AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR VANESSA RODRIGUEZ

searchSubmitted by: Jessie Voights, 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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LESSONS LEARNED

Adam Hickey (1)Submitted by: Adam Hickey Ed.M, M.S. Ed – Landmark School Outreach Consultant and Research Coordinator
Lessons Learned While On the Road with Landmark Outreach

The Landmark School Outreach Program has a long and storied history of extending Landmark School’s influence beyond the campuses of Manchester and Prides Crossing. Although charged through its mission to empower children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities (LBLD) by offering their teachers a program of applied research and professional development, more and more we are intersecting with general educators, who are committed to differentiating their instruction to meet the needs of all students in their classrooms.

Landmark Outreach provides consulting, graduate courses, seminars, and online learning to help educators finesse their own instructional approaches. To that end we reject delivering pre-packaged programs or telling teachers to instruct a particular way; instead, we challenge teachers to think differently about language instruction for all students. We ask teachers to consider ways to incorporate evidence-based instruction into their daily practice. Moreover, we embrace the paradigm of practice itself. We want to create a partnership with schools and gain traction over time. Practice is essential to a teacher’s success. As educational psychologist, Dr. Peter Doolittle states, “We all start as novices. Everything we do is an approximation of sophistication. We should expect it to change over time. We need to process our life immediately and repeatedly.” We challenge teachers to see their work with children as an approximation of sophistication and embrace opportunities to play with the erudition we present.

In the context of the school consult model, creating a change in instructional practices works best from a bottom-up approach. We have found that partnering with teachers who are supported by an administrative team creates a foundation upon which remodeling can occur. We respect the culture of each school we work with and honor their challenges while offering instructional approaches grounded in both theory and forty-plus years of Landmark School’s experience.

imgresEach time I drive away from a consultation where I have presented to faculty, strategized with an administrative team, or debriefed with a teacher after observing her class, I am struck by the passion, dedication, and energy each educator brings to her work. While On the Road, I am fortunate to work with those who Jack Kerouac embraced, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

In spite of the negative reports about the state of education presented in the papers or heard in the media, the teachers, instructional leadership teams, and administrators who I intersect with are visionaries; they think purposefully, keep their students at the forefront of their decision-making lens, and implement approaches that will meet their students’ needs even when those perspectives challenge their previous beliefs.

Teachers actively take their prior knowledge and wrap their arms around the thinking-about-teaching that Landmark Outreach presents, and consequently, we all benefit from the embrace.

Learn more about the Landmark Outreach Program.

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PRESCHOOL DAYDREAMING, LIFELONG LEARNING

IMG_4202Submitted by Dana Allara, Parent Coach and Founder of Personalized Parenting

The theme music to the preschool years is a seemingly never-ending chorus of “Why Mommy? Why? Mommy, why?” Young children are passionate explorers who seek out understanding and revel in the wonders of their world—they are intrinsically motivated and love learning. What can preschool parents do to keep this thirst for knowledge and inquisitive spirit alive as their children enter the elementary school years and beyond?

Encourage daydreaming! Really. Daydreaming.images

Dedicated preschool parents often feel pressured to fill every moment of their child’s day with an age-appropriate, stimulating and educational activity.  One of the most valuable things a parent can do during the preschool years in order to foster intrinsic motivation is to step back and open up space for genuine downtime. Encouraging your child to spend time daydreaming, imagining, thinking and reflecting is a gift to her both intellectually and emotionally.

imgres-1Daydreaming is an internal experience that involves high-level cognitive processes in which the child is in control of his own thinking. He can delve deeply into one aspect of the imagining, or the wondering and he decides when to move on to a new thought as well as what mystery to explore next. Self-directed, creative ideas are critical for academic success in later years. A daydreaming child can replay ideas, rework them and gain deeper understanding at his own pace. On an emotional level, children who are encouraged to daydream become more self-aware and begin to build a positive self-image as a thoughtful person who has creative ideas and enjoys intellectual pursuits.

Parents of preschoolers can encourage daydreaming in both structured and unstructured ways. When daydreaming happens naturally, parents can purposefully respond in a positive, enthusiastic manner. When a child hears her mother say, “I can see you dreaming over there! I am sure you are discovering amazing things!” the child knows that thinking and imagining are valued by the parent and that great things can come from going within. Creating environments in which daydreaming comes naturally can be as simple as afternoon quiet time or taking a car ride without bringing the electronics along. The magic of the inner life of daydreaming is that it is the child who focuses his attention and pursues his own dream, true self-motivated exploration and learning. One daydream-friendly car trip led to a long stretch of silence from the back seat. Eventually mom asked, “What are you thinking about back there?”  The enthusiastic young boy replied, “I taught myself to wink!” This downtime allowed this little boy to persevere on a challenging task that involves creating new brain connections.

Moms, dads, and teachers can also construct special dreaming or thinking times. Some families even set aside “think-breaks” in which everyone is invited to take a few minutes to think on a particular topic. Nurturing these thinking and imagining skills helps to build a positive self-image and fosters abilities in introspection, creativity, and intrinsic motivation.

The child who daydreams develops a rich inner-life, experiences the joy of discovery, and enthusiastically engages with challenging material. The intellectually-interested preschooler of today grows naturally into the intrinsically motivated student of the future.

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DEBATE = EMPOWERMENT

Caleb Koufman H&SSubmitted by Caleb Koufman, faculty member at Landmark High School

When most people imagine the extracurriculars offered at a school for students with language-based learning disabilities​, such as dyslexia​, debate club is usually not among them. Just like any presumptions about their disabilities, though, students ​where I work as a teacher ​proved this one wrong, too.

It is my job to encourage students to question lessons and provoke discussions in a polite and articulate nature​ despite whatever learning difference they may have.​ ​After persistent student requests, and a bit of uncertainty on the part of the faculty, senior faculty member Bruce Stoddard and I started a debate team as an extracurricular activity at the school.

Kenneth Deluze takes the floor in a recent debate.

Kenneth Deluze takes the floor in a recent debate.

Junior ​William Cassilly and Sophomore ​Kenneth Deluze comprised the first-ever​ debate team ​at Landmark School​. It was such a pleasure to witness any anxieties about debating melt during the initial speeches. Suddenly, finding their confidence, Kenny started slamming his fist onto the desk in front of him like a Manhattan courtroom lawyer as he accused the other team of conceding a point that they forgot to address, and Liam calmly and inquisitively cross-examined his opponent like a Southern legislator before making his final arguments during the final focus.

​Despite what most people may think about students who inherently struggle with language, these students ​can be uniquely​ skilled at the most important aspects of debate.

​They value presentation and preparation and authentically appeal to judges. With strong verbal and logical reasoning, our debaters are able to diminish the effect of their learning disabilities and present a strong and confident demeanor at the podium. ​Despite their challenges with reading and writing, many of our students ​often ​have an affinity for compelling public speech and the ​new debate club allows ​them​ to realize this.

​ ​The experience of learning how to debate requires acquiring new skills that are often outside of any student’s comfort zone. In general, most people dread public speaking. But debating also requires knowledge of how to take notes in shorthand and write persuasive cases that cite scholars, scientists, advocates, lawyers, judges, politicians, literature, and legislature. The most important part of debate, though, is the experience of confronting an intimidating challenge and succeeding. Debate is empowering to students, and we hope to watch the program grow in the future to incorporate more people with varying levels of experience.

Left to right: Students William Cassilly, Kenneth Deluze, and faculty member Caleb Koufman preparing for a recent debate.

Left to right: Students William Cassilly, Kenneth Deluze, and faculty member Caleb Koufman preparing for a recent debate.

​This week we will be attending our​ third official debate at a competitive private school nearby. ​The topic is whether or not high schools, universities, and professional sports teams should ban the use of ethnic group images such as mascots and team names. There’s no telling who will win or lose but the debate is sure to be inspiring, competitive, and the start of a new and exciting tradition.

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