KEEPING MATHEMATICS ACCESSIBLE TO All STUDENTS

Mark DragoSubmitted by: Mark Drago, faculty member at Landmark High School. Article as seen in Young Teachers Collective.

I know this is an article about mathematics education, but let me start with a poem:

Zimmer’s Head Thudding Against the Blackboard

By Paul Zimmer

At the blackboard I had missed

Five number problems in a row,

And was about to foul a sixth

When the old exasperated nun

Began to pound my head against

My six mistakes. When I wept,

She threw me back into my seat,

Where I hid my head and swore

That very day I’d be a poet,

And curse her yellow teeth with this.

After reading Zimmer’s poem the image of the old exasperated nun who began to pound his head against the wall sticks in my mind, especially how Zimmer curses her in the last line of the poem. The reason why I think of the teacher is because I am a math teacher, and while I hope none of my students curse me, I wonder how they might describe my math class or me in a poem. The scene Zimmer sets is very familiar, standing in front of the whole class and being scolded for wrong answers. Math class can take on this nightmarish quality of a blackboard filled with confusing numbers, symbols, and letters. And yet, while math can be scary, mathematics is also a subject that is deeply valued in America.

In President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address he called on creating more “classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math—the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.” Teaching mathematics poses the challenge of trying to create welcoming learning environments for a subject that can cause anxiety as well as ensuring that every student learns the skills they need to succeed. We as teachers have the capability to meet these challenges by focusing on our students’ strengths and inviting all students to quality mathematics discussions.

I teach at a high school that specializes in language-based learning disabilities (LBLD), such as dyslexia. While LBLD usually means that students struggle in reading and writing, their disabilities can affect the way they learn math as well. Mathematics is its own language with letters and symbols that hold meaning. By the time they enter my classroom they have often already had experiences similar to the one described in Zimmer’s poem and the mindset that they are “not a math person.” This mindset is often what is most detrimental in the math classroom. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, would call the mindset of “I’m not a math person” a fixed mindset, one where our intelligence is fixed and there is nothing we can do about it. Much of what we do as teachers is convincing students to believe in a growth mindset, one where our intelligence is malleable and controlled by our own effort. In making the math classroom more accessible, we should think about what aspects of our students we are focusing on. Are we just finding the ones who are quick to the right answer? Or are we looking at how the student went about solving the problem?

Dweck’s 2008 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, asks us to shift our focus from praising intelligence to praising effort. When going over a problem on the board, focus on the student’s process and what they did well. So instead of mathematics being a subject where you are right or wrong, we can shift our focus to math being a subject filled with strategies and problem solving that all students can be a part of. By praising students for the work they do, students are more likely to try a difficult problem because they believe they have the capability to do so.

In an interview with Education World, Carol Dweck said, “Psychologists who study creative geniuses point out that the single most important factor in creative achievement is willingness to put in tremendous amounts of effort and sustain this effort in face of obstacles.” We want our students to be creative and critical thinkers.  And the way we get there is by praising them for the talents that they have and for their willingness to succeed.

Ultimately, the goal of focusing on students’ strengths and praising them for their talents is to create an equitable math class in which all students can receive high levels of learning. Learning mathematics requires students to be actively involved in reasoning through problems and deriving their own answers. A math classroom should be filled with discussion on important concepts and different reasoning strategies, but frequently class time is filled with test answers and how well students scored. When students are worried about answering test questions correctly, they try to memorize routine procedures to quickly get to the right answer.

Part of the new common core standards calls for students to “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.” The common core asks students to think about how the problem makes sense to them, to base the problem on facts they already know, and work towards their own way of solving. Asking students to make sense of a problem levels the playing field in a math classroom. The discussion is not a race to the right answer that only some students can do. Instead, students offer what they notice and their own way of thinking. No one is worried about being called to the board to try to remember a procedure for six number problems. Everyone feels like they are capable of solving complex problems and by their own effort, able to learn math.

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THE CONNECTION BETWEEN EXECUTIVE FUNCTION AND SOCIAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Submitted by: Linda Gross, M.A., CCC-SLP – Landmark High School Speech-Language Pathologist/Consultant and Landmark Outreach Program Adjunct Faculty

Mprofile pictureuch has been written and discussed in recent years about Executive Function (EF) challenges faced by students diagnosed with a language-based learning disability (LBLD). Also in the forefront are conversations amongst educators, speech/language pathologists (SLPs), and neuropsychologists about interventions for students with social communication disorders (SCD). I have been privy to many of these discussions, and have read countless articles on these topics.  But my “real education” comes from my over 25 years of working with children and adolescents with both EF deficits and SCD.  Current research supports the notion that social communication skills can be impacted by EF deficits.

Cognitive flexibility, the ability to shift one’s thinking, is a component of EF. Consider the fast-paced nature of a social interaction that is filled with both verbal and non-verbal information. If a person has difficulty with cognitive flexibility, then social interactions may be compromised.

John (not his real name) is a student who teachers often refer to as “bright and readily shares his insights with his classmates”. However, teachers also describe him as “rigid and inflexible”.  He performs best with structure and predictable routinesJohn has been diagnosed with a LBLD, EF deficits, and a SCD. There are certain topics that John can provide a wealth of information about. He may come across as a “know it all” and does not recognize when others are disinterested. When a teacher or a peer provides an alternate view to his own, John may become argumentative. He often perseverates on his line of thinking and cannot shift gears. A student like John often perceives situations as black and white; he does not see the “gray”.

This is an overly simplified example of a quite complex dynamic. Ultimately, we need to provide support with both executive function skills and social communication skills.  Rather than reacting in frustration to a “difficult” exchange, I encourage educators and parents to take a proactive approach.

STRATEGIES (be sure to use specific language and provide clear expectations):

  • Teach cognitive flexibility and problem solving

“I understand that you didn’t edit your essay because I had asked you to make corrections in red and you didn’t have a red pen. What is one thing you could have done to get your homework done?” Help the student generate some possible solutions (e.g., borrow a red pen, use a different color pen and email the teacher about it, etc.). Use opportunities like these to teach/model problem solving. (Identify Problem->Generate 2-3 Possible Solutions->Consider Consequences->Make a Choice->Create a Plan)

  • Acknowledge, then redirect; avoid getting into a debate

“I know you want to keep talking about _____, but we have to move on.”

“I know you are trying to be helpful, but Tim didn’t ask for your help.”

“I know it bothers you that Jane is out of dress code, but you don’t need to comment on it. The adults will handle it.”

  • Tell the student how his words or actions make you/classmates feel

“I’m feeling frustrated because you’re not following my instructions?”

“Jane felt embarrassed when you said she was out of dress code in front of everyone.”

  • Alert the student when there are going to be changes in the routine

“Tomorrow Mrs. Gross will be teaching this class so that I can attend a conference. She will collect your homework and help you edit your composition drafts.”

“Friday’s class is going to be shortened due to an extended recess so we won’t be doing our usual warm-up activity.”

  • Identify and discuss the “gray”; not everything is “black and white” “I know that it’s officially springtime according to the calendar, but it is 30 degrees outside, so we need to wear our winter coats.”

To learn more about Linda Gross’s work, check out the following links:

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MEDITATION IS HAPPENING IN SCHOOL

Amy Ballin 003Submitted by: Amy Ballin, LICSW, PH.D. Landmark School

In college, I first tried meditation with the hope that it would ease my stress. I went to a workshop and learned how to meditate.  It seemed easy enough.  I understood that all I had to do was repeat a word or phrase over and over again in my head and that was mediation.  So, I started a meditation practice.  After two weeks, I decided it did not work and never thought about meditation again until seven years ago when I attended a workshop at the Benson Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine.  It was at this workshop that I understood what did not work in my previous attempt and how meditation can be life altering.

After learning the science of how meditation changes cell structure and gene pathways and reading the research that reports dramatic changes in stress levels, increased focus, and improved health and relationships,  I started meditating with a commitment to do it every day for at least ten minutes for a minimum of eight weeks before I judged it. I kept to my commitment but after about four months I stopped my daily mediation.  What happened after that was amazing.  I noticed a change in the way I responded to people and events.  I was more on edge than I had been when I was practicing meditation.  Things happened in my day that got me more upset.  I was less able to let bad things go and move on.  I went back to the Benson center and started my practice again.  I am more patient with my children and husband and I feel overall better able to handle disappointments, anger from others and other stressful situations.  In addition, some chronic health problems have disappeared.  So I now know from first hand experience that the research is true.

My colleagues in the counseling department and I are introducing the practice of the relaxation response to Landmark students.  We know that students with LBLD tend to have higher rates of anxiety compared to the typical education population.  It is with this information along with the high level of anxiety that we see with our students that we are implementing this practice.

Recently I got a call from the nurse saying a child had a stomachache.  He has been practicing meditation at home and wanted to come to my office to meditate.  We did a ten-minute meditation. He went back to class and stayed in school for the rest of the day.  The stomachache disappeared.

The science on the benefits of meditation is clear and from my own experiences and those of others that have tried it, it seems that a daily practice of the relaxation response is highly beneficial. We look forward to bringing this program to our students.

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AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR VANESSA RODRIGUEZ

searchSubmitted by: Jessie Voigts, PhD, publisher, WanderingEducators, founder, Teen Travel Blogging Program, co-founder, WritingWalkingWomen.

Dr. Jessie Voigts from Wandering Educators recently reviewed Landmark360 expert blogger Vanessa Rodriguez’s latest release, “The Teaching Brain: An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education”. Below you will find a brief review and interview with the author.

“Let me tell you about “The Teaching Brain”. I picked it up, and couldn’t put it down. It delves deep into how teachers teach – and provides an interactive model for teaching – and learning. The process of teaching isn’t simple. There are myriad factors we need to think of and there are a plethora of teaching models that have been promoted over the years. And yet, there has still been something missing, a common-sense approach to teaching the same way we live our lives – thoughtfully, interactively, developmentally, and with purpose. This book, this exciting research, is that piece of the puzzle that has been missing.”  – Dr. Jessie Voigts

Interview with the authorHGSE bio photo

Voigts: Please tell us about your new book, “The Teaching Brain”

Rodriguez: The Teaching Brain challenges widely accepted theories of teaching and offers a unique idea based on a simple yet empowering truth: we are all teachers. This book draws on the science of human development to redefine teaching as a social cognitive skill that develops in all people over time. The book marshals a wealth of research and experience to construct an entirely innovative framework for thinking about, talking about, and supporting this essential social endeavor.

Voigts: What inspired you to write this book?

Rodriguez: I spent over a decade in a classroom trying to defend my teaching decisions. I often found that the language I was using was not what administrators, researchers, and policy makers felt was appropriate evidence. I thought that a doctoral degree would help me to do this.

What I found instead was that we don’t have an understanding of teaching as we do learning – we don’t understand the natural development of teaching in all humans. It suddenly made perfect sense to me that for all of those years I struggled to describe my teaching because we have a very limited vocabulary and overall framework for what it is! I wanted to open the door to a new way of defining teaching.

Voigts: Your theory of teaching takes into account real life interactions – and the growth of teachers. Can you give us a few examples as to how you developed your theory?

Rodriguez: It’s hard to identify a specific example within the development of this theory since this theory is just how I see the world.  Teaching is a human interaction. Any time something involves an interaction with another human you have to take into account the complex nature of the brain. Our brains are complex dynamic systems.  Because they are dependent on our personal context they are forever changing.

I would also note that most theories of teaching are actually stemming from theories of learning which is why they don’t account for real life interactions or the growth of teachers. They are learner-centric and not about how humans teach but how humans learn. My theory is specifically about how we all develop our ability to teach.

Voigts: Why do teachers need to read this book?

Rodriguez: We are all teachers from as early as age one, we have the ability to teach and we teach without any prompting. However, we’ve never considered why we naturally teach nor how that natural ability shifts when we teach in the artificial setting of a classroom. By understanding the natural development of teaching, you’ll become enlightened on your personal development.  Rather than being told how to teach based on a one-size-fits-all approach, you can discover your own teaching awarenesses; and therefore how you can more effectively interact with your learners.

Voigts: What’s up next for you?

Rodriguez: The book highlights the overall theory I’ve developed on teaching but there’s actually a side of my research that it doesn’t delve into much. I’m currently designing and conducting studies to further understand the development of how humans teach.  In the fall, I’ll be looking at teachers and students brain activity as they interact. I hypothesize that when they feel like the interaction has been successful, we’ll likely see their patterns of brain activity synchronize. So rather than just saying “when it’s working you can feel it,” we’ll actually be able to say you can also see our brain activity synchronize and act as a cohesive system rather than individual parts!

teaching_brain cover 11 4 14Learn more about Vanessa Rodriquez, her work, and “The Teaching Brain”

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Learn more about Dr. Jesse Voigts and follow the Wandering Educators blog.

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Disability Discrimination

Submitted by: Angela M. Timpone is a certified educational advocate serving Vermont and Massachusetts and founder of Camp Kaleidoscope, a camp for families with children with autism. 

Last fall, while I watched the Norwich University football team win 19–9 against Gallaudet University, I overheard words like “dumb,” “stupid,” and “retard” from NU spectators. These words weren’t comments on the Gallaudet players’ performance. The derogatory remarks referred to the players’ disabilities; Gallaudet students are deaf or hard of hearing. Disability discrimination is often more socially acceptable than high-profile race discrimination. We chuckle or look away when remarks fly about a person’s disability.

As a parent with two children with disabilities, I struggle knowing their journey will be plagued with discrimination. By early elementary school both Dylan and Tristan were labeled by peers as “stupid” and/or “dumb.” Tristan and Dylan learn and think differently compared to typically developing children.

Disability discrimination isn’t limited to children on the playground. In 2013, I left a high-profile lobbying career in Vermont for Dylan to attend Landmark School. Shortly after moving to Beverly, I wrote an open letter to Vermont Governor Shumlin (who also has dyslexia) and key legislators urging them to consider ways of educating students with dyslexia. In Vermont, there are little options to educate students with dyslexia— no language-based classrooms, no trained teachers and no similar peers in our small school districts. I thought I had sympathetic readers.

In my letter I mentioned that Dylan has a superior I.Q., but he hardly knew the alphabet and that our highly regarded schools had failed him. My letter sparked responses ranging from sympathy to outrage. Some suggested, I reduce my expectations for Dylan. No way— without basic reading and writing skills all doors for Dylan’s future were closed.

My mommy magic-wand can’t eliminate discrimination. I have no good solutions. What I do know is that I am part of the problem. I shy away from talking about disability discrimination. I want to fit-in and I especially want my children to fit-in to society. I worry my avoidance to disability discrimination adds to the problem. Perhaps we need to follow the examples of race discrimination and have public conversations about disability discrimination? Better yet, maybe we can change the conversation— let’s instead talk people’s strengths and abilities versus looking at people’s deficits.

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ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE

10534832_10202986623457463_2045189502289996228_oSubmitted by: Tristan Whitehouse, faculty member at Landmark High School

Not all classrooms need walls – or proper floors for that matter. What they do need is people willing to learn together through exploration.

Over the past decade, outdoor education programs have grown in prevalence throughout the country, because the interpersonal skills that students develop in the woods directly influence performance in schools.

Three years ago, Landmark School began the Outdoor Leadership class with hopes of improving the lives of our students with comprehensive leadership and wilderness training. When most people think of schools designed to meet the needs of students with language-based learning disabilities, they may be surprised to find some of our students learning various communication techniques seventy five feet up a rock wall or a hundred feet below in caves. We’ve found that not only do these students succeed, but they thrive when presented with the challenge.

At the beginning of the course my co-teacher, Zachary Fisher, and I, encouraged students to meditate on the word “Leadership” and come up with a series of adjectives to describe it. Common candidates included trustworthy, amicable, knowledgeable, and considerate.  They then categorized these words into three key criteria for leadership: interpersonal skills, judgment skills, and technical skills. In any setting, whether it be the wilderness or the board room, these skills must always be present and balanced. The Leadership Triangle, became the theme for the program. Every skill students learned would relate in some way to a side of the triangle.

While the students learned a slew of outdoor skills such as outdoor cooking, fire building, knots, gear repair, survival, and first aid, they were encouraged to write in their field journals. We expected these journals to be simple notebooks with periodic visitation by students but we were amazed to see that these journals have become pridefulField Journals works of art for many. Intricate diagrams and drawings have complimented student’s notes on every subject from fitting a backpack to their body, to maps and landscapes of places we’ve visited as a class.  We’ve learned that if you give your students the opportunity, they will surprise you with superior quality and craftsmanship.

The Outdoor Leadership class at Landmark School is still relatively new, but already it has shown that the woods can have a dramatic effect on our students for several reasons:

First, outdoor learning can provide opportunities for students to immediately see the fruits of their labors:  Lashing together two saplings and hanging a tarp between them can provide instantaneous relief from the elements.  Toiling over twigOutdoor Classrooms and bark to make the perfect tinder results in flame. Helping a peer get to the top of a twenty foot wall builds trust and friendship.  The outdoors provide instant feedback for a job well done.

Second, solving problems presented by hiking, camping, and leadership initiatives, develop creative minds and more versatile learners.  Problem-solving tasks such as group games, challenge students to think critically about their surroundings and make good judgment calls.

LastlyFrom Left to Right- Cristian Centeio, Sam Law, Jake Sheridan, Robbie McDougall, and Emma Colcord, studying leadership results in a greater sense of citizenship, connection, and responsibility. Sharing common experiences builds togetherness and encourages fraternity.

Wilderness Education gives students the ultimate gift: the gift of From left to right- Hugh Mitchell, Shaurya Agarwal, and Cal Robbinsadventure. It allows teens to lace their boots, strap on their pack, and head out their doorstep with the knowledge and skills to succeed anywhere the road takes them.

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LEARNING WITH ADHD

 

Submittunnameded by: Edward Hallowell, M.D., Ed.D – child and adult psychiatrist, author, speaker, and leading authority  in the field of ADHD. Founder of the Hallowell Centers in New York and Boston.

Learning with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is difficult, at best. I know because I have both ADHD and dyslexia. A phrase that I have come up with that I think best exemplifies what it is like living with ADHD is that it’s like “having a Ferrari engine for a brain with bicycle brakes.” The good news is that there are ways to strengthen these bicycle breaks to help stay on track and manage those Ferrari engine-like thoughts.

With the New Year steadily underway, there has never been a better time to take charge and evaluate what works best in trying to provide guidance to those with ADHD or, if you yourself have ADHD, finding the measures to take that work well for you. What has helped me most to overpower my ADHD began when I was in first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Eldredge, made it a point to make her students feel safe—whether they had ADHD or not—to inquire about anything. By eliminating fear, she allowed me to believe that I could be as successful as I wanted to be. I have carried this notion with me throughout my life and have instilled this belief in the patients, both children and adults, that I work with today. Having a confident mindset to take on any task will make you unstoppable. Another tip to help stay on track is to follow a schedule. Everyone needs structure, especially children, but for those who have ADHD, schedules and rules are as essential as maps and roads are for drivers. Without them, these kids can get completely lost.

With encouraging teachers and setting an organized, well-defined schedule, students will not only be more productive, but also more excited to succeed.

Learn more about Dr. Hallowell .

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