Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!! Organization Style. Part 1 of 6

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Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!!

Organization Style

It’s that time again—the back-to-school commercials are in full swing! Backpacks, lunch boxes, clothes, and school supplies are some of the things occupying the minds of parents these days. As the sun sets on summer 2016, it is important to ensure that your child is given every advantage to begin the school year with a bang!

While much focus is put on school supplies and the “necessary” materials, one key element in preparing for a successful year ahead is to put organization in the forefront. And, as they say, practice truly makes perfect—or close to it. Organization applies to a multitude of facets in the educational realm. While all are important, organizing time or “time management” is essential. For example, consider if a student has color-coordinated references, organized notes, and an impeccable outline for a research paper, yet that same “organized” student gives himself Sunday night to complete the final draft of his research paper. All of the prior organization becomes a futile attempt if time was poorly organized.

Organization, specifically time management, is a skill that comes with practice. Even as adults, we sometimes drop the ball by failing to plan ahead accordingly. Here are some tips to ensure that time management makes its way into your household this school year.

Start from the beginning. As we all know, it is much easier to prevent negative habits than to correct them later on. Right from the start, discuss a realistic daily schedule that includes designated homework/reading time, after-school activities, family time, and reasonable sleep/wake times. Of course, be prepared to be flexible when things inevitably come up. But, for the most part, a set schedule will help your child to maintain balance and assuage the stress that comes with cramming.
Model the practice of planning ahead. Especially in the middle and upper grades, projects and assignments become more labor-intensive. With several steps, check-in points, and deadlines, it is easy for students to quickly lose track or get overwhelmed. As with many difficult tasks, showing is more beneficial than telling. Show your child how to organize by breaking down large assignments and setting at home check-in points in advance of the actual due dates. Also, show them how to prioritize more difficult tasks. For example, a five-paragraph argumentative essay is going to need more attention than a vocabulary practice sheet.
Be proactive with organizing your time. It is important to anticipate certain roadblocks to prevent last-minute school stressors. Check the printer for ink before the paper is due; plan for picture day so that the outfit of choice is clean and pressed; pack gym clothes with extra socks so that the morning rush through the dryer can be avoided; email teachers about foreseen absences ahead of time to get any missed work or important information; have a plan for sick days, in which your child has a buddy in the neighborhood to bring work back.

Teaching students how to organize their time is a skill that will prove beneficial throughout their academic and adult lives.

NEED MORE?

Join us for “Homework. Got an Easy Button?”, a free, highly interactive 60-minute session designed to provide parents with concrete ideas and practical tools to support their student’s study practice at home. For more information, click here: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

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Down Syndrome

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Down syndrome is a genetic condition that affects approximately 1 in 700 people. While many believe that Down syndrome is fairly rare, it is actually the most frequently occurring genetic condition, affecting almost half a million Americans. While this condition may be accompanied by moderate to severe learning disabilities, children with Down syndrome are fully capable of learning, developing, and socializing.

It is our job as educators to provide the most encouraging, supportive, and increasingly challenging classroom for any and ALL students. So, what are some important factors to consider when providing the necessary accommodations to students with Down syndrome? Below are helpful strategies and accommodations to better serve the unique needs of students with Down syndrome.

Promote a positive mindset

Children with Down syndrome are like every other young learner in that they need positive, self-esteem boosting support. It is a common misconception that people with Down syndrome do not experience the full range of emotions. This is totally false—children with Down syndrome experience frustration, sadness, and defeat when faced with failure just like everyone else. Your child with Down syndrome should be praised and recognized often. When he or she is struggling with a skill or concept, encourage the effort as opposed to the outcome—put the focus on his or her determination as opposed to the errors or missteps.

Provide ample opportunities for success

It is especially important to provide encouragement and opportunities for success in order to boost confidence and build independence. Providing additional practice is essential in order to increase self esteem when tasks are especially difficult. Another way to promote student success is to begin the day or lesson with the most difficult activities or contents first. As with all children, little ones lose steam as the day progresses. For students with Down syndrome, the early part of a day or activity is when the ability to process information is at its peak.  As patience dwindles, frustrations may grow. Thus, the best way to ensure success is to start with the most difficult tasks first, when a child’s patience is the most amenable.

Avoid disrupting the routine

As with most youngsters, students feel secure in the predictability or regularity of a consistent schedule. Following a routine and being able to see what is coming next provides comfort for children with Down syndrome. Any disruption of the daily routine could catch a child off-guard, creating stress and frustration. Whenever possible, it is important to provide your student with a heads-up if the routine is going to be interrupted. Anything from a field trip or fire drill could create anxiety. By preparing the student for the change in the schedule, you can avoid the added stress.

Allow extra time for processing and task completion

Students with Down syndrome, while fully capable of completing tasks, may require additional time to do so. Allowing time for students to process, consider, and complete tasks ensures that he or she has time to fully participate in every activity without feeling rushed or frustrated. Children with Down syndrome often struggle with short term memory. This makes it more difficult for them to recall and retain learned information. Teachers should be sure to present information in a clear and organized manner. Presenting information in order will also allow students with Down syndrome to retain sequential information more readily.

Be attentive to minor muscle limitations

Decreased muscle tone is also common in children with Down syndrome. This symptom affects multiple different skills in and out of the classroom. Fine motor skills are often affected, causing issues with gripping a pencil, writing, eating, buttoning/zipping, etc. Muscle hypotonia also causes poor posture, slow reflexes, and issues with mobility. Speech problems are also common, due to the low muscle tone in the face and jaw.   

By keeping these strategies in mind, educators can help to ensure that students with Down syndrome enjoy the same learning opportunities, and achieve the same successes, as their classroom peers.

 

Autism Awareness Month

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April is also Autism Awareness Month. In an effort to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is important to both spread valuable information and to debunk common misconceptions. With diagnostic data indicating a rising rate of almost 1 in 70 births, it is likely that autism will affect someone that you know. 

An autism diagnosis will affect each member of the family differently.

Because of the time, money, and stress associated with treating and managing a child with an autism diagnosis, the entire family will experience the pressure in some way.

For instance, due to lack of knowledge on the topic, or misconceptions about ASD, parents or guardians may blame themselves for somehow contributing to the disorder. It is a natural instinct for parents to feel that they must shoulder the blame, but this is simply not the case. When the condition was first recognized in the 1940s, experts in the field of psychology believed that autism was an emotional disorder brought on by “detached” or unaffectionate caregivers. Psychologists thought that the child’s inability to socially connect was primarily due to parenting styles. While these theories surrounding children on the autism spectrum have long been discarded, parents sometimes still maintain a sense of guilt or responsibility.

Naturally, other siblings in the family may feel that the parents are focused more on the child with special needs. They may feel neglected or even act out to gain attention. Similarly, it is common for children with ASD to follow very specific routines, including sleeping and eating patterns. This may mean that the family’s meals and schedules revolve primarily on the child with special needs—again creating a sense of jealousy or competition amongst the other siblings in the household.

Early diagnosis and interventions are crucial.

According to autism-society.org, “The estimated lifetime cost of caring for someone with autism ranges from $1.4-2.4 million, but this cost can be reduced by two-thirds through early diagnosis and intervention.” Resources, such as behavior specialists and different nonmedical interventions provide numerous options for families that have encountered a recent autism diagnosis. The many options available—from art, music, and animal therapy—to applied behavior analysis allow families to take multiple approaches when it comes to treatment.

An autism diagnosis should not be a roadblock to independence in adulthood.

Too often, a developmental delay or disability of any kind is seen as an obstacle—a door that is closed. What many people do not know is that autistic children, while they do not grow out of the condition, go on to become successfully independent adults. Mainstream education is simply the beginning. A large percentage of students with ASD further their education after high school, earning degrees and preparing for the workforce. More and more, colleges are providing support for students with special needs. Everything from social skills and career readiness, to life skills and job placement, are provided on campuses.

Independent living and close social relationships are also a reality for many adults with ASD. Simply put, with the right interventions and supports, families managing an autism diagnosis have a plethora of supportive resources and options to help their children thrive and succeed.

Homework Time Made Easier

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Homework is simply a fact of life for today’s students. As early as kindergarten, children are bringing homework home from school. While homework has its many benefits, the majority of students would rather forget about the additional practices, projects, and papers. With such an aversion, homework time at home can be a real battle. Yet, it does not have to be. There are many tried-and-true strategies when it comes to alleviating the stress of homework.

Here are some of our favorites.

First and foremost, a key to easing homework stress is to make sure that the homework actually makes it home. Depending on your child’s age, it may be a struggle to simply keep track of the many worksheets that need to travel to and from school. Keeping your child’s work organized can make all the difference when sitting down to work. Try using a homework folder designated for nightly assignments. Use color-coded tabs or sticky notes to manage daily assignments and due dates. Staying organized is a significant start to managing the homework routine.

Set a Schedule

Set expectations by creating a homework schedule. Between the many afterschool activities and busy schedules that each family undoubtedly juggles, homework may become an afterthought. Make sure that your child knows when and where he or she should be completing homework each night. Set limits on the use of technology during homework time. Cell phones, television, and other distractions can make homework completion impossible, so it is best that these things remain off limits until homework is completed.

Break It Down

When homework has mounted to a seemingly unmanageable level, break the assignments down to avoid a mental meltdown. Especially during the middle and high school years, the amount of homework assignments can increase greatly. Staring down a mountain of papers can stress out both you and your child. If your child is unable to chunk the assignments into manageable pieces, help them out by creating an “order of importance” list. Arrange the work into a schedule based on difficulty and due date. This way, you and your child can prioritize the homework and alleviate any stress from the many assignments.

Promote Practice, Not Perfection

When it comes to difficult assignments, emphasize the importance of effort and completion, not necessarily perfection or 100% correctness. When homework becomes a frustrating tear-session for your child, explain that homework is meant to be practice. Too often, students stress over the need to answer questions and submit flawless assignments. Yes, that is the eventual goal, but homework is meant to provide practice—not display perfection. In fact, most homework assignments are intended to show the teacher whether or not students understood the content. Teachers also use homework assignments as a way to gauge the pacing of lessons or content. So, when the tears start welling, remind your child that homework is for practice.

Building Up Self-Esteem in the Classroom

i-741519_1280Social-emotional development is a key aspect of growth for children, especially during the teenage years. Questions, conflicts, and angst revolving around one’s identity are indicative of this tempestuous stage in life. Many adolescents, if not all, struggle with building self-esteem. As educators, we have the opportunity to not only teach, but to lead by example.

I, like many adults, can personally relate to my sporadically insecure and apprehensive middle schoolers. The braces, blemishes, and all of those other lovely aspects of my own adolescent years are fresh in my mind when I stand in front of my classes—their hesitant expressions are another reminder of how hard it is to be a teenager. However, two things that can lessen the blow of adolescence are a positive outlook and a resilient self-esteem.

Methods to address the insecurities change from day to day, and vary depending on the student. Obviously, what makes one student feel comfortable and confident may not be the key for another. Even so, there are ways to make a teacher’s classroom, instruction, and demeanor more conducive to building students’ self-esteem.

Be open about your own flaws or weaknesses

For the most part, it is common for students to expect perfection and level-headedness from their teachers to a certain degree. This is evident by the fact that they are shocked and humored when we miscalculate, misspell, or misconstrue something. They are even more shocked to see us scrambling through the mall in sweats and a baseball hat on a Saturday. While mildly embarrassing to us, these somewhat amusing instances are truly beneficial to building our students’ self-esteem.

Capitalize on these opportunities by shattering the belief that perfection is the key to high self-esteem. Yes, teachers are tasked with teaching our subjects, but we are not the “almighty keepers of the knowledge.” We are human beings that have flaws and make mistakes. Embrace these blunders in the classroom—they show our students that, just like teenagers, we adults make mistakes, too. This realization that everyone makes mistakes helps students accept their own missteps and build self-esteem.

Show your true colors

Learning occurs when students take risks in the classroom. Risk-taking is also a sign of confidence and self-esteem. If we teachers are not presenting our true selves, how can we expect our students to feel comfortable enough to show their own true colors? In order to foster these themes of confidence, honesty, and authenticity in the classroom, we must truly practice what we preach.

Beware, though, that adolescents have the uncanny ability to detect phoniness. They are observant, intuitive, and critical. Therefore, it is not the easiest task for teachers to wear all of the hats and still remain authentic in the classroom. All at once, we must maintain professionalism, provide engagement, and remain enthusiastic about the lesson, while also cracking down on behaviors and managing 30+ teenagers in a room. This can be quite a tall order; however, exhibiting your own confidence in the classroom is key to encouraging your students’ self-esteem. Just as parents should model good self-esteem at home, teachers should lead by example, as well.

Explain that “this too shall pass”

Another honest conversation that teachers can have with students in order to foster self-esteem involves discussions of the future. It is easy for anyone to get caught up or discouraged by difficulties happening in the here and now. This is especially true for teenagers. Teens are developmentally prone to “sweat the small stuff.” As a teen, I remember overreacting, dramatizing, and fixating on what turned out to be tiny non-problems. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but genuine discussions about how to look past our problems and put things into perspective will nurture a positive outlook.

As teachers, we know that personal connections can make all the difference with our students. Sharing anecdotes about my own struggles and slip-ups growing up allows me to relate to my students and relay strategies that worked versus those that didn’t quite pan out. Showing your students that you can relate to their insecurities is beneficial; showing students that you’ve shed your insecurities and built-up your self-esteem over time can be even more beneficial.

At the start of this school year, I hung two pictures outside of my classroom—my school photo from 6th grade and another from 8th grade. I don’t have to tell you that these photos are beyond embarrassing. My students know all too well that, since hormones run high and self-esteem runs low, these teenage years present plenty of challenges. By sharing your own weaknesses, exhibiting authenticity, and discussing your own fluctuations of self-esteem, teachers have the ability to lead by example and foster positive self-images in the classroom.

Learning to Learn

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Learning is a never-ending process. Of course, as educators, we put learning at the forefront of everything we do in the classroom. We ask ourselves many questions regarding the learning that we are hoping to witness: How am I going to see that they’ve understood? What will I do if they don’t understand? Is this a measurable objective? How can I apply this lesson to the real world? Do they care to learn this? With all of these questions about learning, it is important that we teachers step back and teach how to learn.

Especially during the transition grades—entering middle school, high school, or college—we must prepare students to learn how they learn best. Arguably, the best way to do this is to provide students with strategies that they can test out and employ. One of the major obstacles that I faced in my education involved studying. I always questioned myself in that area—Have I studied enough? Did I study the right concepts? Is memorizing the same thing as studying?

Here are a few tips that educators can teach students with regard to learning and studying:

  • Teach students how to pace themselves. It is much easier to tackle small bits of information at a time than it is to cram. Waiting until the last minute to cram before a test is also a surefire way to create unnecessary anxiety. Remind students of due dates and test dates. It is also helpful to model the process of chunking the work into manageable pieces along the way.
  • Encourage students to ask questions. Depending on the age and comfort level of a student, this may be a struggle at first. You could also provide question cards. Have students anonymously write questions that they’d like to have answered during the review session. It is also a good idea to encourage students to jot notes down during a class review or study.
  • Teach students to embrace the flashcard. This may seem like a painfully obvious approach to studying, but flashcards truly have several benefits. Creating flashcards helps to imprint the information beyond the scope of a student’s short-term memory. Writing something begins to solidify a connection in memory. Flashcards also force students to focus on only the key points. Since the purpose is to contain the important information on a small index card, students practice narrowing in on the main ideas and take-home points of the lesson. Of course, flashcards are also very handy to quickly and conveniently review material.
  • Model the mnemonic device. As crazy as it may sound, the mnemonic device was one of my best study quirks throughout all of my years of education. Even in graduate school, mnemonic devices helped to retain information that I thought I could never simply memorize. This strategy can utilize anything from a rhyme, song, pattern of words or letters, alliteration, etc., in order to solidify the information and easily recall it when necessary.

Introduce your students to these learning strategies to help them strengthen their study skills and enhance their performance across a range of subjects. As my experience suggests, these strategies will serve them well for years!

Turning Conflicts into Teachable Moments

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Any instance where 30 or more children or teens are working in one room can have the potential to ignite a conflict. An educator’s initial instinct may be to immediately extinguish the fire, which in some cases, is absolutely necessary. However, another approach to address conflict is to highlight and dissect the moment. Speaking through a conflict certainly involves tact; however, the practice will benefit future interactions in the classroom.

Address the issue headfirst: A surefire way to allow conflicts in the classroom to escalate is to sweep them under the rug. When students feel unheard or misunderstood, frustrations build. As uncomfortable as a discussion may seem, the conflict will not dissipate until it is brought to light.

Set the expectation: As the adult in the room, it is vital that the teacher creates a safe space for conflict resolution to take place. Students need validation and acknowledgment of their feelings and opinions. Educators must practice impartiality and fairness for all students involved. If students do not trust the situation, they will not open the door to allow honest conversations.

Encourage introspection: Ask students to identify exactly what emotions they are experiencing—there is a big difference between frustration and resentment. Motivate students to think about the root of the conflict. Oftentimes, conflicts arise out of misinterpreted messages. Ask students to speak honestly and directly about what they are thinking and experiencing.

Seek common ground: Frame the conversation around end goals and ask students what they would like to see as a result of this mediation. How are the students’ desires alike? How can the group compromise to ensure that everyone is heard? Highlight the fact that both students have similar feelings—just different opinions of the situation.

Curiosity kills the conflict: Effect change in students’ mindsets by encouraging everyone involved to remain curious and open-minded. Headstrong stubbornness will only help to facilitate the conflict; it’s fuel to the fire, so to speak. Keeping an open mind and truly listening to the other person allows barriers and egos to come down. When students are genuinely curious about the other person’s perspective, empathy, understanding, and resolutions will begin to smother the fiery conflict.

Conflict in the classroom is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Quite conversely, conflicts can be catalysts for learning opportunities and social and emotional growth. Embrace the teachable moments and know that every tough instance is an opportunity to advance our understanding of communication.

How to Deal With Frustration: Bad Day Remedies For Your Child

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How to Deal With Frustration: Bad Day Remedies For Your Child

We’ve all experienced different degrees of frustration at some point. Our boiling points can fall on a scale from spilled coffee or a flat tire, to a traffic collision or a serious health condition. Frustration is commonly defined as, “a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs” (Merriam-Webster).  Knowing this, one could conclude that frustration is typically linked to a lack of control over one’s situation.

Frustration is not an emotion limited to adults, however. Newborns experience frustration, too. In fact, frustration in babies and children may be greater due to the fact that they have less control over what goes on in their world. So how can we teach children to recognize, cope with, and manage frustration? In the same way that we ourselves must deal with it.

Be Positive

Seeing the silver lining is not always easy to do in the moment, especially for youngsters. Because the concept of the future is not something that young children readily consider, it is especially difficult for them to see beyond this frustrating occurrence. Reassure your child that this frustration that they are feeling is a temporary emotion.

Ask them questions like, “Is this something that will realistically still be upsetting you tomorrow?” Or, “What can we look forward to when this frustrating moment is over?” Asking your child to look beyond the current “bad” situation will help him or her to recognize frustration as a fleeting and temporary feeling.

Ask and Accept

When frustrations arise, many children (and adults, too) are unsure of what to do with this emotion. When children are frustrated, have them ask themselves what exactly it is that is upsetting them. It may help to have them write down the events that instigated the initial frustration. By pinpointing the root of the stress, children can begin to understand how to better deal with a similar situation in the future.

Likewise, when reflecting on the day, most people will find that the catalyst of the frustration was something that was beyond their control. It is important for children to learn that things are going to happen that they cannot change. Sometimes, the only thing that we can control is our reactions to situations. This is especially difficult for youngsters, whose impulsive nature can sometimes get the best of them. Acceptance is a necessary part of managing stress and frustration.

Plan For Next Time

Perhaps the benefit of experiencing frustration is that it gives children a chance to learn something. When children look closely at their frustrations, they will begin to see that even little things, such as oversleeping on a school day, could have unforeseen consequences. A moment of frustration could teach them to set an extra alarm, study a few days in advance, tell the truth the first time, clean up after themselves, etc. Either way, talking about actions and their effects is a helpful way to show children how to be proactive in the future.
Avoiding frustration is impossible, but managing it is not. The sooner children learn to work through frustrating moments, the better equipped they will be at handling themselves in stressful situations.

Removing Roadblocks to Build Avenues: Learning Disabilities Awareness Month

Removing Roadblocks to Build Avenues

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month. This important topic was first observed during the Reagan administration in 1985, and it has continued to bring awareness for the 15 million Americans that live with learning disabilities today. Awareness for disabilities such as processing disorders and dyslexia is important for everyone–not just the individuals that live with these disabilities. The National Education Association explains that, “one of the biggest challenges faced by individuals with learning disabilities is the overall lack of acceptance by society.” This lack of acceptance and understanding is precisely why Learning Disabilities Awareness Month is so important. Education is key in terms of building peer relationships, promoting advocacy, and supporting families.

Here are 6 things that may surprise you about learning disabilities:

  1. While the “nature vs. nurture” conversation is constantly debated, there is no proof that environmental factors are tied to learning disabilities. There is also no evidence to support that learning disabilities are linked to low socioeconomic status. The truth is, learning disabilities span across all races, ethnicities, and income levels.
  2. For an unknown reason, boys make up two-thirds of the students receiving special education services in the public school system. There is no explanation for the apparent gender distinction.
  3. Most children with learning disabilities have average or above-average IQs. Contrary to popular belief, learning disabilities are not linked to deficits in intelligence, motivation, or emotional development. There is no “effort factor” present in students with learning disabilities–they simply require a different set of strategies to learn and retain information.
  4. A child with a family history of academic difficulties could be at a higher risk for a learning disability. Certain learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, are known to run in families.
  5. Learning disabilities cannot be medically cured. These disabilities do not go away; however, they can certainly be managed or treated. A factor in successful management is to recognize how to capitalize on strengths and circumvent areas of weakness.
  6. Experts believe that around 5% of the population struggles with a learning disability. With such a prevalent statistic, it is likely that a learning disability hits close to home in some area of a person’s life.

The truth is, learning disabilities do not determine someone’s capabilities. It is important to educate ourselves about these various educational difficulties so that we may better accommodate our students and children. A learning disability is not a roadblock. We simply must continue to create alternate avenues for learning so that everyone’s unique needs are met.