus (e.g. reading, writing) that begins as early as kids start school. Any surprise that so many children are now struggling?
4) We encourage and honor thinking over finding the “right” answer.
Not sure how getting it “right” ever came to rule in the classroom. But it’s a completely different learning environment when kids feel as though their ideas and reflections and questions are valued more than getting the correct answer.
Decades ago there was a “just say no” campaign against drugs. Well, how about parents “just say no” to stressful learning. Starting today, let’s make learning without joy . . . unacceptable, unpopular, offensive.
I’m lucky. I think learning is one of the most blissful experiences. That’s why it makes me sad that so many kids have no idea what I’m taking about.
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.
When parents become upset over their kids’ grades, there’s one rarely mentioned fact they need to recall: The only grades included in college applications are those from 10th and 11th grade.
That’s right. Those two high school years are the only ones that count when it comes to college admissions.
That sobering fact should help put things in perspective when 7-year-old Joey bombs his spelling tests or 10-year-old Kate fails her math test. Knowing this, we may also consider the long-term effects of making too much out of a bad grade.
For example, if we focus too much on grades when kids are young, will they burn out by the time they actually count? Instead of becoming motivated to work harder, will they decide (early on) that they’re just not smart—and “check out” when it comes to school?
There are other considerations when looking at grades. Teachers get to choose how they present their lessons. So a child who is a kinesthetic learner may have difficulty learning new information from a teacher who relies on a lecture format and worksheets. But that doesn’t mean the child isn’t smart or motivated to learn.
It’s also possible that the child learned the information but wasn’t able to demonstrate that on the test. That scenario is more likely when kids feel test “pressure”—since such angst often causes them to temporarily forget what they know.
So, I have an idea on how to improve grades for all kids, but I don’t think it would go over well in schools.
What if teachers and kids “shared” the grade? In other words, if a teacher puts an “F” on a child’s paper, she, too, gets that “F.” After all, isn’t the grade equally reflective of how she presented the information and whether the content and format of the test actually evaluated what was learned?
And it that ever became the norm, do you think we’d see kids getting much better grades?