Monday, December 29, 2014

Eat Well in the New Year

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Almost everyone's holiday season has included a wide variety of food and drink, not all of it completely healthy for us. After indulging over the holidays, many of us are making ourselves and/or our loved ones a promise to eat healthier in the new year.

For people who maintain healthy eating habits, food is the pharmacy of feeling good and staying focused and energized, or relaxed and calm.

In our book Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement By As Much as 30 Percent, we explain that healthy eating is important for fueling the Body-Brain System.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Helping Young Students Achieve Self-Control

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Helping students achieve self-control is an important component of teachers' ability to be effective in the classroom.

The famous marshmallow test, which was conducted more than 40 years ago by psychologist Water Mischel, was a breakthrough in the study of self-control in children. Most educators are familiar with this study, which tested preschool-age children's ability to delay immediate gratification for increased benefits in the future.

In the study, a researcher placed a marshmallow (or other desirable treat) on a table in front of a child. The child was left alone in the room for 15 minutes with the instruction not to eat the treat until the researcher returned to the room. If the child was able to do so, he or she was rewarded with a second treat.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Focusing on Student Motivation

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Do you believe students become smarter through learning or that intelligence is determined at birth? How we as educators answer that question ties into the subject of motivation as a force for learning.

For me, the importance of motivation surfaced in the early 1980s while I was working with a group of seventh-grade students who had been classified as "gifted."

Some of these students were highly motivated to achieve while others were less motivated and underachieving. This latter group seemed to believe that because they were "smart," they did not need to put forth much effort in school. In contrast, their higher-achieving peers seemed to understand that they needed to put forth effort in order to reach their potential and achieve better results in school.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Increasing Selective Attention at School and in Life

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

We are bombarded by so much information in the course of our daily lives that it is easy to get distracted from what we should or would like to accomplish. One of the most valuable “cognitive assets,” in our Thinking for Results approach (Wilson & Conyers, 2011) is what we call Selective Attention.

Selective Attention is defined as "the skill of identifying what is important to any situation and attending to what is necessary with appropriate focus." Effective teachers guide their students to  identify what is most important in learning situations so that they can attend to necessary tasks with appropriate focus.

While attending the Cognitive Neuroscience of Learning symposium a few years ago, Marcus and I had the opportunity to see Professor Amishi Jha from the University of Miami report on her research with "mindfulness practice" as a way to improve attentional control.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Education for Students' Futures: Innovating Minds—What Students Need for the Future

Marcus Conyers
Center for Innovative Education and Prevention
“Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” (Steve Jobs; inventor; 1955–2011.)
“We are convinced the world will increasingly be divided between high imagination-enabled countries, which encourage and enable the imagination and extras of their people, and low imagination-enabling countries, which suppress or simply fail to develop their people’s creative capacities and abilities to spark new ideas, start up new industries and their own ‘extra.’” Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum; That Used to Be Us (2011).
The present and future envisioned in these two quotes sound both a challenge and an opportunity. The words of Steve Jobs in particular capture the essence of the mindsets students will need for the future as they take their place in a world where automation and outsourcing of routine work are transforming the landscape and their career prospects. I have had the enormous privilege of teaching cognitive strategies that support creative thinking to students from kindergarten through college age and have been inspired by their incredible potential to learn, to innovate, and to solve problems.

Click the link to read the entire newsletter on the Information Age Education website.

When Stress and Depression Affect Learning

We often write about the importance of maintaining an optimal state for learning in classrooms as well as in the home. However, there is no denying that there are challenges facing teachers and parents today that make setting the stage for learning a difficult task at times. Two of the key factors are stress and depression.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified depression and anxiety as two major causes of illness and death in the United States as well as contributing to lower quality of life and reduced social functioning. According to 2009 statistics, more than 15% of Americans (including about 4% of children and adolescents) have  been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.

In some cases, children are coming into the classroom with inadequate sleep or malnourishment. In the most adverse cases, there are children who are suffering from child abuse and neglect or violence in their homes or neighborhoods. These extreme circumstances can lead to toxic stress, which impairs development of neural connections.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Put Time Management on Your Side in the Classroom

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Learning to manage time and meet deadlines are valuable skills for workers of the future—and the students in your classroom right now!

Through explicit instruction on time management, you can guide students to understand the importance of scheduling tasks to finish school assignments and to complete big projects on time without cramming at the end and turning in half-finished, subpar work.

Time management is one of 25 cognitive assets covered in the Thinking for Results approach (Wilson & Conyers, 2011). Guiding students to learn to “think about their thinking”—to become more metacognitive—and develop their thinking and problem-solving skills is a central tenet of the graduate degree programs with a major in Brain-Based Teaching that we co-developed and are being offered through Nova Southeastern University’s Fischler School of Education.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Be The Lead Learner

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

In our study of metacognitive strategies, we have found that the best way to teach is to embrace the concept of metacognition as part of our own learning process. In the classroom, it is important not only to be the teacher but also to be the lead learner by modeling the use of metacognition and cognitive strategies. When students see their teachers putting these strategies into action, they can more effectively learn how to use the cognitive processes themselves.

For instance, when reading aloud a passage, it's often a good idea to think aloud about the author's perspective to underscore the importance of his or her point of view.  Or when undertaking a class project, the teacher can model planning and organization by developing a checklist of tasks that need to be completed and sharing this with students.

An important way we learn is by making mistakes. The phrase "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" can be adapted quite nicely into a neat little axiom: "Nothing ventured, nothing learned." When teachers make a mistake, they can analyze these mistakes out loud. Students may get a "kick" out of realizing that even adults make mistakes, but they can also see how the adult in charge of their classroom works through a mistake, making it a learning experience rather than a source of embarrassment or frustration.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Power of 20 Minutes

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Got a minute? How about seven minutes? Or 15 or 20? It's amazing what your students can learn in that little chunk of time!

One of the strategies we present 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning shares The Power of 20 Minutes as a means of maximizing attention, retention, and recall in keeping with the brain's natural attention span.

When planning the learning time you have with students, break your lessons into chunks of 20 minutes or less in order to be more effective. For younger students, learning chunks of seven to 15 minutes are even more effective.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Becoming the Boss of Your Brain: Modeling Metacognition

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

In Diane Dahl’s classroom, second graders discovering how the Chinese invention of paper changed the world spontaneously connect their new knowledge to a previous lesson on Sequoyah’s creation of a writing system for the Cherokee people. The students are making the most of another lesson on how their brains learn by connecting new information to what they already know. They model this aspect of metacognition, or “thinking about your thinking and what you know,” with an intricate, ever-growing sculpture of pipe cleaners that represents how the brain makes learning connections. The second graders and their teacher Diane Dahl regularly label and link new topics to previous lessons woven into the sculpture.

In our work in teacher education, we use the metaphor of teaching students to be the boss of their brains. We owe that phrase to a third-grader who used those very words after a lesson on how metacognition supports learning. Decades of educational research have established that learning gains result from explicitly teaching cognitive strategies children can use to explore, understand, and apply new concepts. To help children develop metacognition, teachers and parents can model these strategies and reinforce their use by children.

A teacher might begin a lesson by saying, “Today we are going to learn about how another group of people recorded information a long time ago. It says here that the ancient Egyptians used hero-grams. Wait, that doesn’t sound right.” As the children laugh at the thought of their teacher making a mistake, one child volunteers, “I think they’re called hieroglyphs.” The child tells of watching a program with her parents about how archeologists decoded the symbols carved in stone.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Becoming the Boss of Their Brains

Metacognition may be defined as “thinking about our thinking” and “knowing about our knowing.” Metacognition is key to independent learning. The students of teachers we have taught say that they are becoming the boss of their brains! When students are taught how to be independent learners at school, they are then able to use this critical ability on their college and career paths after graduation. Teachers call metacognition the gift that keeps on giving!

Research has amassed on the importance of metacognition for learning across contexts, as well as the fact that it can be taught. In fact, in a meta-analysis of 91 studies, Wang, Haertel, and Walberg (1993) determined that metacognition is the #1 student characteristic of high achievers at school. More recently, on a list of 150 overall factors that influence student achievement, metacognitive strategies were ranked #15 whereas, student socio-economic status was ranked #45 (Hattie, 2012). We support teachers in graduate study at NSU and professional development by sharing practical strategies for implementation of this key cognitive strategy in their classrooms. In our ASCD article you will read some of their stories.

For more on how to teach students to become independent learners, see our open-access online article in ASCD's October issue of Educational Leadership.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

University of Cambridge Conference Focused on Practical Implementation

Donna Wilson and I had the extraordinary experience this summer of traveling to Cambridge, England, to make a presentation at the 2014 Conference on Implementation Science, which took place July 28 at the University of Cambridge. We were pleased to have the opportunity to present a paper discussing the practical implementation of our graduate degree program and how it supports the emerging science of learning.

Those who are familiar with our program, which is offered through Nova Southeastern University's Abraham S. Fischler School of Education in Florida, know that it was designed with real-world implementation in mind. Thus, it fit in very well with the theme of the Cambridge conference: "Implementing Implementation Science: The Science of Making Interventions Effective in Real-World Contexts."

Our paper was entitled: Program Designed With Implementation in Mind: Investigating the Impact of Graduate Studies Focused on Applications of the Emerging Science of Learning. In our presentation, we described how the graduate degree program for teachers translates implications from mind, brain, and education research and theories into practical frameworks and strategies so that teachers may better align instruction with research on how students learn.

Monday, September 8, 2014

ASCD Interview Covers the Topic of 'Teaching to the Teenage Brain'

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

I was  pleased to be interviewed for the article, "Teaching to the Teenage Brain" which is featured in the September 2014 issue of ASCD's "Education Update."

In the article, I was able to share with author Laura Varlas my thoughts on how important it is to teach teens the concepts of neuroplasticity, malleable intelligence, and practical optimism in order to help them develop their problem-solving skills, decision-making, and creative skills. I pointed out that teaching teens shouldn't just center on content but rather on the development of their cognitive assets, which will allow them to become better thinkers and learners as they move toward adulthood.

Others interviewed in the article include teacher, neurologist, and author Judy Willis; author and former teacher Eric Jensen; and author and educator Pat Wolfe. The entire article is available at the link (subscription required).

Monday, August 25, 2014

Listen Up with the HEAR Strategy

Aaron Rohde, in his hard hat, is read
to tackle the work associated with HEARing.
by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

As schools get under way across the nation, we thought it would be a perfect time to talk about the importance of listening, a topic that we addressed in an Edutopia blog post but certainly is worth repeating here.

Getting students to listen is a more than a common classroom challenge. The Common Core State Standards for Language Arts recognize the importance of listening as an ability that students must master to become college and career ready: “Students must learn to work together, express and listen carefully to ideas, integrate information from oral, visual, quantitative, and media sources, evaluate what they hear, use media and visual displays strategically to help achieve communicative purposes, and adapt speech to context and task.”

As Aaron Rohde, a teacher at Trinity Lutheran School in Reed City, Michigan, and a graduate of our program, says, “Being a ‘listening genius’ will be beneficial in all areas of life—in school, in personal relationships, and in professional work situations.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Message to Early Childhood Educators:
 Align Educational Policy with the Science of Learning

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Earlier this month, it was my privilege and pleasure to address national and state educational leaders on a subject that is vital to putting young children on a positive trajectory to succeed in school and beyond: the need to align educational policy and practice with the science of learning as informed by brain research.

In making a keynote presentation at the Second Annual Roundtable hosted by the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), I pointed to research confirming that most all children have the cognitive potential to achieve at high levels if they experience high-quality instruction at school and support at home and in the community. For that reason, those who influence and create policy must make key commitments to ensure that teachers have high-quality learning experiences with ongoing opportunities to work together to develop the collective capacity for highly effective teaching.”

The 2014 CEELO roundtable, with the theme “Excellence for Every Child: Improving the Quality of Teaching Birth Through Grade Three,” took place June 5–6 at The Renaissance Depot Hotel in Minneapolis, Minn. During the keynote, I discussed how findings about experience-dependent synaptogenesis—the process through which the brain forms neural connections based on experiences in school, at home, and in the community—underscore the importance of the learning environment and quality of instruction to optimize children’s learning.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

P21 Blog Provided Opportunity to Reflect: My Journey of Learning and Teaching

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

My thanks to Jim Bellanca, editor of the P21 blog, for reaching out to me and requesting a post about my professional journey in linking my work as an educator with teaching critical thinking skills in schools. The post, entitled “My Professional Odyssey With Critical Thinking,” gave me the opportunity to reflect about my lifelong pursuit of education, which took me from my days as a schoolgirl growing up in in rural Oklahoma to a career in which insights about the science of learning have enhanced my effectiveness as a teacher educator.

Along the way, I delved deeply into the research and writing of Robert Sternberg and exploring the theory of structural cognitive modifiability developed by Reuven Feuerstein. The work of Sternberg, Feuerstein, and others whom I mention in the P21 blog post have had a profound effect on my career and put me on a path that allowed me to share what I learned about critical thinking with other educators.

A key component of critical thinking is to remember that everyone has the power to learn, regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status. Here is an excerpt from the blog post that speaks to that point:

“Of all the implications of mind, brain, and education research that have the power to transform school policies, classroom practice, and student achievement, I believe that the belief in each learner's unfettered propensity to think is near the top of the list. But as a society, and even within the policies and practices of our own profession to some extent, we need to set aside some culturally ingrained misconceptions about intelligence, learning and thinking—as I have had to do when assessing my professional journey.”

I invite you to read the rest of the post at the link.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Good News, Bad News on the Reading Habits of Children and Teens

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

A widely reported study by Common Sense Media suggests that reading for pleasure among children and teens has decreased significantly over the past three decades. According to the research, with 45 percent of 17-year-olds say they read by choice only once or twice a year.

Equally troubling is the finding that parents are reading to and with their children less often, according to this organization, which provides online reviews for families of movies, TV shows, video games—and, yes, books.

At the same time, we don’t need to go far to find good news (and anyone who knows me knows that I prefer to accentuate the positive!): The young adult genre of fiction is booming, and a 2013 Pew Research Study reports that young people ages 16 to 29 are regular library patrons.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Our Latest Edutopia Post: Brain Movies

The images in your mind can be more exciting and memorable than any Hollywood film! That's the theme of the latest blog post that I co-authored with Donna Wilson on the Edutopia website, "Brain Movies: When Readers Can Picture It, They Understand It."

In this post, we share with teachers the importance of guiding your students to visualize as they read, which makes for an engaging and enjoyable way to boost comprehension and retention.

Here is an excerpt from the post:

"Learning to create brain movies can help students make sense of complex nonfiction subject matter and 'see' the characters, setting, and action in stories. Teachers who use our strategy tell us their students seem to have more fun—and success—as they read. These anecdotes are supported by research showing that students who are taught to develop mental imagery of text do better than control groups on tests of comprehension and recall."